(Pocket-lint) - Pocophone, eh, what's that? An off-shoot of Xiaomi, it seems the Chinese major has realised that not all potential customers throughout the world can say "shh-yow-mi" with relative ease. Thus, to target a different market (it's India first up), there's Poco to fill the gap.
Long rumoured, widely leaked, appearing in early reviews online, the Pocophone F1 is an interesting prospect. With a top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage all as standard, wrapped around a massive 4000mAh battery, it's certainly got a high-flying spec sheet.
But here's the really interesting part: its expected ₹22,000 asking price. Convert that and it's about $300/€265/£260, which is bonkers cheap for what you get (don't expect those prices to hold; we think more in the €450 region when the F1 comes to Europe, while the US won't be a market).
The big question, then, is whether something so powerful and so cheap can actually be any good? We've been living with the Pocophone F1 for a few days to get a handle on it.
Design & Display
- 6.18-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2246 x 1080 resolution IPS LCD display (with notch)
- Polycarbonate body in four finishes: Red, black, blue, kevlar (special edition)
- Rear-facing fingerprint scanner
- 157.5 x 75.3 x 8.8mm; 180g
First up, let's talk about that name. It's just, well, weird isn't it? Confusingly, we've seen some handsets with 'Poco' and others with 'Pocophone'. The latter (and proper) name, in our view, is the far less preferable option. It just doesn't roll off the tongue, yet its target is the Indian market where such pronounciation may be more suitable, so the thinking goes.
Xiaomi's name is barely present on the F1 – and where it is, it's in a micro-point font size that's barely legible – so we'll award due dilligence and stick with calling it the Pocophone. The Xiaomi link is all to do with supply chain: with phones like the Mi Mix 2S and Mi 8 already well into production, it's easy to acquire relevant parts and services for similar phones. A bit like the Huawei and Honor relationship, really.
Anyway, onto the phone itself. The F1 is a large slab, designed to be the budget alternative to, say, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (albeit minus the stylus). Big screens are ruling the way, with the Pocophone opting for a 6.18-inch LCD panel.
Look up top and it's hard to not miss the notch (that black-out dip where sensors and front-facing camera hide). As much as we thought we'd despise the notch, first seen on the iPhone X, it's becoming the new normal and in most devices we've used it fades out of consciousness after little time. In the Poco F1 that's mostly true, although it's the widest, deepest notch we've seen in ages - certainly not the dinky 'teardrop' as seen in the Oppo F9.
Within software it is possible to hide the notch by the top of the screen becoming fully blacked-out, concealing the notch's presence. However, this exaggerates the F1's bezel, which is fairly sizeable compared to the top-of-line devices of today; it's got a fair 'chin and forehead' combination and is quite bulky overall, with an 8.8mm thickness.
The bulk is for a purpose though: housed within is a 4,000mAh battery, which puts it on Huawei Mate 10 Pro levels of longevity. And there is thought to the F1's design: it's not just a sharp-edged slab like some Nokia phones, instead the soft-touch polycarbonate rear is slightly curved to soften the sense of thickness and is comfortable to grip. The 18:9 aspect ratio screen ensures it's not too wide for one hand, too (unlike the over-fat iPhone 8 Plus).
So the Pocophone F1 is a little larger than you might find elsewhere in the flagship market. But let's wind back a moment: this is a $300 equivalent phone with a huge screen, massive battery, and perfectly acceptable design for that kind of money.
Hardware, Software & Battery Life
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 platform (2.8GHz), 6GB RAM, liquid cooling (LiquidCool)
- 64GB/128GB storage options (8GB RAM in 256GB config)
- Dual SIM setup, one can double as microSD slot
- 4000mAh battery, USB-C quick charging
- MIUI 9.6 software (over Android 8.1 OS)
If you're looking for an affordable Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 device then the OnePlus 6 is most likely to spring to mind. The Poco F1's intentions to undercut this phone by price point (but not by power) are clear.
As standard the F1 features 64GB on-board storage, but its dual SIM setup can use the second slot for a microSD slot to further expand that (many had reported no mSD slot, but there's certainly one present in the SIM tray of our review device). A 128GB option will also be available, as will a 256GB option with expanded 8GB RAM (over the usual 6GB).
Just like many other flagship devices, the Pocophone F1 employs a liquid cooling system to help keep the system cool when under pressure. So if you're hammering out a mammoth gaming session and the chipset continues to push out heat, the copper pipe within – which contains water vapour – will help to stem that heat so higher clock speeds can be maintained.
And no game is off limits with this device: it's been running South Park: Phone Destroyer no problems, while PUBG Mobile runs silky smooth.
On the software front, the Poco opts for Xiaomi's MIUI (v9.6 at launch, updating to v10 in the near future), rather than a stock Android setup (although it's build on top of Android 8.1). This brings some quirks if you're used to Android proper, but Xiaomi has clearly been working hard to iron out compatability issues in recent times. Plus the software adds dual app options (e.g. two WhatsApp accounts, one per SIM) and various other additions. And swiping between screens, using the app drawer, and search options wihtin settings is simple enough.
And so to battery life. With that 4,000mAh cell running things you can expect excellent innings per charge. Even with those PUBG sessions we've seen the battery life clocking in at a full-on 24 hours, which exceeds a day's use. And with USB-C fast-charging (it's Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0) top-ups are speedy too. Certainly no worries in this department.
- Dual rear cameras: 12 & 5MP resolution, f/1.9 aperture
- Main sensor: Sony IMX-363 with 1.4um pixel size
- Second sensor: for depth mapping only
- AI (artificial intelligence) camera mode
- 20MP front camera, f/1.8 aperture
- 4K video at 30fps, 1080p 240fps
The last major piece of the puzzle is the Pocophone F1's camera setup, which features dual lenses on the rear. The main lens is paired to a 12-megapixel sensor, the second lens a 5MP sensor for depth capture only (used for the Portrait mode blurred background effect). It's placed far too close to the fingerprint scanner, for sure, especially if you want to use this to fire the shutter.
This camera setup is fairly similar to that in the Mi Mix 2S, minus the secondary wide-angle optic, meaning quality is much the same (it's the same Sony IMX-363 sensor with 1.4um pixel size, after all). The results are of good quality, but not as perfectly clean or processed as some of the competition (the Huawei P20 Pro is still king in our book) from the few snaps we've taken with the phone.
Just as we said of the Mi Mix 2S, the Poco F1 is a mixed bag really. For this camera to be truly greater it needs to polish up the interface and speed. The loading time isn't as instant as on other flagships, for example, while scrolling between modes – Short Video, Video, Photo, Portrait, Square, Panorama, Manual – should freewheel through the slider to be extra quick, rather than the sluggish response it gives right now.
Autofocus, which uses the phase-detection pixels on the sensor itself, is successful – but not the fastest available on the market. A touch on the screen will select focus and metering with ease, but it needs a faster-yet system to rival the best of the best and be truly flagship.
Whether we like the brand name or not, the Pocophone F1 offers a lot for little money. There's lots of power, lots of screen, lots of storage and considerable longevity.
Sure, it's a fairly big and chunky phone, its notch is a bit too massive, and there could be some added polish to areas of the software and cameras, but for all it does right the F1 is an accomplished and absolute bargain.
For its India launch market we expect buyers will be flocking to get hold of a Snapdragon 845 phone for such a price (₹22,000). How this will translate to the rest of the world in terms of price, however, remains to be seen. And if the F1 is launched at around the predicted €450 mark in the future then it's still got some work to do to catch up with the OnePlus 6.