Review, Smartphone

Pocophone F1 Review: The King of Affordable Flagships

It’s been a couple of months since the Pocophone F1 was introduced in our region, and it seems to be pretty well-received. In a price-sensitive market like ours, the phone’s success really comes as no surprise – it’s the most affordable smartphone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset, after all.

But is this fact alone enough to make the Pocophone F1 a compelling smartphone? Is this sub-brand of Xiaomi worth the hype? Considering its affordable price tag, the F1 does have a couple of drawbacks, but it’s definitely one of the best – if not the best – value for money flagship you can get right now.

Specifications

Display6.18-inch FHD+ IPS LCD (2246 x 1080)
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 845 2.8GHz octa-core
GPU
Adreno 630
RAM6GB
Storage64/128GB, expandable
Camera (rear)
12MP f/1.9 + 5MP f/2.0, PDAF
Camera (front)20MP f/2.0
Battery
4,000mAh
Dimensions155.5 x 75.3 x 8.8 mm
Weight
180g
OSMIUI 10 based on Android 8.1 Oreo
ConnectivityLTE
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
USB Type-C

The Pocophone F1’s main attraction is definitely the fast Snapdragon 845 chipset; the same SoC powering a plethora of flagship devices twice – or even thrice – the F1’s asking price. Not only is it the most affordable Snapdragon 845 device, the phone’s other hardware are very good too, including the generous 4,000mAh battery.

Our review unit is the 64GB variant with 6GB of RAM, but for those who want more storage, there’s the 128GB model. If that’s still not enough, the Pocophone F1 has a microSD card slot too, not to mention a 3.5mm headphone jack. As far as hardware is concerned, the F1 does a lot of things right.

Design

Despite its all-plastic construction, the Pocophone F1 feels solid. It doesn’t creak when pressure is applied, it has a nice heft to it – it weighs 180g – and the phone’s matte finish feels nice to the touch. While it doesn’t feel quite as premium or solid as other flagship smartphones, we have to keep in mind that the F1 is much more affordable. Premium material does make a phone a lot more attractive, but it may not matter as much as you’d think.

On the front of the Pocophone F1 is a 6.18-inch 1080p IPS display, and yes, it has a pretty sizeable notch. So much so, in fact, that there’s no room for notification icons. If I want to check if I’ve received any notification, I’d have to pull down on the notification shade; it can get quite annoying.

Besides the notched display, I’m not a fan of the F1’s bottom bezel either. While it’s still relatively small, it’s not as minimal as the bezel of, say, the OnePlus 6.

But as a whole, I’m quite fond of the Pocophone F1’s design. The rear fingerprint sensor’s placement, for one, is easy to reach with my index finger. The slightly tapered back panel also makes it a comfortable device to hold for long periods of time.

Pocophone’s no-nonsense design approach with the F1 is clever. It’s a functional design, and the fact that it’s made from inexpensive material further drives down the manufacturing cost of the phone. This, in turn, makes it possible for the device to be as affordable as it is – it’s a really smart approach.

User Experience

My unit of the Pocophone F1 is running on a beta version of MIUI 10, and for the most part, it feels lightweight and fast. However, I did face a couple of software issues. On more than one occasion, I had several apps, including Facebook and Google Maps, freeze up on me. However, this seems to happen at random – I couldn’t replicate it often enough for it to be a huge issue.

Aside from that, some of my notifications weren’t showing up in the notification shade either. One moment it was there, and the next thing I know, it was gone. On top of that, MIUI only allows you to dismiss notifications with a right swipe – swiping left reveals the snooze option instead.

Nonetheless, do keep in mind that I’m running a beta version of MIUI 10 on the Pocophone F1. There’s a very good chance the final version of the software won’t suffer from these small, niggling issues. And as a whole, MIUI 10 does run just fine on this phone. Bloatware are not aplenty, there’s an app drawer, and most importantly, the software doesn’t feel like it’s slowing the phone down.

Next, we have the Pocophone F1’s 6.18-inch 1080p IPS display, which is pleasant to look at. Colours are vibrant, viewing angles are great, and the 1080p resolution is just fine for a display this size. If I were to nitpick, I’d say the colour temperature of the display is a little bit too cool. Thankfully, you can adjust the screen’s colour temperature to your liking in the settings page.

Naturally, performance is without a doubt great on the Pocophone F1. Gaming on it is a joy, I can multitask without any issue, and switching between different apps is fast and zippy. This isn’t unexpected, of course: the Snapdragon 845 is Qualcomm’s best chipset to date.

