Have you ever watched one of those keynote presentations from one of the big phone players and just wished you could cherry pick the bits you wanted from the new flagship phone and slot them into a mid-level priced unit? Well, it looks like you are not alone.
The guys from Pocophone, supported by the tech powerhouse Xiaomi have come up with the F1 which packs a heap of the top of the line specs you would see on a current $1000+ flagship but for half the price.
- Battery Life
- Face Unlock (with a bit of fiddling for AU)
- Limited Band coverage
- No NFC
It goes without saying that Pocophone had to cut some corners to be able to deliver these amazing specs at such a reasonable entry price and one of those is the build material, you won’t find back glass or a metal frame on this one the body is made of polycarbonate (or plastic for everyone playing along at home).
But in no means does that mean this phone looks or feels cheap the design team have done a great job in maintaining a premium feel while using more cost-effective materials. The F1 is 8.8mm thick which is a bit on the thicker side but again the subtle curves in the design do not make it feel fat in the hand and allows Xiaomi to squeeze that massive 4000mAh battery in.
The F1 also gets a USB Type-C port which is a nice addition for this price point as well as maintaining the quickly disappearing 3.5mm headphone jack (bonus points for that one). You also get a lightning quick fingerprint reader on the back (where it should be) below the camera bank although I did find I didn’t really have to use it as the face unlock was so easy to use.
You will also forego any dust and water resistance on the F1 another cost-cutting measure to keep that price rock bottom.
Ok so for the guts. The F1 is running a liquid cooled Snapdragon 845 (yes you read that right) with an Adreno GPU and either 6 or 8 gigabytes of RAM. With onboard storage starting at 64GB but also available in 128GB and 256GB options as well as the ability to expand that up to a further 256GB via microSD you are not going to run out of space any time soon.
It also packs in a 4000mAh battery with Qualcomm quick charge 3.0 and let me tell you this thing goes the distance. I am a high-level user with 3 hours of commuting a day and I am yet to kill it. I am consistently am left with up to 20% at the end of the day. There is no wireless charging on the F1 due to the construction material, which isn’t a make or break but it is something that is becoming a staple of flagships.
Gaming is also super smooth on the F1 testing across PUBG, Fortnite BETA and Asphalt 9 there was consistent high frame rates and smooth running. Also due to the power optimisation of the 845 processor and the F1's mammoth battery even on games like PUBG and Fortnite which are known battery hogs the F1 was only sipping at the power which was a nice bonus.
Gaming was obviously an area of focus for the phones engineers as this is where the liquid cooling really comes into its own. What happens is when the F1 detects that a game has been launched is it dumps the system cache and redirects all the available system resources to run the game as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Running the F1 through the AnTuTu benchmarking test it was punching well above its weight outscoring over 85% of other users, a fantastic result for a phone that costs less than $500. What this phone is doing is along the same lines as what the OnePlus did, pack as much high-end performance into a device without a lot of the over the top bells and whistles and keep the price as low as possible.
To be honest they have done a stellar job. One thing to note is that this phone does not cover band 28 on the network spectrum which is used by both Optus and Telstra for high speed 4G/LTE it does support all the other main frequency bands that are used by Australian telcos just take into consideration that you may not be able to get blistering 4G speeds in every location due to the reduced coverage.
That being said I was able to achieve and maintain good connection and speed while reviewing this unit and it also had no effect on the call quality of the device either which was excellent in my opinion with good clarity and volume on calls.
The F1 has a 6.18in FHD+ screen with at 18.6:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2246x1080 with a pixel density of ~403 ppi which makes it sharper than the recently announced "Liquid Retina" display on the $1,229 iPhone XR. The IPS LCD panel has good viewing angles and brightness and deals with sunlight in most cases really well.
Watching movies and playing games is a pleasant experience with sharp colour replication and contrast. One thing that has been widely publicised about this phone is the lack of Widevine L1 support which restricts Netflix from playing in native resolution so the max you will be able to watch is 540p. This doesn’t affect other video apps like YouTube or playing back videos on the device only apps that have DRM restrictions.
It’s not a massive game changer and there are several phones that have the same issue mainly the 2016 line of OnePlus devices as well as the ZTE Axon line. So, unless you must binge watch all those episodes of The Bodyguard in HD then you should be fine.
Xiaomi has said they are investigating a potential firmware fix for this. The F1 has gone with rounded corners on the display, might I say perhaps a little too rounded, you don’t notice it all that much until you use an app that is designed to fill the screen space and the bottom left and right corners are slightly cut off.
I understand Xiaomi are trying to replicate the look of the flagships, but I think they could have dialled back the curve on this one.
The F1 ships with Android 8.1 (Xiaomi has said they will be rolling out support for Android 9) skinned with Xiaomi's MIUI 9.6 which for those use to a stock Android experience might take some getting used to, but it is a lot less bloaty than other custom UI's shipped from Chinese phone manufacturers.
One thing I did miss was that there is no notification icon at the top of the screen and you can only see them when you open the notification panel.
I dare say one of the sacrifices you make when adding a notch into the equation.
I didn’t find the OS too bloaty as I have with other skinned versions of Android, however I do like the clean feel of stock OS.
Usually this is where the budget/mid-level phones cut the most corners and you can see a huge between cheap phones and flagships.
Well, the F1 holds up well in this department on the back it is rocking a dual camera setup with a 12MP f/1.9 main shooter with a secondary 5MP sensor to assist with depth data for the included bokeh shooting mode. The shutter is fast, and I didn’t have any issues with blurry or noisy shots even in lower light.
The depth effect works well and the built-in AI does a great job of determining the edges on the foreground vs what needs to be blurred. The rear cameras can also shoot video at an impression 4K 30FPS which is surprising at this price point.
On the front there is a 20MP front-facing camera for all your selfie needs. Also housed in the F1's notch is one of the stereo speakers as well as an IR blaster which is used for the super-fast face unlock which rivals the big flagships for speed while maintaining solid security.
The only gripe I had with it is that is currently not available to all regions yet (Pocophone are slowly rolling it out) so if you want to use it out the box in Australia you will need to set your region to India in the phone's settings to enable this feature.
Should You Buy it?
I knew that there would be some cut corners on a phone boasting this sort of spec sheet with this price tag, but to say that I was surprised at the quality would be an understatement. If NFC and being able to stream Netflix in HD (potentially for now) are make or break, then this is not the phone for you.
However, if you are after top of the line performance with a budget then you have found it. The camera and screen are also both quality and usually where these corners get cut, but the F1 does a great job with both.
Then you throw a 4000mAh battery into the mix and it does make a compelling argument. Personally, I really like it, it feels great in the hand has several great features with performance to spare.
You can buy it in Australia from Catch.com.au from $489.50 for the 6GB/64GB version.