The debut model of the Poco brand created by Xiaomi, that is Pocophone F1, made a lot of fuss on the market. What is going on?
First thing is that the device of a new brand challenges the lead manufacturers. It has a flagship specification, but in a budget form. The price seems to be almost a dumping one – but it does mean that the buyer must make some compromises. Which ones – I will try to describe you in this review.
|Pocophone F1 - video review
video: GSMchoice.com, via YouTube
- Housing, set
- Security, display
- Interface, efficiency
- Battery, communication, sound
- Photography, video
- Summary. Advantages and disadvantages
We can see the first of compromises the second we open the box. The smartphone has a housing made out of plastic, but it is decently made. The grey, modest housing does not look effective, but the red or the blue version that I reviewed looks much better. The model with carbon backs looks the best. This one can even be considered as a premium class model.
But the standard one has everything that it needs. Buttons placed on the right side are comfortable, the fingerprint scanner on the back wall is directly under our finger, and the tray for cards on the left side is solid and well-marked. The phone lies in hands comfortably, the body is stiff, there are no cavities and nothing creaks. Someone might complain that this is “just a plastic”, but on the other hand, there are a few advantages to this. Mainly, if the phone falls, the back will not crack, it will scratch at most. Just like the frame.
The back is rather hard to be scratched, just like the front, protected by Gorilla Glass, which version was not shared with us by the manufacturer. It is worth adding that the matte finish of the housing prevents the phone from slipping out of our hands, it does not slide along tables and is nice and warm in touch. Where is this compromise? I see it mainly in the lack of waterproofness, which is reserved for the Kevlar Armoured Edition.
The manufacturer has spent no expenses on sockets. On the upper wall there is a minijack, while on the bottom one there is USB-C. This socket is between two rows of holes, which suggests a presence of stereo speakers. But, this is a surprise – there is a single speaker, though there is something that some can consider a stereo – but more about it in a moment. For now let us check further into the set. There is a 2A charger, a rather long cable and a silicone cover for the back of the phone. There are no earphones. They would probably increase the price of the whole device…
Let us take a look at the front. There are trends (or rather a small fallow-ups) of the modern fashion. There is an eye-pleasant 2.5D arced glass on edges, but there is the controversial notch at the top of the display as well. What is more – it is rather large. It does not look good and it causes problems, which I will describe while talking about the interface. And the rather wide bezel under the display is not effective either.
They have tried to fill up the place with the notifications LED – and they have almost done it. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the LED is too small, discrete, and placed too close to the side of the housing. It could have been done better – I think I would prefer the LED in the wide notch… But instead of it we can find there a facial recognition system. It is good, it works rather fast, it cannot be cheated with a photo, it works even with a weak lighting, but… it is not active.
In most parts in Europe the facial recognition system does not work, in the menu you cannot even find options connected with it! In order to turn it on, we need to “convince” the smartphone in settings, that, for example, we are in India. It works there. I do not know why it is like that, but I had an identical problem in the Xiaomi Mi 8 model, which review I had to temporarily delay due to the same reason. I even had an opportunity to talk about this issue with Poco’s CEO, Jai Mani – but even he could not give a reasonable explanation, besides an ambiguous confirmation of my theory, that this is concerned with legal issues, problems with privacy protection or patents. We know that this function should be available in some time with a system update – but for now there is an awkward silence. And this is another compromise.
And since I have mentioned about security, I must add that the fingerprint scanner, placed in one frame with the camera, is great and fast, it is perfectly placed, easy to feel and it is efficient in 9 tries out of 10. In addition, it can be used as a trigger for the camera. They have spent no expenses here.
However, they did save on the display. This is a “typical” 6.18-inch matrix with 1080x2246 pixels resolution, which contributes to a decent 403 ppi density. So there is a compromise, but a reasonable one, just like with the plastic housing.
The display is clear and it reflects colours well, it has good readability angles and well-adjusted brightness levels. This is a sunny September – and I did not notice any problems with the display’s readability. I did not notice until I have put on sunglasses with a polarizing filter, which prevents from seeing anything on the display, until we will rotate the phone.
It is a pity that this setback was allowed – because if it was not for this I would not say a bad word about the display. They did not forget about the blue light filter, which can be turned on automatically in a selected time, there is a possibility of controlling the contrast and the white balance. We can mask the notch and wake the display with a double tap. During my discussions that I had with other redactors about this phone, there were complaints about the touch panel that did not always properly interpreted the user’s intentions. In my device it worked as it should have, I think that some problems were more of a software manner – but more about it in a moment.
In the software (besides the facial recognition problem mentioned before) there are no compromises on the first sight. We do not get the feeling that it misses something. The Poco Launcher interface is based mostly on the well-known Xiaomi MIUI, but it has something from the classical Android interface as well. There is a tray, but searching for apps is much more enhanced.
