Sub-$500 smartphone showdown: Pocophone F1 vs ASUS Zenfone 5Z

Companies like Xiaomi and OnePlus started a new movement a few years back. As they begun releasing products packing high-end features and much cheaper price tags than the competition’s, a new product category was born: the affordable flagship.

And over the years more and more Android phone makers have joined in the efforts to offer well-specced, but still wallet-friendly handsets for customers who don’t want to spend $800+ on a phone.

Well among the most recent entries into this niche we find two offerings. One from ASUS and another one from a new Xiaomi sub-brand called Poco. Actually, the former has taken the idea of an affordable flagship to a whole new level, as we will see below.

So in this article, we take a look at how Poco’s first offering the Pocophone F1 compares against the ASUS Zenfone 5Z, which just went on sale in the US this summer.

Design and display

If you want a gorgeous-looking phone, well from the start we can tell you the Pocophone F1 is not what you’re looking for. The handset is quite generic in terms of design, featuring a rather drab polycarbonate back that pales in comparison to products such as the OnePlus 6.

Actually, the F1 also looks unimpressive when pitted against ASUS Zenfone 5Z, which is mostly made of glass, with a metal frame sandwiched in between. That being said, the latest Zenfone looks every bit as modern and stylish as every other flagship that launched this year.

Moreover, it’s glass back has a nice look with a fine circular pattern that springs from the fingerprint scanner on the back and creates spinning wheel patterns when the light hits the back. The F1 also has a fingerprint scanner on the rear.

In line with most phones in 2018, both the Pocophone F1 and ASUS Zenfone 5Z sport notches on the front. But there’s a noticeable difference here. The F1’s large notch seems a bit out of place, due to the still consistent top and lower bezels.

In contrast, ASUS’ approach is a lot more elegant. The bottom “chin” for example is quite thin, to the point that is barely noticeable.

When it comes to displays, the Pocophone F1 packs a 5.99-inch IPS LCD one with FHD+ resolution. The ASUS device, on the other hand, takes advantage of a larger 6.2-inch IPS LCD display with the same FHD+ res.

Performance

While the ASUS Zenfone 5Z looks and feels more premium, performance-wise you won’t notice any major discrepancies between the two handsets.

That’s because both devices are powered by the latest Snapdragon 845. The Pocophone F1 has three configurations:

  • 6GB of RAM + 64GB of storage
  • 8GB of RAM + 128GB of storage
  • 8GB of RAM + 256GB of storage

The ASUS Zenfone 5Z also comes in three options, but as you already guessed it, availability varies by region:

  • 4GB of RAM + 64GB of storage
  • 6GB of RAM + 128GB of storage
  • 8GB of RAM + 256GB of storage

Indeed, the two phones should be on-par when it comes to speed and smoothness. We should also mention that Xiaomi has added a liquid cooling system inside the Pocophone F1 to help the CPU do its job without overheating.

The battery inside Xiaomi’s offering is also pretty great. It’s a 4,000 mAh unit that has support for Quick Charge 3. The device ships with a 9V/2A charger in the box. There’s no wireless charging, but that’s to be understood, given that this is a super affordable flagship.

As for the ASUS phone, it relies on a smaller 3,300 mAh unit with fast battery charging 9V/2A. There’s a lack of wireless charging in here too. On top of that, none of the two devices features any kind of water resistance.

Yet, they both preserve the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Cameras

Xiaomi and ASUS are ticking all the boxes here by incorporating a dual-lens main camera into their products. The Pocophone bundles a 12MP+5MP duo, while the Zenfone features 12MP+8MP sensors on the back.

As we found in our review of the Pocophone F1, the device can shoot pretty nice images. The portrait mode too is quite good, with excellent edge detection. However, the phone does have a tendency to falter in trickier light conditions, as it overexposes and messes up white balance.

When it comes to selfies, the F1 packs a 20MP shooter with an IR sensor that helps with face unlock. In the case of the Zenfone, the front-facing camera is an 8MP affair. The phone also has a face unlock feature that works very well when there’s enough light.

Software

The Pocophone F1 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo with Xiaomi’s MIUI 9.6 UI on top. There’s also a Poco Launcher over MIUI. The idea behind the Poco Launcher is to make everything look like stock Android, so if you’re a fan of that you’ll enjoy the software experience on board this phone.

What’s more, Xiaomi has pledged to deliver the Android Pie update for the device, by the end of this year. And so did ASUS in regards to its Zenfone 5Z. Although the Taiwanese company didn’t provide a timeframe.

The phone currently runs Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box with ASUS’ ZenUI 5.0, which you will find looks quite attractive. Although, the software feels like it does need more polishing to truly shine. The presence of some pre-installed apps of dubious usefulness (like Selfie Master) is also pretty annoying.

Price

The Pocophone crushes the competition when it comes to price. The device is priced so very affordable, but there’s a big caveat.

Despite its amazing value, the F1 does not support the LTE bands that US carriers use to power their LTE networks. The phone does support most GSM bands for 3G networks, but it does not offer the same courtesy when it comes to true LTE bands. Which is a real shame. Knowing these limitations, if you still want to buy it, the F1 is available on Amazon for $399.

But the Pocophone F1 is really a perfect buy if you live outside the US.

What about the ASUS Zenfone 5Z? Well, this model you can purchase in the States. The device is available on Amazon for $499. It’s sold as unlocked and comes with a warranty. Note that the product is compatible with GSM carriers such as T-Mobile and AT&T.