Xiaomi has been one of the fastest growing smartphone manufacturers in India over the past 18 months, becoming the biggest smartphone brand in the process. It managed to capture a large chunk of the market with its Redmi series by offering powerful hardware at affordable prices. While the lower end of the market welcomed Xiaomi smartphones, the higher end still preferred established brands such as Samsung and OnePlus. Premium Xiaomi phones haven't done well in India, and the Chinese manufacturer hasn't launched a flagship phone in the country since the Mi 5 (Review). Xiaomi says that the new Poco sub-brand lets it start with a clean slate, without being burdened by the expectations that people have based on its other products.
With Asus and OnePlus making waves in the sub-Rs.40,000 market, Xiaomi doesn’t want to be left far behind. The F1 is the first product from Poco, and sports powerful specifications including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor along with a big 4000mAh battery. But the most interesting bit about the Poco F1 is the pricing. With prices starting at Rs. 20,999, the F1 is by far the most affordable smartphone running the flagship Qualcomm processor. Has Xiaomi cut corners to meet this price? Let's find out.
Xiaomi Poco F1 design
The Poco F1 sports a 6.18-inch full-HD+ display with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio. It has 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection. Just like other recently launched smartphones, the Poco F1 has a notch at the top of the display, but it’s bigger than the ones on the OnePlus 6 (Review) and the LG G7+ ThinQ (Review), primarily because it houses an infrared camera, infrared emitter, 20-megapixel selfie camera, and the earpiece. Also, the borders around the display are slightly thicker than on those phones. The bottom chin is thick and houses a tiny white notification LED, which also lights up when a cable is plugged in.
The buttons on the Poco F1 are placed on the right. The power button is easy to reach but the volume controls are placed a little too high, needing a bit of a shuffle to reach them. At the back, this phone has a vertically positioned dual camera setup along with a dual-LED flash. Below the camera module is the fingerprint scanner. The positioning is perfect, and either of your index fingers will rest on it naturally when you hold the Poco F1.
Another thing we found hard to ignore about Xiaomi's Poco F1 was the fact that the display doesn't quite look to be sitting flush with the body of the phone. We've been spoilt by unibody phones at even more affordable price points, and it seems this is one of the areas where Xiaomi has decided to keep the costs in check.
The back is made out of polycarbonate for the regular variants of this smartphone. We had the Armoured Edition for review, which has a Kevlar back. Xiaomi says that it has used real Kevlar, and you can feel the weave when you run your fingers over it. We haven’t used the other variants with the polycarbonate back other than the brief time that we spent with them before launch, and it's safe to say they don't look as slick as the competition.
Xiaomi has retained the 3.5mm headphone jack, and it’s positioned on the top along with the secondary microphone. The Poco F1 does not have an IR emitter, commonly seen on Xiaomi smartphones. At the bottom, it has a USB Type-C port and two grilles on either side, of which only the right one houses a loudspeaker. The phone weighs 182g and you will notice the weight when you hold it. This is mainly down to the 4000mAh battery. Xiaomi ships a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3 certified charger in the box to top it up quickly.
Xiaomi Poco F1 specifications, software, and features
The Poco F1 sports a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor with four cores clocked at 2.8GHz and the other four clocked at 1.8GHz. Xiaomi has designed a cooling system called ‘LiquidCool’ for this phone, using a copper chamber with vapour in it to dissipate heat. There are three RAM and storage variants: 6GB RAM with 64GB storage, 6GB RAM with 128GB storage, and 8GB RAM with 256GB of storage, with the Armoured Edition we reviewed only available in the latter configuration. The Poco F1 has a hybrid dual-SIM tray that lets you expand storage if you wish to.
