Southeast Asia’s smartphone shipment volumes declined 2% YoY but increased 3% QoQ in Q3 2023, signaling a recovery in the region’s smartphone demand.
The fastest-growing brands were TECNO (148%), Infinix (42%) and Apple (19%). All three Transsion brands collectively grew by 62% YoY in Q3 2023.
Samsung led the market with a 21% share, followed by Xiaomi (17%) and OPPO (15%).
Indonesia and Thailand saw flattish growth while other SEA countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam declined YoY.
5G smartphones captured 36% of overall shipments in the region.
Jakarta, Hong Kong, London, Boston, Toronto, New Delhi, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul – November 9, 2023
Southeast Asia’s smartphone shipments declined 2% YoY but increased 3% QoQ in Q3 2023, signaling a recovery in the region’s smartphone demand, according to Counterpoint Research’s Southeast Asia Monthly Smartphone Channel Share Tracker. Stronger macroeconomic indicators, aggressive new OEM launches and aggressive promotions by OEMs and other platforms were the main growth contributors. Also, an uptick was seen in the replacement cycles of consumers opting for low-to-mid-tier smartphones. TECNO, Infinix and Apple emerged as the fastest-growing brands during the quarter.
Most key SEA countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam showed a double-digit decline in Q2 2023, but they improved in Q3 2023, hinting a relief for OEMs ahead of an important festive quarter. However, on an annual level, we foresee a YoY decline of about 8% for the region in 2023.
SEA remains an important market for the tech ecosystem due to its underpenetration in many areas, like online banking, e-wallet usage, online shopping and overall internet usage.
Key country insights
Indonesia and Thailand saw flattish growth in smartphone shipments while other key SEA countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam declined YoY.
In Thailand, the new government launched several initiatives, such as delaying debt payments, lowering energy prices and offering cash handouts, to ease the citizen’s cost of living. This brought immediate effect on commodities. Besides, in September, the government announced visa-free entry for tourists from China and Kazakhstan, bringing much relief to the country’s COVID-hit tourism industry.
In Indonesia, OEMs launched several new models in the middle and end of September. The new launches made up a big share of the overall shipments. During the quarter, Indonesians preferred to wait and watch when it came to spending money. The country is gearing up for its legislative and presidential election in February 2024. We expect Q4 2023 to see more smartphone sales due to aggressive offers.
Vietnam’s economy has picked up with its exports coming back on track. GDP grew 5.33% in Q3 2023, beating expectations. Foreign investment is expected to rise with Vietnam entering strategic partnerships during the prime minister’s visit to the US in September.
In the Philippines, the economy is showing signs of recovery. Consumer confidence has improved. Unemployment is a concern and essentials are still expensive for low-income families. Due to easing inflation, the coming months might see increased household spending. Overall, the household expenditure levels might take some time to recuperate, which might affect smartphone purchases.
In Malaysia, industrial manufacturing is still slowing down due to weaker demand for electrical and electronic products. Weaker exports have added to the decline in GDP as well. Malaysia’s 5G connectivity and penetration are improving now but the overall industry is being affected by China’s economic headwinds.
Key OEM insights
Beating the trend, Apple’s shipments increased by 19% YoY during the quarter. Apple is still seeing a strong demand for the iPhone 13 and 14 series, adding to the demand for the newly launched 15 series.
Samsung led the market with a 21% share. Its A05 series has entered the market, adding to a strong overall A-series presence. Premium models like the Z Flip 5 and Z Fold 5 along with the S series are contributing as well. Promotions for the brand are centered around these premium models not only in countries like Thailand and Vietnam but also increasingly in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. This is due to premium smartphone purchases by well-to-do consumers who are least affected by current headwinds. Samsung was the top brand in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam in Q3 2023.
Xiaomi’s shipments grew 7%. Its Redmi 12 series has been doing quite well across all key SEA countries. Its promotions and new model launches were also better than most other brands during Q3 2023, which helped the brand increase shipments. Xiaomi was the top brand in Malaysia in Q3.
Transsion witnessed the highest growth during the quarter. Infinix grew 42% YoY, TECNO 148% and itel witnessed a 17% growth. Infinix and TECNO are offering strong base specifications along with a varied model portfolio.
realme saw flat growth during Q3 2023. It was the top brand in the Philippines.
