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Xiaomi

Xiaomi Poco F1 first impressions – same specs as a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 at one-third of the price

As cutting edge as Korean giant’s flagship handset, with a longer battery life, and swiping gesture navigations that eliminate software buttons, the Poco F1 starts at just over US$300, compared to over US$1,000 for the Samsung handset

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 8:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 8:58am

Want to know how cutthroat the Android landscape is? Samsung recently launched its Galaxy Note 9 flagship handset, its headline features the 4,000 mAh battery, Snapdragon 845 processor with up to 8GB of RAM, and liquid-cooled interior to stop it getting hot during heavy use.

Less than two weeks later Xiaomi launched a new sub-brand named Poco, and its debut phone, the F1, matched the Note 9’s specs. Yet Samsung charges between US$1,000 and US$1,200 for its Note 9. The Poco F1? Prices start at just a bit over US$300.

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Design and hardware

When it comes to the F1’s looks and design, the phrase “no frills” comes to mind. It does not look especially bad, just uninspired and plain. Its carbon graphite back feels very plasticky, and the face of the phone has a sizeable notch even though the phone lacks an intricate face scanning system, and its chin bezel is large by 2018 standards. In between is a thin aluminium railing that feels weirdly lightweight. The in-hand feel is comfortable, thanks to the rounded corners and manageable 5.99-inch LCD screen size, but definitely not premium.

Yet, considering the F1’s price point and what it offers inside, only irrationally demanding consumers would take issue with its body. Sure, the F1 may not be as visually pleasing as the Vivo V11, with its edge-to-edge display and small notch, but its Snapdragon 845 processor is significantly more powerful than the V11’s 660 – and the handset is slightly cheaper too.

The 12-megapixel camera with a secondary 5-megapixel depth sensor on the back is also modest by the standards of camera specs in 2018, but Xiaomi’s camera software and image processing is strong.

There are even stereo speakers – though the secondary speaker located inside the earpiece is rather weak – and a headphone jack.

Software and design

The F1 runs Android 8.1 with an altered version of Xiaomi’s Android skin, MIUI, on top. I find Poco’s MIUI to be an improvement over the standard MIUI. There are subtle animation and aesthetic tweaks that make it more in line with stock Android, but the biggest improvement for me is that Poco’s software has an app tray, instead of forcing all apps to sit on the home screen as other Xiaomi phones do.

Like the original MIUI, Poco’s software offers swiping gesture navigations that eliminate the need for software buttons and I love them. After using swipes to get around Android on Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Vivo phones for most of this year, I found Samsung’s traditional on-screen three-button layout to be outdated and a waste of screen space.

Performance and battery life

The F1 is top notch in every single area of performance except for video recording and low light photography. The 4,000 mAh battery lasts longer than the Note 9’s battery – no surprise, given the F1’s less pixel-heavy screen and Xiaomi’s battery optimisations. And although the liquid cooling pipe inside appears to be a marketing gimmick just like that of the Note 9 (both phones heat up when performing heavy tasks just like any other phone I’ve tested this year), that does not detract from the F1’s speed and fluidity, which rival those of the Note 9 and even the iPhone X. Of the phones launched in 2018, only the OnePlus 6 zips around more smoothly.

Mid-tier Chinese phones have made big strides in the photography department in 2018. Much like the Vivo V11, the F1 can produce shots in the daytime that are absolutely on par with Samsung, Huawei or Apple handsets that cost twice as much.

Video recording is, as mentioned, just OK. The F1 can record up to 4K, but without stabilisation of any sort, so videos can be jerky. Shooting in 1080p brings EIS that works OK.

Conclusion

Considering that the average person isn’t a demanding photographer or videographer, the Poco F1 offers them just about the same phone experience as a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 at one-third the price. Comparing the F1 with the OnePlus 6 is tricky: the F1 is more than US$200 cheaper, which is not chump change, but the OnePlus 6 is even speedier, has a slightly more capable camera, and has a much more premium feel.

Either way, both phones are less the half the price of the flagship handsets from Samsung, Apple and Sony. As upstart Chinese budget handset manufacturers get better and better at making phones, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recommend top-of-the-range phones from the tech giants to anyone who isn’t a tech enthusiast.

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Specifications

Dimension: 155.5mm X 75.3mm X 8.8mm

Weight: 180g

Display: 5.99-inch 1080 x 2246 LCD panel

Battery: 4,000 mAh

OS version reviewed: MIUI for Poco 9.6 over Android 8.1

Processor: Snapdragon 845

Cameras: 12-megapixel with a 5-megapixel secondary sensor; 20-megapixel front-facing camera

Memory: 6/8GB of RAM; 64/128GB ROM

Colours: black, blue, red

Price: HK$2,340 (US$300, 6GB RAM, 64GB ROM); HK$2,528 (6GB RAM, 128GB ROM); US$429 (8GB RAM, 256GB ROM – not sold officially in Hong Kong )