The POCO F3 has flagship-level haptics and screen for a whole lot less

The POCO F3 has flagship-level haptics and screen for a whole lot less

I’m a Chinese-American guy living in Hong Kong who consumes — and writes for — mostly US-centric American tech media. Because of this odd in-between space I occupy, I tend to see things from both the western and eastern perspectives. And this divide is so, so evident in mid-tier smartphones. While the state of premium flagship smartphones remains mostly the same around the world — the iPhone is king anywhere — the mid-tier smartphone scenes couldn’t be more wildly different.

Case in point: the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE drew critical acclaim from US tech media last year because it offered a flagship screen and SoC for $700. And that price is indeed a great deal in the US. But here in Asia, I just kept thinking about how Samsung cut so many noticeable corners — the Galaxy S20 FE has a plastic back, large chin bezel, and a mushy and terrible haptic engine. Here in Asia, Chinese smartphones do a much better job of hiding compromises in their mid-tier phones — they actually look and feel like premium flagships unless you dig deeper.

That’s the case with the POCO F3 — another mid-tier priced smartphone that can easily pass for a flagship to the untrained eye.

POCO F3 in silver held out in the hand

POCO F3: Specifications

POCO F3 Specifications. Click or tap to expand.

SpecificationPOCO F3
Build
  • Arctic White, Night Black, Deep Ocean Blue
  • 2.5D curved glass front, 3D curved back
  • Gorilla Glass 5 on front and back
Dimensions & Weight
  • 163.7 x 76.4 x 7.8 mm
  • 196g
Display
  • 6.67-inch AMOLED DotDisplay
  • Full HD+ resolution
  • Centered hole-punch cutout
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • 360Hz touch sampling rate
  • 1300 nits peak brightness
  • 1500:1 contrast ratio
  • HDR10+
  • MEMC
SoCQualcomm Snapdragon 870

  • Octa-core Kryo 585 CPU @ 3.20GHz
  • Adreno 650 GPU
  • 7nm process node
RAM & Storage
  • 6GB LPDDR5 + 128GB UFS 3.1
  • 8GB + 256GB
Battery & Charging
  • 4520mAh
  • 33W wired fast charging
  • 33W fast charger in box
SecuritySide-mounted fingerprint scanner
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 48MP Sony IMX 582, f/1.79, 1/2″ sensor
  • Secondary: 8MP, ultra-wide, f/2.2, 119°
  • Tertiary: 5MP, telemacro, f/2.4
Front Camera(s)20MP, f/2.45
Port(s)USB Type-C
Audio
  • Dual speakers, Dolby Atmos certified
  • Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Audio Wireless certified
  • Triple microphones with 360° surround sound pick-up capabilities
Connectivity
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • NFC
  • IR Blaster
  • Dual-SIM support
  • Bands:
    • 2G GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
    • 3G WCDMA: B1, 2, 4, 5, 8
    • 4G LTE FDD: B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 28, 66
    • 4G LTE TDD: B38, 40, 41
    • 5G: N1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 41, 77, 78
SoftwareMIUI 12 based on Android 11

I received the POCO F3 from POCO global on March 20. POCO did not have input for this article.

POCO F3: What’s good?

The POCO F3 is one of the first phones to run on Snapdragon 870, which reuses the Snapdragon 865 and 865+ architecture but is clocked at 3.2Ghz, which is 10% faster than the Snapdragon 865 and 3% faster than the Snapdragon 865+. So in other words, the Snapdragon 870 is like a Snapdragon 865++. Considering that the Snapdragon 865+ was a premium flagship SoC even just three months ago, and the 870 is slightly better than that, it should go without saying this is a highly capable chip. Is it more powerful than the Snapdragon 888? No, but I challenge anyone but the geekiest of geeks to spot the difference.

The POCO F3 features a 6.7-inch OLED display that refreshes at 120Hz, with a touch sampling rate of 360Hz (even premium flagships right now only top out at 240Hz), making for a superfluid scrolling and gaming experience. This is not an LTPO panel, so it lacks a variable refresh rate, and it doesn’t get quite as bright as the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s or Mi 11’s screen, but this is still a very good-looking premium display.

POCO F3 main camera

As mentioned at the beginning, Samsung’s mid-tier offerings are mostly plasticky with mushy haptics. That’s not the case here. The POCO F3 uses Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, and the haptic engine here seems to be the same engine used in Xiaomi’s top-end phones, which makes it one of the best haptic engines around. Type on this phone with vibration turned on and do the same with a Galaxy A52 or Galaxy S20 FE and the difference is night and day.

The phone also packs very loud stereo speakers. That, paired with the 360Hz touch sampling rate and boxy flat screen design, makes the POCO F3 an ideal gaming phone.

I’m also a fan of the main camera, a 48MP lens whose hardware may not be anything special, but still captures sharp and vibrant photos night and day thanks to Xiaomi/POCO’s much-improved image processing software.

In fact, MIUI’s camera software is one of my favorites around, offering very fun camera tricks like “clone photo” or “AI Sky Editor.”

You might be wondering what that fourth hole is in the camera module — that is a microphone, which POCO uses to help record “audio zoom,” meaning as you zoom in while shooting video, the mic will increase sound input.

POCO F3 camera system

POCO F3: What’s meh?

Here’s where Xiaomi had to cut some corners to keep the POCO F3 at a mid-tier price: the 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera is weak, producing soft shots that fall apart if placed by side-by-side with a photo captured by the main camera. The third camera, a 5MP macro lens, does a solid job, but flagship phones have proven we don’t need a dedicated lens just for macro shots.

Video stabilization is also not as good as what I’ve come to expect after using a series of flagships such as the Xiaomi Mi 11 and OPPO Find X3 Pro. Keep in mind, the Xiaomi Mi 11 in China is priced at just the equivalent of $614. The iPhone 12 Mini also offers far better video stabilization than the POCO F3 at just $699.

That’s about it as far as objective criticism of this device. Sure, one can nitpick about MIUI not being their cup of tea, or the fingerprint magnet back (on my silver unit, at least). But these would be subjective opinions.

POCO F3: Battery life and Performance

A complaint I had with the otherwise very good POCO X3 NFC was that the phone uses UFS 2.1 storage, which led to slower app loading times. That’s not the case here — the POCO F3 is zippy and fast all around with UFS 3.1 storage and LPDDR5 RAM.

I’ve only been using the phone for about a day and a half, but I can tell battery life should be quite good. At the time of writing this article, my POCO F3 has been unplugged from the charger for 20 hours and it still has 19% battery life. Granted, I wasn’t pushing the phone very heavily, but I took it out with me and shot a series of photos, and did a fair of social media and YouTube watching.

POCO F3: Early Impressions

Xiaomi has arguably the best bang-for-buck smartphone brand in the world over the past couple of years, and the POCO F3 is yet another release that punches way above its price class. At a price of €349 ($416) for the base 6GB RAM + 128GB ROM model €399 ($475) for the 8GB + 256GB variant. Early bird pricing further slashes off €50 of both figures. These are really, really good prices that further makes mid-rangers from Samsung look like a tough sell for people outside of North America.

This is just a short hands-on after roughly 36 hours of use, be sure to check back for our full review down the line.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.