Xiaomi’s been busy this year. In addition to launching a plethora of Xiaomi and Redmi-branded phones, the company’s turned Poco into its own sub-brand, starting with the Poco X2 in February, followed by the Poco F2 Pro in May, Poco M2 Pro in July, plus the Poco X3 NFC and Poco M2 in September. What started off as a single, $300 handset with flagship specs in 2018 — the Poco F1 (or Pocophone F1) — is now an entire product line.

Granted, Xiaomi’s mostly re-branding Redmi devices here, with Poco handsets getting a few hardware and software tweaks like unique memory and storage configurations, and a bespoke launcher. And based on my recent review of the excellent $400-ish Poco F2 Pro, there’s nothing wrong with this strategy. Which brings me to the $275 Poco X3 NFC, a phone that offers most of the F2 Pro’s experience for about 2/3 the price.

The X3 NFC drops the F2 Pro’s fancy Snapdragon 865 SoC and X55 5G modem combo for Qualcomm’s latest 4G chip, the Snapdragon 732G. But don’t run away screaming just yet. While this processor doesn’t deliver flagship graphics performance, it’s gaming optimized (hence the G), and it feels super quick in day-to-day use. Plus it’s still paired with 6GB RAM and up to 128GB storage, and supports microSD.

Most importantly, the X3 NFC trades the F2 Pro’s 60Hz display for a lovely 120Hz IPS screen, and gets a massive 5160mAh hour battery (vs. 4700 mAh). As a bonus, the fingerprint sensor moves from under the display to the power/lock key. The 64MP quad camera setup is almost identical on both handsets, with the X3 NFC losing the F2 Pro’s motorized popup selfie shooter for a punch hole and an IP53 splash-resistant rating.

Oh, and the slightly useless 5MP AF macro gives way to an even more useless 2MP fixed-focus macro, because camera count matters right now. Finally, the X3 NFC trades the F2 Pro’s glass back for a faux-glass (plastic) back, but gains decent stereo speakers and an FM radio. Despite these hardware differences, MIUI 12 feels remarkably consistent across both devices. But while Xiaomi’s software keeps improving, it’s still too heavy handed for my liking.

So yeah, the X3 NFC is a pretty great phone all around, and I’m glad to finally see NFC available on a Chinese handset in this price range. After all, Google Pay is a thing, especially during this pandemic. Unless you want better cameras, or need better US LTE band support — and assuming you can live with skinned Android and without 5G — the X3 NFC delivers outstanding value without skimping on performance or specs.

Specs

SoC Snapdragon 732G
RAM 6GB
Storage 64/128GB (UFS 2.1)
Display 6.67-inch 1080 x 2400 IPS, 120Hz, 20:9, HDR10
Battery 5160mAh
Camera 64 MP, f/1.9, PDAF, no OIS (wide); 13 MP, f/22, 119˚ (ultrawide); 2 MP, f/2.4 (macro); 2 MP, f/2.4 (depth); 20MP f/2.2 (selfie)
Software MIUI 12 on Android 10
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.1, LTE
Measurements 165.3 x 76.8 x 9.4 mm, 215 g
Price approx $275

The Good

Battery life Why settle for hours between charges when you can enjoy your phone for days?
Performance Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 732G is surprisingly quick — 765G quick.
Value A well rounded phone with great specs at a great price. It’s exactly what you need.
Cameras This setup delivers solid imaging performance, especially with the main shooter.
Display Refresh rate matters. That 120Hz screen is smoother than Kenny G’s latest CD.
Speakers Stereo is the way to go. And when it’s time to solo, there’s a headphone jack, yo.

The Not So Good

Cameras, again Useless macro lenses and silly depth sensors need to die. No OIS.
Display, again It’s a lovely IPS panel, but it’s no OLED. The wonky auto-brightness is a pain.
Limited US 4G No Verizon support, and some missing LTE bands for AT&T and T-Mobile.
MIUI 12 Xiaomi’s skin is more palatable than ever before, but deviates too far from stock.

Design, hardware, what's in the box

It’s hard not to compare the Poco X3 NFC with the Poco F2 Pro. Both are big phones with similar designs, including a 6.67-inch screen and circular black quad-camera pod. At 165.3 x 76.8 x 9.4mm and 215g the X3 NFC is slightly larger and heavier than even Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Still, you won’t really notice this until seeing them side-by-side. On its own, the X3 NFC doesn’t look chonky, despite packing a 5160mAh battery.

Xiaomi sent me the ultra-shiny Cobalt Blue model, and it’s a total fingerprint magnet. The other color option is Shadow Grey, which seems kind of boring, honestly. Regardless which version of the X3 NFC tickles your fancy, the faux-glass rear incorporates a hatch pattern forming a vertical band — like a racing stripe — with the word “Poco” embossed in large letters. It’s cool. This stripe also contains the aforementioned camera pod.

Speaking of that bump (imaging mesa, perhaps?), it’s more pronounced than on the F2 Pro, and it’s not a perfect circle since the top and bottom are cut off. It’s also unique in the way the four shooters (64MP main, 13MP ultrawide, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth) and LED flash are arranged in an X pattern, with the main camera at the center. Kudos to Xiaomi for coming up with a really unique take on the olde shooter bump.

