There are only a handful of Android smartphones that we can confidently call game changers. The legendary HTC Evo 4G proved that Android smartphones had what it took to compete with the iPhone. The 2013 HTC One showed us that Android smartphones could not only contend with the iPhone in terms of build quality, but far surpass it. Then came the OnePlus One in 2014, the one smartphone that truly deserved its “Flagship Killer” moniker, the smartphone that gave us Android nerds what we wanted without costing a fortune. And then there’s Xiaomi—the Chinese smartphone manufacturer that exploded onto the scene with prices that undercut basically everybody. We crowned Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 3 the king of the budget smartphone realm back in 2016, and now Xiaomi is back with another smartphone with a price almost as radical: the Xiaomi Poco F1, also known as the Xiaomi Pocophone F1.
Under a new brand called “Poco,” Xiaomi hopes to disrupt the flagship smartphone market with Poco phones in the same way their budget Redmi phones once did. At a price of Rs. 20,999 in India, Poco will give you a Poco F1 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 system-on-chip, 6GBs of RAM, 4,000mAh battery, 6.18″ FHD+ display, dual 12MP and 5MP rear cameras, a 20MP front-facing camera, 64GBs of internal storage expandable with a microSD card slot, Android 8.1 Oreo, and face unlock enhanced with an infrared sensor. You won’t find a comparable smartphone at this price point.
But top-tier specifications alone do not make a smartphone great. There are always compromises to bear, but with the Poco F1, Xiaomi is aiming to please the Android enthusiast demographic. That’s why the company is emphasizing the Poco F1’s performance, particularly when it comes to gaming, real-world responsiveness, and benchmarks. Is the Xiaomi Poco F1 the “Master of Speed” in the same way the OnePlus One was the “Flagship Killer?” In this review, we test the Poco F1’s Speed and Smoothness to find out, but we’ll also give you our thoughts on the Design and Display so you can consider whether the Poco F1 is the phone for you.
About this review: I have the Armoured Edition Pocophone F1 sold in India, branded as the Poco F1. The Poco F1 unit was provided by Poco India for reviewing purposes.
Xiaomi Poco F1 Specifications (click to expand table)
|Software||Android 8.1 Oreo with MIUI 9||Connectivity||Hybrid dual SIM slot (nano SIM + nano SIM/microSD). Dual 4G VoLTE, GPS, USB Type-C port. No NFC|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (8x Kyro 385 cores – 4x modified Cortex-A75, 4x modified Cortex-A55). “LiquidCool” technology.||Audio||3.5mm headphone jack. Dirac HD sound.|
|GPU||Adreno 630||Rear cameras|
|RAM and storage||6GB LPDDR4x RAM and 64GB/128GB UFS 2.1 storage|
8GB LPDDR4x RAM and 256GB UFS 2.1 storage
(microSD support up to 256GB)
|Battery||4,000 mAh with Quick Charge 4.0 support||Fingerprint scanner||Yes (rear-mounted)|
|Display||In the box|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)||Colors||Steel Blue, Rosso Red, Graphite Black, Armoured Edition|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 5.0 LE||Network bands|
In an era where every premium flagship smartphone sports some form of glass and metal body, Poco has opted for a good old polycarbonate plastic as their material of choice. My review device is the Poco F1 Armored Edition, however, I had an opportunity to spend some hands-on time with the regular polycarbonate models at the event. I have to say they don’t feel cheap by any means. In fact, they look far more exciting: Rosso Red, in particular, is more appealing than my dull and boring-looking Armored Edition. The reason for the choice of plastic is no doubt a cost-saving measure, but nonetheless, it should also add to the overall durability of the device—making it more likely to withstand an accidental drop or two compared to its rather fragile glass counterparts.
The front is covered by Gorilla Glass 3. Not the toughest out there, but still, it’s good to know there’s some level of protection on board. The notch holds an array of sensors including those used for face unlock, a proximity sensor, and a front camera module. The notification LED has been relocated to the bottom and is nicely hidden under the chin.
