Xiaomi-associated POCO is a gaming phone brand that really needs no introduction. The company has been making great, value-first gaming devices since it was first introduced. But, its POCO X3 NFC might need some explanation and it definitely deserves a thorough review.
At just €229 — roughly $269 — POCO X3 NFC is not necessarily a phone serious gamers would consider based on price alone. It might be tempting to make the assumption that it's meant only to cater to those who can't afford something better. Especially as smartphone prices continue to rise for those who want the latest tech and best experience.
At under $300, POCO X3 NFC quite literally doesn't seem to fit the gaming bill. It's inexpensive even by POCO standards. A closer inspection reveals that the POCO X3 NFC is brilliantly engineered. Summarily, it's a handset that should be on every mobile gamer's shortlist.
The hardware here does not feel or look like it belongs in the midrange
Upon opening my review unit for the POCO X3 NFC, my first thought was how striking this handset looks in Cobalt Blue. It's also sold in a more subdued Shadow Gray coloration for those who need something more subtle. But it looks absolutely electric in blue.
The color shift on that, setting aside the stylish carbon-print stripe down the center or the deep, dark branding planted on it, is stunning. In bright sunlight, the tone has a mirror-like reflectiveness that shifts almost to a black hue at sharp angles. When that color-shift happens, the branding morphs to take on a bright blue tint.
The sole caveat to this phone's design, conversely, is in its camera. That's planted in a circular ring but the camera bump itself isn't circular. It's a circle that's been cut off at the top and bottom. The oddity was the one thing about this design, aside from its ability to attract fingerprints, that really drove me nuts during the review. It just looks off.
Everything else, from the rapid-firing embedded side-mounted in-power fingerprint scanner to the placement of the IR blaster at the top looks fantastic on this phone. Even the bezels, slightly larger than normal, don't feel too out of place.
In terms of build quality, it's a good thing that POCO includes a case with its X3. The design feels like glass but it's plastic. So it's going to scratch more easily than might be hoped. The front of the device is Gorilla Glass 5, though and the frame is aluminum. So, in-hand, this phone feels very nice.
In fact, it feels a lot like a flagship. The buttons, ports, and speaker grill are well-designed and easy to find. But not sharp. And, where applicable, they click through and hold without jostle or wiggle. That holds true for the rest of the hardware too. It all seems to be extremely well thought-out and put together.
The POCO X3 NFC display is in a class all its own at this price
Attention to detail also holds true when it comes to the display. Some smartphone displays, when turned up to maximum brightness in low-light conditions, feel blindingly bright. This screen manages to hold its own and look natural without that effect. That's in part thanks to the screen's color management in settings. But that's not all that makes this screen great.
It's also responsive, with touches on the POCO X3 NFC never lagging behind during my review or requiring more pressure than expected.
The display itself is a 6.67-inch panel with a 1080 x 2340 FHD+ resolution. Now, that's an HDR10-compatible IPS LCD panel rather than AMOLED. But it gets as close as any LCD I've used to hitting the same contrast as an AMOLED panel. And, best of all, it's got one of the highest refresh rates in a phone this price. Setting aside the screen responsiveness rating.
POCO set that at 120Hz, where most mid-rangers never go beyond 90Hz. And certainly no smartphones at below the $300 price bracket. The touch response rate alluded to above, is set at 240Hz. The difference there shows. Whether in gaming or watching movies, this screen feels like it was pulled directly from a $1000+ flagship gaming phone.
Performance is well above where it should be
Irrespective of the fact that the POCO X3 NFC is a gaming phone, the performance under review was nearly on par with phones more than double its price. That's not too surprising since it'ss packed with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. Or its not-quite-flagship Snapdragon 732G chipset. But it may be a shock to the system for some, regardless, that this phone performs so well. Especially at below $300.
Put more poignantly, the only place this phone seems to slow down at all is during intensive video/audio editing tasks. Everywhere else, the performance was indiscernible from my Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro flagship daily driver. That's aided along, at least in games, by in-depth gaming software. The software not only optimizes interruptions, touch sensitivity, and touch zones. It also bolsters graphics in most titles. And the difference is noticeable.
Anybody looking at a gaming phone, specifically, should be considering the POCO X3 NFC since it represents an easy way to get peak performance while saving hundreds of dollars.
Despite the performance, the POCO X3 NFC didn't heat up at all during review either. So it's a real performer in every sense of the word.
How does all of that impact battery life for POCO X3 NFC?
Despite the specifications listed above, POCO X3 NFC did very well on battery life during my review. In fact, it not only had an exceptional charging rate for its price bracket. It lasted quite some time during my drain test. That's in spite of the fact that the display refresh rate was set to 120Hz, screen brightness maxed out, and battery-saving features turned off.
Now, it goes without saying that battery life is subjective. Some games and apps drain the battery faster than others in a smartphone. And some connectivity settings will also drain the battery faster or slower depending on the network quality. I used this phone approximately half on Wi-Fi and half on a mobile data connection.
In terms of charging, this phone took just 20-minutes to hit 40-percent and that didn't seem to slow down either. 40-minutes took the battery up to 76-percent and it was full after just an hour, give or take a few minutes.
Battery drain was great in that I saw approximately 7-hours of screen-on time. That was split just about evenly between daily use tasks like browsing, messaging, and calls, and other tasks like video and music streaming or gaming. That's with the game-boosting features we'll discuss later on enabled.
Around 12-hours was spent on standby. And 6-hours of standby drained just 2-percent. So this phone should be just fine left on overnight without charging, for light users.
This phone accomplishes all of that, in part, due to its use of a 5,160mAh 33W-charging battery. But the software optimizations go a long way on that front too.
Does the audio match up or take away from the gaming experience?