Speaking of fast, I’m pleasantly surprised at how quickly the Pocophone F1’s face unlock feature works. It can identify my face quickly even in complete darkness – thanks to the front-facing infrared sensor – and if you’re not a big fan of this feature, you can still rely on the equally quick rear fingerprint sensor.

And then we have one of the best aspects of the Pocophone F1: battery life. Featuring a 4,000mAh battery, I managed to get well over seven hours of screen on time with this phone. On certain days, I even managed to stretch it to eight hours – that’s ridiculously long.

Throughout the review period, I had no trouble at all getting to the end of a typical work day with the F1, and I’m a pretty heavy smartphone user. I do a lot of mobile gaming, web browsing, and instant messaging. I reckon it’s very possible for lighter users to get up to two days of usage with this phone.

Charging rate of the Pocophone F1, on the other hand, isn’t quite as impressive. Within 30 minutes of charging, the phone only charged up to 35%. I tested this by draining the phone completely before connecting it to the provided charger without powering up the device.

As a whole, the Pocophone F1 is a pleasant phone to use. The only thing I’m not particularly fond of is just MIUI. Beyond the shortcomings in the software experience, I thoroughly enjoyed using the phone as my daily driver.

Camera

If there’s one thing affordable smartphones have in common, it’s mediocre camera performance. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with the Pocophone F1. Well, not entirely anyway.

Equipped with a 12MP f/1.9 + 5MP f/2.0 dual camera system, the Pocophone F1 rear cameras performed admirably regardless of lighting conditions. The camera is great in daytime, as expected, and though its low light performance could still use some work, it’s pretty darn good for a phone at this price point.

More often than not, most affordable smartphones’ camera interface gets sluggish in low light conditions, but not the Pocophone F1. Not only is the shutter delay kept to a minimum, the shooting experience is still fun in challenging lighting situations. That’s not something I can’t say for some smartphones that cost much more than the F1.

However, it’s wishful thinking to say that the Pocophone F1 has flagship-tier camera performance; that’s simply not the case. But at the same time, it can take better-looking shots than the majority of mid-range smartphones, especially those in this price range. The F1 does not have an amazing camera system, but it’s definitely a really good one.

Competition

In Malaysia, the 64GB variant of the Pocophone F1 retails at RM1,299, while the 128GB model goes for RM1,599 – very competitive price tags. Not many phones can offer the kind of hardware the F1 has in this price point, but there are some that come close.

Xiaomi Mi 8

Yeap, one of the Pocophone F1’s closest rivals is from its own family. The Xiaomi Mi 8 offers the same Snapdragon 845 chipset as the F1, a more impressive 6.21-inch 1080p AMOLED display, a superior 12MP + 12MP dual camera system, relatively similar software experience, as well as a more premium design. How much does the phone cost? RM1,599 for the 64GB model with 6GB of RAM, which is only RM300 more than the 64GB Pocophone F1.

That being said, the F1 does outperform the Mi 8 in several key areas. The F1’s 4,000mAh battery, for one, will return better battery life than the Mi 8’s smaller 3,400mAh cell. On top of that, the Mi 8 lacks expandable storage and a 3.5mm headphone jack too – both of these are available on the F1.

Honor Play

Another interesting alternative to the Pocophone F1 is the Honor Play. Even though the Play comes with a slightly slower Huawei Kirin 970 chipset, it has a larger 6.3-inch 1080p IPS display, a sturdier all-metal chassis, and 64GB of expandable storage, much like the F1. Aside from that, Honor’s offering is slightly more affordable as well, retailing at only RM1,249.

But for only RM50 more, the Pocophone F1 offers a higher level of performance, more RAM at 6GB (instead of only 4GB), a bigger 4,000mAh cell than the Honor Play’s 3,750mAh battery, and better camera performance. The F1’s polycarbonate body may not be as enticing as the Play’s all-metal chassis, but you’re getting a superior device in almost every way.

Conclusion

The Pocophone F1 offers flagship performance at an affordable price point, and this alone makes it an extremely compelling smartphone. Couple that with excellent battery life; decent camera performance; and desirable features like expandable storage; you have yourself a very complete, very well-rounded flagship device.

Should you get the Pocophone F1 over any other flagship smartphone? Well, not exactly. While it offers fantastic value for money, its software experience, build quality, and camera performance still pale in comparison to “proper” flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 Pro. But those high-end devices are not directly competing with the Pocophone F1. Rather, the F1 is competing with devices in its price range, which is mostly made up of mid-range smartphones.

I am really impressed with the Pocophone F1’s value proposition, and if Pocophone can deliver such a compelling device on its first attempt, I absolutely cannot wait to see what the company has in store for its next smartphone.