Poco F1 by Xiaomi review: don’t think it, just buy it

Poco F1 14

Rating: 8.2/10

Yay:

  • Unbelievable price
  • Superb battery life
  • Great audio performance
  • Feels sturdy
  • Fast, very fast performance

Nay:

  • Camera struggles in low light situations
  • Display quality is average at best
  • The front of the phone with a big notch is an eyesore

Introduction:

I am really not going to waste much time introducing the Poco F1. Everyone, literally everyone knows this already – the Poco F1 is currently the most affordable Android phone at the moment with flagship-grade specs. The pricing of Rs 21,000 for the base variant with SD845 and 6GB of RAM,  just shocked everyone when it launched.

Poco F1 9

Now, I’ve used the Poco F1 as my daily driver since the day of the launch. I’ve literally spent all my waking hours with the phone so I can answer the two most important questions in everyone’s minds:

  1. What are the compromises on the Poco F1?
  2. Is it as good, if not better than, other affordable flagships like the Honor Play, ASUS ZenFone 5Z, or the OnePlus 6?

Let’s get right down to it. 

Poco F1 design: utilitarian

Okay, the Poco F1 is not a looker. But, to call it a bad looking phone will be taking it a little too far. It is a utilitarian design with a big emphasis on daily usage. Poco’s reasoning for a staid design is that most people use the phone with a case. And therefore, why does it matter if your phone has a glass or metal. If it helps cut costs, then toughened plastic is not a bad option. And, I am mostly in line with this theory. 

Poco F1 2

While Mr. Phone got the armoured variant of the phone with the Kevlar back, I also saw the other variants at the launch event. They look okay but feel good to use. The material used on the rear ensures that the phone is not slippery. Our armoured variant is definitely pretty damn grippy, which is a refreshing change from all the glass back phones I’ve used this year. However, the Kevlar back variant also attracts smudges and it sticks on the phone. It is not easy to remove these smudges. Thankfully, it is not easily visible. So, that’s a good thing. 

Furthermore, the phone feels extremely sturdy. In fact, I even dropped the phone a couple of times inadvertently, and it not so much as a scratch was registered on the phone. 

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Also on the rear is the module that has the dual cameras and the fingerprint scanner. The flash is placed next to it. One of the best things about the fingerprint scanner is that it is not only easy to reach, but it is also recessed. This means that you can easily get a feel for it from the rear. Very minor detail, but very useful. Also, the fingerprint scanner is super fast. In fact, Poco has literally cut down on the screen animation making the fingerprint scanner feel faster than usual. That’s not it, the facial recognition is faster and thanks to the infrared scanner, the phone can easily recognise you even the dark. It is better than the OnePlus 6 if I must say so. The ‘Master of Speed’ tagline of the Poco F1 is apt for its blazing fast unlocking capabilities. 

The power button and the volume rocker are both placed on the right edge of the phone. The tactile feedback is great on these buttons but I would have ideally liked a ridged surface on the power button to distinguish it from the volume rocker. You have the 3.5mm jack on the top. The left edge has the SIM card tray, which is a hybrid setup. It can take two Nano-SIM cards, or one Nano-SIM card and one microSD card. 

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At the bottom, you get the USB Type-C port but internally you only get USB 2.0 speeds. This port can also be used as an OTG driver for pen drives, so if you want to add even more storage you are sorted. Flanking the Type-C port on either side are speaker holes. Only the one on the right is the speaker, the one on the left is there for show. But, the Poco F1 has a stereo setup with the earpiece working as the second speaker. I will talk about the quality a little later. 

Fun fact: the LED notification light sits on the bottom chin. I have never seen such placement before this. 

Poco F1 display: the biggest drawback of the phone

The front of the Poco F1 is the most unattractive side of the phone. The big notch is an eyesore and the phone has a massive chin as well. Thankfully, the notch houses an infrared sensor for faster face scanning, so its big size is a tradeoff I can take. 

Poco F1 13

The display is a large 6.18-inch IPS LCD panel. It has muted colours and the brightness levels are very low. I couldn’t read on the screen properly when I was out and about in the bright sunlight. Xiaomi does give you the option to tweak the display settings, but I could never get the right colour temperature. On the bright side (no pun intended), you can turn off the notch. But, the edges of the notch are not aligned with the curved edge of the display at the bottom. So, that’s a bummer for those who have OCD for good symmetry like me. 

As for the protection, the display has a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection from scratches and drops.

Overall though, the display is definitely not flagship-grade and this is probably the area where Poco has made some compromises. 

