POCOPHONE F1 review — the gaming phone to beat

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Introduction

There seems to be a barrage of “flagship killer” smartphones recently. If you are unfamiliar with the term, these devices are supposed to annihilate all other flagship smartphones by offering top-of-the-range specifications at affordable prices. OnePlus used to be the leader in this game, but they have been slipping up and are releasing increasingly expensive devices year after year. ASUS stepped up to the plate with the ASUS ZenFone 5z, a device which was a pretty compelling package and a beastly chipset for its price. Today we will be taking a closer look at the POCOPHONE F1. A beefy chipset in a device that costs 1/3 of the latest flagships. Sounds too good to be true?

Unboxing

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The POCOPHONE F1 comes in a striking black and yellow packaging. Yes, you don’t have to remind us of that song. The yellow extends inside the packaging as well, with the yellow so bright it blinds us. The contents here are standard for a Xiaomi device, with a 18W QuickCharge 3.0 charger to remind us of its support for the fast charging standard. Somewhat of a surprise, but yeah, a fast charger with a device that costs less than RM1500 is indeed a nice touch.

Appearance

We requested the Blue Steel variant to play around with because Graphite Black was just too mainstream. The back is made of polycarbonate, a cost-saving measure to keep the price point low. I wish the back had a coarser finish for a better grip and also a more unique feel. It gets smudged up quite easily if you have sweaty hands, but this is still a lot easier to keep clean than glass though. The dual camera setup is positioned along the center line, above the fingerprint sensor. Xiaomi’s recent design trend is to move the camera to the top left corner, so this is a nice shake up.

On the front, we see a notch that’s bigger than what most recent flagships sport. It houses an infrared emitter and an infrared camera for better facial recognition even in the dark, which we will talk about later. The lower bezel is thicker than we whould like, and we also spot rounded corners which will an issue in apps with elements in the extremities.

Along the bottom we see a USB Type-C port, which is a nice touch given the price range it’s occupying. It is flanked by two arrays of six holes which hide the loudspeaker and primary microphone.

Over at the top is a 3.5mm jack, which is again a feature that puts the POCOPHONE F1 in stark contrast to the currently outgoing Xiaomi flagships. Xiaomi has removed the 3.5mm jack from most of its higher-end devices, and to see it here is quite surprising.

The physical buttons are all here on the right side as they usually are, and the SIM tray is over on the other side. You will find the SIM tray offering support for microSD cards as well. Storage expansion is not available in both the Snapdragon 845-touting devices in Xiaomi’s lineup.

We actually see the POCOPHONE F1 surprise us with a fresh design, especially when compared with their recent releases. The characteristic prominent camera hump in the left corner has been dropped, and we see a 3.5mm jack. The polycarbonate unibody is also done rather elegantly, without trying to look like something its not.

Specifications

CPU/Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (4 x Kryo 385 Gold @ 2.8 GHz + 4 x Kryo 385 Silver @ 1.8 GHz), 10nm FinFET
GPU: Adreno 630 @ 710 MHz
RAM: 6GB LPDDR4X
Display: 6.18″, 18.7:9 FHD+ (1080p) IPS display, 500-nits brightness, 84% NTSC color gamut
Storage: 64GB UFS 2.1 (expandable via microSD card)
Camera: Main Camera(s)
Primary: 12MP f/1.9, Dual Pixel AF, 1/2.55″ Sony IMX 363 sensor, 1.4μm pixel pitch
Secondary: 5MP f/2.0 depth detection, 1.12μm pixel pitch
Dual LED flash, HDR, portrait mode, AI scene detection (206 scenes), AI Beautify, hardware multi-frame noise reduction, filters, Pro mode, EIS (videos only), [email protected] videos
Front Camera
20MP f/2.0
AI portrait mode, AI detection (10 scenes), face recognition, screen flash
OS: MIUI 9.6 for POCO, based on Android 8.1 Oreo
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), supports WiFi 2×2 MIMO, MU-MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, LDAC support)
LTE-FDD: Band 1/3/5/7/8/20
SIM: Dual nanoSIM (second nanoSIM slot shared with microSD slot)
Battery: Li-ion 4000 mAh (non-removable)
Dimensions: 155.5 x 75.2 x 8.8 mm
Weight: 182 g

The first things most will notice is the list of flagship hardware here. We aren’t only looking at the Snapdragon 845, but also the 4000 mAh battery. Few recent flagships feature such a huge battery, and this is definitely a commendable move by Xiaomi. The camera may not be the most interesting in recent times, but it will have to suffice. The camera hardware is very similar to the mid-range Redmi Note 5‘s, but since this is targeted at the gaming crowd, picking lesser camera hardware may be a good way to cut costs and fit the highest end chipset, RAM and storage into the POCOPHONE F1.

Performance

It is dubbed Master of Speed by its makers, but we are seeing it score less than most of the Snapdragon 845 devices we have tested, except for one.

In Geekbench we see top notch CPU performance, besting even Xiaomi’s current flagship.

GPU performance is where we see the POCOPHONE F1 falter. It’s a whopping 16% slower in Sling Shot, which means Xiaomi might have throttled the GPU performance for some reason.