Commenting on brand dynamics in Q3 2023, Senior Analyst Glen Cardoza said, “Samsung and Xiaomi have been able to market their models in a much better manner across all key SEA countries, while sustaining new launches across price ranges, compared to the limited options from brands like OPPO and vivo. Upcoming brands are making a mark as well. Among them, the Transsion brands lead. TECNO and Infinix have either sustained or increased their new model launches, all in the entry to mid-tier segments. The three Transsion brands collectively grew 62% YoY in Q3 2023.”
While 5G penetration still has some way to go in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, 5G is increasingly becoming a key consideration for consumers. Many consumers want their phones to be 5G ready. During Q3 2023, 5G smartphones captured 36% of overall shipments in the region.
The region’s key macroeconomic parameters like China-ASEAN trade, startup funding and foreign direct investment continue to see YoY declines. Add to this a recovering tourism industry. This has led to low GDP levels across most SEA countries. Price-conscious consumers have waited all year for the situation to get better, spending the least on discretionary items. On the positive side, digital transformation continues even as the industry recuperates slowly. This means that we can expect a better Q4 of 2023.
* Key Southeast Asia countries/markets include Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions regarding our latest research and insights.
Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in products in the TMT (technology, media and telecom) industry. It services major technology and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects and detailed analyses of the mobile and technology markets. Its key analysts are seasoned experts in the high-tech industry.
Entry of Chinese brands stirring up regional market.
Samsung remains regional leader with 36.9% share, followed by Motorola with 21.4% share.
Apple’s growth mainly sustained by the iPhone 11.
One in four smartphones shipped in the region is a 5G smartphone.
Buenos Aires, San Diego, Denver, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Seoul, London, Beijing – August 24, 2023
Smartphone shipments in Latin America (LATAM) dropped 15.6% YoY but climbed 2.4% QoQ in Q2 2023, according to the latest data from Counterpoint Research’s Market Monitor service. The decline was due to the negative impacts of the regional economic crises and weak global smartphone shipments.
Commenting on the market dynamics, Principal Analyst Tina Lu said, “LATAM’s economic growth in 2023 is actually slightly higher than forecast. However, this recovery has not yet inspired an increase in the rate of smartphone replacement. Low consumer demand continued to affect the region during the quarter. Although most countries in the region are seeing declining inflation, consumer confidence is yet to bounce back, as political turmoil continues to constrain the general economy.”
Research Analyst Andres Silva added, “Seasonal factors such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day promotions helped the market grow slightly QoQ in Q2 2023, although the market declined YoY. The entry of many Chinese brands at once is stirring up the market as they aim for growth, pushing other brands to become more aggressive. However, the YoY decline affected all the top six countries in the region.”
Top Smartphone OEMs’ Market Share in Latin America, Q2 2022 vs Q2 2023
Commenting on the ASP performance in the region, Lu added: “There is a slight premiumization trend going on in the region. Compared to last year, LATAM’s total smartphone ASP only grew around 4%. This has been a consistent trend. Inflation has some influence on it. However, established brands such as Samsung are pushing to increase the ASP in the region with 5G models.”
Samsung was once again the absolute leader in the LATAM market in Q2 2023. However, its shipments and market share declined YoY with weakened performance in most of the countries in the region.
Samsung has been very aggressive in offering extra discounts during the promotions. But not enough as its shipments were hurt by the Brazilian market and the entry of Chinese brands.
Since Samsung is focusing more on premium models now, the availability of its models in the lower price bands is becoming restricted. Thus, its overall value dropped -2% YoY.
Motorola’s shipments decreased YoY but its market share increased slightly. It increased the number of models in the entry-segment E series. It also increased its brand awareness with the launch of the Motorola Edge 40 Pro in May with an aggressive advertising campaign.
Xiaomi lost share slightly during the quarter but remained stable due to the launch of the Redmi Note 12 during the first week of April. This increased its Q2 2023 shipments and sales. Xiaomi also increased its Poco brand shipments in the open channels in the region.
Xiaomi recovered slightly from its position in Mexico. The participation of the grey market in the southern part of the LATAM region continued to grow.
Apple’s shipments and market share both grew YoY in Q2 2023, mainly sustained by the iPhone 11. The 4G smartphones are still driving Apple’s volume in the region.