The phone categorizes them automatically – we can search for them not only by their name, but by the theme as well. The biggest hit is the possibility to browse by the main colour of the icon, a great solution for those relying on eyesight. There is a possibility to personalize the phone using themes, we can switch the interface to a “flat” one, without a tray, and in addition we can change the transition effects between desktops and modify the arrangement of buttons in the shortcuts panel.
There are gestures known from MIUI that can replace system buttons at the bottom of the screen – but those can be left and we can even change their arrangement. Other known and liked interface options from MIUI are, for example, the possibility to create a protected space (“Second Space” with a secured access), apps cloning (to use different accounts) or one-hand usage that decreases the interface to one of three chosen sizes.
There is the “floating” button or additional shortcuts, that can be ascribed to particular phone’s buttons. There are other, popular options, like the possibility to work on a divided screen, authorizing access to selected apps with a scanner or dimming the notifications LED. There is of course app for maintaining the system, that is deleting useless files, apps, our doubled multimedia… However, Poco does not exaggerates with preinstalled apps – those, that can be found here, are useful – like MiDrop for sharing files or a text and QR scanner.
It could have been great – but there are no notifications on the upper bar! For someone, who is used to apps’ icons displayed in the upper part of the screen, this is a major problem. In order to see notifications – we need to slide the bar down every time, which is irritating on the long run. At least we can see it on the lock screen – because as the mentioned before Jai Mani have told me, we will not have it on the bar. The wide notch prevents them from being shown, just like in the Xiaomi Mi 8 model. I do not how about you – but for me this is another compromise. It is a pity, because the rest of the interface makes a good impression and it works as it should.
“As it should” – which is how? Snapdragon 845, fluid cooling, and 6 or 8GB of RAM – this cannot be slow. And it is not! My device – though I reviewed the cheaper 6+64GB version – worked really well. I did not have to worry about closing apps in the background or tabs in the browser, I could game intensively, it looked great in benchmarks. Everything worked as expected, though there were moments when I have clearly felt where the heat was being dispersed from the unit that is so praised by the manufacturer. And it should be praised, because I did not notice that “heating” the phone had noticeably affected its performance.
The efficiency of Pocophone F1 is without a competition in its price segment, it can even be considered as a good one in the segment of phones that cost a few hundred euro more. But there is something that ruins this. I must refer to discussions between reviewers of this smartphone once more. Almost everyone from this group complained about the work of some app. What is interesting – there is no pattern. One complained about the navigation, another about Google Maps, others about Twitter or Facebook. In my device it was Instagram.
When quickly typing hash tags under a photo the app could hang up. Taping anywhere beside the keyboard resumed its work. These were the only moments during which I have complained about the work of Pocophone. I suspect that the problem is not in the hardware, but somewhere between the phone’s and apps software, and I only mention this so that you could be ready in case that some of the app used by you could cause some problems. I really hope that the manufacturer knows the problem and will handle it by updates, but for now the only one that my device received did not help. Another small compromise…?
The battery of Pocophone F1 is a huge comfort. I really had to make an effort to discharge the battery in one day. This is of course possible, especially when we are using the full capability of the device. But when we are using the phone normally – it will last for a day and a half, even two.
In my case the IFA convention was my field test, where Pocophone F1 was being used mainly for voice-text communication, but it worked as a modem as well, and in the meantime I took some photos with it. In this mode at evening the system showed that it had several percent of battery left. If you prefer numbers, then with the display on and playing videos on YouTube with Wi-Fi, but without turning LTE or Bluetooth off, the phone will die after around 8 hours. Fully charging the battery, using the charger from the set, will take slightly more than an hour and a half. So – no compromises.
Are there any compromises when it comes to sound and connectivity? Unfortunately, there are! The first one is the hybrid cards slot. We have DualSIM, we can expand the memory using a microSD card – unfortunately not at the same time, because the socket is a hybrid one. It is a pity, because the first and the second element are useful additions. As a commendation I will add that the interface for managing DualSIM is a classical one and we can ascribe default tasks to each card and mark them freely.
The hybrid slot is a trivial thing in comparison with the lack of another feature: NFC. If you are used to paying with your phone, you do not need to be speaking about a compromise – but I will and I will say it loud. In this price segment, the lack of NFC is simply not fitting and the fact that we will not find it among some models from the competition does not justify Poco.
It is a pity because the rest of communication interfaces works as it should and the smartphone can handle itself even in places with a known problems with networks’ coverage. Pocophone F1 has a comfortable dialler, it can record calls, it has a dual-channel Wi-Fi and GPS or Bluetooth work without any problems. It offers a great music quality as well. Not only we can talk in comfortable conditions (and for a long time!) but we can listen to music as well. The manufacturer have not forgotten about the equalizer and even ascribing functions to buttons on the earphones’ cable – and they do not have to be from Xiaomi. And those have additional, predefined sound corrections. I recommend trying them all, because they might fit your tastes and work well with your earphones, that do not have to come from the manufacturer, as I have just mentioned.
