Latest!

The return of POCO: it’s different… and the same

It is the brand that many felt Xiaomi had launched to take on the challenge of OnePlus in the budget flagship segment in 2018. And by all accounts, it did very well indeed, with its first phone emerging as a bestseller. And then, very oddly, the brand pretty much disappeared from the tech horizon. Well, at least in terms of products. For, there were no other product launches from the brand for a year and a half. No, the brand was not quite dead, because its sole product kept getting updates, but for almost a year and a half, there were no new products. What’s more, many of the people initially associated with the brand moved on to other projects and companies. 

And then just when many felt that it might actually have faded out, it came back. 

Related read: POCO X2 first impressions: an impressive comeback

I am talking of POCO, the brand that Xiaomi had launched in August 2018, with the “everything you need, nothing that you do not” line. It was supposed to add a new dimension to budget flagships and to be fair, it really did so for a while. But then it did the very thing that spelt doom for brands like BlackBerry, Palm, and even Nokia – it took a sabbatical of sorts. So when it came back into the market a few weeks ago, there were many who were surprised. And with good reason.

Xiaomi POCO F1

The reason for this surprise is not just the time that the brand spent away from the market, but also the change in its positioning since it returned. To refresh your minds (hey, August 2018 was a long time ago – a year and a half is a long time in tech), POCO had been launched initially to provide a budget flagship alternative to OnePlus. It had a very functional ethic and was in fact seen as something in the classic Nexus mode – relatively unobtrusive software that would be regularly updated, a design that was sturdy and not flashy and a phone that just worked. 

There were many who felt that the reason for this was the fact that the main person behind the brand was Jai Mani, a former Googler himself who had worked on Android. There were some complaints initially about the first POCO phone, the POCO F1, but by the end of the year, the phone had emerged as a bestseller in its own right, thanks to its blend of price and performance, and was impressing people with its software updates. Indeed, its cameras improved to the extent that it even took second place in a global high profile blind phone camera test!

The second POCO phone, the POCO X2, is a very different kettle of fish. It is bright and flashy and while the original POCO F1 had a design that was all its own, this one has a very close resemblance to the Redmi K30, which has not been released in India. That is not a bad thing, as the phone is very distinct and has a lot of flaunt value, but it does seem to follow a very different design ethic from the slightly more spare and spartan F1. The hardware language too is different. The POCO F1 was up there with the best flagships in processor and RAM terms, though it did give some ground when it came to cameras (they did improve later) and display. The POCO X2, on the other hand, comes with a more upper mind segment processor, and focused heavily on the 120Hz refresh rate display (#SmoothAF) and being the first phone in the Indian market with a 64-megapixel Sony IMX686 sensor. And of course, its pricing was much more mid-segment – it starts at Rs 15,999, as compared to Rs 20,999 for the POCO F1 in 2018. 

What’s more, there are now likely to be at least two series of devices under the POCO banner – the X and the F (yes, there will be a POCO F2 at some stage), both targeted at different segments. Again, this was something that had not seemed to be the case initially. Of course, this could be attributed to the change in personnel at the brand – Jai Mani left the Xiaomi building a while ago. Of course, we have been assured that some things have not changed. The software remains relatively unobtrusive and ad-free (even though it is MIUI, which has taken a lot of flak for ads on Redmi and Xiaomi devices) and we have been told that it will continue to receive software updates regularly – in fact, the POCO X2 has already got an update even as this is being written. 

And just as POCO was initially brought in to counter OnePlus, there are some who believe that the brand in its second coming is going to be used to take on Realme. There is some rationale for this logic. The POCO X2 is squarely in the same price range as a recent Realme device, the Realme X2 (review) and even enjoys a similar name (“where is the POCO X1,” some of us wondered). What’s more, during the launch, there were constant comparisons between the two devices. The social network handles of both brands have been sniping at each other. POCO India’s head Chandolu Manmohan insists that he respects Realme as a brand and admires the speed at which it has grown, but there is ample reason to think that the POCO X2 (first impressions) was a shot fired at Realme. Of course, this does not mean that OnePlus is no longer a target – we can be reasonably sure that when the POCO F2 is launched, it will try its best to unsettle the Never Settler of that time (grab some popcorn and log in to Twitter at that time is our advice!).  

Indeed, all indications suggest that POCO in its second innings in the Indian market is going to be a rather different creature from the one we saw in 2018 in some regards. We are unlikely to see another extended sabbatical from it after the X2. Of course, the brand has a tricky path ahead of it. How does it assert its identity as an independent brand from Redmi, with which its products are likely to clash (the POCO X2 also challenges the best-selling Redmi Note 8 Pro (review)? Will it introduce products in other price segments? Will it look beyond phones and get into the accessories market? Will it develop its own UI, totally independent of MIUI?

Right now, we do not have the answers.  But I am sure we can expect more products, more fireworks and some more rivalry than in the past. Best of all, we can also expect products that deliver rather good hardware and performance at surprisingly affordable prices. And frankly, as far as the consumers are concerned, that is all that really matters: good products, great prices.

So welcome back, POCO. And now that the POCO X2 has been launched, let’s ask that really old question:

“When is the POCO F2 coming?”

Comments
Tags:
Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.