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Xiaomi Poco F3 review: A £329 bargain

Xiaomi has returned with another Pocophone: the Poco F3.

 
Technically the brand hasn’t been away for very long, with last year’s excellent Poco X3 NFC shaking up what can be done for under £200, but what we were really looking forward to was a follow-up to the excellent Pocophone F1, which offered flagship quality speeds for only £329. 
 
This is a gap in the market that the Poco F3 gleefully fills in the same way OnePlus handsets used to, before price inflation made them nearly as expensive as everything else on the market.

Xiaomi Poco F3 review: What you need to know

Like its predecessor, with the Poco F3 Xiaomi intends to prove that you don’t need to spend £700+ to get top-of-the-range internals and an enviable list of features.

 
 
And while the Poco F3 doesn’t contain the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, it certainly offers significantly more than you could expect at its modest price point. 2018’s Poco F1 used Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 845 processor, but the follow-up now uses the second in command – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 870, seen recently inside the Moto G100. This is backed by 16GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of internal storage (without a microSD card slot).
 
There are three cameras: a 48MP, f/1.8 main lens, an 8MP, f/2.2 ultrawide camera and a 5MP macro number for close-up photography. It also supports 5G, should you have coverage in your area and a sufficiently generous data plan to take advantage.

Xiaomi Poco F3 review: Price and competition

All of that comes to a very reasonable £329 for the 128GB version or £349 for the 256GB model. For reference, the only other phone we’ve looked at using the Snapdragon 870, the Moto G100, sells for £120 more.

 
That makes the Poco F3 hugely competitive when you consider that other handsets around the £350 mark, while perfectly serviceable, clearly have weaker internals. There’s the Snapdragon 730G-powered Google Pixel 4a at £350, the slightly more expensive OnePlus Nord at £379 and a couple of £300 5G-capable options too: the awkwardly named Moto G 5G Plus and the Realme X50 5G.     
 
There’s also a wildcard option: the Apple iPhone SE. The entry-level iPhone is just £399 – still £70 more than the Poco F3, but dirt cheap by Apple’s standards. 

Xiaomi Poco F3 review: Design

Given that even the cheapest smartphone looks like the flagships of a few years ago, it should be no surprise that the Poco F3 looks the part. Nonetheless, it really does, with the large 6.67in screen dominating the front of the handset with barely any bezels. A pinhole camera is embedded in the top corner of the screen, and a fingerprint reader is built into the power button on the right-hand side.

 
Flip it over and it’s all a bit dazzling, with the shiniest back I’ve seen since the HTC U11. While it looks nice enough if you like that kind of thing, it’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet, which means that shiny look won’t last for long if you have greasy mitts. It does come with a transparent plastic cover to make it more grippable and, ugly as it is, you probably want to add it anyway since it flattens out the pretty noticeable triple-camera bump and prevents the phone from wobbling when placed on a table.
 
Concerns about fingerprints and wobble aside, it’s both good looking and well designed, although it’s not the most consumer-friendly design we’ve seen. Although it supports dual SIM cards, there’s no room for microSD cards, and there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, either. Still, neither of these drawbacks seems to have harmed recent iPhones, so it’s hard to be too mad. 

Xiaomi Poco F3 review: Screen

The Poco F3’s 6.67in 2,400 x 1,080 screen is not only AMOLED for perfect contrast and a true black level, but it’s also a 120Hz panel, meaning it offers smooth transitions and (theoretically) up to 120fps frame rates in supported games. It’s switched off by default for battery-saving reasons, but once enabled it makes using the device feel a lot smoother and generally easier on the eyes.
 

It’s a great screen in every other respect as well. Our colorimeter measured an sRGB gamut coverage of 94.2%, with a gamut volume of 95.1%, which means it offers a wide range and superb colour accuracy. Brightness hits 475cd/m², which is pretty darned good for an AMOLED screen, too. In short, it’s hard to think how this screen could be any better. It’s superb for a £329 handset.

Xiaomi Poco F3 review: Performance

The main appeal of the Poco F3 is, of course, the tremendous value it offers, and it’s no exaggeration to say this offers the best performance per pound we’ve seen in an Android smartphone to date. Of course, you might get a better deal on the pre-owned market, but at retail prices it’s hard not to be impressed.

