Xiaomi Poco F1 Review: The Best Value Android Smartphone Available

Xiaomi focused on speed, performance and price on the Poco F1, and created one of the best inexpensive smartphones ever made. 

Xiaomi has garnered a reputation for putting out some incredible smartphones at pretty cheap prices. In fact, Xiaomi has capped its profit margins on its hardware division to just five-percent. Which means that Xiaomi is making very little on each individual phone (and other hardware) sold. However, Xiaomi sells millions of phones and also makes money through its software. But with its new brand, Poco (Pocophone in India), it is looking to take that to the next step. The Poco F1 is a flagship smartphone at a mid-range (possibly even lower) price. Some might say, that this is just too good to be true, but is it? We've spent a few weeks using the Poco F1, so let's find out.

Specs

The Poco F1 comes with a 6.18-inch display, sporting an 18.7:9 aspect ratio with a resolution of 2246x1080. That does mean this is a full HD+ panel, and it is also a LCD panel. Powering the Poco F1 is Qualcomm's latest flagship processor, the Snapdragon 845 chipset. There is also 6GB of RAM with either 64GB or 128GB of storage. There is also a higher-end model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. And Xiaomi has still kept the micro SD card slot, so you will have plenty of storage here. This is all powered by a 4000mAh capacity battery, that supports Quick Charge 3.0.

Xiaomi didn't really skimp on the camera either. There's a dual-camera setup on the backside, which includes a 12-megapixel main sensor that has an aperture of f/1.9, which is also 1.4um and offers dual pixel phase detection auto-focus to allow for great shots at night and in low-light situations. The secondary camera is a 5-megapixel sensor with a f/2.0 aperture. This one is a bit smaller at 1.12um, and is only used for gathering depth information. The front-facing camera is a 20-megapixel sensor with a f/2.0 sensor, and Xiaomi has also included an IR blaster on the front, which is used with the camera for facial recognition.

One area that Xiaomi did skimp on is, NFC. There's no NFC here, which isn't a surprise, seeing as NFC and mobile payments in general, aren't huge in the markets that Xiaomi is launching this phone in (mostly Europe and Asia, but not China). You do however, have 5GHz WiFi support, so you're going to get some fast wireless speeds on the Poco F1. There's also Bluetooth 5.0, a FM radio and GPS, A-GPS and GLONASS is used for location tracking. All of this is running on Android 8.1 Oreo along with MIUI 9.6.11 Stable here. Finally, there is a headphone jack on the Poco F1.

In the Box

Xiaomi's unboxing experience with the Poco F1 is pretty similar to its other smartphones. It's pretty minimal, with the phone right on top. But inside the box, you do also get a nice TPU case for the Poco F1 - which we actually didn't use, since we had the Armored Edition - along with a USB-C cable and a Quick Charge 3.0-compatible wall charger.

Hardware

In the world of glass and metal smartphones, Xiaomi decided to go with a polycarbonate body on the Poco F1 - or Kevlar on the Armored Edition which is the model we have and will mostly be referring to in this review. There's obviously trade-offs for using plastic over glass and metal. For one, it doesn't feel as premium as something like the Galaxy Note 9. But the big difference here, is that the Poco F1 is much less slippery than the Galaxy Note 9. Kevlar also makes it easier to stay in your hand as it does add some grip to the Poco F1.

Xiaomi also did something else that is different from the rest of the smartphone industry, and that is make the Poco F1 a pretty thick phone. It comes in at about 8.8mm thick. So while it's not the thickest phone out there, it is still thicker than other flagships, and many people are going to love that. This is because, a thicker phone is also easier to hold onto, than a thinner phone. The reason for this being thicker is not only to make it easier to hold onto, but also because of that massive 4000mAh capacity battery, and the liquid cooling system that Xiaomi is using in the Poco F1 - something you'll also find on the Galaxy Note 9 for about three times the price.

There is a USB-C port on the bottom of the phone with the speaker and microphone down there as well. Xiaomi is making the earpiece pull double duty here and also work as a secondary speaker. While the headphone jack is at the top of the phone. On the right side of the phone you'll find the volume rocker and power button. The volume rocker actually feels like two separate buttons, which makes it easier to feel and find which one is volume up and which is volume down. Making it easier to silence your phone when it is in your pocket. Now the frame here is a plastic one, so it will get dinged up a bit easier, but it does make the Poco F1 lighter, and cheaper to make. The build is definitely one of the areas where Xiaomi skimped, but it is still a great looking phone that also feels really good in the hand.

