Flashback: Poco F1, the birth of a value-for-money legend
We don’t know if the execs at Qualcomm and Xiaomi were friends in high school or what, but the two companies enjoy a close working relationship. Sometimes this leads to sweet deals for Xiaomi – for example, the Mi 11 was the first Snapdragon 888 phone.
But perhaps the biggest score that Xiaomi achieved thanks to its cosy relationship with the chipset maker is securing a supply of Snapdragon 845 chips for the Poco F1 – a phone that cost a ridiculously low ₹21,000 ($300 at the time) of its launch in late August 2018. The European launch came with a €330 price tag (with a €30 coupon as a launch promo).
Sure, the chip was a few months old at the time, but it was the exact same silicon that powered high-profile flagships like the Galaxy S9, one of Samsung’s best selling phones. The S9 cost $720 unlocked in the US, ₹58,000 in India. We’re not going to try and convince you that the F1 was better than the S9, it wasn’t, at least if you could afford the Galaxy. But at nearly 3 times the price it was out of reach for many.
The Pocophone F1 as it was known in some places (Xiaomi had yet to settle on “Poco” or “Pocophone”) was a steal at ₹21,000/€330. And we mean that mostly metaphorically, though we wouldn’t be surprised if Qualcomm checked for missing inventory – no other Snapdragon 845 phone could match that price. A few months in after launch the Galaxy started getting price cuts, e.g. in June you could get a 128GB model for $640 from eBay. A solid discount, but the price was still way off the Poco.
You have to remember that this was back in 2018, when Snapdragon was the undisputed Android chipset of choice. Sure, the new MediaTek Dimensity 9000 sounds awesome, the Google Tensor is interesting and the Exynos 2200 is bringing the first AMD GPU in years... but that is now, back then the MediaTek chips were mostly for budget phones, while the Exynos 9810 was still trying to shake off the burden of the ill-fated Mongoose custom cores.
If you’re not familiar with the Poco F1, you may be getting the impression that this phone was all about the chipset. And it was, but the rest of the phone was actually solid too.
Xiaomi engineers found a way to make the mostly plastic body look nice and gave it an almost premium feel. The Armored Edition with a Kevlar back in particular was a looker (practical too, the soft, grippy finish was great). That iPhone X-style notch was not to everyone’s taste, but such were the times.
The F1 was a real crowd-pleaser. It had a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD slot. So did the Galaxy, but those features were already starting to become rare. And the phone had a USB-C port – pretty normal for 2018, but a few Oppo and vivo phones at the time still came with microUSB connectors. And if the Poco did have a micro port, we would have probably introduced the fact with “Considering the pricing, ...”.
But no, even with at its impressively low price the Poco didn’t compromise. That extended to the 6.18” IPS LCD. It offered solid brightness, excellent contrast and had Gorilla Glass protection. Also, in one of the display modes the average DeltaE was below 1, in other words, you wouldn’t see a difference in color rendering between it and a perfect sRGB display.
The battery was impressive too. With its 4,000 mAh capacity it achieved an Endurance rating of 94 hours, an impressive showing. For those wondering, the Galaxy S9 managed 78 hours, the iPhone XS Max did 79 hours. With 18W QuickCharge 3.0 power brick (included in the box), half an hour of charging got you up to 35%.
The Poco F1 even had stereo speakers, which were missing from the Xiaomi Mi 8, the company’s mainstream flagship at the time. One of the speakers was the earpiece, so it wasn’t perfect, but the phone blasted out sound at an impressive volume and scored a rare Excellent mark in our tests.
Before we wrap up, we have to talk about the camera. Many were happy with it and it was a solid camera, based on the Sony IMX363 – a 12MP sensor with 1.4µm pixels and Dual Pixel autofocus. It lacked the benefit of OIS, but the lens had a reasonably bright f/1.9 aperture. By the way, this sensor was a Google favorite, it used it all the way up to the Pixel 5.
Anyway, Poco F1’s camera was excellent for daylight photography, but disappointed with its low-light performance. The lack of a 60 fps mode, whether at 4K or 1080p, was a bit of a bummer as well, but videos were sharp and had impressive dynamic range. Also, the electronic stabilization worked at 4K (thanks to that beefy Snapdragon 845) and it did a fine job.
There was also a 5MP depth sensor on the back, but no ultrawide or telephoto, which were catching on with flagships. For what it’s worth, the portrait shots made with the help of the depth sensor looked pretty good. The 20MP front camera produced great-looking selfies with enough light, though the 4-in-1 pixel binning didn’t achieve much.
Overall, the camera was not up to par with flagships, but it punched well above its class – a class that was several price segments below said flagships. It was impressive how Xiaomi got most of the way to the flagship experience while asking for only a third of the money.
One of the qualities of the Poco that wasn’t universally appreciated was MIUI – at the time it was rapidly improving, but it was still quite different from the regular Android experience. Some loved it, others didn’t. But considering that the phone launched with Android 8.1 (MIUI 9.5) and was updated to Android 10, we can’t complain all that much about the software.
The conclusion to our long-term review of the Poco F1 starts with the sentence “The Pocophone F1 is a phone that's easy to recommend.” That is the best compliment we can pay to a phone – if explaining why a model is good devolves into a series of ifs and buts, then it has niche appeal at best. The F1 was a bit of a niche product itself, but Xiaomi did an excellent job of of gathering die-hard fans.
After a couple of quiet years the Poco brand came back and it is still going strong. Today we have the Poco X3 Pro and Poco F3, both spiritual successors to the F1. They are easy to recommend because they offer a lot of chipset power for the money, a solid screen and battery and a good but not great camera. It runs in the family.
- 10 Apr 2023
Still using it till today, battery still lasts a day with normal use (without gaming).
- 04 Jan 2023
You have to unlock the bootloader first. BACKUP all your data as your phone will be reset. Xiaomi phones running MiUI do not unlock the regular way (going to developer options, enabling oem unlocking, then connecting the phone to the PC in fastb...
- 27 Dec 2022
+1. Commenting from and F1 How do we install a custom ROM though? Pls help!