 
 
As a quick recap, the Poco F3 uses the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor, backed with 6GB of RAM. While that’s not the top-of-the-range Qualcomm processor found inside the Xiaomi Mi 11 and Oppo Find X3 Pro, it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s more than enough for any smartphone in 2021, and will probably continue to be so for the next couple of years.
 
But what’s really impressive isn’t the speed itself, but how Xiaomi has managed to squeeze it into such a competitively priced smartphone. The phones in the chart below cost between £299 and £450 and, with the exception of the iPhone SE, the Xiaomi Poco F3 beats them all handsomely. Indeed, the only Android phone that comes close – the Moto G100 – costs £120 more.

 
As you would expect, this performance carries over into 3D graphics. The Xiaomi Poco F3 manages over 60fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 onscreen test thanks to its 120Hz display, but the really impressive feat is with the offscreen result, where it shows its superiority over its rivals, pushing 132fps. Again, only the iPhone SE and Moto G100 compete – and they cost £70 and £120 more respectively.

 
 
Battery life is heroic, too. In our usual battery test, the Xiaomi Poco F3 lasted a mammoth 21hrs 19mins before giving up. As you can see from the chart below, that means it lasts a longer than most of the phones in the list, and has nearly double the battery life of the iPhone SE. You might get two days’ use out of it, then, but given most of us are used to plugging in our phones at night, this is less of a live issue than it used to be.

  

Xiaomi Poco F3 review: Cameras

The Poco F3 comes with a slightly unnecessary three cameras on the back. There’s a main 48MP, f/1.8 lens, supported by an 8MP, f/2.2 ultrawide camera and a 5MP macro sensor for detailed photography of tiny things. Most people probably feel they can take or leave the latter two after some initial experimentation, and I’d personally far rather have a telephoto lens, but it feels churlish to complain about too many cameras, so I won’t.

 
 
The real question is how they perform, and the answer is “well, but not spectacularly so”. In bright conditions, the Poco F3 takes pictures that look, at first glance, well balanced and detailed.

 
But zooming in a little reveals that the detail isn’t all that. The brickwork on this church certainly looks a lot smoother than it is in real life, and the roof tiles aren’t as distinct as we’d like them to be either. While I didn’t have a Pixel 4a on hand for a direct comparison, I’d anticipate an easy win for Google’s handset where photography is its strongest suit.

 
That doesn’t bode well for low-light shots, and sure enough the Poco F3 doesn’t perform brilliantly here, either. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not awful, and getting photos when light is in short supply is notoriously tricky, but even zoomed out it’s clear that there’s not a great deal of detail in this shot of a shrubbery at sunset.

 
…and sure enough, zooming in confirms it.

 
The camera itself is a little bit confusing in UI terms. Macro photography, for example, doesn’t kick in automatically and isn’t selectable from the “More” section as you might expect. Instead, you have to press the menu button and then tap Macro to enable it. You then have to press Back to get rid of the overlay and actually see what you’re shooting – not exactly a smooth experience, but the results are good enough.

 
The same UI is equally confusing for video capture, and initially I didn’t think it was possible to change from the default 1080p 30fps capture. It turns out it’s exactly the same as above: tap on the menu button and an easily missable toggle appears, allowing you to pick 720p, 1080p or 4K at 30fps or 1080p at 60fps. Footage is solid and dependable, albeit with the same lack of detail that static shots suffer from.  
 
The front-facing camera is a 20MP, f/2.5 number and is equally dependable, though it does include beautification features that border on the comic. By default (middle) these aren’t completely overbearing, but you can see the difference when disabled (left) or turned all the way up (right.)

Xiaomi Poco F3 review: Verdict

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the Poco F3 is an easy recommendation if you (justifiably) don’t want to spend £700 on the latest and greatest flagships. For £329, the Poco F3 packs a hell of a performance punch, undermining not only phones of the same price, but more expensive handsets such as the OnePlus Nord and Moto G100, too.

 
 
The only value proposition to come close is the Apple iPhone SE, which offers similar performance grunt in our test, but even that comes in at £70 more and may not appeal to long-term Android fans.
 
The only mild drawback of the Poco F3 is its camera, which is perfectly serviceable but not the best you can buy. If photography is all important to you, you’re probably better off taking the performance hit and buying a Google Pixel 4a for the same price instead. Otherwise, you can buy with confidence: the Poco F3 is all that and a bag of chips. 

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