I’ve had (and used constantly) my Xiaomi Pocophone F1 for some months now and hence I can speak with some authority on the subject. For those unaware of this smartphone, it comes from Xiaomi who produce a range of phones as other tech gadgets of note. As far as I’m aware, the Pocophone is something of a flagship product for them and it certainly stands out in several ways from the crowd.
There seem to be two main variations, one with 64GB of storage, the other with 128GB. As far as I can tell, the Pocophone is available in black, red and blue. Mine is 64GB and black. I wish it was 128GB and red, but I was in a hurry when I bought it and I’m not REALLY complaining as I have a range of decent (and variously coloured) backs for the phone and in the unlikely event that I ever run out of storage I can always add microSD storage. Those readers who store videos on their phones may feel differently. I tend to stream whatever I need.
Let’s get the important specs out of the way before I give you my opinions of this superb phone: 64/128GB storage, 6GB RAM, 4000maH battery with Quick Charge 3.0, Qualcomm Octa-core Snapdragon 845 processor at 2.8Ghz, Android 9, AI dual cameras on the back (1.4uM large pixel 12Mpx+ 5Mpx, 20Mpx front camera - so best of both worlds), HDR, panorama (I’ll stick with the important stuff and leave you to look up most of the gimmicks elsewhere), 4K video at 30fps, fingerprint and face recognition, 6.18” 2246*1080 screen, dual SIM, Bluetooth 5.0, USB C charging/data and 3.5mm audio jack, GPS+AGPS+GLONASS+BEIDOU, sensors include proximity, vibration, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, hall, ambient light.
The notch: I do look forward to notch-free phones once they are widespread. I’m not happy about the approach used in the Nubia X for example. Examples of phones which appear to eliminate the notch well include the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 – a more expensive flagship from the same company (nice phone, Amoled screen, lower capacity battery, no 3.5mm headphone jack). In the case of the F1, you can now (in settings, full screen) darken the notch area and hence have rounded corners on all 4 sides of the screen.
The F1 uses an LCD rather than Amoled screen. In practice this only affects blacks which, as with all LCD screens are not QUITE as black as Amoled black. In this case the difference is marginal. I have devices with Amoled displays but For me, the jury is still out on Amoled as I’ve had various small displays who’s output has diminished over the months – this simply does not happen with LCDs. Of all the smartphones I’ve had over recent years, LCD display lifespan has yet to appear as an issue. The photo above was taken very late at night so don’t expect miracles.
So, importantly, the phone has all the hardware you need for (and this is the bit I enjoy) easy customising: the Pocophone has a very good camera, average night photography and panorama facilities but this is where customising comes into play.. thanks to the guys at XDA developers, the Pocophone ALSO now has a port of the Google Pixel 3 camera software.
This panorama below was taken BEFORE the latest MIUI updates and with an early version of the port of the Pixel 3 phone app for Pocophone F1. I quite like this.The Pixel 3 as you may know STARTS at £589 at Currys and goes up to a stunning £819 at the same store, even though it seems to have a poorer front camera and smaller battery,
The Pixel 3 phone DOES have wireless charging but that’s a technology I can live without until it gets much faster and more powerful. All in, you can get the Pocophone F1 for around 1/3 the price of the Pixel 3 and still get a LOT of the benefits of the latter.
Just as well I held back on doing a write-up on this phone, however, as the Pixel 3 camera software transforms the image capabilities of the camera. In the above panorama in one of our local cafe-bars here in Andalusia. Using the Pixel 3 camera software I got the entire bar area in frame in a photo exceeding 5,000 pixels width. In addition, the latest MIUI updates address comments you will notice elsewhere about the F1.
You also can install custom Kernels onto the Pocophone F1 (which I would do if I had a spare Pocophone)
Videos - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57HMx7NCwrE and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHEAaZF0w6w – unlocking is, apparently simply a matter of applying to Xiaomi and waiting for 72 hours. None of that was needed for either the new 10.3.4 MIUI update or the Pixel 3 camera software.
Reviewers on YouTube have commented that the Pocophone while having 4K video capability has this only at 30fps (not that there is anything bad about that for normal use) – now incorrect – that information is old news – the 10.3.4 OTA update provides 4K video at 60fps and several other features such as “Widevine L1” certification which allows users to play high definition videos from the likes of Amazon Prime and Netflix.
I’ve seen reviews stating that Netflix is still missing HD (probably older reviews) which I found strange as I watched Attenborough on Netflix last night on the phone, in 16:9 format (and that was BEFORE the 10.3.4 update) and the quality was great if restricted to a 16:9 segment of the phone display until I twigged that I could expand it to use almost the entire image surface.
I should clarify that my Pocophone is normally used in the UK and I am currently in Spain (not a lot of experience using it in the USA). Some may like the expanded view with rounded corners, others may stick with 16:9 – I would LOVE to show you a screenshot of the Attenborough episode above but it seems that Netflix have found a way to stop screenshots of streaming video hence the rather inadequate shot from my Panasonic camera above (video quality is superb). If anyone knows a way around this restriction – please do let me know.
Before leaving the subject of the camera apps, here is a summary of the modes available between the native camera and the Pixel 3 app: Lens blur, panorama, portrait, photo, video (inc. 4K at 30 and 60fps), might, square, Pro (manual white balance, F-stop, shutter, ISO), photo sphere, night sight. slow motion, time lapse up to 60 seconds interval) and options for H264 and H265, tilt-shift.
The manual upgrade to MIUI 10.3.4 caught me out due to omitted information in the simple instructions I read online, having grabbed the relevant zip file. In addition, in THIS screen (see right) you need to tap the graphic 10 times to enable additional features such as using local update files. This is NOT the same as enabling “developer” mode which is done in the usual way. It is also REALLY easy.
Once done, I grabbed the 10.3.4 file I’d downloaded from XDA Developers, put it in the “downloaded_rom” folder on the phone (I use ES File Explorer Pro) and the rest was automatic. Voila, 4K video at 60 fps with stabilisation and more. The list of features using the standard camera is now amazing.
As full screen minus the notch is now a standard option you don’t need “The Pixel Experience” rom for that any more. I’ve had no WIFI or data issues either. Bluetooth also has been rock solid. Battery life is good, too.
The upgrade to (Android 9) Miui 10.3.4 includes Game Turbo, the March 2019 security updates, Face unlock support, new AI camera modes and a shedload of fixes as well as the improvements mentioned above. I’ve not had to root the phone or do anything complicated at all. I just tried out the face unlocking, I could not tell you how secure it is but I can say it works reliably in a a variety of light levels.