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Pocophone F1 vs HONOR Play: Inbetweeners
It’s a mid-range face-off: the HONOR Play vs POCOphone F1! Both devices’ specs belie their relatively low prices, and both are awesome for gaming. Which is better? Let’s find out.
The Pocophone F1 is one of the most disruptive phones in a long time. It doesn’t have any crazy new game-changing features, but it offers genuinely flagship specs at a very affordable price. Specifically, the base model — which costs around $300 — provides a Snapdragon 845 SoC, 64GB of storage, 6GB of RAM, and a 4,000mAh battery. Even more impressive, it does all of this without scrimping in any other big ways. As I said in my review, the POCOphone F1 actually has a fairly decent camera for its price range (particularly the 20MP front facing lens), it uses the earpiece to create a secondary speaker, and the build quality — though plastic — is hardly bad.
Maybe they saved money on paying someone to come up with a better name?
However, POCOphone is not the only smartphone pushing boundaries at a lower price point lately — this has actually been something of a theme recently. We’ve seen mid-range devices accomplish more and more impressive feats. The gap between the midrange and top end is closing rapidly, allowing brands like Honor to enjoy significant success. In fact, you could say HONOR is pretty much dominating the mid-range market right now, at least across much of Europe.
Pocophone is not the only smartphone to be pushing the boundaries of what’s possible at a lower price point
One of its most recent releases (the company seems to release a new phone every other week) perfectly demonstrates why.
The HONOR Play costs 239.99 pounds (~$315) here in the UK and boasts many of the same benefits as the POCO F1. The base model comes with 4GB of RAM and the company’s flagship (for a little bit longer at least) processor, the Kirin 970. It’s a souped-up 970, in theory, thanks to HONOR and HUAWEI’s new “GPU Turbo technology,” which promises to squeeze out even more performance during gaming.
You also get a dual lens camera, decent build quality, and no obvious compromises. It also has a similarly sized 3750mAh battery.
They’re both potential flagship challengers, but which is the best mid-range performance beast? Let’s start this HONOR Play vs POCOphone F1 face-off with the specs.
I’m starting this showdown with the performance because I think that’s what most people are interested in here, and it’s what really stands out about these phones.
So, which would win in a fight?
The answer to that question is the POCOphone F1 — fairly easily. Apart from the fact that the POCOphone comes with superior RAM configurations (6GB or 8GB vs 4Gb or 6GB – the latter of which is only available in some territories for the Play), the Snapdragon 845 outperforms the Kirin 970.
Firstly, the 970 is actually at least one incremental upgrade behind the 845, more comparable to the Snapdragon 835. In fact, the 835 also outperformed the 970 for gaming and other GPU intensive tasks because its Adreno GPU is superior to the Mali.
The Snapdragon 845 will outperform the Kirin 970
What about that GPU Turbo?
If you’re expecting the feature to make any real difference in your day-to-day use, prepare for disappointment. GPU Turbo essentially allows the HONOR Play’s chipset to anticipate what’s going to be in upcoming scenes and thereby utilize its power more efficiently. That’s cool and all, but it will only impact games specifically optimized for the experience — currently just two titles (PUBG and Mobile Legends). Even in those games the difference is really quite minor, resulting in a little more frame rate stability more than anything else. HONOR may have overhyped the feature a little.
The POCOphone’s liquid cooling system is more likely to make a big difference.
All of this is reflected in real-world performance. The benchmark scores for POCOphone F1 have been superior to those of the HONOR Play (despite HONOR’s best efforts to convince us otherwise) and I’ve also noticed slightly better performance in games like Asphalt 9 and during GameCube emulation (which I totes don’t do btw).
Don’t get me wrong, these are both impressive performers and most people won’t notice much difference. You can play pretty much everything on the Play Store with more than acceptable performance using even significantly weaker devices.
That’s why the whole buzz around the POCOphone F1 is almost a little strange. People are over the moon to get the literal best specs possible on a $300 device, but ultimately why do they need them? If it’s just for bragging rights, that’s cool, but why don’t people brag about their screen resolution or water resistance rating?
I’d love to hear what you use your phone’s horsepower for — for me it’s just so I can play GameCube games (Again, I don’t do that. Who would do that.).
The POCOphone F1 is a little more performant… but so what?
If you’re only interested in performance, there’s an obvious winner looking at the HONOR Play vs the POCOphone F1.
So, this versus is now heading in a different direction than I originally anticipated. The POCOphone F1 performs a little better, but so what?
If you don’t care about that, the rest of the experience will suddenly matter a lot more.