PCMark performance is good, once again coming ahead of the Xiaomi flagship. With the OPPO Find X being the sole exception, the POCOPHONE F1 dominates this benchmark.

Battery life is yet another area the POCOPHONE F1 wins big. With a large battery and a 10nm chipset, the POCOPHONE F1 comes ahead of the recent flagships we have tested.

Performance in daily usage was perfect, without any sign of slowdowns or stutter. It was also great to game on the device, with the spectacular performance that the Snapdragon 845 is capable of, and also excellent cooling that Xiaomi has fitted the POCOPHONE F1 with. Battery life in normal usage can easily exceed a full 24 hour away from the plug, while a full round of PUBG Mobile will just take around 10% of the battery. Charging it for just 30 minutes gives me 34%, which is great considering the size of the battery here.

User Experience

The POCOPHONE F1’s polycarbonate chassis does not feel cheap, but it does feel different from the slew of glass-backed flagships we have lying around our office. For one, it doesn’t get as cold as glass or metal-backed devices would. Its weight in hand lends a sense of sturdiness you won’t expect from a plastic device, and the weight balance towards the lower half helps you hold it securely in your hands. The curvature along the sides help with ergonomics, keeping the device in your hand and away from the floor.

The display’s specifications might not seem all that impressive with 84% NTSC coverage and a 1500:1 contrast ratio, but it is actually pretty good. Colors are just slightly less vibrant than what you would expect from a flagship, while the 500-nit brightness is more than enough for perfect legibility even under direct sunlight. The POCOPHONE F1’s earpiece also doubles as a secondary speaker, giving you a stereo effect when consuming multimedia or gaming. The rounded corners can get in the way of certain elements in the extreme corners, but then again this is an issue shared with many notched smartphones out there. It didn’t affect my experience in PUBG Mobile or Honkai Impact, so I will give it a pass.

While we aren’t looking at IR 3D mapping like on the iPhone X, the infrared facial recognition system here allows you to unlock your device even in pitch black darkness. It’s fast and it works every single time.You will get a warning that this is not the most secure unlocking method on the device, so if you are a stickler about that, you might still want to rely on the good ol’ rear fingerprint scanner, which is also very quick.

The POCOPHONE F1 comes with three preloaded themes, the standard Default and Limitless themes that come with all Xiaomi devices, and a new POCO theme. The POCO theme is a step closer to stock Android, complete with an app drawer which has always been missing from MIUI. One of my favorite additions is the ability to long press on app icons for the popup menu, something which was sorely missed in MIUI. It’s still MIUI at its core though, so you get some niceties like MIUI’s excellent optimization, superb gesture navigation and their new AI camera.

The camera software is shared with Xiaomi’s flagship, so it means that the POCOPHONE F1 gets AI scene recognition to make it easier to get good shots of recognized scenes. With 206 recognized scenes, you should be pretty well set. While the hardware is pretty similar to the Redmi Note 5’s, the software here offers a fully fledged manual mode, complete with focus peaking to help with manual focusing.

If you don’t expect too much out of the POCOPHONE F1, you would be well-served by the camera. The camera delivers excellent results in good lighting, with decent performance in lower light performance. We enjoy snappy autofocus, pretty good colors when the lighting allows it, but once the light gets low, images can turn out quite smudged. The software is smart enough to not use lower shutter speeds considering the lack of OIS here, but compensates with higher ISO and less details. For the full-sized samples, check out our Flickr album here.

Conclusion

Priced at just RM1237 (or RM1299 after SST kicks in), I was sold when I saw the chipset when it was launched. If you need more storage there is also a 128GB variant going for around RM200 extra. The GPU performance may be a hair lower than what I have come to expect from the Adreno 630, but this is also the lowest priced device out there with a Snapdragon 845 under its plastic hood.

If you really want to pit it against recent flagships, you will notice a list of shortcomings. There is no NFC, the camera isn’t all that great, and you might find the polycarbonate body to be less premium than the competition. You don’t get any form of resistance against the elements, and you don’t get to enjoy wireless charging. The notch is also wider than most, and the corners of the displays are just a bit too rounded. It all boils down on what you are willing to sacrifice for the beastly performance offered by the POCOPHONE F1 at this price. I can say I can forgo all of that, because the POCOPHONE F1 does everything I need with aplomb. And with an asking price that undercuts many a mid-range smartphone, I can definitely forgo all of that.

If you want a gaming smartphone without breaking the bank, this is the device for you. Great battery life, expandable storage and an IR facial recognition setup that was quick and seamless to use, and the increasingly rare 3.5mm jack seals the deal for me, positioning the POCOPHONE F1 as an affordable gaming smartphone that delivers flagship-class performance for a mid-range price tag. This is the gaming phone to beat. Oh and Xiaomi, the red rings around the rear lens? Perfect.

Our thanks to Mi Malaysia for providing the POCOPHONE F1 used in this review. To support us, check out the POCOPHONE F1 on Lazada via the following link, where it will be restocked on 6th September with pre-SST pricing!