Huawei’s near departure from the European market, which began around 12 months ago, left a vacuum waiting to be filled. Various relatively new entrants to the European market – Xiaomi, OPPO, OnePlus, realme and vivo – joined the battle to capture market share once belonging to Huawei.
Growth moving up the price tiers
Huawei’s sweet spot was affordable devices, with a vast majority of its smartphones selling for less than $250. However, there has not been a like-for-like replacement, but rather a shift up the price tiers. Growth in Europe over the last year has come from devices selling between $250 and $700, a range which encompasses the Mid and Affordable Premium price tiers. This is despite the economic strain many consumers found themselves facing thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Competition in these Mid and Affordable Premium tiers has grown considerably: “new” vendors (i.e., Xiaomi, OPPO and OnePlus) now account for over a third of sales across these segments; a four-fold increase in a year. These “new” vendors are also now giving Samsung worthy competition when it comes to Android flagships. Xiaomi, OPPO, OnePlus, realme and vivo all released impressive new flagship devices in the first half of 2021.
Mid-tier growth to continue
Growing competition is not only giving consumer more choice, but is also helping bring down the cost of 5G devices: 5G accounted for over half of Mid tier smartphones sold in Europe in Q1 2021, up from a fifth in Q3 2020 and zero a year ago.
We expect the Mid tier to be a key growth area in the medium term as competition continues to intensify. And a growing list of impressive high-end devices – including foldables – launched by challenger brands should start to impact Samsung and Apple’s Premium tier dominance soon.
The Poco X2 price starts at $215.
It features a 120Hz refresh rate display, first in a mid-tier segment.
The smartphone offers quad-rear cameras and dual front cameras.
The Rise of Poco brand
The Poco F1 was Xiaomi’s one of the most popular smartphones to launch in March 2018 and helped Xiaomi enter the “affordable premium” segment breaking away from the affordable Redmi branded sub-$200 phones. At $280, at the time, it offered the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC, with SKUs staggering up to 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. Features include dual rear cameras, fast charging and a front camera with an IR-based biometric face unlock. Those were some of the premium flagship-grade features for a sub-$300 smartphone.
Though the model was popular in India and elsewhere for the “value for money” proposition, the model could have sold well with better hardware design (analysis here) from (Colors, Material & Finish) CMF to the build quality, a bit intrusive on-device ad experience and less stable software. This led Xiaomi to reassess its Pocophone strategy and after a hiatus of almost two years, Xiaomi decided to spin-off Pocophone. So Poco is now operating as an independent brand from product management, P&L, sales and marketing perspective though would potentially share the R&D, supply chain and manufacturing partners with Xiaomi.
Since the spin-off in Feb 2020, Poco announced Poco X2 which shares the same industrial design, specifications, and software with the Redmi K30 that Xiaomi sells in China under the independent Redmi brand. Additionally, the positioning is similar which is to offer more advanced features compared to the traditional rival brands at relatively cheaper price-points. At a starting price of US$215, the Poco X2 offers a 120Hz display refresh rate, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G SoC up to 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, quad-camera sensor module, and dual front cameras in hole-punch cut-out.
A Lot is Riding on the Poco X2
In 2019, the $135 – $200 retail price band was the fastest-growing segment across key markets such as India, South Asia, parts of Europe. And in 2020, we expect this to shift towards the $200 to $300 price band.
“This segment is going to be the sweet spot as all the major brands are targeting mature users (second and third-time buyers). Companies are focusing on advanced features that were earlier available only in the premium segment which include – better refresh rate displays, premium-grade CMF design, a fast-charging battery and enhanced camera features like quad-camera setup,” said Research Analyst Anshika Jain.
If we look at the $200 to $300 price band, it contributed to almost a 16% share of the total sales in 2019 in India, Xiaomi’s leading market globally. Samsung led this segment with a 31% share, followed by Vivo with 22%, Xiaomi with 15%. This segment is about to see an uptick and Poco will aim to capture significant share with Poco X2.
According to our channel checks, the initial sales response to the Poco X2 in India has been encouraging and could capture an 8-10% share in this segment in the first quarter of 2020 itself. “Poco has launched its X2 smartphone in the Indian market, which has been well received. The Poco X2 become the “highest-rated smartphone on Flipkart just in a short period”, added Research Analyst Anshika Jain.
Can it be a Global Winner?
“The OEM can leverage this initial success and expand in overseas markets like Eastern Europe, especially Russia. Over one-third of the smartphones sold in these markets are in the US $150-$300 price band, and Poco X2 with its heavy specs can set a good value proposition within the same. Xiaomi already has a strong foothold in these regions which can be leveraged by Poco. Expanding their portfolio with Poco X2 can also help the OEM climb the price tiers,” said Research Analyst Varun Mishra.