Display

The display is not the highest-end display out there, it's still a full HD+ display. And that should not surprise anyone. Xiaomi still uses full HD+ displays on the majority of its smartphones. Even on its more expensive, Mi MIX 2S and Mi 8 smartphones. This is because Xiaomi believes that the trade-offs for using a Quad HD panel aren't worth it. That includes worse battery life, for what is only a minimally different look on the display. Plus it helps keep the costs down on all of its hardware. The panel here is actually really good. It is an IPS LCD panel, which typically, are difficult to use outside. But that was not the case with the Poco F1. It was easy to read outside, and did get pretty bright. Now the one downside here for many people, will be the notch. There is a notch here, and it does mean some changes to the software, which we'll talk about a bit later. But after using the phone for a few days, you get used to the notch, and it's not as big of an issue.

Performance

If you're thinking performance might be an issue on the Poco F1, think again. Xiaomi is using the Snapdragon 845 chipset with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM here, which is some of the best specs available right now for a smartphone. Then add in the liquid cooling system that is inside the Poco F1, you're getting a pretty impressive phone, on the performance front. Of course, in day-to-day usage, the Poco F1 was pretty speedy, and never really slowed down. Nor did we need to wait for apps to re-draw, because they stayed in the recent apps memory, so it was still pretty fast.

Now when it comes to gaming performance, that's where the Poco F1 really shines. Especially with that Snapdragon 845 chipset inside. The Snapdragon 845 is already one of the best chipsets for mobile gaming, but you add in that liquid cooling and it means that you can game longer without the phone getting hot. We did put some serious time into playing Asphalt 9: Legends here on the Poco F1, and it did get a bit warm, but never hot. And it never slowed down either. So those that are looking to do some serious mobile gaming, the Poco F1 will definitely not disappoint. It's important to point out that we have the 6GB/128GB model here. So if you pick up the 8GB of RAM model, you can likely get a bit better performance, but 6GB is still plenty here.

Sound Quality

The Poco F1 does technically have dual speakers here, though the earpiece is mostly for mids and highs. While the bottom firing speaker is more bassy. The bottom speaker is also a tiny bit tinny. It's not really noticeable, but if you listen carefully, you can tell. With the speaker being on the bottom, there is a chance that you could cover it while gaming, though even when it is covered, it still comes out pretty loud. So there's no issues with sound when gaming in landscape here. There is a headphone jack here, so you can still plug in your favorite headphones and listen to music while you're on the go. There's no specialized DAC included in the Poco F1, so the sound quality is mostly going to depend on the headphones you have plugged in.

Security

Xiaomi has kept the fingerprint sensor on the backside of the Poco F1, allowing you to still use your finger to secure your phone. It is located below the camera module, and it's actually in a pretty good spot. This makes it super easy to unlock your phone using your finger, as you don't need to readjust your grip of the phone to use the fingerprint sensor.

Now for those that don't want to use the fingerprint sensor, there is facial recognition, using the infrared sensor on the front. This makes the face unlock super fast. In fact, it seems like it has recognized my face before the phone is even able to turn on (meaning that it's faster than the software of the phone). It's also super accurate, even in dimly lit situations. It works really well, but the only downside here is that face unlock is only available in certain regions. For example, in the US, face unlock is not available on Xiaomi phones (this was the case with the Mi MIX 2S as well), but if you switch the region to another one (we did Hong Kong on this Poco F1), you are able to use face unlock. It's a bit weird that it's region specific, but that's how it works for now.

Phone Calls & Networks

The Poco F1 is not coming to the US, and Xiaomi did not include global bands in the phone. This means that here in the US, it's basically a WiFi-only smartphone. That's a bit unfortunate, as we could not test out the network on this phone or phone calls. We did put a T-Mobile SIM card inside, but it did not even pick up 2G coverage. But this should work perfectly fine in Europe and Asia. Xiaomi does also have VoLTE available here, like it does on most of its smartphones.

