It’s no secret that the iPhone SE has brought the mid-range and more affordable smartphone segment to more people’s attention. But in plenty of markets outside of the US, there are contenders that are attempting their own takes on this low-compromise package. And depending on where you are, the returning Poco brand might be the smartphone that is best equipped to challenge the iPhone SE. This is Pocketnow and this is the iPhone SE vs Poco F2 Pro.
The way back machine
One of the fun parallels that these phones have is that they are both drawing on particular parts of smartphone history. The iPhone SE’s inspirations are really obvious — this is the return of the all metal design that a ton of people missed from the days before iPhone X. It’s got all of the old-school tropes: the tactile home button, the Touch ID scanner that it provides, the huge bezels as a result, and — perhaps most importantly — the smaller size. Don’t get me wrong, a smaller phone is always a refreshing prospect because high end smartphones are all about the latest and the greatest and biggest screen specs. But some out there won’t appreciate how the viewing experience shrinks accordingly. Now, thanks to the Bionic A13 processor this phone can still handle any game you throw at it, but handling might feel a little cramped. The screen is still high quality, at least in terms of what Apple has been putting out for years since this old design last made it into our hands. The 4.7 inch Retina IPS display is still great with colors, detail, and contrast.
But the very things that the iPhone might lack are addressed in one way or another in the Poco F2 Pro. Let’s start off with the design — Poco went to the glass on glass design that most flagships utilize by default, so it’s not like there is a radically different look or feel. In fact, this phone will look virtually identical to the Redmi K30 Pro, which kind of makes sense since both brands are under the Xiaomi umbrella. In any case, Poco sports some other significant extras like a headphone jack, an IR blaster, and — most notably — a pop-up camera. This is where Poco’s blast from the past design derives from: 2019’s unique trend of hiding front facing cameras so that the dream of an all-screen front can be realized. And I have to say, it’s great to see it back.
Think for a second about how 2020 has been all about the punch hole, and then in the context of this comparison, Apple has never gotten close to this kind of screen experience. So it’s already dope that the Poco F2 Pro is all display all the time — 6.67inch AMOLED display that includes even more features Apple haven’t attempted yet: an in-display fingerprint reader and an Always on Display. Yes, the phone might be a little unwieldy for some, but compared to some other behemoth phones we’ve used this year, Poco put the F2 Pro in a pretty good middle ground. All games and media look great on here with nothing notching or hole punching into the content. And honestly the pop up camera is just a design flourish that I’ll always appreciate, especially in this case because it makes face unlock a little more fun with extra bits of customization — oh and face unlock is yet another feature missing in the iPhone SE.
Having the right priorities
It might sound like I’m harping on what the iPhone SE lacks compared to its Android competitor, but it’s not to say that the general experience is bad. Most of what makes an iPhone an iPhone is still here — it’s just that most of the features the Android competitor might have are things Apple have yet to attempt at all. Where it truly counts in the iPhone SE is in the internals, tuned specifically to bring a great quality of life to the masses of general users who aren’t trying to be cutting edge or, as we’ll explore later, those who aren’t looking for the best creative tool. The Bionic A13 and 3GB of RAM are perfectly suited for everything you might install from the App Store and everything you might do in a typical work-life balance.
I keep using the ‘quality of life’ phrasing because Apple didn’t skimp on certain features from the flagship iPhone lineup — water and dust resistance, fast charging, and wireless charging all illicit the same response: damn, back in 2016 I would have killed to have these features in the iPhone 6 or 7. Granted, that’s because the iPhone SE’s battery life is a little too much like it was back then — users will probably end up searching for a cord or a charging mat well before bedtime.
So there’s no doubting that Apple have done right by prioritizing the right stuff right now. The difference here, however, is that Android OEMs like Xiaomi and thus their sub-brand Poco have been doing this for years. We love the iPhone SE for bringing a fresh and affordable version of iOS, but in plenty of markets around the world Android has been easily accessible in so many affordable ways. Sure, the Poco F2 Pro might be more expensive in most markets and it’s certainly more expensive compared to the original F1, but it still achieves the same everyday flagship experience for a price that undercuts many top of the line offerings. In that way, Apple and Poco have really similar missions.
So, it’s great that Poco got the Snapdragon 865 and at least 6GB of RAM in here, with a 4700mAh battery that can last a day and a half until needing a charge via 30W fast charging. The pop up camera does mean that the F2 Pro loses any IP certifications, but the thing that stings me a bit more is the loss of convenient wireless charging.