Poco F1 1

Poco F1 software: a better version of MIUI 9

The coolest thing about the Poco F1 is the new tweaks to MIUI 9 and the addition of the Poco launcher. You get an app drawer, which a lot of folks would be very happy about. Moreover, this is one of the most versatile app drawers I’ve used till date. There are also other subtle tweaks in Poco launcher that make it closer to stock Android than MIUI, in terms of UI and UX. Let’s break it down. Poco F1 3

  1. Firstly, you get Gboard by default. Immediate brownie points for that. This is a great thing on MIUI. 
  2. You can invoke the app drawer by pulling up from the bottom. This launcher lines up all the apps vertically. It also automatically, bunches apps of the same kind in different categories. However, this is not very accurate at the moment. For example, while I have Asphalt 9 installed on my phone, the Games page doesn’t have it. 

    Poco F1 24 Poco F1 23

  3. The Search bar for apps has been placed at the bottom. I can’t even begin to tell you how useful it is to have the Search bar in this location. 
  4. You can also group icons by colour. The launcher just identifies app icons of the same colour and bunches them at the bottom. People who appreciate visual cues will like this approach. However, it moves the Search bar at the bottom to the bottom right corner. Thankfully, it still needs one single tap to search. 
  5. The notification shade toggles are clean and neat, and it looks mostly like stock Android. Even the Settings app is rather clean. 
  6. Since the phone has MIUI 9, you also get gestures by default. I like gestures more than navigation buttons but in the Poco F1 you have to swipe (and hold) from the left or the right to go back. While this is the most intuitive way to do it, this method interferes occasionally with apps that use a material design and have a slide-out panel for the menu. 
  7. A cool addition to the launcher – which I saw only in ZenUI before this – is that you can add custom icon packs. I love that. 
  8. Another small gripe I have with the launcher is that sometimes, you get served ads in the Shelf area that is available to the left of the home screen. That’s definitely not cool. Also, while the Shelf is nice, I never used it once in my time with the phone. 

    Poco F1 25 Poco F1 22

  9. Also, for some odd reason, the Poco F1 is filled with a lot of third-party apps. I don’t want to call them bloat, but we could have done without Netflix added by default. 
  10. To add on the negatives, I couldn’t find a way to reply to a message directly from the notification shade itself. You do get a reply button, but that takes you inside the app. Only certain messaging apps, like WhatsApp, allow you to reply directly from the notification shade but it is a convoluted process.
  11. I noticed a small bug in my time with the phone. At times, when I wanted to swipe up for the app drawer it would throw up a blank page instead. For context, I had more than 130 apps installed on my phone. 
  12. I know it is not a software thing exclusively, but the haptic feedback is really, really friggin good. It is one of the best I have experienced on any Android flagship. It is almost as good as the iPhone X, and that’s saying a lot. 

Overall, the new Poco launcher is a great fork of MIUI that I am glad does things differently.

Poco F1 camera: the Achilles heel of the Poco F1

The Poco F1 has a 12MP+5MP camera setup on the rear. The 12MP camera has a large 1.4-micron pixel size and the 5MP secondary camera is used for depth information. This setup is similar to the cameras in the Mi Mix 2S and the Mi 8. On the front, you get a 20MP camera with an f/2.0 aperture lens, which is the same setup as the one on the Redmi Note 5 Pro. At least the camera hardware, a mix and match of components from Xiaomi’s different phones, looks good on paper. 

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I did a complete camera comparison with the OP6, which can serve as the complete camera review for the Poco F1. We will link to the video when it goes live. 

What I will do, is highlight all the important points of my camera tests in simple pointers as usual:

  1. The AI mode in the camera can be switched on or off, but all it does is boost the colours and brightness. I am not a fan of the pictures captured by the AI mode. 
  2. The HDR mode is pretty good on the Poco F1.
    Poco F1 32

    HDR off

    Poco F1 31

    HDR on

  3. The rear camera can capture decent details in daylight and the lens attached to the primary 12MP sensor shoots at 20mm (35mm equivalent). This means that you get a wider image than most other flagship cameras. 
  4. Most of the close-up shots come out in a warm colour temperature. Also, the Poco F1 has trouble focussing in close range. 
  5. In low light samples, you can clearly see that the camera algorithm works overtime to kill the noise. Also, the low light performance is not particularly great. 

    Poco F1 29

  6. On the other hand, the flash performance is surprisingly good. 
  7. The video camera cannot do EIS at the moment in 4K. Also, the front camera cannot do EIS. Despite the fact that the image quality in video recording is good, the lack of stabilisation is a letdown for sure. 

    Poco F1 27 Poco F1 28

  8. The phone can also shoot 240fps 1080p slow motion video. If you find enough light, you can shoot a great slow motion footage. 
  9. The Portrait mode on the rear camera is not bad at all. I like the cutout. 
  10. The front camera can shoot decent selfies but it looks like beauty mode is on by default even when it is not. Also, there is some level of AI element in the beauty mode. I don’t care for it really. 

    Poco F1 30 Poco F1 33

In short, the Poco F1’s cameras are good enough for social media uploads but they are not flagship-grade in my opinion. If you are wondering, the OnePlus 6 and the ZenFone 5Z definitely take better pictures. 

