Poco F1 review: Xiaomi redefines flagship with this hard-to-beat smartphone

Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi recently took the plunge in India’s premium mid-range segment, the second-fastest-growing segment in the country, with the debut of a flagship smartphone under the Poco sub-brand. 

Xiaomi’s compatriot OnePlus, the only other strong player in the segment with triple-digit year-on-year growth rates in recent times, has been the fastest-growing flagship smartphone brand in India, ahead of the biggies Samsung and Apple.

Priced at Rs 20,999 for the base model, the Poco F1 is the most economical offering in the mid-range flagship segment, much cheaper than the even the Asus Zenfone 5z and OnePlus 6. However, is Poco F1 a complete package with an all-round performance? Let’s find out:

Design and display

Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 5 Pro, launched earlier this year, had an iPhone X-inspired design – a metallic back, vertically aligned rear camera module and a circular fingerprint sensor in the back’s mid-centre. Most of its smartphones since have followed the same design template. Thankfully, the Poco F1 has a fresh new design. It is not chic, given its plastic build, and does not look as premium as glass and metallic designs of current-generation mid-range flagships. The company, though, is also offering a Kevlar back edition in the premium 256GB variant.

The front is covered with a 6.18-inch fullHD+ (2246 x 1080) screen stretched in the 18.7:9 aspect ratio. The screen has a notch on top, accommodating the earpiece, front camera and sensors. While other smartphone makers are working on ways to minimise the notch area, the Poco F1 takes a detour and offers an even bigger one. The bigger notch is justified by the addition of an infrared illuminator for a better face-unlock mechanism. This works well in both bright and lowlight conditions. The notch, enabled by default, can be disabled from settings. 

As for display quality, it is a bright unit with ample contrast and good saturation levels. The screen looks vivid and stays legible even in bright sunny conditions. The screen supports both physical and gesture-based navigations, removing home, back and recent keys from the bottom area and providing more space for content. Currently, there is a support for three gestures – swipe up from bottom for home, swipe up from bottom and hold for recent apps, and swipe from left to right and right to left from edges for back and next. These gestures make the phone a lot easier to operate with one hand.

Performance

The Poco F1, powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 system-on-chip (SoC), comes in three internal storage and RAM configurations – 64GB/6GB, 128GB/6GB and 256GB/8GB. The phone boots Android Oreo 8.1.0 out of the box, covered under the MIUI 9 custom interface, which looks cleaner than the MIUI 9 iteration in other Xiaomi devices.

A performance powerhouse, the Poco F1 is smooth all through and shows no signs of lag or stutter. It handles power- and graphic-intensive applications without breaking sweat. The phone’s liquid-cooling technology keeps the thermals in check and prevents heating issues. Even after rigorous graphic-intensive gaming sessions, the phone shows no signs of weakness.

The phone also handles background apps better and does not force-close them to free up RAM. A sign of good RAM management, this makes the phone operate apps properly, freeze them in the background for longer without consuming much battery, and resume them instantly.

Camera

The Poco F1 has a dual-camera module on the back featuring a 12-megapixel primary sensor, mated with a 5MP depth-sensing lens. There is a 12MP shooter on the front for selfies. Both the rear and front modules feature artificial intelligence capabilities for automatic scene detection, portrait and beauty mode.

The rear dual camera module is a mixed bag of hits and misses. It works optimally in daylight conditions but disappoints in low light. During the day, the camera takes balanced shots with ample details and good saturation. The phone by default takes vivid-looking shots that do not lose details even when looked at on bigger screens. For those who take a lot of portrait shots, the Poco F1 captures balanced shots with proper segmentation of background and focus objects for an enhanced bokeh effect. Importantly, the portrait mode identifies small details like hairline or loose edges of clothes and separates them from background for natural-looking portraits. While daylight shots are brilliant, night imaging from the rear camera is not up to the flagship standard. It takes satisfactory shots, but the noise is prominent and the photos appear a little blurred at times.

The front selfie camera is as good as the rear one. It also features the portrait mode, which works optimally for selfies. It takes detailed photographs in good light conditions but shows weaknesses in low light.

Battery

Powering the Poco F1 is a 4,000 mAh battery that keeps it running for almost a day on regular usage –calls, messages, internet browsing and online video and audio streaming using apps. Due to proper RAM optimisation, the phone’s stand-by time is also good; it uses around 9 per cent battery overnight -- from 11 PM to 9 AM.

Heavy usage – playing games, editing videos, using camera and recording videos – takes a toll on battery. The phone still manages to go on for more than half a day. The Poco F1 comes bundled with a fast charger that takes the battery level from zero to 100 per cent in less than two hours which is good.

Verdict

The Poco F1 shows that a flagship smartphone does not necessarily have to be pricey. This one cuts corners on design, camera and some other features to keep the price low but still manages to pack in enough to count as a flagship – and all of that a price hard to beat.


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