POCO M3 review: Scores on style and endurance
POCO may have turned the budget segment loco back in 2018 when it launched the F1, but it’s only off late that the brand has picked up the pace and launched models like the M2, the M2 Pro and the X3, all of which did well to catapult POCO into the third spot in terms of online sales in India. Enter the POCO M3, a phone that may share more than a few similarities with the battery champion Redmi 9 Power, but one that differentiates itself strongly on design. Is that enough of a raison d'être in what is arguably one of the most competitive smartphone segments? Let’s find out.
Design is one of the first elements where corners are cut when phone brands want to price phones lower, and refined design is often used as to differentiate entry-level and mid-range phones in a brand’s portfolio. Colour me surprised when I saw the first looks of the POCO M3, particularly in the brand’s signature Yellow colorway, and even more so when I picked up the staid-by-comparison Power Black variant. Calling the POCO M3 the best-looking phone in the segment wouldn’t be an exaggeration and a lot of it comes down to that striking glass pane around the rear camera housing. The large piano black glass pane sits in stark contrast to the textured, almost leathery finish on that plastic unibody rear, which provides a nice, grippy hand-feel to the M3 without the smudges you’d associate with the typical glossy gradients on similarly priced phones. And of course, if you can rock the Yellow color, that’s the one to get (and likely half the reason to prefer this phone over the competition). The front is a little more familiar – a 6.53-inch 60Hz LCD panel with Gorilla Glass 3 for protection, plus there’s the IR blaster and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor which doubles as a power/wake button. What’s impressive is that the phone weighs in at only 197g – remember, this is a phone that packs in a 6000mAh battery!
Coming in at a shade under 11,000, this is one of the few phones (alongside the Redmi 9 Power) in the segment to sport a full-HD+ display, and the experience has been largely positive. The colors are vibrant, the panel is bright enough for outdoor use (though I did see some issues in direct sunlight) and contrast levels hold up well for content and gaming. Side note: the phone has Widevine L1 support, so you can play 1080p content from Netflix and Prime Video straight out of out of the box. As with the Redmi 9 Power, the inclusion of the stereo speaker setup (and a headphone jack) is a big plus in this segment, and it nicely rounds out the fairly compelling multimedia experience on the M3.
Powering the POCO M3 is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 662 chipset which, with the 6GB of RAM on both 64GB and 128GB storage variants, does well to handle multitasking and the slight sluggishness one saw on the Redmi 9 Power. You’ll still see a few stutters on heavy apps and rich web content, but the added memory helps keep things humming along nicely for everyday tasks. Clearly, it’s no performance beast and the Snapdragon 662 is showing its age by now, but it compares well to the competition in this price segment. Interestingly, the switch from eMMC type storage to UFS storage helps with app loading faster, but you should know that an extra Rs. 1,000 will get you the 128GB model with the faster UFS 2.2 type storage (as compared to the UFS 2.1 on the base variant). Gaming performance is expectedly average, given the chipset, but you can manage to run most games like Asphalt and Call of Duty Mobile for short sessions without any significant frame drops. On the software side, the POCO M3 runs Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 skin with some POCO optimizations, most notable of which is the absence of advertising peppered all over the interface and system applications. This alone might be the clincher for some to prefer the M3 over the Redmi 9 Power. However, that’s not to say there’s no bloat on the phone, some of which can be uninstalled but not all.
With the focus on design and hand-feel, it’s easy to forget this phone still manages to pack in a massive 6000mAh battery. All day use with a fair bit of streaming and some casual games regularly saw me hit around 50-percent by the end of the day, and you can push it to two days of use on a full charge if you’re not big on gaming. You can even use the M3 as an external power bank for your other devices. The 18W charger in the box does take about 2.5 hours to fully charge the M3, so you’re better off with an overnight charging cycle.
The cameras on the M3 are a bit of a mixed bag. The 48MP primary takes good images in good lighting, but it trips up when the lighting is tricky and there are plenty of highlights and shadows in the image. Focusing can be spotty at times as well. Macros with the 2MP sensor are detailed but the resolution is limiting for anything but social media use. The 2MP depth sensor enables good edge detection on portrait shots and does well to recognize people and objects and set the level of blur appropriately. Night shots are noisy and soft on details and you’re going to want to shoot solely in Night Mode to eke out the best from this camera in low-light conditions.
POCO’s come a long way from its Xiaomi origins, and the M3 is an excellent example of the little touches you can make on the base hardware to transform the end product. Class-leading design, great battery life, clean software and an excellent multimedia experience – the POCO checks off these boxes with aplomb. This is an excellent device to get for everyday use, as long as gaming and camera are not your top priorities.
Pros: Unique and eye-catching design, excellent battery life, good stereo speakers, clean UI
Cons: Weak cameras, chipset shows its age, charging takes a while, bloatware
Price: Rs 10,999 for 6GB/64GB onwards
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar