Three years ago, Lenovo’s CEO Yang Yuanqing pulled his company out of the high-end smartphone battleground, saying that there were “too many Chinese vendors,” some of whom were “playing irrationally.” He was referring to the price war that saw — and continues to see — Chinese brands push smartphone prices lower and lower, slimming profit margins to near zero, all in order to gain market share.
That price war is still going strong three years on. In fact, it may be more irrational than ever.
I recently reviewed Samsung’s much-hyped Galaxy Note 9, and though I really liked the phone (so much that I purchased one for personal use), I had a hard time giving it the same glowing recommendation and gushy praise that American reviewers have thrown Samsung’s way. The reason was because in the same month that the Note 9 hit the market, Xiaomi announced a budget device under its new sub-brand Poco with most of the same internals, at almost a quarter of the price. That Snapdragon 845 processor; large 4,000 mAh battery; and liquid cooling interior for (slightly) improved thermals that highlight the Note 9 are all found in Poco’s debut release, the F1 (or more commonly known, Pocophone).
So naturally, the first thing I did when I received my trial review unit of the Pocophone was pit it against my new top-tier variant, $1,250 Note 9. I knew the $300 Pocophone would perform standard smartphone tasks just as well as the Note 9 because they have the same processor, what I didn’t expect was for it to be faster (especially considering that my Note 9 has 8GB of RAM to the Pocophone’s 6GB). As a matter of fact, the Pocophone significantly outperforms the Note 9 in download and upload speeds. It can even sort of keep up in photography, provided it’s during the day.
The first test I did was a basic speed test, loading a series of apps such as Facebook, Instagram, camera, and loading webpages to sites I’ve never visited before. The Pocophone finished a split second ahead of the Note 9 just about every time. I then tested connection speeds by running both a benchmark via the Speedtest app and doing a real-world test in which I downloaded a game with a large file size (PUBG Mobile). In both tests, the Pocophone beat the Note 9 — the Pocophone finished downloading and installing PUBG a full minute before the Note 9. Check the screenshots and video below to see what I mean.
I also ran both phones on the benchmark apps PC Mark and Geekbench, and the Pocophone won both as well.
I understand that benchmark numbers are not the end-all, be-all to determine which phone is more powerful, but when you consider that one phone costs four times as much, it’s a bit jarring.
The biggest surprise, however, has been the camera tests. I expected the Note 9 to completely outclass the Pocophone here, but that is only the case in really low light situations and video recording. During the day, shots are close enough that you’d have to pixel-peep to see the difference.
At night or in low light situations, you can see the Note 9’s camera superiority.
And of course, the Note 9 has OIS and EIS, so videos come out much smoother. But for $300, the Pocophone’s photos are really, really good.
And in terms of battery life, it was absolutely no surprise to me that 4,000 mAh went further on the Pocophone than the Note 9, considering Xiaomi’s history of strong battery optimization and the Note 9’s more power hungry display.
Now of course, I’m not saying the Pocophone is a better smartphone than the Galaxy Note 9. The Note 9 has a much more premium build quality, a higher resolution and brighter display, and additional features such as water-proofing and wireless charging. Plus, there’s that stylus, for the 3% of the consumers out there who actually need one. For anyone who’s into gadgets and has disposable income, they’d still rather buy the Galaxy Note 9.
But for a $300 phone to flat out beat a $1,250 phone in both real world and benchmark speed and connection tests, as well as produce photos that are around 90% as good during the day and 70% as good at night? I keep thinking back to the value proposition. Someone like me will opt for the most powerful phone every time, regardless of price; but for the average person? For example, my mother who only uses a phone to check Facebook and send WhatsApp messages? How can she possibly justify buying anything but a Chinese handset?
With the Note 9, Samsung has crafted a darn good phone, one that is the culmination of a three-year design cycle that evolved and refined itself through plenty of trial and error. Samsung should price the Note 9 in the top tier, iPhone pricing bracket. But the irrational strategy — and China speed — of Chinese brands have thrown the whole Android business pricing model out of wack.
Originally published here.