OPPO continued to be a strong fifth player in the region and ranked third in Mexico. Its volume increased by more than 70% in Q2 2023, while its share more than doubled YoY. Despite the growth, its shipments dropped QoQ.
HONOR did not make it to the list, but its growth in LATAM has been notable. HONOR was the brand with the most aggressive growth during the quarter. However, it still needs to build on its branding.
“Others”, mainly composed of regional brands, continued to decrease YoY. This category was most affected by the entry of low-price-band Chinese brands.
Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in products in the technology, media and telecom (TMT) industry. It services major technology and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects and detailed analyses of the mobile and technology markets. Its key analysts are seasoned experts in the high-tech industry.
The growth was driven by the $150-$349 and >$500 price bands.
Samsung, OPPO, vivo and Xiaomi led the 5G smartphone sales growth.
Tie-ups between mobile operators and the industrial sector can push 5G smartphone use.
Jakarta, London, Boston, Toronto, New Delhi, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul – October 24, 2022
Indonesia’s 5G smartphone shipments grew 159% YoY in Q2 2022, according to Counterpoint Research’s Monthly Indonesia Smartphone Channel Share Tracker. Samsung, OPPO, vivo and Xiaomi led this growth.
Source: Counterpoint Monthly Indonesia Channel Share Tracker
5G smartphones come with better, newer specifications to support the latest connectivity technology. This makes them overall a better offering than a 4G smartphone in the same price segment. From consumers’ perspective, after deciding their preferences related to “usual” specifications like RAM, display and battery, they could consider 5G to keep their smartphone future-ready. Therefore, consumers treat 5G as a value addition till they are offered 5G services by the operators. It is this factor that is driving the growth of 5G smartphones.
Source: Counterpoint Monthly Indonesia Channel Share Tracker
Interestingly, 5G smartphone market growth is moving away from the mid-price segment, with the sub-$350 and >$500 price bands accounting for nearly three-quarters of all shipments. Last year’s dominant mid-band lost more than 50% of its share YoY in Q2 2022.
Growth in the lower tiers is being driven by Redmi and Samsung, with sustained consumer demand for their Note 10 5G and A22 series devices, both of which have been available since H1 2021. In the premium segment, Apple and Samsung dominate with almost 60% share.
The attractiveness of 5G smartphone specifications in the <$350 segment could lead to a shrinking of the mid-price tier. Given the competitive specifications for ROM, RAM and battery capacity, consumers prefer prices below $350 for a 5G smartphone.
Industrial sector can push 5G smartphone use
Ever since the introduction of 5G services in Indonesia in 2021, their spread has been selective, and the operators have chosen to focus more on serving the industrial sector. On the other hand, 4G has a much wider consumer base. But the country’s 5G smartphone shipments have continued to increase.
The aggressive promotion of 5G smartphones by OEMs, however, has failed to significantly convince the Indonesian mobile operators into expanding their 5G networks. This is mainly due to limited frequency availability and the absence of strong use cases on the consumer side. To resolve the frequency issue, the government recently conducted an auction for additional frequencies, such as 2.1 GHz which was won by Telkomsel. Another auction is expected soon for the low-band 700 MHz. The other option is to share frequencies among mobile operators.
Collaboration between mobile operators and enterprises (B2B) to utilize 5G for the industrial sector can increase demand on the consumer front as well. Advertising and marketing areas can prove to be low-hanging fruits in this direction. Enterprises can also leverage 5G to be used by consumers in Metaverse.
Considering that the mobile operators have been utilizing 4G and 5G together, OEMs need to keep dual SIM slots for both 4G and 5G. Also, this way a consumer can choose 4G and 5G services from different operators, considering limited 5G coverage. Smartphone OEMs should take into account what frequencies are available and what are in the regulatory pipeline. The current 5G network was built upon the existing 4G network and these frequencies are in low and mid bands. 2.3 GHz, 2.6 GHz and other high bands can be considered for future 5G use.
MediaTek recorded a strong second quarter with revenues of $5.5 billion, an increase of 23.9% YoY and 9.1% QoQ. This growth is primarily driven by the smartphone segment. MediaTek maintained its position despite tough macroeconomic conditions and a slowdown in the China Market.