Separate volume control keys and a power button are on the right side while the left holds the hybrid SIM tray. On the very top, you can find the 3.5mm headphone jack and a secondary microphone to help block out noise during calls. Missing from the list here is an IR blaster which is quite ubiquitous on Xiaomi phones. The decision to forgo the IR blaster is likely due to the tight design constraint the company was working with. Indeed, after including those sensors at the top for the face unlock mechanism, it doesn’t look like there was any space left to accommodate an IR Blaster. It’s not a big deal for me, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re coming from a Xiaomi device and have grown accustomed to using that feature.
Moving to the back, you’ll find a vertically-aligned dual camera setup situated on the upper half. The fingerprint sensor is located just below the camera and is slightly recessed so you can easily locate it by touch without accidentally smudging the camera lens. There’s no camera bump, which is a big relief after seeing so many devices with them in 2018. Lastly, the brand logo and a tiny dot, which the company says is required as part of the Kevlar manufacturing process, are located on the bottom.
The device feels solid and gives a feeling of reassurance when in your hand. Thanks to chamfered edges and solid grip, single-handed use is not an issue here. The corners are well-rounded and don’t dig into your palm. Since the device is all-plastic, you don’t get distracting antenna lines running on the top and bottom—a common design practice among devices made of metal for signal transmission—allowing for a clean and seamless look. The frame, too, is made out of plastic, which I initially mistook for metal due to its nice matte finish, and only later realized when I tried to scratch the surface. The power and volume buttons are the only components made of metal.
As an added bonus, the device is also splash resistant as recently confirmed by the company. That means it should easily withstand accidental water splashes and other liquid spills. However, you won’t be able to immerse it in a water tank or take it with you into a pool as it’s not waterproof.
In the end, there’s nothing to complain about regarding the Poco F1’s design. It’s not going to win any design awards, but it gets the job done without compromising any usability—which is completely fine for a device of this price.
The Poco F1 is using a 6.19-inch IPS LCD panel supplied by Chinese display maker Tianama. The panel itself is very good quality and one of the better LCD panels we have seen so far. Colors are vibrant and true to life and the contrast ratio is excellent as well for an LCD panel. Viewing angles are also impressive and even when viewed at off angles, there’s no noticeable color shifting. The display is calibrated to sRGB color space and offers accurate color reproduction. There’s no support for wider color gamut like DCI-P3, but on the plus side, it does support HDR content. The maximum brightness in manual mode is 450nits. While in the automatic mode, as well as when viewing HDR content, it can go up to 500nits.
In case the default colors aren’t punchy enough for you, the Poco F1 also offers various color profiles within its settings to let you adjust color temperature, white balance, and contrast as per your liking. The sunlight visibility is also excellent and I have had no issue using the device outdoors on bright sunny days in Ahmedabad. Sure, it doesn’t get as bright as Samsung’s OLED panels, but it gets bright enough to the point where you can comfortably view a picture or read text on the screen. To further improve outdoor visibility, you can also set the contrast to auto mode, which automatically ramps up the contrast and other display parameters when viewing a photo or watching a video.
While we have no issue with the quality of the display itself, one thing we found a bit irritating is that the radius of the bottom corners is unusually large. It’s not that we don’t like round corners, but the display corners on the Poco F1 are abnormally rounded to the point where it’s actually cutting into content in apps. And it’s not just about visual aesthetic either: The unusual roundness of corners also affects the user experience in games where indicators, buttons, and text located in far right corners get slightly cut off in landscape mode. For example, in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the network indicator is completely blocked while the battery icon is also slightly cut.
Some other games are affected as well, but the good news is that it doesn’t hamper gameplay as most games don’t push essential controls or buttons so far into the corners. Still, it adds to a poor user experience and raises the question whether enough testing was done before finalizing the design choices.