Benchmarks

When it comes to benchmarks, it's important to note that these should be taken with a grain of salt. Manufacturers have been known to "cheat" on benchmarks, by upping the speed of the processor to get better scores. And benchmarks typically don't relate to daily use, even when OEMs are not "cheating" on them. But we still run them to make sure everything is running properly, and the Poco F1 seems to have scores similar to the Snapdragon 845-based smartphones on the market like the LG G7 ThinQ, Samsung Galaxy S9, Xiaomi Mi MIX 2S and others. We ran, AnTuTu, 3D Mark and GeekBench 4 on the Poco F1. On AnTuTu, it picked up a score of 263,059. Now you'll see in the screenshots below, that is actually below the Poco F1 that is listed there, this is because you won't get the same score every time. So nothing to be worried about. On 3D Mark, it picked up a score of 3,966 in the Sling Shot Extreme - OpenGL ES 3.1 test, and a 2,841 score on the Sling Shot Extreme - Vulkan test. Finally, on Geekbench 4, it grabbed a single-core score of 2,437, and a multi-core score of 8,947. You can see the full results in the gallery below.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Xiaomi Poco F1 is incredible. With a 4000mAh capacity battery, that is expected though. Now there is a caveat here for us, seeing as we were using this in the US, and the Poco F1 does not support US carrier networks, we did not have a SIM card inside the Poco F1. So battery life is a bit skewed here. But you should still get pretty good battery life, even if you are on 4G LTE all day. During our testing, we were able to get to the nine hour mark, for screen on time. And that was still with around 20-percent left in the tank. That is pretty incredible, and almost unheard of for a smartphone. You should be able to get around two full days on a charge with the Poco F1, even if you are a heavy user. On that cycle where we got nine hours of on-screen time, that included plenty of YouTube, as well as plenty of gaming in Asphalt 9: Legends. So if you are only browsing the internet, you likely can stretch the battery out even further.

As mentioned already, the Poco F1 sports Quick Charge 3.0 support. Xiaomi informed AndroidHeadlines that it did not do Quick Charge 4.0 or 4+ because of diminishing returns. It doesn't charge all that much faster, and would make the battery die faster. And that's the case for most smartphones in the past couple of years. Many are opting for the slightly slower, Quick Charge 3.0, at least until USB-C PD charging becomes more of a standard - as it is safer. Xiaomi also did not include wireless charging. Which might be a it of a surprise since this is a plastic phone (wireless charging works best through plastic), and Xiaomi also sells its own wireless chargers. But no Qi Wireless Charging here, so you'll have to stick with plugging in your phone at night.

Software

Xiaomi is shipping the Poco F1 with Android 8.1.0 Oreo, and MIUI 9.6.11.0 (OEJMIFD) on-board. That includes the June 1, 2018 security patch, which is obviously not the very latest security patch, but it is somewhat recent. Xiaomi does also push out updates quite frequently to the Poco F1 (and its other smartphones), we received two updates during the month or so that we were using the Poco F1.

When you first pick up the Poco F1, you will likely question whether this is actually a device running on MIUI. This is because it doesn't really look like MIUI, if you have the Poco theme enabled. Xiaomi decided to theme MIUI a bit on the Poco F1, basically making it more appealing to the west. In the east - particularly in China - customers like different features, like not having an app drawer, and looking like an iOS clone. But in the west, customers want the app drawer, they also want something closer to stock. While MIUI is still here, Xiaomi did decide to add a launcher here. The Poco launcher gives you an app drawer, which has some features of the Pixel Launcher - like swiping up for the app drawer. It also is able to sort your apps by their category. So at the top, you can swipe over to see your entertainment apps, or productivity apps. I can say it's not something I really used at all, but it is a nice feature to have. It's there, if you want to use it or not, and doesn't really get in the way.

The launcher also allows you to sort apps by color, again it's another feature that's there that many people likely won't use. When talking with Xiaomi ahead of the Poco F1 announcement, we were told that this was one of those "fun" features that it included, but doesn't actually think many people will use it. Now a feature that many people will in fact use, is the ability to install a third-party icon pack on the launcher, without installing a third-party launcher like Nova or Action Launcher. Xiaomi did also decide to change up the notification panel, this is part of the Poco theme and not necessarily the launcher. But the notification shade uses Android Pie-inspired quick settings. It looks great and all, but one of the things that I really liked about the Xiaomi notification shade, was having the weather right there. So you could easily check out the weather without opening an app or having a widget on your home screen. It was definitely a really nice feature to have. And while you can get it back by switching to the Xiaomi theme, it would be nice to have it in the Poco theme as well.