The company’s smartphone segment has achieved a revenue of $3 billion in Q2 2022, up by 16.5% annually and 12% sequentially. The growth was driven by the ramp-up of premium5G smartphone chipsets and demand for 4G. During the quarter, Chinese smartphone OEMs launched phones with the new Dimensity 9000 and Dimensity 8000 series chipsets. Overall, the smartphone segment contributed 54% of the company’s total revenue in Q2.
The Smart edge segment contributed 38% to MediaTek’s Q2 2022 revenues. This segment has grown by 33% YoY. Key drivers in the smart edge are migration to Wi-Fi 6, 5G modem, ASICs for a gaming console, and demand for wired connectivity. However, the demand for TV and tablets declined due to weak consumer demand. It is also investing in ASICs for 5G infrastructure and enhancing its capabilities in power-efficient ARM-based processors.
Power IC accounted for 7% of MediaTek’s Q2 2022 revenue. This segment is down by 5% from Q1 2022 owing to weaker demand for power ICs used in smartphones and notebook PCs. The demand for Power ICs in the auto and industrial segments remained stable contributing to 10% of the Power IC’s segment revenue in Q2 2022.
MediaTek guided weak Q3 revenues in the range of $4.8 to $5.2 billion, a decline of 1% to 9% QoQ. The gross margin is expected to be around 49% and the operating expense ratio 26%. The decline in revenues will be due to ongoing customer inventory adjustments, global macroeconomic conditions, the weak China market and the expected continued negative consumer sentiment. MediaTek’s relatively greater dependence on the mid andlow-end smartphone segments, which are likely to be more affected by the current macroeconomic situation aswell as current excess channel inventory is leading to a weaker second half of the year.
According to Counterpoint Research’s Smartphone AP/SOC Shipment Tracker, MediaTek has led the smartphone AP SOC market with a volume share of 39% in H1 2022, followed by Qualcomm with 28%. MediaTek will continue to dominate the AP SOC market in Q3 2022. We are already seeing order cuts in H2 2022 due to excess inventory. The overall decline for MediaTek is higher than Qualcomm, as the impact of a slowdown in Qualcomm’s more premium-oriented customer base is likely to be somewhat lower.
Inventory corrections will take two to three quarters to normalize. The OEMs and distribution channels have started to adjust inventory. MediaTek will manage costs and expenses and will also slow down hiring to control operating expenses.
Overall, it was a strong quarter for MediaTek driven by the smartphone segment. We are forecasting a weak H2 2022 due to macroeconomic conditions, inventory corrections and a slow China market. Further, high dependence on smartphones and slow diversification into automotive and IoT (ARM-based PCs, XR, enterprise, etc.) will negatively impact the revenues in H2 2022.
The Philippines is one of the fastest-growing and tech-savvy nations in Southeast Asia. The country’s mobile connection penetration has reached 140% and most of the leading operators have launched 5G services. According to the Digital 2022 report, there were more than 92 million social media users at the start of 2022 and internet users aged 16 to 64 spent an average of 5 hours and 47 minutes on mobile internet every day. Thanks to this extraordinary social media usage, the country is also known as the “Social media capital of the world”. Not only this, online gaming too has strong traction among Filipinos with the mobile phone being the preferred device here.
With the launch of 5G services and their expanding coverage, consumers are increasingly opting for 5G smartphones. Smartphone players are offering discounts and launching affordable 5G smartphones to increase their shipments, whereas telcos are partnering with smartphone players to offer devices with various 5G plans. According to Counterpoint Research’s Monthly Philippines Channel Share Tracker, 5G smartphone shipments accounted for 27.3% of the overall smartphone shipments in Q1 2022.
Q1 2022 witnessed a growth of 20% points YoY in 5G smartphone share in total smartphone shipments and we expect this share to continue to increase in the coming quarters. Key factors contributing to this growth include:
Increasing availability: Globe became the first player to launch 5G in Southeast Asia and the Philippines by introducing its ‘Globe At Home Air Fiber 5G’ plan. Smart followed suit and launched the ‘Smart Bro Home Wi-Fi 5G’ plan. Telcos started deploying 5G at a rapid pace and, according to VIAVI Solutions, the Philippines had 98 cities offering 5G services in 2021, ranking the country third in terms of the highest number of cities having 5G services.
