(Pocket-lint) - Back in 2018 a rather oddly named phone, the Poco F1, appeared out of Xiaomi's smartphone stable. Its goal was clear: to offer lots of power at not much of the cost usually associated with such specifications. You could think of it as Xiaomi's way to take on OnePlus in its endeavours.

After a short hiatus Poco is back with its follow-up, the F2 Pro (there's no 'standard' model - it's Pro all the way). The Poco brand has supposedly separated from Xiaomi to be its own entity, but with the F2 Pro's design being effectively the same as the Redmi K30 Pro and the software being the same MIUI 11 as you'll find in Xiaomi phones, it's fair to say that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

The real question is whether the Poco F2 Pro is as 'pro' as its name suggests and if at this price point - it's €499 for the entry model, or ₹40,790 (India being a big target market) - it can be called a true flagship buster?

Design & Display

  • 6.67-inch OLED display, 1080 x 2400 resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio
  • Finishes: Neon Blue, Phantom White, Electric Purple, Cyber Grey
  • Dimensions: 163.3 x 75.4 x 8.9mm / Weight: 219g
  • Under-screen fingerprint scanner
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Different brands have taken on the front-facing camera conundrum in a number of ways over the years. In the quest for more screen real-estate to remain front and centre, the Poco F2 Pro has a pop-up camera rather than any punch-hole or notch to disrupt this 6.67-inch OLED display. That sees the F2 Pro present just a slither of bezel around its sides, which is a great look.

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However, while that certainly makes for a striking screen-to-body ratio, it's the F2 Pro's body that's a bit of a problem. Because this phone is big and heavy. You might look at the dimensions and wonder how: surely it's not much larger than any other current flagship?

Well, it comes down to the design. Because the screen is flat, there's no gentle curve to make holding it more elegant; meanwhile the thickness is undeniable (in part due to the large battery capacity) and the rear camera unit protrudes excessively in addition to that. That makes the F2 Pro somewhat unwieldy as top-end phones go. We much prefer the OnePlus 8's scale, as one comparable example - and one at a similar price point. 

Elsewhere the F2 Pro crams in a variety of technology. There's an under-screen fingerprint scanner which works just as well as any up-to-date flagship. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack - which is a rarer sighting in phones these days, but we're always pleased to see support for wired headphones beyond just Bluetooth wireless.

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But back to that screen for a moment. As the premier feature of this phone it does a relatively good job in its delivery. OLED means individual pixels illuminate - making for useful features like an always-on lock screen - and you get luscious blacks and richer colours compared to an LCD equivalent.

The default colour balance of this phone isn't to excess - it's not got the kind of black crush excess you'll see on the OnePlus 8 Pro, for example - and those used to seeing ultra-high saturation might think it looks a bit muted. There's a lot of settings to adjust this as you please, should you want the full P3, sRGB, or 'enhanced' colour space. Tinker to your heart's delight, including warm/cool, colour balance selection and saturation adjustment. The more delicate touch to colour is actually the more accurate way to approach it.

In terms of resolution there's enough pixels - 1080 lines on the vertical, 2400 on the horizontal - to cater for most use cases. Some makers offer higher resolution screens than this, but you'd often barely see the difference.

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The only problem we see with the display is that when it wakes it will 'jump' between its auto settings and a new colour balance as it makes adjustments for the surrounding light, which is unusual. And as the front-facing camera is away by default the phone also can't detect your eyes and, therefore, the automatic dimming kicks in too quickly when you won't necessarily want it to.

Performance & Battery

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor (octa-core, max 2.84GHz), 6GB RAM (LPDDR4X)
  • 4,700mAh battery capacity, 30W fast-charge (Quick Charge 4+)
  • Android 10 operating system, MIUI 11 software
  • 128GB storage, no microSD card expansion
  • 5G connectivity

On the performance front, there's no denying that the Poco F2 Pro has the majority of 2020's top-drawer phone hardware in tow. That means the best-in-class Qualcomm SD865 processor, an ample 6GB RAM -  yes, others offer 8GB or 12GB (and LPDDR5 to boot, which this isn't), but we've been unable to spot any lesser an experience from the Poco - and even 5G connectivity for future-proofing speedy connectivity.

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Everything functions swimmingly as a result of this hardware setup, so if you're running multiple apps, including higher-end games, there's no lag or slow-down to be feared. There's even a gaming mode - which is inexplicably hidden away - to allow memory exceptions and boosted power demands, even per-game tailored visual experiences (although it's not good with do not disturb for some reason).