The discussion of Android vs iOS is always a bit weird and futile — if you’re considering the iPhone SE, know that iOS is pretty much completely how you’d expect it. The overdone answer to the question is that Android is far more customizable, which is underlined by the fact that the Poco Launcher in this version of MIUI is one of dozens of takes on Google’s operating system. Poco does add in a dedicated theme engine and app as well as the Game Turbo mode that stops notifications from interrupting your enhanced Snapdragon 865 gameplay. Can Android operating systems get a little too far into the weeds with their feature sets? Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why iOS is the champion of — use it because it’s simple and it works. But that just points to another truth about Android vs iOS: if you’re already into it, you’ll probably stick with it anyway. And in either case, these two phones are good representations of their respective daily software experiences.
One VS Many
The camera discussions that include the iPhone SE are always interesting. After all, the iPhone SE just has one camera on the front and back without any extra bells or whistles. Granted, the Bionic A13 provides some software backup for things like portrait mode and better HDR processing, but ultimately you get one good shooter for times when your day to day companion needs to capture some memories. The iPhone SE sticks with a single 12MP rear shooter and a 7MP front facing camera. With a little bit of creativity, features like 4K 60 video recording and Apple’s portrait mode will give you enough extra room for fun. But putting this camera system up against the Poco F2 Pro shows the obvious holes in either camp.
The Poco’s pixel binning 64MP main sensor brings in some good looking results that sometimes look like a toss-up against the iPhone. The other sensors include depth for portraits, a 13MP ultrawide, and a 5MP macro. See, I meant it when I said you can get fancy or you can get weird. Actually, the 5MP macro lens is a bit of a surprise because it gets some great shots. And at 5MP it’s over twice the quality of the common 2MP offerings.
The front facing cameras are more of a disparity, as the Poco F2 Pro hides a 20MP shooter with more beauty mode options. Both selfie shooters can only go up to 1080p video capture, however. Speaking of video, Poco takes pages out of Xiaomi’s book by included little additions like a Movie Frame mode and a Vlog mode that guides you through filming and creates a stylish highlight reel. This is all on top of the phone’s own 4K 60 and, actually, 8K video recording. I don’t think I would really call 8K a true win in the Poco column, though, just from a practicality standpoint.
Speaking of practicality, the one thing missing from the iPhone SE camera is a night mode — this is still a bit of a head-scratcher, but in comparing this phone’s low light shooting to the Poco’s night mode was interesting. It seems that Poco is able to make something useful compared to the iPhone in only the darkest of situations. If there is even a little bit of light, the iPhone is still able to eek out something visible. I attribute this to two things — the iPhone has a sensor capable enough of flooding in enough light while the Poco just doesn’t have a good enough night mode compared to some high performers we’ve seen in other phones.
The best way for me to put it is this: Apple’s quality in photo and especially video is hard to match, but it’s unfortunately limited because of the iPhone SE’s singular approach. Meanwhile, the Poco F2 Pro has good enough quality across the board but provides you with some more choices to get fancy or get weird while you’re snapping away.
The philosophy behind the iPhone SE is kind of simple — find the aspects that can be dialed back without sacrificing, in particular, the day to day experience. It’s for that reason that the iPhone SE is so compelling, because most other phones in the same price range have to actually skimp on some of the key internals. Meanwhile, here comes Poco with a similarly priced phone that still has the top specs that you might expect from an Android device. Some parts of the phone are either minimized or stripped out altogether, like wireless charging and overachieving camera software. It seems to me that Poco has the Price is Right mentality — have a price in mind and try to mash as much in the phone as possible without going over. Meanwhile, Apple honed in on minting the basics — this is a phone that just works, with a little bit of nostalgia sprinkled in.
I know I’m supposed to have a personal pick here, but honestly, it’s hard because these phones manage to hit pretty much every note they’re aiming for. So I’ll put it this way — in 2020 it is rare for a phone to prioritize the most basic aspect of a smartphone: the viewing experience. Notches and hole punches are small annoyances that are amplified when screens like the one on this Poco F2 Pro arrive. It just so happens that nearly every other essential in this phone, minus the camera, have been met. So, because I want some good viewing time, I would take the cameras for their ‘good enough’ quality and enjoy myself on one of the few large and totally in charge screens we’ve gotten so far this year.