Telcos’ initiatives and increase in investments: The Philippines’ top two telco players, Globe and Smart, are investing heavily in upgrading and expanding their networks. They are increasing 5G coverage and launching the services in remotest parts that were not connected by the internet earlier. Globe’s 5G coverage has reached 96% of the NCR region and 85% of key cities in the Visayas and Mindanao regions. The operator is planning to invest PHP 89 billion to accelerate the 5G rollout, increase cell sites and upgrade the infrastructure. Smart is planning to spend PHP 85 billion to upgrade its 4G and 5G infrastructure. The third telco, Dito, has recently launched its 5G home Wi-Fi services in selected cities of the NCR region.
Favorable consumer behavior: Filipinos are technophiles. They actively use e-commerce, digital finance, digital and social marketing, social media and other platforms. With the increased speed, 5G can evolve online education, telemedicine, entertainment industry and more.
Although there are favorable dynamics in the market to support 5G smartphone and services uptake, there are also some challenges that can adversely impact the momentum:
Macroeconomic factors: The Philippines is one of the fastest-growing nations in the region. It saw a growth rate of 8.3% YoY in Q1 2022 as the opening of the market and increased consumer spending helped in increasing demand. But in recent times, it is facing the problem of rising inflation along with the weakening of the Peso and increasing interest rates. This might affect consumer spending and cause a slowdown in demand.
Speed issues: The Philippines is an archipelago with more than 7,000 islands. Therefore, providing fiber optic connectivity to every corner of the country becomes difficult. According to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, the Philippines ranked 88th (out of 139 countries) as of June 2022 with a median mobile download speed of 21.41 Mbps. It is behind many of its peers such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Low mobile network speeds hamper the internet experience. With most Filipinos spending a big amount of time on social media and mobile gaming, it is important to provide high-speed and reliable internet to encourage customers to adopt 5G.
The Philippines faces the issue of slow internet speed due to its geography, and telcos are trying to solve it with the help of the 5G network. They are increasing their investments in upgrading and expanding their 5G coverage. With increasing 5G availability, people are switching to 5G smartphones to experience it. Smartphone players are also launching affordable 5G devices, whose shipments continue to increase. 5G will help Filipinos have smooth social media and other digital experiences.
Another important area that will benefit from 5G is mobile gaming. 5G can help make the mobile gaming industry bigger, as it provides a lag-free experience with low latency and cloud-based multiplayer games can be played with ease. Smartphone makers can capitalize on this growing segment by launching dedicated gaming devices. Some OEMs are already sponsoring mobile gaming leagues and tournaments. Telcos can market 5G services that offer a smooth gaming experience on a smartphone and by hosting e-sports events.
The POCO F3 is powered by the 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 SoC.
It features an AMOLED 6.67-inch screen with a 120Hz refresh rate.
Price starts at $350, making it the most expensive POCO model to date.
POCO was carved out of Xiaomi as an independent brand in early 2020. As Xiaomi seeks to expand its product coverage, it has now defined the Xiaomi (previously named Mi) series as the one meant for the high-end market. Then comes the Redmi series with its focus on budget options. POCO attempts to fill the gap between Xiaomi and Redmi series by offering ‘affordable premium’ models.
Similar to other smartphone manufacturers’ practices, POCO has its own management to deal with product development, P&L, sales and marketing. However, it shares resources with Xiaomi for R&D, supply chain, manufacturing and after-sales service. This reliance on Xiaomi for supply chain and manufacturing is especially important given the current industry-wide semiconductor shortages, as without the entire parent group’s weight, it would have been difficult and uneconomical for POCO to source ‘Tier 1’ components.
POCO now has four product series — F as the most premium, C and M for budget models and X for the gap between F and C-M. The POCO brand has always identified itself with one target audience – tech enthusiasts looking for premium specs at affordable prices. The POCO F3, which was launched in March 2021, is the most expensive POCO model to date. While cheaper variants are mainly being sold in India now, wider availability, along with more premium models, is expected in international markets in the coming days. The device is already one of the best-selling models in China, though, as a caveat, it is marketed there as the Redmi K40 along with two enhanced versions – Redmi K40 Pro and Redmi K40 Gaming.