Poco F1 performance: as fast as an F1 car

Like its name suggests, the Poco F1 is fast. And, why wouldn’t it be? Our review variant has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, with the ability to expand up to 256GB more using a microSD card. In my time with the phone, I was completely taken aback by the responsiveness of the phone. In a good way of course. 

I did a detailed performance comparison with the OnePlus 6, and the Poco F1 was equally fast and responsive. You can play graphics-intensive games like PUBG with far better stability than you can on the OnePlus 6. What this means is that you will get a constant fps performance while playing a game like PUBG with fewer frame drops. This is primarily because Xiaomi focuses on sustained performance than peak performance. 

Poco F1 17

Also, thanks to the liquid-cooling technology achieved by the vapour-based copper heatsink inside the phone the Poco F1’s temperatures are mostly kept in check. I had a lot of fun playing games on the phone, honestly. The phone also keeps apps in memory without shutting them down unnecessarily.

After using the phone, I am convinced that it is not too far-fetched to call the Poco F1 – the “Master of Speed” – like all the marketing communication by the new Xiaomi sub-brand. 

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Poco F1 multimedia: what a surprise package

One thing that took me by complete surprise, is the audio quality. The Poco F1 has the same amplifier setup as the one inside the Mi A2 and the Mi A1. This means that you get impressive sound quality through the 3.5mm jack. I used a FiiO FH5 with the phone and I had to keep the volume levels at 60 percent. It got a little too loud. I liked the dynamics and the signature on offer. The phone also supports all the high bitrate Bluetooth codecs, for improved audio quality, like aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC. 

Poco F1 16

Also, the stereo speaker setup is great too. No complaints there. If only the display was also of flagship-quality, that would have completed the Poco F1 as the complete multimedia package. 

Poco F1 network performance: great call quality 

I used the Poco F1 in around the Delhi NCR region with my Airtel SIM in the SIM 1 slot. For some odd reason, I don’t get VoLTE, but the call quality is great through the earpiece. The phone offers a crystal clear sound and I didn’t notice any distortion. Also, the network was never patchy and I never had a single 4G connection issue. But, I did face a call drop in my lift test, which is fine because most phones do not survive. 

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Poco F1 battery life: the flagship with the best battery life

Based on my review up until now, you’d have had an idea of my usage. In one of my moderate usage sessions I got 7 hours and 14 minutes of screen-on time and in another heavy usage cycle, I achieved 5 hours and 33 minutes of SoT. Essentially, the phone will easily last you a day’s worth of heavy usage even if you play 2 hours of PUBG daily. Moreover, the 4,000mAh large battery supports Quick Charge 3.0 fast charging. In the box, you get a 9V/2A charger. I managed to charge the phone from 0 to 100 using this charger in 2 hours and 20 minutes. It is not very fast, but maybe you can get a more powerful brick for the same. 

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Should you buy the Poco F1?

Yes, absolutely. But, that is if you can buy one. Obviously, like every other Xiaomi phone out there, the Poco F1 is also going to be available only via flash sales. Most of you will be super disappointed that you can’t get one on time. However, the immense value that this phone provides is unmatched in the industry right now. There are very few compromises and in some cases, the Poco F1 manages to punch above its weight when I compare all the affordable flagships with a Snapdragon 845. For example:

OnePlus 6 6

  1. It is better than the OnePlus 6 when it comes to audio performance. 
  2. It has a better battery life when compared to the ZenFone 5Z and the OnePlus 6.
  3. Most importantly, it is at least a good Rs 10,000 cheaper than the other two phones. 

However, there are still many reasons where one can easily argue that the OnePlus 6 and the ZenFone 5Z are better options overall. Like…

  1. The OnePlus 6 has way better cameras than the Poco F1. 
  2. Undoubtedly, the OnePlus 6 has a classier, more streamlined design. 
  3. The OnePlus 6 is still a whole lot faster. 
  4. The ZenFone 5Z has some neat AI tricks up its sleeves. 
  5. The ZenFone 5Z’s IPS LCD panel is leagues better than the Poco F1’s.  

…and, many many more. 

ZenFone 5Z 6

I will definitely do a full comparison between the three phones. But for now, the Poco F1 still bamboozles me. I don’t know and can’t understand how Xiaomi managed to pull this off. Android flagships like the OnePlus 6, the ZenFone 5Z, and the Honor Play are still value-for-money phones, but the Poco F1 is definitely the only Android flagship phone that gives you more than what you are paying for. It captures the pulse of the Indian smartphone market; the one that is price sensitive and places an inordinate emphasis on specs. 

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I really cannot wait to see what Poco’s follow up the phone will offer next year. If Poco goes the OnePlus route, then we are definitely in for increased prices. So in this scenario, I suggest you start getting ready to buy this one in a flash sale because phones like the Poco F1 cannot happen every year.

Ershad Kaleebullah

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?