While we’re on the subject of the display, let’s also talk about screen bleeding. It appears that some Poco F1 units exhibit light bleeding around the bottom part of the display. The intensity of bleeding varies across devices but based on the images provided to me by some users I can confirm that the issue does exist on a few units. It’s not present on every device and seems more like a batch-related issue. Just like other reviewers, my unit doesn’t exhibit any such bleeding.
Minor backlight bleeding is not uncommon on LCD panels, and similar issues have been reported by other users of notched-LCD devices as well. Since this is related to display hardware, it can’t be fixed with a software update. The upside is that on most affected devices, the bleeding is only noticeable when the screen is displaying a solid color or dark background. If your device exhibits excessive bleeding to the point where it hampers your normal viewing experience, you should definitely consider replacing your device if you’re still under the replacement period.
With Xiaomi stressing heavily on the performance capabilities of the Poco F1, it will be interesting to see whether these claims indeed translate to a better and faster real-world performance. We put the Xiaomi Poco F1 through a series of tests to stress not only its raw hardware potential but also, and perhaps even more importantly, its real-world performance.
Futuremark’s PCMark is a standard benchmark tool that puts the device through a series of common, everyday workloads such as web browsing, video editing, and photo editing. In this regard, it’s a more reliable predictor if real-world performance than most portions of various benchmarks such as AnTuTu or Geekbench 4, which use specific, computationally-taxing algorithms for their workloads and thus the results might not be as useful when taken as a proxy for a device’s resulting UI performance in applications.
Starting with PCMark’s browsing test, which measures the performance of web page rendering and makes use of the native Android WebView, we see the Poco F1 performing pretty much in line with other top-tier devices while leaving behind last year’s flagship devices.
The video test makes use of OpenGL ES 2.0, the native Android MediaCodec API, and ExoPlayer to stress the video playing, editing, and saving performance. This is also a good test of CPU responsiveness as well as the chipset’s decoder/encoder performance. Here, the Xiaomi Poco F1 lags behind the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ Snapdragon variant and the Google Pixel XL 2, which takes the first spot in this test, but it scores closer to the OnePlus 6.
The photo editing test loads up a set of photos, applies common effects to them, and tweaks some parameters before finally saving them. The test relies on the latest version of the Android renderscript API which is often leveraged by image processing apps for running computationally intensive tasks, which in turn, is a good test of both CPU as well as GPU acceleration. Here, the Poco F1 leads the chart with a comfortable margin over the OnePlus 6 and Samsung Galaxy S9+ Snapdragon variant.
Finally, in both the Data Manipulation and final PCMark Performance score, the Poco F1 manages to edge out the OnePlus 6 by a small margin and takes the first spot while handily beating the Snapdragon Samsung Galaxy S9+ and last year’s flagships. While the results so far are quite impressive and speak for themselves, whether they actually carry over to improved performance in real life is something we’ll be testing in the next sections.
One of the highlights of the Xiaomi Poco F1 is its powerful gaming performance, and while we know about the Adreno 630’s raw capabilities, an OEM’s implementation also plays an important role. The company has incorporated what they’re calling a “LiquidCool” system (a copper heat pipe) to spread out excessive heat from the processor to other regions when running intensive workloads such as gaming. The idea itself isn’t as novel as Poco would like you to believe. It’s a common practice among high-end devices, and we have already seen OEMs like Samsung, Sony, and Razer making use of copper heat pipes in their devices. That said, it’s still a nice perk to have in this price range, but whether it really fulfills its purpose, we’ll find out in the next section.
We tested popular game titles from the Google Play Store on the Xiaomi Poco F1 and used GameBench to collect statistics such as frame rate, power consumption, and memory usage during our sessions. GameBench makes it possible for any person to test a mobile game’s performance on an Android device using either an Android or desktop app.
Starting with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (commonly known as PUBG), we see the device having no issue handling this graphics intensive game on maximum settings. The Poco F1 was able to consistently hit the 40FPS ceiling with ease throughout the duration of the gameplay.