According to Counterpoint Research’s Model Sales Tracker, sizeable market penetration has been witnessed for the POCO brand in APAC, Europe and MEA regions over the past year, reducing reliance on the India market at the same time. We think this move is meaningful and unlikely to be a blip because the increase in penetration in these regions coincides with Xiaomi’s overall strategy during the past year, which is to broaden both the portfolio and brand footprint. In fact, POCO has more than exceeded Xiaomi’s own lofty performances in the past year and half – with sales achieving a 123% increase in the first eight months of 2021, as compared to 73% for the entire group.
Looking at the price range and sales channel of POCO products, they were found to be closely matching Xiaomi’s overall numbers in different regions. As such, it is not difficult to imagine POCO actually following Xiaomi’s overall strategy, despite lower volumes as compared to the Mi and Redmi series. Notwithstanding the varying degrees of sophistication across markets, the POCO brand seems to have captured a sizeable niche market. Having four product series also helps the brand cover a wider range of price points and needs of customers.
POCO F3 Long-term Review
We have been using the POCO F3 for about five months, giving us a closer look at how the device would fare on a day-to-day basis and after systems updates.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 5G (7 nm) processor
Sub-6GHz 5G support but no mmWave
6GB/8GB RAM, 128GB/256GB storage (no expandable storage)
Positioned in the tightly contested mid-range 5G segment, the POCO F3 is packed with noteworthy features at an equally eye-catching price point. This compares favorably with models in the range.
Looking at the POCO F3’s features, the one thing that stands out is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 5G chipset, which makes regular appearances in rival flagship models such as the vivo X60, OPPO Reno 6 Pro and Motorola Moto G100, all priced above $500. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 5G chipset has a prime core that can achieve up to 3.2GHz of clock speed. With the Adreno 650, it also packs one of the most powerful GPUs around. With a polished design, fast-charging battery and a 6.67-inch AMOLED display featuring 120Hz refresh rate, the POCO F3 appeals to tech enthusiasts looking for all-round entertainment, particularly gaming experience.
Slick, Mirror Finish but A Fingerprint Magnet
Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection on both front and back
IP53, dust and splash protection
The most immediate first impression of the POCO F3 is the curved glossy back, which looks impeccable. It is clear that the design tries to woo tech-savvy and demanding gadget players. We obtained the Night Black version (Arctic White and Deep Ocean Blue are also available), and the strong reflection from the back almost makes it double up as a mirror when the surface is clean. However, this super-glossiness is a magnet for fingerprints and looks terrible when not clean. This also goes against the prevailing trend of major OEMs mostly opting for a matte finish.
The POCO F3 uses Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on both sides, with a not-so-thin curved plastic frame, sprayed with grippy paint that feels metallic. We were delighted with the side-mounted fingerprint sensor that is built into the power button. It is extremely fast compared to the mixed experiences we had with other models opting for under-display sensors (optical). These are mature designs, a clue that the device isn’t a premium flagship model. But it has a fairly pleasurable hold and manifests design character.
For a device in the sub-$400 range, the POCO F3 cameras perform fairly well. They can capture some stunning shots under the right conditions.
Below are some photos shot from the primary camera in daylight conditions. Overall, the sensor seems to have captured enough detail, and the contrast is also crisp. However, upon closer inspection, high-frequency detail such as the hair on the teddy bear and the pores on the fried chicken skin look sullied and over-processed.
The following photos were taken during strong daylight (around mid-day). No AI function was used (though the camera app comes with the AI function, which can automatically detect objects such as grass, flowers, trees and buildings). The photos look decent under the right settings, and qualify for most social media purposes.
We then took some close-up shots, with mixed results. In the samples below, while colors are well preserved, the same cannot be said of the details. In particular, edge detection looks weak. The algorithms that are supposed to separate the background from the foreground seem to be off.
Portrait selfies, however, do a much better job. The first shot had AI and HDR off while the second one had them on. Curiously, while the AI has smoothened the skin, details on facial hair and the shirt have become sharper. There were also no problems with recognizing the background from the foreground. Overall, the selfie quality is surprisingly good.
We then took photos at night. The pairs of photos below were taken with default settings and low-light mode. In short, the low-light mode is able to capture much more details without unnecessarily distorting the contrast. The quality of details takes a noticeable hit in the default mode, but no such issue is observed in the low-light mode.