Audio is always the one area of just about any smartphone review where things really fall apart and the POCO X3 NFC is no exception to that. The audio is decidedly more balanced, thanks in part to stereo tuning. POCO utilized both the earpiece — which also has a single LED mounted inside — and the bottom-firing speaker on this phone.
The audio on that front couldn't fairly be described as 'tinny' but it could be described as lacking any real power or depth. They're loud and they fairly represent all of the tones a typical human ear can perceive. But nobody is going to write home about it. It's simply not an area where this budget-friendly phone shines.
Conversely, the POCO X3 NFC does include a 3.5mm audio combo jack. And the quality on that side of things is as good as any other phone in the mid-range category. In fact, it's arguably as good as any phone in the flagship category. But the company also didn't do anything too fancy with its audio for this device. There are presets — or users can leave things on automatic — for Music, Video, and Voice. And there is a basic equalizer.
Users can even adjust what the buttons on some wired headsets do. For instance, whether they control media playback or volume. But this isn't the Hi-Fi-boosting feature seen on some other smartphones in a similar price range.
POCO X3 NFC software is refreshingly stock but with extras
On the software side of things, POCO X3 NFC keeps things fairly stock. Or, at the very least, everything feels pretty stock. Aside from the above-noted gaming software and audio improvements, there are several elements that are definitely not.
For example, there's the Samsung Edge-like Quick Ball and the ability to theme everything from the boot animation and audio to the look of icons and system apps.
There are also floating windows and "Second space" for those who need more productivity. The latter feature effectively works to allow dual-sign-in on apps — separating work from play. Of course, staple features like Dark Mode and Digital Wellbeing are built right in as part of Android 10. And Android 11 should be well on its way at this point, although when it arrives is anybody's guess.
Looking more deeply at the pre-installed software, things are surprisingly stock there too. In fact, it's almost all Google, with a few Xiaomi AOSP remixes thrown in for good measure. But there is a bit of bloatware too. Namely, Facebook, Netflix, LinkedIn, and WPS Office. Those can each be uninstalled and that won't be difficult since it's not a lot of apps.
So, in addition to being well-optimized for performance and generally buttery-smooth, there aren't a lot of extra apps or features hanging around to trip users up either.
Did the camera take a hit in pursuit of gaming perfection at a budget price?
With all of the other features of this device bumping right up against perfection, at least in terms of value, it's an easy mistake to think everything on this device is that good. And for the most part, that's true. But, although the camera is to be lauded for its quality, that's one area the POCO X3 NFC fell apart under review.
The quality of daytime shots in both 64MP, macro, video, AI, portrait, and all of the other expected included modes is fantastic. That shines through in our sample gallery via Flickr. The color accuracy, speed, auto-focus, HDR, and other nifty features such as stickers are spectacular. Especially for a phone that doesn't cost a grand to get delivered as many comparably-great phones do.
In fact, you'll hear no complaints from me in any of those areas at all. The above-mentioned gallery speaks for itself. Even in zoomed shots, this camera does very well.
The problems arise, in spectacular fashion, when night mode is used.
Now, this isn't an on-off problem as it is with many others in the category. Shots that were taken at night with moderately good lighting or indoors with decent lighting turn out great. As long as users can stay stable while taking the shot. But when light levels get too low, everything is a wash. Similarly, night shots of the sky are uneven in saturation or appear black-and-white at best. With only the faintest hint of stars.
Conversely, night zoomed shots, taken of a well-lit object at a distance, turn out comparatively well. They aren't great and wouldn't be usable in most senses of the word. None of these night shots are going to be pictures you'll happily frame and hang on your wall. But it does do significantly better than might be expected.
That all points to a potential software issue that could feasibly be worked out with a future update. Although there's no guarantee that'll happen.
You could use this in the US if you wanted, at least on some carriers
One big drawback to the POCO X3 NFC — or perhaps not, based on this review — is that it only supports 4G LTE. That, of course, means that it's never going to get next-gen 5G speed, regardless of where it's purchased. But that trade-off does come with advantages. Not least of all is the price of the phone and battery life, which both seem to suffer when 5G is built into devices.
In terms of the quality of that 4G connection, usually, that isn't testable. Or it can't be tested by me when it comes to phones that aren't intended for sale in the US. The POCO X3 NFC is one of those phones. In this case, this phone actually connected better than my daily driver device, a Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro. Where that other handset typically gets one bar of service or none, this phone received three.
While it can't be guaranteed to connect on any individual carrier network in the US, that shows this phone does work on Google Fi, at the very least. Fi utilizes T-Mobile and US Cellular bands.
Not only is 4G solid, even in the US, but NFC is also part of the connectivity bundle. It's right there in the name. So that will work too, unlike many devices not intended for this market. That worked, as might be expected, flawlessly during my review period. As did Bluetooth 5.1 and WiFi 5 protocols.
To buy or not to buy isn't even really a question here
Throughout my review of the POCO X3 NFC, as I completed each segment, I never stopped looking for tradeoffs. And, to be clear, I found quite a few of those. There's no 5G connectivity, audio quality could be better, it's not intended for US use — even if it does work on some networks — and the night camera is, for lack of a better word, almost garbage.
With that said, I never really found any that could explain the pricing set for this smartphone. That's not to say the company needs to justify the price. On the contrary, it's not clear at all how the POCO X3 NFC is priced so low. Especially since nearly everything about the POCO X3 NFC easily beats out its competition.
Summarily, users will be hard-pressed to find a phone that takes better daytime or well-lit photos. Or play games at their highest settings without getting hot. Or with a display like this one at this price without taking a massive hit to the battery. All wrapped up in an impressive design without any real shortcuts on quality there either. This is arguably one of the best budget smartphones around.