PUBG Mobile is an excellent choice for assessing a device’s gaming capabilities. Built on Unreal Engine 4, the critically acclaimed battle royale game is one of the most graphically intensive mobile games out there with great graphics that really stretch the device’s GPU capabilities. Playing PUBG Mobile on its maximum settings makes for a great experience and that too with this consistency and smoothness was really impressive.
Next, we played Asphalt 9: Legends, an updated version of the widely popular Asphalt 8. The new version was developed by Gameloft’s Barcelona studio and features improved graphics, better multiplayer support, new prestigious cars, and a return of nitro shockwave, a popular feature of previous Asphalt installments that was missing in Asphalt 8.
While it’s not as graphically demanding as PUBG Mobile, the game is one of the most popular racing titles on the Google Play Store with over 5 million installations in less than 2 months after release. The Xiaomi Poco F1 handles Asphalt 9: Legends with relative ease and with no sign of frame drop or lagging during our 15-minute session. It’s a shame that the game is capped at 30FPS even on the maximum settings, as flagship devices nowadays are obviously far more capable than that, and we really hope Gameloft will step up their game in this regard.
Coming up next is Lineage 2: Revolution, developed by Netmarble. The game uses the Unreal Engine 4 engine and has some really impressive graphics for a smartphone game, along with having a massive game world.
Playing this game on maximum settings on the Xiaomi Poco F1 wasn’t a particularly smooth sailing and there were some occasions where we experienced dropped frames and lagging, but for the most part, it delivered respectable performance with the median of 57FPS with 92% stability.
We also took Fornite Mobile for Android for a spin. We played 3 consecutive matches on Epic settings and came away satisfied. The frame rate remained quite stable throughout our sessions. The game is still in the beta phase so there were some hiccups, but overall the performance was very much in line with other high-end devices we tested earlier on. Unfortunately, we couldn’t record the game metrics in GameBench as Epic Games patched the only workaround that allowed playing the game with USB Debugging enabled. But from our subjective experience, users shouldn’t have any issue playing this graphically intensive game when it arrives in the stable channel later this year.
The Xiaomi Poco F1 maxed out the FPS ceiling of almost every game we tested while still maintaining amazing stability throughout the gameplay. With full brightness, game settings set to maximum, and ambient temperature as high as 34°C, the device didn’t get uncomfortably hot even during long gaming sessions both indoors and outdoors. In a marathon PUBG Mobile session in which we played 6 consecutive matches for around 2 hours and 25 minutes, the device was able to sustain its high performance without any thermal throttling or unbearable temperature levels.
As far as the gaming performance is concerned, the Xiaomi Poco F1 doesn’t disappoint on its promises. Bigger battery coupled with a heat dissipation system allows for long and extended gaming sessions without inviting significant thermal throttling. A dedicated gaming mode with granular controls will be a nice addition to further improve the gaming experience, it’s and something which can easily be implemented in a future update. For those looking for a device with serious gaming performance in the mid-range price bucket, the Xiaomi Poco F1 indeed deserves your attention.
Starting out with the application opening speed test, we measured the cold starts of Gmail, Google Play Store, and YouTube. Keep in mind that we are not measuring the time it takes for an app to be fully rendered with all its elements drawn on the screen. Rather, we are using a proxy by recording the time it takes for the app to create the main activity of the application. The time measure we include encompasses launching the application process, initializing its objects, creating and initializing the activity, inflating the activity’s layout, and drawing the application for the first time. It ignores inline processes that do not prevent the initial display of the application, which in turn means the recorded time is not really affected by extraneous variables such as network speed fetching burdensome assets.