Therefore, we conclude that the POCO F3 cameras perform as expected and are in line with similarly priced competitors. However, under the right conditions, they can take good photos, such as the one below, which was taken with default settings.
The POCO F3’s display is probably the biggest selling point. At 6.67 inches, this AMOLED screen is huge but necessary these days for a prime gaming experience. At 1300 nits peak, the screen is very bright (sometimes too bright at night), and the color saturation is decent at all brightness levels. The screen resolution is the typical extended 1080p. But with better positioning of the punch-hole camera, the visual ‘real estate’ has not been compromised.
The POCO F3 supports 120Hz refresh rate and 360Hz touch sampling. The refresh rate does automatically adjust between these two frequencies depending on the app, but for the sake of saving battery, we manually had it on 60Hz default for most of the day except for games and videos.
In the video below, we played Honor of Kings under 90Hz refresh rate at 60fps frame rate – the top video quality available for this game. Overall, the quality of the video was great, able to reflect finer details such as the flapping movement of our character’s robe and the movement of the minions. Most encouragingly, video quality consistency is on display at the 0:35 mark, where our character performs a rushing move when multiple objects are in view, and the 0:45 mark, when multiple characters are performing dynamic actions. The performance was stable throughout the game as the display rarely deviated from the targeted 60fps frame rate (seen at the top right of the screen).
For comparison, we played Call of Duty: Mobile. The game was played under 60Hz as the higher 120Hz is only available on the Sony Xperia 5 II. While we did fairly well and killed four opponents in the sample, you can see that the smoothness of the video quality takes a dive compared to the previous sample, especially in near-field dynamic environments, such as nearby objects when moving the cursor and zooming in to shoot.
Another interesting gaming feature is the Game Turbo mode. It allows the device to automatically detect ongoing gaming sessions, and can stop notifications and calls. Additionally, one can slide open the menu the top left of the screen to see further features. Useful ones include GPU, CPU and FPS performances, as well as memory boost, screenshot and video recording. One can even access other apps through a pop-out screen – useful for filling moments of inactivity when playing ‘idle’ games.
Perhaps one drawback of the POCO F3 screen is that it can dim unexpectedly under very bright sunlight, probably due to overheating and subsequent thermal throttling. However, it can be fixed by manually adjusting the brightness. We experienced this issue 3-4 times in the first month but much more frequently in subsequent months. This is consistent with the complaints seen on Xiaomi forums.
Dual speakers with Dolby Atmos add to entertainment value
The POCO F3 has a pair of decent speakers in the earpiece and at the bottom of the phone, with Dolby Atmos surround sound solution providing the loud audio experience of true stereo. While a hand may cover the speakers when playing a game or watching videos in the landscape mode, we found the speakers doing a good job at projecting sound. We tested the phone in the shower (tightly sealed of course as the phone comes only with an IP53 rating) and even received calls on the speaker in busy shopping malls – with positive results.
There is a range of equalizer options (see below) for those with particular tastes in audio experience. We streamed a range of music from Spotify and concluded that the POCO F3’s speakers projected a decent range, especially at mid-tones. However, the sound seems to be slightly distorted at the highest volume.
Reasonable battery and charging performance, more would be nice
Fast charging 33W, 100% in 52 min (advertised)
The POCO F3 has a battery of 4520mAh, which is decent at its price range. We saw about eight hours of screen-on time on 60Hz and five hours on 120Hz on 4G connectivity (numbers based on the Screen Time App). However, the apps used were somewhat less ‘intensive’ than what one would find in a typical product review test, and more representative of one’s general daily usage. In our view, the battery will probably be just enough for a day’s average usage, but a power bank or charging wires are a must if one plays games or watches videos during the day.
Luckily, the POCO F3 comes with a 33W adapter, which charges around 66% in 30 minutes and 100% within an hour. However, the slight drawback is that playing games on 120Hz while charging can lead to overheating, as seen below when the battery reached 44°C. Inevitably, we experienced some lags while using heavy payload apps like gaming or AI photography.
Software is a huge drag on performance
Now we come to the biggest disappointment in the POCO F3. The device runs on Android 11 with the MIUI 12 skin. The customization is pretty thorough, and the POCO launcher uses a fairly distinct system theme, which can be changed. One of the key alterations is a redesigned app drawer, which has fewer rounded corners and automatically sorts apps into different categories. The first page still displays a vertical list of everything you have installed, but it takes a bit of getting used to. We have avoided navigating for apps in the categories view (Communication, Entertainment, Photography, etc.) as much as possible, due to the confusing sorting of some of the apps.