What makes the Poco F2 Pro different to many Android phones, however, is its MIUI software. This is Xiaomi's software, built on Google's Android 10, which thankfully brings familiar features like an app drawer (including search) for finding your most-used apps - something that lacked not too long ago in previous versions.

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There are some additional benefits, such as doubling up apps for dual SIM use, too. The base software also means gesture controls are available if you don't want the older three virtual buttons arrangement. Xiaomi has put a number of settings into the software to be more Google-like than its own take - the choice is yours - so more than ever you can make this phone feel customised to your preference.

Software problems aren't often apparent, then, although some quirks such as Xiaomi's own apps - especially its Browser - defaulting to open links and documents, even sometimes after selecting Firefox/Chrome alternatives.

All that power means battery demands are potentially significant. But this is why the F2 Pro comes loaded with a massive 4,700mAh battery capacity. There's little else out there with a capacity this large - the budget Moto G8 Power beats it, as one example - and it pays dividends.

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We were able to crunch through about 12 hours and use up half the battery, so even an 18 hour day won't be a problem - including multiple hours of screen time, GPS tracking, gaming and so on.

Cameras

  • Triple rear camera with separate Time-of-Flight (ToF) depth sensor
    • Main: 64-megapixel, f/1.9 aperture, 25mm equiv., 1/1.72in sensor size
    • Ultra-wide: 13MP, f/2.4, 123-degrees angle of view
    • Zoom/Macro: 5MP, f/2.2, 50mm equiv.
    • Depth: 2MP, f/2.4
  • Front-facing pop-up camera: 25MP, f/2.0, 0.9µm

That big camera protrusion to the rear is certainly hard to miss, as if the F2 Pro is suggesting it has some serious camera credentials. Yes, it's got a quad rear system, but it's average at best really.

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The main sensor is a 64-megapixel offering, which uses four pixels in one by oversampling to deliver better results. You can shoot at the full 64MP resolution if you wish. The main sensor does well enough in good light, although images have a certain textural quality if you're looking up close. That becomes a problem in low-light situations, where images reveal multi-coloured noise and lack the kind of presence that so many other manufacturers offer with various 'night mode' options.

The ultra-wide camera is only 0.7x, so it's not significantly wider than the main lens, but that introduction of a wider field-of-view plays poorly with the edges of the images - leading to pronounced softness, almost to a blurred level.

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The zoom lens, which is two times that of the main, hence 2x, isn't as significant an optical zoom as many other 3x, 5x or 10x flagship competitors offer. It'll have its uses, no doubt, and actually resolves detail well despite its low resolution. Thing is, it's not really a needed lens: the 64MP main camera could cater for this with cropping without too much an issue. It does double-up as a close-up macro lens, though, which is handy.

Lastly there's a depth sensor, if you want to call that a true camera. It's used for applying background blur to portraits, for that more 'pro' look.

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So the main camera is acceptable in good light, but the other optics seem a bit of a stretch in their worth. They don't seem to represent a pro-named handset anyway. We'd rather just have the one main camera and do away with all the bulk and cost that comes with the quad solution.

Poco could also refine the camera functionality. The autofocus was often out, even when touching a subject, so some better artificial intelligence smarts here would certainly be a help.

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And then there's the front-facing camera. When this is released from its stow it comes out screaming - there's a blue light on either side of the unit, making a big song and dance about its presence. It's entirely unnecessary and gimmicky really. Just be a camera and pop out. Simple.

Verdict

There's no denying that the Poco F2 Pro delivers a whole lot for the money. That's the whole point of this device. If you want the 2020 top-drawer Qualcomm processor but can't afford a Samsung, Apple or other similar flagship, Poco could well be your go-to device.

However, the F2 Pro just doesn't feel quite as 'pro' as its name suggests. The build is big and unwieldy. The camera protrusion to the rear is pretty massive - and that's all pomp as the cameras aren't up to as much as you might expect anyway. Oh, and the pop-up camera's carnival lightshow reveal is just unnecessary.

Revel in what Poco does well though: that big screen doesn't push saturation to excess like its competitors; there's no punch-hole or notch to get in the way; there's no curved edges to mess up your gaming or media consumption; and the phone's battery life will ensure you can work and play all day long with no fear.

After its brief hiatus we're pleased to see Poco back in the driving seat of its own destiny. And based on what the F2 Pro delivers, this is a brand to keep watching - because it delivers one heck of a lot for not a lot of cash.

Also consider

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OnePlus 8

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We prefer the smaller scale and less obtrusive cameras of the OnePlus 8. It's a similar price and just feels infinitely more pocketable than the Poco.

Writing by Mike Lowe.