According to Counterpoint’s, Model Sales Tracker research, almost half of Poco F1’s lifetime global sales came from outside India, from markets like South East Asia, and parts of Europe. With the Poco X2 available at a more affordable price point and attractive specs, it can do even better than the F1 on a global scale.
However, does the Poco X2 deliver when it comes to real-world performance?
Poco X2 Review
We have been testing and using the Poco X2 for more than a couple of weeks, here are some of our first-take observations. There are four key highlights of the smartphone – the standout display, advanced camera setup, fast charging capabilities, and the overall system performance. Additionally, the beautiful gradient design at the back, and that makes it five. But keeping the aesthetics on the side, we will first talk about the core features that make it stand-out and also over-time will influence the buying decision of customers.
Fluid 120Hz Display
The smartphone display refresh rate is becoming an important feature trickling down from the flagship gaming phones and is slowly penetrating the mainstream models. Xiaomi (& Poco) are the first ones to introduce a 120Hz refresh rate display model at a ~US$200 price point. Although, on an IPS LCD panel, it does the job quite well. The 6.7-inch FHD+ panel is bright, legibility under direct sunlight is good, and the reproduction is quite punchy. It is also HDR10 certified, which makes the content looks lively and fluid on the screen.
The 120Hz screen refresh rate makes the Android UI feel smoother and more responsive. You can notice the difference when scrolling through the interface, or when browsing through your favorite webpages. While games will benefit from the high refresh rate, developers will need to add support for the same. With that being said, I didn’t find it to be as fluid as the OnePlus 7T, 7T Pro devices. But then, these devices cost twice as much, or more. But it is commendable what Xiaomi has tried to achieve with Poco X2 at this price point.
There are six cameras in total, two on the front and four at the rear. The primary sensor at the back is the latest Sony IMX686 sensor with 64MP resolution (analysis here). Poco is using the “Pixel Binning” technique where default photos are shot in a 16MP resolution. But if want to click full resolution photos, you’ll have to manually select the mode from the camera app.
Photos shot from the primary camera look good in both day and night lighting conditions. The sensor can capture good details and colors. Below are some camera samples.
Additionally, there is a low-light mode, which uses different exposures and multi-frame algorithms to reduce the noise, and does a great job. You can check the camera samples below.
Poco has also included an 8MP camera into the module with an ultra-wide-angle lens. While it does let you capture more details with a wider frame but the quality takes a bit of hit, where the colors look a bit washed out. The camera sensor array also sports a 2MP depth sensor for portrait shots and a 2MP macro lens for close-up shots. These lenses do a decent job, although software updates can bring further improvements.
Moving on, Poco is also offering dual front cameras in a hole-punch cut-out. There is a primary 20MP lens, paired with a 2MP depth sensor for bokeh effects.
When clicking selfies, at times, the AI turns a bit more aggressive, and one can prefer turning it off for some natural shots. But if you don’t mind over smoothening of the skin in your photos, keeping the AI ‘On’ may not be a bad idea.
Performance and Battery Life
Under the hood, you have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G SoC which is built on the 8nm process. The “G” in 730G denotes a gaming-focused chipset. It comes with features like Snapdragon elite gaming, and 15% faster GPU rendering. Qualcomm has also added a Wi-Fi latency monitor to reduce janks and offer a smooth gaming experience. Games like PUBG Mobile run at HD resolution, and high frame rate, but support for HDR isn’t available yet. Further analysis of the Qualcomm 730G can be found here.
What is impressive is the cooling technique that the company is using. Even after playing PUBG Mobile for 30-minutes, the device was barely warm at the back. This is despite the high refresh rate, which is good. Even the battery optimization is good. During this session, the battery drain was barely 8%. I was also watching some content on Netflix, and a 50-minute episode caused the battery drain of 7%.
Poco has worked hard to optimize battery life. The Poco X2 is armed with a 4,500mAh battery, and support for 27W fast charging. It takes the smartphone’s battery from empty to 100 in about 75 minutes, whereas if you want a quick top-up, half the battery is charged in about 25 minutes.
Verdict: Raises the Bar & Value Proposition in the Mid-Tier Segment with Standout Design & Advanced Display.
The Poco X2 offers meaningful features such as 120Hz refresh rate display, and a capable chipset with a good overall performance. Add good cameras and battery performance to the mix, and Poco is addressing the big gap that was left in the segment.
Poco has a winner in hand with the new X2 smartphone. It gets the software, hardware and features combination right. Poco has kickstarted the competition in what we believe will be the fastest-growing category in 2020. The X2 has good potential to help Poco create its mark as an independent brand in the segment, and gain some market share.
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