The Pocophone F1 is clearly Xiaomi’s way of hacking the budget market with a device that packs in high-end specs and an experience that matches (and in some cases betters) their own Xiaomi Mi flagship lineup.

This review is a little long overdue, but with the severe lack of (official) availability in the US and UK at launch, this was one device we had to wait to get hold of. Thanks to the official UK launch of Xiaomi back in November, we have now been able to get truly hands-on with this literal powerhouse. With that said, the device still isn’t officially available in the US and we can’t recommend importing due to the janky almost non-existent support for US carriers.

It’s difficult to get a used device that can match anywhere near the pricing and specifications that Xiaomi has crammed into this phone. There is also a question of how can they continue this pricing model? Well, we’re just going to enjoy the ride until this poses the brand a problem.

Genuinely, if this device or the future Pocophone line can roll out (fully) on an international scale, we could see the very next OnePlus emerge. Affordable pricing, great performance and exceptional specifications for the price. What’s not to love? Well, there are a few things here and there, but we’ll get into that a little further on.

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Design

One of the main areas that the Pocophone F1 really doesn’t set the world alight is the design. It has a bit of a ‘safe’ design that replicates the iPhone-style notch, has a bit of a bottom chin and some sizeable bezels when compared to many 2018 flagships and mid-rangers.

Not that the bezels are a problem in my case, I don’t really mind the addition of thicker-than-average bezels. If that has also kept the cost down, then I’m all for it. I would have been nice to not see the notch at all, as it does eat into the display quite a bit, but like every device with a notch over the past 18-months, I can learn to live with it.

When held, the phone has a reassuring chunky feel. Coming from the Pixel 3 XL to this, it feels like a bit of a bruiser and has some extra heft. I must admit, I do really like it. It gives you a bit of confidence when usually a cheap smartphone is mainly plastic, feels hollow and is light as a feather. The Pocophone is nice and thick, granted it isn’t the best feeling phone out there, but is comfortable and weighty.

I must also state that I have dropped this phone, it fell out of my jacket pocket when sat outside a coffee shop and landed on the edge and bounced on to the display. I got only a small scuff and a tiny, almost invisible ding on the edge of the screen. I was worried but, wow, this phone took it like a champ completely caseless.

The back is available in polycarbonate and comes in Graphite Black, Steel Blue and Rosso Red. If you want a slightly more ‘high-end’ (a kind of contradiction at this price point and what defines high-end anyway?) aesthetic, then there is a version that has a Kevlar fabric back called the “Armored Edition”. That option comes with a few other hardware additions including 8GB of RAM and 256GB storage, but is only available in Black.

The camera bump and fingerprint reader round back are very slim, which is way better than a massive nodule that causes the phone to rock and rumble when on a flat surface. That said, it does wobble a little when you put it on a desk, table or flat surface. I personally like a central camera bump as when taking a picture I don’t end up with an errant thumb or finger over the lens or flash.

Hardware

Those wanting a small form factor smartphone might wish to look elsewhere as the Pocophone F1 — whilst not massive — isn’t exactly small. It is comparable to the OnePlus 6 and OnePlus 6T in terms of size. The 6.2-inch footprint is not the largest by any stretch, but for some, this phone might be a little bit unwieldy — especially one-handed.

As for the core selling point of this device — along with the price — the Pocophone F1 comes with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, 6GB of RAM and available in 64GB and 128GB storage flavors with microSD card expansion included too. The battery powering this entire package is a big one at 4000mAh which can be fast charged via the USB Type-C port.

You get a headphone port up on the top of the device, which will (literally) be music to some ears out there. It’s great to see this included, mainly as I still use a 3.5mm cable to connect my device to my car stereo as it has no Bluetooth connection, so it is a kind of must have until I get that situation resolved.

Whilst you get audio output, there is no NFC support. So that means making payments via Google Pay is simply not possible. As someone who doesn’t make many NFC payments with my mobile device, it is still a big deal to me as I would still like to have it as a backup option for if I happen to forget my wallet.

There is also absolutely no IP rating on the Pocophone F1, so it’s a no-go near water or into the rain. It would have been nice to have some sort of water or splash resistance, but that isn’t a major sore point.

In that big notch up top you get the ability to register your face for face-unlocking, it also includes an infrared light for night unlocks too.

I feel I also have to mention the inclusion of a notification LED, I do love a notification LED and although the positioning is a little weird — and reminiscent of the Nexus 4 — it really is superb to see it included.

Display

Arguably the weakest aspect of the entire device, the 5.99-inch IPS LCD display has a resolution of 1080 x 2246 pixels with a 416 pixels per inch. A recent video by YouTuber Jonathan Morrison pitted the Pocophone F1 display against that of the iPhone XR in a blind test. That saw the iPhone come out on top, but having recently spent time with the XR, I feel that this display is actually better when used extensively.