Compared with other Android competitors, the MIUI takes a fair amount of effort to get its settings sorted out. This may not be an issue for tech-savvy users or those with previous experience of using MIUI, but it is an unnecessarily high barrier for average users looking for a simpler experience. Furthermore, the range of bloatware is alarming. The POCO F3 also has its own clock, calculator, voice recorder and music player – none of which can be uninstalled. The system frequently pushes notifications to update these, which we strongly advise against.
Xiaomi users are fairly active on online forums, and MIUI bugs tend to be quite frequent. Disappointingly, this is a legacy issue that works hugely against the brand, which it seems unable to rectify. With the POCO F3, there is the possibility of upgrading to Android 12, but we do not expect a major boost to the phone’s performance.
In summary, while the hardware in the POCO F3 packs a punch, the bottom line is that software does not do the hardware justice, and the phone is powerful only on paper.
Conclusion: A value-for-money smartphone for tech-savvy users and gamers
The POCO F3 inherits the brand family DNA with top-notch design, excellent display and gaming performances, which will no doubt attract techy-savvy customers who know exactly what they are looking for. Its flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 870 5G, and the AMOLED screen with 120Hz refresh rate will be especially popular among its targeted buyers. While we have found the phone to be fairly reliable in terms of day-to-day general usage, the software weakness can be frustrating for the average user. Despite this, if one can bear with the fidgety initial setting-up processes, the phone is capable of doing its job.
US carriers sold over 1.5 million white-label devices in Q3 2021, according to Counterpoint Research’s US Monthly Smartphone Channel Share Tracker. This figure includes AT&T, Cricket and T-Mobile (Revvl brand) devices.
Over the years, both carriers have maintained a range of white-label devices to fill gaps in their portfolios by offering affordable device options. Lately, the focus has shifted towards the sub-$300 5G device segment, especially in prepaid channels. In 2021 so far, US carriers have launched white-label 5G devices such as the REVVL 5G, REVVL V+ and Cricket’s Dream 5G/AT&T Radiant Max 5G, bringing down the 5G device cost to sub-$200.
In September 2021, Dish’s Boost Mobile announced the Celero5G-branded smartphone. The device, launched at a price of $279, will include unlimited talk time, text and data (speed throttled after 35GB) for 12 months. Further, the Celero5G comes packed with a 6.52-inch screen, quad camera and 4GB RAM/64GB NAND. It is rumored to be powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 7000 chipset. The device will be available at Boost Mobile-branded retail locations and in national retail.
Dish claims that the device fills a void in the market by providing an affordable 5G option to the customers. This is parallel to AT&T and T-Mobile’s strategy to bring more subscribers to the 5G network.
Opportunity for ODM/EMS firms
Industry continues to ponder whether Chinese OEMs will be able to enter US carrier channels. So far, none of the major Chinese OEMs have been able to range among US carrier channels apart from OnePlus. However, the white-label device opportunity brings OEM, ODM and EMS firms to a level playing field and opens a backdoor channel for entry to the US market.
This has enabled many ODM/EMS firms, such as FIH (Fushan), Wingtech, Tinno and Vinsmart, to work with US carriers. Many Indian OEMs are also aggressively looking to cater to the rising demand.
Apart from the carrier-branded white-label devices, some local US brands are also moving their production outside China. Recently, India-based EMS firm Dixon Technologies announced a partnership with Orbic to manufacture 5G smartphones in India. Orbic devices are sold in Verizon and TracFone channels in the US. BLU-branded devices sold in national retail channels such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target are also being manufactured in Vietnam. There are many other similar brands that are now looking at manufacturing outside China to circumvent unnecessary logistical hurdles.
While these devices don’t get much attention and have lower marketing spend, the arrangement allows US carriers to fill gaps in their smartphone portfolios. At the same time, it allows ODM/EMS firms, which remain behind the scenes, to avoid the marketing cost, which is typically shared between the carrier and a mainstream OEM brand (like Apple, Samsung, Motorola and OnePlus).
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