Poco X3 Pro review: More power to you

This is the most powerful phone under 20k in the Indian market today. Period.

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Poco X3 Pro starts at Rs 18,999 (6GB/128GB). (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Poco hasn’t been around for long and yet very quickly this Xiaomi spinoff brand has built a reputation for itself launching multiple products with “world’s first or India’s first” technologies. Starting off with the illustrious Poco F1, it went on to launch the Poco X2 (first phone under 20k with 120Hz refresh rate display) and Poco X3 (first phone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G system-on-chip). The freshly minted Poco X3 Pro, likewise, is the first phone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 860 SoC. More than the chip itself, it is the price of the phone that is grabbing headlines. It starts at just Rs 18,999 (6GB/128GB).

Then again, if you know a thing or two about Poco, this is business as usual.

Unlike the Poco F1 or Poco X2 or even the Poco X3, the Poco X3 Pro isn’t technically a new product so to say. As the name suggests, it’s a turbo-charged Poco X3. If the Poco X3 was a race car, the Poco X3 Pro with its more powerful hardware should be a rocket ship. That’s expected. But that’s not all that you probably expect from a phone launching in 2021, even if its costs so low. You also expect a little bit of polish and a little bit of promise of futureproofing to go along.

High performance, delivered

Like the phone itself, the chip inside it is also not completely brand new. The Snapdragon 860 is a Snapdragon 855 from 2019 with a slightly overclocked CPU. Think of it as a refurbished Snapdragon 855 Plus. Considering how fast Qualcomm keeps refreshing its portfolio these days, some might take that refurbished badge with a pinch of salt. Some might call it dated. But when you put a chip like that inside a budget phone like the Poco X3 Pro, all your preconceived notions are instantly blown away. Suddenly, things start to make a lot of sense.

Make no mistake, this is the most powerful phone under 20k in the Indian market today. Period. As if it wasn’t already enough, the Poco X3 Pro also comes with UFS 3.1 storage, another first for any phone in this price range.

Poco X3 Pro, Poco X3 Pro review, Poco, Xiaomi
It is the is first phone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 860. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Poco X3 Pro story essentially revolves around this hardware combo. It is perhaps the only Poco phone worthy of being called a “spiritual” successor to the Poco F1, perfectly aligning with its “everything you need, nothing you don’t” formula which is probably why the brand is going all out on marketing it that way. For good reason. Next to the Poco X3, the Poco X3 Pro is a whole new beast. Like I said, it’s a rocket ship.

And it performs like one, for the most part. There are two parts to this story.

Also Read | Poco X3 review: Punching above its weight

This is the only phone under 20k that can play a graphically intensive game like Genshin Impact (at medium setting) or Call of Duty: Mobile (all maxed out) effortlessly, which is to say that your experience would be very, very satisfying. The Adreno 640 GPU holds up well. Though it throttles from time to time, this phone latches on and gives you a steady 60fps in many supporting games. Something like this was not possible before. It opens new opportunities, the Poco X3 Pro, for those looking to get some sort of headstart into the world of competitive gaming without breaking their bank.

Poco X3 Pro, Poco X3 Pro review, Poco, Xiaomi
The phone comes with UFS 3.1 storage. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

But it is not perfect. The Snapdragon 860, like the Snapdragon 870, and even the Snapdragon 888, is prone to heating, sometimes alarmingly when stressed. There is a cooling system inside the phone — called Liquid Cool Plus — but it seems lifted as is from the Poco X3, a phone that came with a far less powerful chip in comparison. Whatever it is, it can’t hold the beast for long as the Poco X3 Pro gets warm quickly, and near toasty during extended gaming sessions. At this point, it can become uncomfortable to hold.

Basic day-to-day tasks are handled well by the phone though. As an everybody phone, this is as slick as it can get at such a low price. Poco gives you an option for up to 8 gigs of LPDDR4X RAM. Storage is capped at 128GB, but the phone supports expansion by up to 1TB. This is via a hybrid slot.

Beyond gaming

Rest of the Poco X3 Pro is familiar territory. Be it design, display, or battery. Even the cameras. That is not to say there are no changes, but those changes have got more to do with subtle refinements than anything else. Some choices work, some not so much but you can tell Poco has tried to add a bit of polish to the whole package. The Poco X3 was rough around the edges.

This starts with the design itself. The dual tone look is being carried over, which is to say that the Poco X3 Pro — like its predecessor — is also unapologetically bold and flashy. There is a new bronze colourway if you’re into that sort of thing. The pill-shaped massive camera module stays put too. So does the recessed side-mounted fingerprint reader which is, expectedly, fast and responsive. The only change here is the slightly tweaked Poco branding that’s more “3D” than before, but still difficult to unsee — and in my case, difficult to get along with.