Poco claims up to 28% faster app opening speeds when compared to the OnePlus 6 and they even showcased a video during the live keynote comparing app startup times on both devices in which the Poco F1 actually managed to surpass the OnePlus 6. While we can’t verify those claims (given we weren’t unable to test both devices locally in ideal conditions), the application launch times, in general, are really fast, and opening multiple applications in quick succession doesn’t seem to slow down the device at all. Quicker opening and closing animations, faster flash storage, CPU boosting, and resource caching means the Xiaomi Poco F1 flies through application launching and multitasking. The difference in speed is much more noticeable if you’re coming from a budget or mid-range device.
For the sake of comparison, here’s a table showing the app launching times of the Xiaomi Poco F1 against the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro over a mixed run of Gmail, Play Store, and YouTube with 150 repetitions for each app.
|Device||Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro||Xiaomi Poco F1|
|Gmail (average milliseconds)||916.2||527.4|
|Play Store (average milliseconds)||1106.8||810.2|
|YouTube (average milliseconds)||1621.3||1163.2|
Similarly to other Snapdragon powered flagships, when launching applications and games the device ramps up the CPU frequencies to speed up the loading time and minimize CPU bottlenecks.
Poco mentioned during their event that they have added more than 20 “deep system optimizations” to ensure that the Poco F1 maintains its fast performance over time. Many of the optimizations they have added are very similar to what we have already seen on OnePlus devices, including launch speed boost, better resource allocation to frequently used apps, and network boosting when playing games. Poco has also sped up animations, so even at the base animation scale, the transitions seem extremely fast. Interactions like pulling down the notification shade, opening the app drawer, in-app transitions, and the swiping experience seem rapid and give a sense of immediacy.
Flash storage and memory management
The Xiaomi Poco F1 comes in a total of four storage and memory combinations. The base model offers 6GB of RAM with 64GB of storage while the top model, the Armored Edition (which we are reviewing), packs a beefy 8GB RAM along with 256GB of internal flash storage. Despite the relative upswing in RAM prices in 2018, we’re starting to see more high-end devices making the switch to 6GB of RAM in the base model with a higher-end offering up to 8GB. Whether Android really needs that much RAM is debatable. I personally feel that 4GB is more than enough for gaming and multitasking and while 6GB can be useful for holding more applications such as heavy games in memory, going above that line is just overkill.
In my testing and everyday use, the Xiaomi Poco F1 was able to comfortably keep all my apps in memory without having to recreate their activities upon reopening them. At any given time, I was able to have Google Chrome with more than 10 tabs open as well as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google Photos, Inbox (RIP), Google Keep, Slack, Trello, and PUBG Mobile reside in memory without any trouble. In this area, the Xiaomi Poco F1 shows a marked improvement over other Xiaomi devices we’ve tested running MIUI, which usually set an aggressive policy for background apps.
Flash storage performance is very crucial for a fast and reliable real-world performance—even more so than CPU and amount of RAM. Poco isn’t cutting any corners in this area as they have shipped a storage chip with the Universal Flash Storage 2.1 technology. The difference of having faster storage can be clearly felt in the longer operations like game loading and when moving large files between folders.
UI fluidity is something that we don’t see get much attention when measuring a device’s real-world performance. As we have seen time and time again, powerful hardware isn’t always an indication of better real-world performance. No matter how powerful the chipset might be, the user-perceived performance can still be underwhelming if the software is poorly optimized. In the light of prevailing benchmark cheating, it becomes even more important that we stop relying on scores of synthetic benchmarks for assessing a device’s actual performance.
Unlike with UI speed, the device smoothness is harder to measure qualitatively as not all users have the same sensitivity to stutters. GPU Profiling is the standard way to objectively and quantitatively measure UI fluidity. To ensure a fluid performance, a 60Hz device must be able to render every frame within the tight deadline of 16.7ms, which is shown by a green horizontal line on the histogram.