The viewing angles are not too bad, naturally, they don’t even get close to that of an OLED. Colors feel a little flatter than on an AMOLED but still look good. It gets nice and bright too with a peak brightness of 439 nits.

I’ve seen many other reviewers complain about the Oleophobic coating on the display and I agree wholeheartedly. My review unit display is littered with smudges and fingerprints, it is literally a muck magnet. You will find yourself wiping the display free of dirt and grime almost constantly.

Software + Performance

Running MIUI out of the box might be a concern to some people — myself included. There are a few tweaks here and there that make it much more palatable and those include the Poco Launcher slapped on top. So that is the Poco Launcher stuck right over MIUI and interestingly, it doesn’t seem to affect performance one bit.

I am a big fan of the Poco Launcher, it feels as though it bridges the gap between the standard MIUI experience and that of stock Android. There are definitely similarities between what Xiaomi is trying to do and what OnePlus has done with Oxygen OS. Hopefully, in future, we’ll see close-to-stock Android on Poco devices. Although in no way am I counting on it.

If you picked up the device upon release you’d have received Android Oreo 8.1, but as of just a few weeks ago, the Pocophone F1 has got itself a piece of Android 9.0 Pie. That now puts the device on MIUI 10.1, which actually doesn’t add a lot of new features as far as I can tell.

Navigation gestures were already available as part of the previous version that shipped with the device. There are a few notable performance improvements like app loading and the notification shade activation. I have only had about 48-hours with this update, so the inherent improvements are not exactly that obvious as yet.

One thing that stood out was the card-style multitasking, it creates a mosaic downward-scrolling layout which I much prefer to the standard left to right options. This does most definitely slow down app switching though.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can stick a custom ROM on the Pocophone, but as this is a review unit, I refrained from attempting to test any of the best custom ROMs out there.

Camera

So I’ve already talked about a weak spot in the form of the display, well, the camera could probably be bundled in there too. The dual camera has a 12-megapixel main sensor with an f/1.9 aperture with a secondary 5-megapixel with an f/2.0 aperture sensor used for depth sensing.

The camera produces some steady results, nothing spectacular. Images taken in good lighting conditions are sharp and detailed whilst the contrast is excellent. I think I am spoiled having the Pixel as my main device as I left feeling wanting with the Pocophone. That said, putting the price in perspective — and contradicting myself in the process — the camera is pretty darn good.

It’s also worth noting that the camera as standard automatically adds a “Shot on Pocophone” watermark until you turn this off. It completely slipped my mind when taking the phone out of my pocket to take pictures and it can’t be removed after an image has processed. Definitely, something to instantly disable and is a minor annoyance.

Luckily for you, I live in dark, dank and dingy England, so low-light photography is par for the course. It’s easily the weakest portion of the Pocophone camera. Stick HDR on and you do get slightly better results but plenty of extra noise in those photos.

Portrait mode is a lot better than I expected it to be. Like any portrait mode, there are the odd occasions where certain portions of your image wrongly end up blurred. This tends to happen when the camera can’t clearly differentiate between the foreground and background.

Video shooters will be pleased to hear that the Pocophone can shoot at 4K at 30fps, so no slow-motion 4K shots. Beyond that, you get the plethora of standard video modes: 1080p 60fps, 1080p 30fps and 720p. It’s worth pointing out that there is a distinct lack of optical image stabilization, which I expected to cause problems with the video shooting modes.

The lack of OIS is offset by the inclusion of electronic image stabilization which doesn’t work wonders, but it does help in the lower resolution shooting modes but seemingly doesn’t work with 4K recording.

Final Thoughts + Verdict

This is a fantastic device only let down by a few things. If it were double the cost, you wouldn’t be able to overlook the weaker aspects like the camera or the display. The phone gets a let off thanks to the pricing alone. It’s so difficult to nit-pick (although I have tried to) when you get a real powerhouse for way less than it costs to get a comparable used smartphone.

One of the core reasons that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this phone to potential US buyers is the sheer lack of US carrier support. The phone is not compatible with any CDMA networks either and then the only LTE band is not even fully supported by AT&T and T-Mobile. That alone makes this a really tough sell.

You’re genuinely better off picking up the OnePlus 6T as it has the exact same chipset, RAM and all the benefits of that Oxygen OS eco-system, plus a better display and smaller notch. Yes, it does cost around 30% more, but you’ll get a far superior overall experience.

That recommendation doesn’t stop the Pocophone F1 from technically being a better deal. As a budget package, it literally has very few equals, even the original ‘Flagship Killers’ OnePlus. Here’s hoping for that the Pocophone F2 (or whatever they choose to call it) can manage to offer such a compelling experience at an equally compelling price and some greater support for US carriers.

Get the Pocophone F1

Get the OnePlus 6T

Whilst the Pocophone F1 is a fantastic device, for those in the US the OnePlus 6T is a much smarter purchase even though it costs a couple hundred dollars more.

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