I have talked about the stereo before. Some insist that Pocophone F1 has stereo speakers. I will be defiant and say that it simply has TWO speakers. The lower one, that is the “external” one deals with lower registers, while the upper “receiver” one takes care of sopranos. Together they are loud and clean – but I would not call this a stereo.
It is true, the sound is deeper, fuller than in the case of a single speaker, but I cannot hear stereo. Still, I will describe these feelings as positive, they have spent no expenses on speakers. Pocophone F1 has an FM radio, which does not need earphones to play. In cities and where the radio signal is strong, it works without an additional antenna, though it shows a message that says otherwise. The question is will this possibility disappear after an update…
Let us look for compromises in the photography field… If I had to judge Pocophone F1 through the rest of its specification I would say that it is average. But let us take a look at the price – and we will change our mind. In its price segment Pocophone does not have to be ashamed of anything.
When it comes to the price of the phone, photos are simply good. Of course we can complain about nuances – like the weak work of autofocus in macro shots or noticeable noises in night time photos. But overall – it is hard to criticize anything. In the manual mode I could take a photo of a starry night offhand, after getting to know the work of AF, I have managed to take macro shots as well, though from a longer than intended distance.
Pocophone F1 nicely reflects colours, and the AI does not exaggerate with colours as in some more praised smartphones. Basically, we need to really check closely to see which photo was taken with AI and which without it. I really enjoy the background blurring in F1.
The foreground object is usually cut out precisely, and besides the blurring itself (which level can be changed after taking the photos and saved in a separate file) the software allows playing with special effects. The background can be animated and the effect can be saved as a moving GIF. Portraits are a strong side of Pocophone F1’s camera.
When it comes to panoramas – we need to be sure that our hands do not shake – otherwise frames will be “glued” together unevenly. And the digital zoom – well, it simply is – which does not mean it is worth using it.
The front camera gives decent effects as well, though in some cases there is a tendency to overexpose brighter parts of the shot. We cannot complain about colours representations or the work of the beautifying mode – it looks rather natural.
When it comes to video recording it is nice, but not ideal. Here is a compromise in the form of a lack of optical image stabilization – though maybe it is not as strong as with night time shots. We can see that the software tries to compensate the hand shaking, but it has different results. Basically, by judging it through the price of the phone, we should not complain about video capabilities.
|Videos from Pocophone F1
video: GSMchoice.com, via YouTube
The camera has received a simple, friendly interface, known from other Xiaomi smartphones. It is worth mentioning that there is Google Lens integrated into the system. There is a manual mode or colour filters, there is of course a timer, Tilt-Shift, Time-Lapse or even slow-motion recording – in FullHD and 240 frames per second. The results are not astonishing – but the feature is here.
Pocophone F1 evokes a lot of interests and I am not surprised. With the price of 329 or 369 euro with the 6+128GB version it looks like a real bargain. And it definitely is one of the cheapest way to acquire a new smartphone with Snapdragon 845. The low price does not come out of nowhere and buyers of this phone must come to terms with some compromises. In my opinion, the lack of NFC is the most bothersome. However, if you do not need to pay with your phone, I will draw your attention to other flaws of this model.
The plastic housing might not be a problem for all, but the phone could have benefited from being waterproof. It is nice that we can use DualSIM and a microSD card, but why in a hybrid slot? The display is nice, if you are not wearing glasses with a polarized filters. Some shortcomings in the software can be bothersome. The inactive facial recognition and problems with the work of some apps can be eliminated by updates, but they will not make notifications icons appear on the upper bar. The weak notifications LED will not change either…
However, you can be sure that Pocophone F1 will ensure an able work and a smooth gaming even in the most demanding titles, and it will last until the evening without charging. It works great as a communication and music device, it even has an FM radio and can record calls as well. The housing looks solid and durable, and if you are paying attention to the looks of the device, you are not condemned to a grey housing. The quality of photos and videos should not disappoint you either.
In my opinion, Pocophone F1 is a brilliant choice for a teenager. It does not cost too much, it has a rather solid housing and most of all, it can be used for gaming. When it comes to multimedia it does not disappoint either, and the only thing that can bother a teenage buyer is the brand. An older one – provided that he or she is not using NFC – should be pleased with saving money – though with the cost of some sacrifices.
Advantages and disadvantages
- affordable price
- strong battery
- reliable when it comes to connectivity
- friendly interface with clever additions
- decent display
- good, active fingerprint scanner
- lack of bloatware
- good background blurring
- minijack and FM radio
- two speakers
- lack of NFC
- no icons on the notifications bar
- hybrid cards’ slot
- no earphones in the set
- no waterproofness
- incompatible with some glasses
- average quality of night time photos
- seldom problems with some apps
- inactive (for now) facial recognition
- notifications LED is too discrete
|Poco F1 - the first review, straight from the launch
video: GSMchoice.com, via YouTube
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