The build quality is a definite win for the HONOR Play.
I said in my review I did not hate the plastic chassis of the POCOphone F1. In fact, I found the design quite nice overall. However, the POCOphone certainly does not stand up to the much more satisfying palm feel of the HONOR Play, which has a lot to do with its matte metal design.
There’s nothing wrong with plastic
There’s nothing wrong with plastic, but metal is nicer and it is more resilient. I’ve already noticed some small areas where paint has come off of the POCOphone. The HONOR Play is fairly understated for the most part, but I really like the Play Edition which has more of a “gamer” aesthetic. It attracts oily residue something rotten, though.
The POCOphone wins in a couple of areas though. For one, it is splash resistant unlike the Play (no IP rating though). I also find the Play has a slightly glossy screen — especially for a gaming phone — though it is bigger at 6.3 inches vs. 6.18 inches.
It’s also worth mentioning some people have been reporting screen-bleeding issues with the POCOphone F1. I haven’t encountered this at all personally, and the problem might be a little overblown on the web. It’s unclear just how widespread it is, and the bleeding doesn’t seem to worsen over time, or be particularly visible during normal use.
It’s possible the POCOphone is facing some QA issues — something relatively common for new hardware. Both devices come with headphone jacks and fingerprint sensors.
Features and experience
Likewise, the HONOR Play also has a little more packed under the hood when it comes to features. In particular, it has a much more interesting camera.
On paper, the two set ups aren’t that different. The POCOphone has a 12MP f/1.9 rear lens, backed up by a secondary 5MP depth sensing lens, and a 20MP front-facing camera.
The Play meanwhile has a 16MP f2.2 primary lens with a 2MP depth sensor, and 16MP shooter around the front.
That might make the POCOphone sound like the superior choice, but the companies have done very different things with those specs. The POCOphone F1 has a perfectly good camera capable of creating some really cool shots. It is contrasty, has great saturation, and only occasionally loses a little detail when you zoom in. I would argue it manages to retain a little more detail than the HONOR Play, and has more authentic color reproduction even when you aren’t using the AI assistant.
However, the HONOR Play’s app is much better, bringing a ton of unique features. They include things like the wonderful light painting and star tracking (which I talk about every time I look at HONOR phones), as well as the obligatory pro mode, plenty of filters and effects, and more.
What’s more, you also have the AI capabilities of the Kirin 970, which uses scene recognition to automatically alter settings like contrast and brightness for the best image of whatever is in the frame. The results are hit and miss, but I’ve noticed they have been getting better and better. That’s particularly true of the portrait mode effects, which now kick in automatically and actually create some pretty stunning shots under the right circumstances.
To me then, the HONOR Play wins in a camera shootout. It’s not that the camera is better — it sometimes makes images look a little too warm — it just has more to play with and can put out superior images under ideal circumstances. It’s a tough one, but I’d rather have the Play camera out of the two. It’s fun and interesting, which is in keeping with HONOR’s marketing this as a “lifestyle device.”
The UI experience is also a close call: the HONOR Play has the unwelcome EMUI, while the POCOphone F1 brings us the equally divisive MIUI. Neither is a deal breaker, but in this particular instance, MIUI is actually the less obtrusive of the two (though I’m not a fan of how it handles multitasking). That said, the HONOR Play also brings more genuinely useful features to its handset, which includes GPU Turbo of course, better RAM optimization, and even some features for gamers, such as the ability to grab screenshots and turn off the onscreen navigation buttons.
Another controversy facing Xiaomi recently is its latest practice of inserting ads into its OS. This is something I’ve yet to encounter myself, but reportedly some users have noticed ads popping up in pre-installed apps like the file manager, immediately after unlocking the phone, and now in the settings menu. They don’t look terribly invasive, but they remove that “new phone” feel a little, and it’s not great how Xiaomi quietly snuck them in there. It definitely wins some points for HONOR in this HONOR Play vs POCOphone F1 showdown.
And the winner is…
These are both great phones given the pricing and specs. If you’re all about specs, the POCOphone F1 has a clear advantage. The HONOR Play wins out in build quality.
However, I don’t want to give a wet “ooh they’re both good” kind of answer. If I had to buy one of these phones, I’d probably pick the HONOR Play. For me, camera and build are just more important than pure gaming performance, and it feels like a slightly more complete package. It also feels a little less risky, given that POCOphone is a new sub-brand and has some kinks to iron out.
I think this will be true for most people, except (ironically) gamers, who stand to gain the most from the superior GPU performance and less glossy screen of the POCOphone F1.