Xiaomi has opted for LPDDR4X for RAM and UFS2.1 for storage, similar to the Honor Play (Review). In terms of connectivity, the Poco F1 has Bluetooth 5 and dual-band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac. The Poco F1 is a hybrid dual-SIM device. It has support for 4G and VoLTE on both SIMs, which lets both SIMs be on a 4G network. Xiaomi has said that the Poco F1 also supports 4G+ that will lets it latch onto the 800MHz and 2300MHz bands simultaneously.
The dual camera setup consists of a 12-megapixel primary camera with an f/1.9 aperture, 1.4-micron pixels, and dual-pixel autofocus. The secondary camera is a 5-megapixel depth sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and 1.12-micron pixels. At the front, this phone has a 20-megapixel selfie shooter.
Poco Launcher, Dual 4G & VoLTE, Gestures on the Xiaomi Poco F1
In terms of software, the Poco F1 ships with the familiar MIUI, but with a new Poco theme. The phone currently runs MIUI 9.6 on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. Xiaomi says that it will roll out an update to MIUI 10 when it is available, and an update to Android Pie is expected to roll out in Q4 2018. The Poco F1 gets an app launcher right out of the box, something that is missing on MIUI-powered Xiaomi devices. The Poco launcher has tabs that let you sort apps based on their type, but there is no way to customise this. Xiaomi has also added a sort by colour option that lets you group apps together based on their icon colour. We used this feature and found it to be useful when searching for an app quickly. There are also a few other customisations to the notification shade.
The Poco F1 supports themes, which lets you change the way the phone looks, right down to the icon pack. The Settings app is unchanged from what we’ve seen with MIUI before, and just like with other Xiaomi phones, we sometimes had to use the search function to get to the setting we were looking for. You also get other MIUI features including Dual Apps which lets you run two instances of supported apps such as WhatsApp, and Second Space which lets you create a separate user profile.
The Poco F1 has a Face Unlock feature that uses the infrared camera and emitter to scan your face. We found this feature to be very handy as it was quick to unlock the phone. Even in low light where only the iPhone X (Review) and Oppo Find X (Review) work well, the Poco F1 managed to succeed. The fingerprint scanner is also quick, something you can fall back on if face recognition fails.
Xiaomi hasn’t gone easy when it comes to preinstalled apps. You get loads of Microsoft and Google apps along with Xiaomi Security, Cleaner, UC Browser, Community, Mi Store, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and PhonePe, among others. Most of these can be uninstalled so you will be able to reclaim some storage space. Gestures are a part of MIUI and they are available on the Poco F1 as well. You can change the order of the navigation buttons or disable them in favour of swipe gestures.
Xiaomi Poco F1 performance, battery life, and cameras
We have now used quite a few phones with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and we know how well it performs. The Poco F1 delivers the same experience. It is fast and we never saw any lag or stutter. Xiaomi has also dialled down the MIUI animations which makes it feel snappy. We did not experience apps getting killed in the background, and our review unit (which has 8GB of RAM) had close to 4GB RAM free at all times. Even the base variant has 6GB of RAM which should deliver good performance. The display on the Poco F1 has good viewing angles and a vivid output. Xiaomi uses the earpiece with the speaker on the bottom for a stereo-like effect.
The Poco F1 scored 2,65,305 in AnTuTu, as well as 2,454 and 9,048 in the single-core and multi-core tests in Geekbench 4. These scores are similar to what the OnePlus 6 and the Asus Zenfone 5Z (Review) achieved with identical hardware. The Poco F1 also scored 62,889 in 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited and 55fps in GFXBench Manhattan 3.1.
To put the liquid cooling system to the test, we ran AnTuTu five times back to back, and we saw that the score did not drop below 2,50,000. We played PUBG and Asphalt 9: Legends, and the Poco F1 didn’t break a sweat. After we played our third consecutive match in PUBG, the phone got warm to the touch. What was also interesting was the battery drain. We noted a 6-7 percent battery level drop on average per round which is more than acceptable. If you game quite often, you should be able to squeeze in quite a few rounds before needing to plug the phone into a charger.