Smoothness is determined by the device’s ability to consistently render the UI at 60FPS, with even framepacing. Every time a frame or a set of frames exceed the 16.7ms deadline, you will see the vertical bars shooting past the green horizontal line, which may result in perceptible stutters. Usually, the higher the bar shoots above that green line, and the more bars find themselves crossing it, the more noticeable the stutter will be to the user. As far as smoothness is concerned, Google’s Pixel devices are the golden standard thanks to their amazing all-around software optimizations. Historically speaking, devices with bloated custom skins have remained the worst offenders when it comes to smoothness though that situation seems to be slowly changing.
Methodology: To test real-world fluidity, we won’t just be presenting GIFs or screenshots showing GPU profiling bars. Rather, we will show you the extracted frame times plotted in histograms for each of our tests. We put together a tool to extract and parse the frame data, and a UI automation system that allowed us to build macros that mimic real-world use cases by simulating touch input—scrolling, loading new activities or windows, and compound tests with complex UI navigation.
First, we set out to test the Xiaomi Poco F1’s scrolling performance in both the Google Play Store and Gmail as we often witness heavy frame drops and stutters in these apps on poorly optimized devices. The test preloads the lists beforehand so thumbnails and entry loading don’t interrupt the scrolling activity during the test. First, it launches the Google Play Store app and rapidly scrolls through the Top Chart apps and then moves on to the Gmail app and scrolls through the main inbox entries.
The Xiaomi Poco F1 performs excellently in both tests without a high number of dropped frames. There are a couple of micro-stutters in some interactions, but none that can be really perceived in the normal usage.
Next up we put the Xiaomi Poco F1 through a series of compound UI tests that include element loading to mimic real-world scenarios like opening applications, navigating the application UI, scrolling through a list, and so on.
Starting with the YouTube composite UI test, this test loops three times and performs a series of controlled actions such as searching for content, scrolling, playing a video, swiping between panels, and so on. The result of the test is shown in the graph below. Keep in mind, the result doesn’t include the frame times of the video playback.
The Xiaomi Poco F1 does a good job keeping the number of janky frames at 10%, though it’s not particularly smooth. Some frame drops can be seen when opening the video entry and minimizing the playback but otherwise scrolling, swiping between horizontal menus, and other transitions are handled with relative ease.
We also took a look at the Play Store which is quite a resource intensive app in itself. With so many menus, buttons, thumbnails, and long lists, it’s a great choice for analyzing a device’s in-app performance. The test starts with scrolling through the “Top Chart” apps, then it opens up an app listing and scrolls down to the user reviews section, and finally, it moves on to the Music tab from the side panel where it scrolls through the Top Songs before returning to the Play Store main screen. The test is repeated three times under the same conditions and the final result is presented below.
Loading an app listing has remained a sore point for pretty much every Android device, and here, too, we see high frame drops when opening and closing app listings as well as switching to the Music tab. As usual, scrolling parts remained smooth and the overall performance is satisfactory.
Finally, the last compound test of Gmail involves scrolling through the main inbox, opening the side panel, checking the Spam box, bringing up the window to compose an email, and navigating some other parts of the app. Again, the test is repeated three times in a controlled environment.
Here, too, the Xiaomi Poco F1 shows similar behavior and while I expected it to perform a little better considering Gmail is comparatively lightweight, the Poco F1 still did a really good job and didn’t drop too many frames or show any noticeable stutters.
We also tested some other parts of the UI such as the default app launcher and side panel in the Gmail app as a proxy for side panels in general.
Side panels don’t seem to be an issue here. As you can see in the graph above, it actually performed quite well with no high bars shooting above the green lines.
On the default Poco Launcher, opening the app drawer followed by the first scroll almost always drops some frames. It’s not particularly noticeable but other third-party launchers we tested such as Lawnchair and Aamir Zaidi’s Rootless Pixel Launcher offered a far smoother experience without any frame drops on the Poco F1.
All in all, the Poco F1 performed rather impressively and well beyond our expectations in these tests. While it may not compare to the Google Pixel as far as smoothness is concerned, it still held up fairly well on its own, delivering a consistent and measurably smooth UI performance across the board. My subjective experience and real-world observations also echo the same opinion.