Xiaomi’s new Pocophone F1 undercuts rivals with a low price and high-end processor
Xiaomi has long sold devices that punch above their price class, but now the company is taking the bang for your buck even further. Poco is the company’s new budget-focused brand that will be used first in India before coming to other parts of the world. The first Pocophone device is the F1, which has flagship features, including a top-of-the-line processor, but will sell for even less than many of Xiaomi’s already aggressively priced devices.
The Pocophone F1 is packed with specs like a high-end Snapdragon 845 chip and a substantial 4,000mAh battery. It’s got a 6.18-inch 1080p display with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio. There’s also a Qualcomm Adreno 630 GPU, a 20-megapixel selfie cam, and dual rear 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel cameras. The F1 will offer all of those features and specs for just $300 when it arrives in India next week.
Jai Mani, the lead product manager for Xiaomi’s India ambitions, tells me that the company scoured Reddit forums while developing the F1, seeing users write that what they wanted were bigger batteries and a decent processor, but lamenting that “we’re geeks, no one will listen to us.” Those comments inspired the product team to incorporate the Pocophone F1’s big battery and high-end processor.
The Pocophone F1 is priced and specced competitively with the OnePlus 6, which has been very popular in India since its release. In developing markets where many tech companies like Apple face stagnating growth and growing regulation, Xiaomi continues to do well, especially in India. In Q2 2018, the company grew 106 percent year over year, selling 3.3 million units of the low-end Redmi 5A in the country and beating out the likes of Samsung, Vivo, and Oppo.
The Pocophone F1 is a much more premium offering than the Redmi 5A. The Snapdragon 845 processor is far more powerful than anything used in the Redmi line. Its display has got decent color contrast, and its max brightness setting is bright enough. Yet it uses Gorilla Glass 3, which is a part Xiaomi had handy in its supply chain. The outdated nature of the glass (we’re on Gorilla Glass 6 already) demonstrates Xiaomi’s cost-cutting methods — it used older materials to cut costs so it could spend more on other components.
Another area where the Pocophone F1 cuts corners is in the construction of the phone. The phone comes in blue, red, or black with a plastic back or in a special “Armored” edition with a rubbery Kevlar backing, which is the model we got to test out. The rubber lends the phone a cheap, toy-like quality. The front display is marred by a thick notch and it has slight bezels on the sides. Xiaomi also did not splurge for an oleophobic coating, so the Pocophone F1 picks up grease easily on the front and back, whether you’re browsing and eating a sandwich, or simply touching the phone with clean fingers.
Making phone calls, you’ll hear a slightly tinny quality to the audio, indicating that the speaker also wasn’t a priority.
Mani explained to me that Xiaomi’s thinking here is that you don’t really need a smartphone with a gorgeous all-glass body, which is fragile and needs to be covered by a phone case anyway.
If you can get past the looks of the phone, and you’re only looking for speed and performance, then the Pocophone F1 has a lot to offer. The Pocophone follows the growing trend of Asian phones, including the Meizu 15 and the Oppo R15 Pro, that have 20-megapixel selfie cameras. That’s a jump in resolution from even Apple’s iPhone X, which has a 7-megapixel front-facing cam, giving you a smoother selfie to edit on beauty apps.
The dual rear-facing cameras are less exciting with their standard specs and so is the “AI camera,” which has 25 modes for landscape, food photos, and more. In general, photos taken on the F1 come out bright and saturated, which is great for festive-looking pics, but less so for producing accurate images. I can barely see a difference between regular photos taken without the AI camera and photos taken with it — they’re slightly brighter and more colorful, but it’s such a subtle change, it doesn’t really matter.
Xiaomi also gives the Pocophone F1 several features that might appeal to gamers. It has a decent GPU and self-proclaimed liquid cooling technology designed to reduce CPU heat. It runs graphics-intensive games like PUBG Mobile smoothly and without lag.
The Pocophone F1 runs Android 8.1 Oreo with a MIUI skin. It’s currently on MIUI 9.6, but will update to version 10 over the course of the next month. It has a USB Type-C charging port and it supports USB 2.0 and Bluetooth 5.0.
You can set a PIN, add a fingerprint, and use face unlock. Xiaomi has a security warning during the setup of face unlock that it’s less secure than other unlocking methods, as others can impersonate you using a photograph or similar object. Still, for what it’s worth, I tried to unlock the phone with a nearly identical image of myself as the face data I gave, and it stayed locked, so that’s one point in favor of Xiaomi’s security. The phone also stayed locked when I was wearing headphones.
Both the fingerprint sensor and face unlock work very quickly, unlocking the phone in under a second. The fingerprint sensor curiously works even if your finger is covered in fried Oreos and powdered sugar. The face unlock glitches out more often, and sometimes can’t recognize my face.
So far, the phone will not be available in the US and the company doesn’t have any concrete plans to bring it here. India will be the first market for the device, though Xiaomi says it plans to expand the Pocophone brand to its other global markets in the future. Storage options range from 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB, with regional prices hovering in the $300 to $400 bracket. The 6GB/64GB model is launching in India at 20,999 rupees ($300), while the most expensive model is the 29,999-rupee ($429) “Armored Edition” with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Xiaomi has said in the past that it would like to bring its phones to the US, but it’s been years since the company first made such claims. Currently, it sells accessories like headphones and batteries in the US. Mani tells me that the company is still actively eyeing the US, wondering if price-conscious offerings would work in this market. Are there price-conscious smartphone users here, or is everyone satisfied with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device? That’s a question Xiaomi still has to work out.