In our HD video loop test, the Poco F1 went on for 17 hours and 5 minutes. With our heavy usage consisting of playing close to an hour of PUBG, an hour of GPS navigation, an active WhatsApp account, and a few calls, we ended a day with 25 percent left in the tank. If you aren’t a heavy user, we reckon this phone could last you two working days. When it finally needs a recharge, the supplied fast charger is capable of charging the phone up to 35 percent in 30 minutes, and 74 percent in an hour. It takes close to two hours to top the phone up completely.
Xiaomi has used the same primary sensor for the Poco F1 as the Mi 8, which managed to bag the same DxOMark score of 99 as the Galaxy S9+. Naturally, we were interested to see how the same sensor performs on this phone. The camera app on the Poco F1 is similar to what we have seen on most other Xiaomi devices. Apart from the regular Photo and Video modes, it has Short Video, Portrait, Square, Panorama, and Manual modes. The Manual mode gives you control over white balance, focus, shutter speed and ISO. AI mode is enabled by default and helps the camera in scene detection. It is fairly quick to determine what the camera is pointed towards. There is a toggle for HDR and an option to select filters before you take a shot.
In our testing, the Poco F1 managed to lock focus and meter light quickly. Photos taken in daylight had good detail, and objects at a distance were still recognisable. When shooting against the light, the phone switched HDR on automatically and managed to capture details quite well. Macros were sharp and had good detail, and the phone could focus on tiny objects without needing multiple taps. Low light camera performance was just average. To compensate for low light, the Poco F1 drops its shutter speed and AI switches the camera to night mode. The resultant images appeared good on the phone’s screen, but zoom in and you will notice a loss in details. Noise was kept under control but the edges in these photos weren’t well defined.
The selfie camera did a decent job as well but missed out on a few details. In favourable light, it managed to capture good detail and the portrait mode produced a good bokeh effect. You also get beautification options to smoothen faces. In low light, the selfie camera uses 4-in-1 pixel binning to capture a usable shot at the cost of resolution.
Video recording on the Poco F1 maxes out at 4K for the rear camera and 1080p for the selfie shooter. When recording in 4K, we observed that the phone stopped itself after 8 minutes. The OnePlus 6, on the other hand, has a 10-minute cap for video recording. The 4K footage we shot appeared a little saturated and wasn’t stabilised, so you’ll need a steady hand. Full-HD footage, on the other hand, was stabilised well. Slow-Mo video recording is also available and you can shoot at up to 240fps at 1080p.
With the smartphone market buzzing with so many launches, Xiaomi has managed to make a mark by pricing the Poco F1 aggressively. It has all the elements of a Xiaomi phone: a powerful processor, MIUI, and a low price. In the company’s assault on the OnePlus 6 (Review), many mid-range smartphones with far lower specifications have been taken down. The 6GB RAM/ 64GB storage variant of the Poco F1 is priced at Rs. 20,999, the 6GB RAM/ 128GB storage variant is priced at Rs. 23,999, and the 8GB RAM/ 256GB storage is priced at Rs. 28,999. The Armoured Edition, which we had for review, is priced at Rs. 29,999 and also has 8GB of RAM with 256GB of storage. Xiaomi has hit the ball right out of the park with the pricing of the Poco F1, and it’ll be interesting to see whether any manufacturer is interested in a price war.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is unheard of at these prices, but the Poco F1 also offers excellent battery life, something people have been asking for. The Armoured Edition uses Kevlar which feels different from the materials we already have in the market, though you may find the build quality of the other variants a bit underwhelming. All these factors make it an easy phone to recommend, though we would still like Xiaomi to tweak the camera on the Poco F1 for better low-light performance. Availability could be an issue with the Poco F1, as Xiaomi is once again relying on flash sales, and there’s sure to be enormous demand. If you do manage to get your hands on one of these phones, go for it because this is the best value you’ll get for your money.
Xiaomi Poco F1 looks great value for the price, but is there a catch? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.