Xiaomi Poco F3 full review

The Poco F3 is the first in a brand-new product line for the Xiaomi sub-brand. Described as ‘The Real Beast’ by the company, it’s pitched as a premium alternative to the Poco X3 Pro that launched alongside it. Despite tipping over into mid-range territory, it retains the ultra-competitive pricing we’ve come to associate with Poco phones.

The stacked spec sheet suggests Xiaomi is onto a winner here. A Snapdragon 870 chipset, 120Hz AMOLED display and all-glass design are things we’ve come to associate with much more expensive handsets.

But does Xiaomi cut any corners to get there, and how well does it stack up to real-world usage? I spent a few weeks with the device to find out.

Design and build

The design of the Poco F3 belies its relatively affordable price tag. It looks and feels like a phone that’s more than twice its price, due in part to a glass front and back. The latter is one of the key design upgrades over the Poco X3 Pro, although it does still have a plastic frame.

This makes it extremely reflective, to the extent that I could easily use it as a personal mirror. That’s only a problem on the silver model I tested – it's also available in black, blue or white if you’d prefer. Fingerprint smudges weren’t really an issue, and being equipped with Gorilla Glass 5 meant I was comfortable using the phone case-free.

Poco F3 review

I’d still recommend throwing one on, though – the rear camera module protrudes significantly from the back of the phone, making it difficult to use face up on a table otherwise. The silicone one included in the box does a good job of making this flush, even if it takes away from the attractive design to some extent.

I’ll explore camera performance in more detail later, but there’s not too much else to report when it comes to rear design. Thankfully, the X3 Pro’s huge logo has been swapped out for a much more discreet one here.

Poco F3 review

However, you probably won’t be looking at the back of the phone much. Flipping it over reveals a stunning 6.65in AMOLED display, another big upgrade over the X3 Pro. It’s still limited to Full HD (1080x2400), but more than makes up for it with rich, vibrant colours and an excellent level of detail.

It also supports refresh rates up to 120Hz, making for a buttery-smooth experience. You can only choose between this and 60Hz in Settings, but the display can dynamically adjust according to what you’re doing. This should help regulate battery life, something that is negatively affected when selecting 120Hz.

Combined with a 360Hz touch sampling rate, gaming on the Poco F3’s screen is about as good as it gets on a mid-range phone, short of buying a dedicated handset like the Red Magic 6.

The display is flanked by some extremely slim bezels, giving the device an impressive 85.9% screen-to-body ratio. A hole-punch 20Mp selfie camera is centrally located at the top of the phone – a very natural position for face unlock, which works well.

However, I much preferred the other biometric unlocking option. The side-mounted fingerprint scanner is built into the power button, and it’s extremely fast and reliable. My experience with under-display sensors has been hit-and-miss so far – I wish more phones would adopt this feature instead.

Poco F3 review

The regular volume rocker is found directly above it, leaving the left side of the F3 completely free. Dual speakers on the top of the device combine with a single downward-firing grille for a stereo setup. It delivers crisp, full-bodied audio that you won’t find on many handsets at this price point.

The only other design feature of note is the SIM tray. There’s only space for one card here, and no room to expand on-device storage via microSD. It also means you’ll have to do without a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Hardware and performance

The Poco F3 has an attractive design, but performance is where the phone really excels. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 870 processor. It isn’t quite the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 888, but acts as an overclocked version of 2020’s flagship 865+. Given this phone retails for under £350/US$350, I really can’t have any complaints.

It combines with an Adreno 650 GPU and 8GB of RAM on the model I tested, although the starting configuration drops the latter to 6GB. The performance I got from the F3 was superb, blazing through everything I could throw at it without even a hesitation.

This primarily included web browsing, social media and some multitasking, with the F3 barely breaking sweat. It’s clear the phone can handle gaming, too – demanding titles like Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9 weren’t a problem here. This is where that 120Hz refresh rate comes into its own, although not all games support it.

However, the Poco F3’s stellar performance isn’t necessarily reflected in the below benchmarks – the results are roughly in line with many similarly-priced handsets.

The Snapdragon 870 chips also brings 5G to the party, one of the key upgrades over the X3 Pro. Without a 5G-enabled SIM I couldn’t test how well it worked, but 4G performance was exemplary. Wi-Fi 6 keeps things speedy when at home, while Bluetooth 5.1 and NFC are also on board.

It’s slightly more complicated where on-device storage is concerned. I was comfortable with the 256GB available on the model I tested, but you might struggle with just 128GB. If you’re concerned about running out of space, buy the more expensive model – there's no option for microSD card expansion.

Software and features

Out of the box, the Poco F3 runs Xiaomi's MIUI 12 skin over Android 11. You can easily swap out the default launcher and an update to Android 12 is likely at some point, but my experience here reflects what you’ll get when you buy the phone now.

There’s no doubting MIUI is a big departure from the so-called ‘stock Android’ you’ll find on Pixel phones, but it’s become much more intuitive in recent years.

Poco F3 review

One of the key changes you’ll notice is a redesigned app drawer, which has fewer rounded corners and automatically sorts your apps into different categories. The first page still displays a vertical list of everything you have installed, but it takes a bit of getting used to. The search bar has shifted to the bottom of the screen, but that feels more natural on a device of this size.

The Settings menu and notification shade also look very different, but this is something I quickly got used to. What’s harder to ignore is the range of bloatware. The Poco F3 has its own clock, calculator, voice recorder and music player – none of which can be uninstalled.