Now just because it does not look like MIUI on the homescreen, doesn't mean it's not running MIUI, because it is. So all of those features that Xiaomi has worked hard on over the years are still here. That includes the gesture-based navigation that Xiaomi launched earlier this year. you can swipe up to go home, swipe up and hold for a second to go to recents, or swipe in from the left or right anywhere on the screen to go back. These gestures are far better than what Google has on Android Pie, and that's because it doesn't take up screen real-estate, so you actually get more screen for apps and such. Unlike Google who keeps a bar at the bottom for these gestures. There are also a few new gestures coming in MIUI 10 which is available in beta for the Poco F1. We decided not to use the beta, and stick with a stable build for the review, in case there were a ton of bugs.

The software here is a good mix of what Xiaomi has done well, and what users in the west want. And because this is Android, you can still customize it as much as you like. Which is definitely a nice thing here. Now the only bad thing about the software here is that there is still an issue or two with notifications. Some others have said that there were issues getting notifications from certain apps. For myself, the only issue I had was notifications coming in slowly. For example, the Pixel 2 XL would ring with a Hangouts notification, the Poco F1 wouldn't ring with that notification for up to an hour. Even if I've already read and replied to the notification, it would still ring. Notifications issues are pretty common on Xiaomi and really just Chinese smartphones, so not a surprise, but it is slowly getting better.

Camera

The Poco F1 has a surprisingly good camera for a smartphone at this price point. Typically, smartphones in this price point are pretty subpar, blowing out the backgrounds, taking its sweet time to focus and so forth. But that is not an issue with the Poco F1. Xiaomi is using the same sensor as the Mi MIX 2S here, so you're getting some really good images out of this camera. The Poco F1's camera is not perfect, there are times where it has put out some rather questionable pictures, with some of the background blown out. But that doesn't happen often at all. In fact, many of the images that we took with the Poco F1 came out looking really good.

Xiaomi is using all of its camera software on the Poco F1 (because why not?). So you are getting the AI features included here which will adjust the settings of the camera when it detects an object. For instance, if you are taking a picture of clouds, it will detect the clouds and adjust the settings to get a really flattering looking picture. It can identify hundreds of objects, so you likely will never need to jump to the manual mode - which is still here. Luckily, Xiaomi isn't being as aggressive with the Poco F1's camera, as Huawei or Honor is with their smartphone cameras. So the pictures look more life-like. Xiaomi also has portrait-mode here, on both the rear and front cameras. The rear camera uses the secondary 5-megapixel sensor for gathering depth data and works really well for portraits or just as a macro mode. Now the front-facing camera uses a bit of artificial intelligence so that you get a really good looking picture. And it comes out pretty well. It actually gets really close to the quality that you would get from the Pixel 2 XL, which still has one of the best front-facing portrait modes out there.

Pictures taken with the Poco F1 is pretty incredible, especially when you factor in the fact that this is a $300-equivalent smartphone. If you are taking pictures in daylight, then you will really see how well this camera works. But in low-light, the camera can struggle a bit, but still offer decent images. You can see all of the images we took with this smartphone in the Flickr gallery below.

The Good

Price, starting at around $300 USD for 6GB/64GB model

Software experience

Performance

Battery Life & Quick Charge 3.0 support

Headphone Jack included

The Bad

Plastic build quality

No NFC

No Water Resistance

No Wireless Charging

Wrap Up

The Poco F1 is a phone that is going to make Xiaomi's competitors scared. Why? Simply because Xiaomi was able to build a smartphone with flagship specs and features and offer it for less than a third of the price of the Galaxy Note 9 and Apple iPhone X. That has really caught a lot of people's attention, as it should. And the good thing here is, that it's not too good to be true.

Should I Buy the Xiaomi Poco F1?

If you live in a market where Xiaomi sells smartphones, then definitely. The Poco F1 doesn't have global bands, so importing it into the US won't work out too well. But for $300, you really can't go wrong with the Poco F1, and you are going to be hard-pressed to find another smartphone that is able to compete with the Poco F1 at this price point. You definitely won't find another $300 smartphone that has the Snapdragon 845 chipset inside.

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