Poco X3 Pro, Poco X3 Pro review, Poco, Xiaomi
It has a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate with 240Hz touch sampling. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

One of the big concerns with the Poco X3 was its heft. It was big and bulky. A part of this was because of its huge 6,000mAh battery. Poco has tried to address those concerns by reducing capacity — the Poco X3 Pro has a smaller 5,160mAh battery — but the results are nothing to write home about. The Poco X3 Pro is still an all-plastic phone that’s almost 215 gram in weight and nearly 9.5mm in thickness. Not to mention, that watered-down battery means the Poco X3 Pro can’t last as long as the Poco X3 (battery life on average is good though). It’s one of those rare instances where Poco has backed itself into a corner.

It’s barely touched that screen though aside from bumping up the protection which is Corning Gorilla Glass 6 now. The Poco X3 Pro has the same 6.67-inch IPS LCD display with 1080p resolution and dynamic 120Hz refresh rate (240Hz touch sampling) as the Poco X3. It works in the same way also which means it is good but not best in class. The panel does not get very bright, colours appear muted and viewing angles could be better. The phone can’t play HDR10 content off streaming services like Netflix despite support. Ghosting or random stutters are common across some UI elements from time to time or when you are browsing through a page that involves diverse elements like text, images/GIFs, or videos. Next to a phone like the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max, or Note 10 Pro, the Poco X3 Pro looks seriously underpowered in this regard.

Also Read | Redmi Note 10 Pro Max review: Setting a new benchmark for value for money

These Redmi phones also give the Poco X3 Pro’s cameras a run for their money. The Poco X3, even though it was a performance-oriented slash gaming phone, had a competitive camera setup. For some curious reason, its “Pro” version takes several steps back. It has a 48MP main (this was 64MP in the X3), 8MP ultra-wide-angle (13MP in X3) and two 2MP cameras, one for depth and another for macros. Output is just about serviceable.

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The phone has four cameras on the back. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

You can take good-enough shots with the primary camera (Sony IMX582 sensor) when lots of light is available, but the level of detail and dynamic range could be better. Colours are mostly true to source, which is nice. The ultra-wide camera lacks colour parity with the main camera, but it does a decent job offering a wider perspective when lighting is ideal. Details are still amiss in these photos, but it is what it is. Portraits shot with the Poco X3 Pro come out nice with good subject separation and creamy background blur. The macro shooter is a hit or miss affair. Low light photos (even with night mode which is also available on the ultra-wide) are disappointing, in part due to the aggressive noise reduction algorithm. Video recording tops out at 4K@30fps. The 20MP front camera is same as the one on the Poco X3. It takes decent selfies when lighting is good with occasional smoothening even when beautification is manually set to off.

Also Read | Xiaomi Mi 11X review: Lot of phone for a lot less money, but should you bet your money on it?

Software has always been Poco’s dark horse and while that’s largely true about the Poco X3 Pro as well, MIUI for Poco is clearly showing signs of ageing, already. It does not show any pesky ads like its other Redmi siblings which is well articulated and appreciated, but Poco needs to do more than that to justify its existence as an independent brand now. MIUI for Poco needs to be more than just MIUI with a Poco launcher to differentiate itself. With Xiaomi borrowing many of its features including the hallowed app drawer and Google feed on the minus one screen, MIUI for Poco doesn’t really stand out anymore. If anything, it has become buggier by the day. The amount of bloat or unwanted apps has gone up. But the biggest problem is the lack of clarity on future updates. My review unit is running MIUI 12.0.5 (with the April security patch) when an even cheaper Redmi phone like the Redmi Note 10S has been updated to MIUI 12.5.4.

An ode to a classic

I write this review as I install Battlegrounds Mobile India Beta on this phone, and I can’t help but think how far Poco has come. How the Poco F1 turned the industry literally upside down. That phone was far from perfect. It had a wonky design and terrible cameras. The thing couldn’t even stream Netflix in high definition initially. And yet, here we are, three years later, still asking Poco to launch a successor. Not a lot of phones have commanded so much respect and adulation from fans and critics alike. It was truly one of its kind, the Poco F1, and I think it’s befitting it stays that way. Some things are just not meant to be replaced.

Poco X3 Pro, Poco X3 Pro review, Poco, Xiaomi
Software has always been Poco’s dark horse. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

But you can always have a product or two that could take you back in time. Something like the Poco X3 Pro. It is the only phone that has been able to recreate some of that lost Poco F1 magic for me.

There are phones with better design, more colourful display, significantly better cameras, and longer battery life under 20k, but none of them can play Battlegrounds Mobile India Beta the way it is meant to be played like the Poco X3 Pro. If that is what you are looking for, the Poco X3 Pro comes highly recommended.

But here’s the thing, nostalgia and power will take Poco only so far. Considering how a lot of people are still holding on to their Poco F1s, it would have been nice had Poco offered a 5G option (it’s possible since the Snapdragon 860 is compatible with an external X50 5G modem) even if it came at a cost.

Pros: Most powerful phone under 20k, 120Hz display, Loud dual speakers, IP53 rating, Good battery life

Cons: Big and bulky, Cameras could be better, Slow Android update rollout

Also Read | How Poco registered 300% growth in India with a product portfolio ‘leaner than even the iPhone’ and what’s next

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