Still, it’s not all bad news. The range of dynamic wallpapers are impressive, while familiar features like Digital Wellbeing and the Google Discover feed are retained.

Cameras

Poco phones have typically sacrificed slightly on camera quality in order to pack in premium specs. That works on budget phones, but is harder to accept at this mid-range price point.

On the face of it, the F3’s cameras are much the same as the more affordable X3 Pro. Both share the same 48Mp main sensor and 8Mp ultrawide, but the Poco F3 bumps the macro camera from 2Mp to 5Mp and ditches the depth sensor altogether. This feels like a wise move – those low-resolution sensors rarely add much to the camera experience.

Poco F3 review

In general, photos I took with the Poco F3 were very impressive. The phone performs especially well with landscape shots, delivering excellent dynamic range and vivid colours. This is where the ultrawide lens comes into its own, although it’s useful in a variety of situations.

The software-enabled portrait mode was another highlight, proving that a dedicated depth sensor isn’t usually necessary. It still struggled with edge detection at times, but exposure and colour accuracy were very good.

The macro lens might have a higher resolution than the Poco X3 Pro, but it’s still the weak point here. I found it difficult to get the camera to focus when close to a subject, although you can probably get some nice shots if you’re willing to be patient.

There’s also a dedicated night mode, which does a good job of turning very dark scenes into something more usable.

Having a high-quality front-facing camera is a real plus if you regularly take selfies, and the Poco F3’s 20Mp sensor is one of the best I’ve seen. Shots are typically detailed and well-exposed, even if the ‘Smooth’ beauty mode is turned on by default.

The slideshow below includes images from all four camera lenses on the Poco F3.

Poco F3 camera test

On the video side, the phone can record up to 4K at 30fps. There’s no optical image stabilisation, but an electronic equivalent does a good job of keeping footage steady while walking.

Battery life

My review of the Poco F3 has been largely positive so far, but battery life is one of its main drawbacks. The device has a 4520mAh cell - that’s a significant step down from the 5,160mAh capacity you’ll find on the Poco X3 and X3 Pro, and it shows.

I struggled to get a full day’s usage out of the device with only moderate usage. Admittedly, 14 hours is a long time to be away from a power source, but I found myself needing to top up on two separate occasions.

I thought this might be down to the power-guzzling 120Hz display, but dropping this down to 60Hz didn’t have a significant effect. The combination of 4G, high brightness and GPS proved too much for the Poco F3 to handle, but you can undoubtedly eke out longer with less intensive usage.

Poco F3 review

However, benchmarks tell a different story. With the brightness set to around 200 nits, PCMark’s battery test recorded an above-average time of 14 hours and 24 minutes. That’s identical to the Poco X3, and higher than the X3 Pro.

If you do find yourself reaching for the charger more often, you won’t need to have it connected for long. The 33W adapter included in the box can get you 72% in just 30 minutes, and it was fully charged again within an hour. There’s no wireless charging, but this is a worthy alternative.

Price and value for money

Considering everything you’re getting with the Poco F3, it’s extremely competitively priced. The £329 (approx. US$465) starting price gets you 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage. Stepping up to the 8GB/256GB variant I tested usually costs £349 (approx. US$490), but it’s dropped to £339 at the official Mi Store and £319.99 via Amazon. The device isn’t currently on sale in North America, so you’ll have to import it.

Regardless of which model you opt for, it’s hard not to be impressed by everything you’re getting here. However, competition is fierce at this mid-range price point. The Google Pixel 4a and Oppo Find X3 Lite are the obvious alternatives, but 2020’s OnePlus Nord now retails for a similar price.

Those options might provide a more compelling software experience, but from a pure hardware perspective the Poco F3 is hard to beat.

Verdict

The Poco F3 is a cracking mid-range phone. Stellar hardware is led by Qualcomm’s 5G-enabled Snapdragon 870 chipset, which delivers excellent performance across the board.

That extends to gaming, where the 120Hz OLED display comes into its own. However, that high refresh rate does hit battery life, especially when you’re working with a smaller capacity than the Poco X3 Pro. The software is also still an acquired taste, despite big steps forward for MIUI in recent years.

A premium design and solid set of cameras make for an excellent smartphone experience, but the strength of the competition makes it more difficult to recommend.

Many people will find everything they’re looking for in the Poco X3 Pro, a device that retails for around £100/€100 less than the Poco F3. Unless you value an OLED display, slightly better cameras or a glass back, the cheaper phone might be a better bet.

For more information on what goes into one of our reviews, check out How we test: Smartphones

Specs

Xiaomi Poco F3: Specs

  • Android 11 with MIUI 12
  • 6.67in Full HD+ (1080x2400) 20:9 AMOLED, 120Hz
  • Gorilla Glass 5 display and rear, plastic frame
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor
  • 6/8GB RAM
  • 128/256GB internal storage
  • 48Mp, f/1.8, PDAF main camera
  • 8Mp, f/2.2 ultrawide
  • 5Mp, f/2.4 macro
  • 20Mp, f/2.5 selfie camera
  • Video up to 4K @30fps
  • Fingerprint scanner (in power button)
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 5G
  • Nano SIM
  • USB-C
  • IP53
  • Stereo speakers
  • 4520mAh non-removable battery
  • Fast charging 33W
  • 163.7 x 76.4 x 7.8 mm
  • 196 g