Instead of a glass and metal sandwich like the F2 Pro, the X3 NFC is a glass, aluminum, and faux-glass layer cake. Yes, the rear is basically clear plastic, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference — unless you drop the phone, I suppose. Frankly, I’m simultaneously annoyed and impressed by this faux-glass. Also gone is the F2 Pro’s motorized popup selfie camera, which has been replaced with a punch hole shooter.

The X3 NFC also beats the F2 Pro in three other areas: IP53 splash resistance, microSD storage expansion, and stereo speakers (earpiece and bottom edge firing driver). Plus, in a nod to handsets past, there’s even a notification LED embedded in the earpiece, and an IR blaster along the top edge — A/V nerds rejoice. As a bonus, those stereo speakers sound much better than the F2 Pro’s unremarkable single driver.

Obviously, one of the marquee features of the X3 NFC is that 120Hz display. It’s a 6.67-inch FHD+ (2400 x 1080 pixels, 395ppi) IPS panel with a 20:9 aspect ratio and HDR10 support, and it’s quite beautiful. There’s a hole punch in the top middle, and bezels are thin other than a tiny chin at the bottom. It’s no match for a quality OLED screen, but colors are vibrant, contrast is high, and viewing angles are fine. It’s also bright enough in direct sunlight.

I’m quite pleased with this display overall, but here are a few niggles. The auto-brightness is a bit wonky, often making the screen too dim without any rhyme or reason. And while that 120Hz refresh rate is delightful, I’ve noticed that text looks jittery when scrolling gently, something that I don’t see on my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or my OnePlus 8 Pro, which both have 120Hz OLED displays set to 1080p. It’s less obvious at 60Hz.

Haptics won’t knock your socks off. It’s obvious that Xiaomi’s trying very hard to deliver good vibrations here, but the motor can’t keep up. Bummer. At least that side-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor will keep you satisfied — it’s quick and responsive. Speaking of the edges, there’s a headphone jack, USB Type-C port, primary mic, and speaker along the bottom, and IR blaster, secondary mic, and earpiece vent on top.

The fingerprint sensor-equipped power/lock key and volume rocker are located on the right side, and the hybrid dual SIM/microSD card tray lives on the left — the usual stuff. The X3 NFC ships with a 33W fast charger, USB Type-A to C cable, and transparent TPU case in the box. It supports Xiaomi’s proprietary 33W fast charging tech and USB PD (up to 18W), but lacks wireless charging, which isn’t surprising for $275.

Software, performance, and battery

Like the Poco F2 Pro, the Poco X3 NFC runs Android 10 with MIUI 12. I suggest you read my Poco F2 Pro review to familiarize yourself with Xiaomi’s skin. Go ahead — I’ll wait… Are you back? Well done! So in a nutshell, MIUI 12 is more palatable than ever before, but like other skins from Chinese phone manufacturers, it deviates too far from stock for my tastes. It’s just not the best user experience. You might disagree, and that’s OK.

On the plus side, MIUI 12’s design is more refined than previous versions, and unlike Xiaomi’s other phones, Poco’s unique launcher is pretty standard and includes Google Discover. What struck me most about reviewing the X3 NFC right after the F2 Pro is how consistent both of them feel, even with the spec differences. Xiaomi’s clearly worked hard to make MIUI 12’s performance improvements beneficial across the board.

At the same time, I have to give Qualcomm some credit here. The X3 NFC’s new Snapdragon 732G is no slouch. In day-to-day tasks, it feels about as speedy as the Snapdragon 765G. To confirm this, I ran a few benchmarks, and sure enough, both chips are within a stone’s throw of each other. While graphics performance is also close between these two 7-series processors, the F2 Pro’s Snapdragon 865 is obviously in a different league.

In short, I’m genuinely surprised. The X3 NFC is properly quick, and handled everything I threw at it like a champ. And despite that IPS screen dropping the F2 Pro’s always-on display, the 120Hz refresh rate keeps everything delightfully smooth. Other than hard-core gamers who demand the absolute best in graphics, I think most folks will be perfectly happy with the X3 NFC’s performance, no matter how busy things get.

The X3 NFC comes with 6GB RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage. Xiaomi sent me the 6/64GB model. Battery life is outstanding, no doubt thanks to that huge 5160mAh cell. I often saw well over 12 hours of screen-on time, and I’m confident this phone will last two days between charges for most people. Plus, filling back up is a breeze thanks to 33W fast charging — 0-100% takes just over an hour.

For those planning to import the X3 NFC to the US, you’ll probably be alright on T-Mobile and AT&T — at least in urban areas. Just don’t expect it to work on Verizon. It’s missing LTE bands 12, 13, and 17 (700MHz), which are critical, but also lacks bands 66 (1700MHz) and 71 (600MHz). That being said, I didn’t experience any issues with call quality or data speeds on AT&T’s LTE network in San Francisco, CA and Columbia, SC.

Cameras

The Poco X3 NFC and the Poco F2 Pro also feature similar camera systems and produce similar quality results. Around the back, the X3 NFC packs a 64MP f/1.9 0.8-micron Sony IMX 682 main shooter without OIS, a 13MP f/2.2 1.0-micron 119-degree ultrawide, a 2MP f/2.4 1.75-micron macro, and a 2MP f/2.4 1.75-micron depth sensor. Both handsets share the exact same 20MP f/2.2 0.8-micron selfie lens.

Here are the main differences. The X3 NFC uses a slightly different 64MP main sensor (Sony IMX 682 vs. IMX 686), another 13MP ultrawide lens (f/2.2, 1.0 microns, and 119 degrees vs. f/2.4, 1.12 microns, and 123 degrees), and a simpler macro (2MP f/2.4 1.75-micron fixed focus vs. 5MP f/2.2 1.12-micron with AF). While the main lens and the ultrawide are virtually identical in terms of performance, the macro is a major step down.

I think the current macro-all-the-things trend needs to die alongside silly depth sensors that only boost camera count. At least the F2 Pro’s macro is 5MP and includes AF, making it somewhat useful — for the five times you’ll ever take closeup shot, anyway. But the X3 NFC’s 2MP fixed focus macro is just a waste. And to be clear, I’m not singling out Xiaomi here. Other phone manufacturers are guilty of this, too (hello, OnePlus).

Sony’s IMX 682 is definitely the star of the show here. This 64MP Quad-Bayer sensor uses 4-to-1 “pixel binning” to combine four nearby 0.8-micron pixels into 1.6-micron “superpixels” for better low-light performance, resulting in higher quality 16MP images. Unfortunately, neither the X3 NFC or the F2 Pro have OIS. That’s disappointing, but I’m willing to give Xiaomi a pass here since this is a $275 phone.

The camera app is familiar and straightforward, but doesn’t stand out. In addition to a full-resolution 64MP mode, the X3 NFC offers portrait, pro (manual), night, and panorama modes for stills. The pro mode is exclusive to the main shooter, and just like with the F2 Pro, the night mode isn’t available on the ultrawide. Also, the macro setting is hidden in a menu, which is probably best considering how lackluster it is.

Unlike the F2 Pro, which handles up to 8k 30fps / 4k 60fps video recording, the X3 NFC maxes out at 4k 30fps / 1080p 60fps on both the main sensor and the ultrawide lens — both stabilized, with stereo audio. The selfie camera supports up to 1080p 30fps and the macro 720p 30fps. Additionally, there’s a super steady mode (1080p 30fps), a slow motion mode (up to 1080p 960fps), and a time lapse mode (up to 4k 30fps).

Overall, photos and videos taken with the X3 NFC are nicer than those captured with the F2 Pro, which is surprising. Low-light performance is better across the board — especially dynamic range — and night mode images are significantly brighter. The digital zoom is now usable up to 3-4x (vs. 2-3x) before pictures start looking like oil paintings. And did I mention that selfies look pretty damn great?

I actually enjoyed shooting with the X3 NFC, and I think others will too. For $275, this camera system punches way above its weight. Yes, the $349 Pixel 4a is a better shooter, but it costs more, and lacks an ultrawide. While I’m sure there are other affordable Chinese phones with decent cameras for those of you abroad, here in the US, the $270 Moto G Stylus and $250 TCL 10L just aren’t in the same league.

[Some of our sample photos were taken while traveling. While we realize this isn’t ideal right now, it was unavoidable. Know that we always take precautions like wearing a mask and doing social distancing when testing phones - Ed.]

Should you buy it?

Poco X3 NFC
8.5/10

Yes. Unless you play GPU-intensive games or really need a 5G device, I think the $275 Poco X3 NFC is a smarter choice than the $400-ish Poco F2 Pro. Both phones offer amazing value, but the X3 NFC strikes a better balance for less money. Even if Xiaomi improves the F2 Pro’s shooters with a software update in the future, it can’t easily upgrade the hardware to support US 5G — short of releasing a new version, anyway.

Between its unique design, smooth 120Hz display, impressive performance, phenomenal battery life, and solid cameras, the X3 NFC is nothing short of a home run — a masterclass in value. While I’m not a fan of MIUI 12, it’s also not a deal breaker for me, and who knows, you might even like it. I wish Xiaomi made a model with 8GB of RAM and more LTE bands for the US, but that’s about it.

There aren’t many alternatives to the X3 NFC at this price point. Redmi’s $240 Note 9 Pro Max is worth considering if you can live with a 60Hz screen. Xiaomi’s Mi 10T Lite is almost identical to the X3 NFC, but includes 5G for roughly $320. And if you’re a photography buff, there’s always Google’s excellent $349 Pixel 4a. Personally, I can’t wait to see what OnePlus brings to the table with its rumored Nord N10 5G later this year.

Buy it if...

  • You value a well rounded phone
  • You need a high refresh-rate screen
  • You want the best bang for your buck

Don’t buy it if...

  • You want Qualcomm’s fastest processor
  • You play a lot of hard-core games
  • You need full LTE support in the US