Normally with flagship devices, this is the area where we say something along the lines of "it looks like a modern Android smartphone, and they all kind of look the same these days". The Poco F5, on the other hand, looks better from the front than a lot of much higher-end devices, and that's thanks to a very simple, but often overlooked factor in the mid-range space.
Bezels. They are almost symmetrical. They're not, but they're so close that unless you actually measure each one, it always feels like they are. In reality, the side bezels are identical to each other and the slimmest, then the top bezel is a tiny bit fatter, and the bottom one is a tad larger still - but if we didn't tell you to look closely, we'd wager you wouldn't have noticed.
This gives the Poco F5 a very high-end look from the front, one that's missing in most other mid-range Android smartphones. Normal people you meet in day-to-day life will confuse it for a much more expensive device, and it's the first time that's occurred in quite a while. Let's just say, for comparison's sake, that this never happened with any of the Redmi Note non-Turbos we've reviewed long-term before.
But wait, there's more. The frame might be plastic, and yet, most people wouldn't be able to tell just by looking (we mean normal people who don't go hunting for antenna lines, mind you). It's also flat, and very obviously so, "like an iPhone" (a comment we received dozens of times). That's a good thing in the world of people who aren't addicted to smartphone news, by the way.
We like the look of the frame, but we most like how the screen meets the frame with zero sharp feeling in your fingers. Apple only learned how to do that for its Pro models this year, many months after the Poco F5 came out. Make of that what you wish, but it's still a fact.
Using gestures from the sides or from the bottom feels the best out of any phone without a curved screen that we've ever used. In fact, if all flat-screen phones were like this, we'd lose one of the main advantages that curved screens have, in this reviewer's opinion, which is exactly how smooth gestures from the sides and bottom feel.
So while at first glance the Poco F5's design isn't anything that special, hold it in your hand for even a few minutes and you'll be very positively surprised. With a little bit of caution when placing it, it can also 'stand up' both on its bottom and on its top. We're not sure anyone really needs this information, but we checked and it does.
The in-hand feel is great. The frame is matte, but because it's plastic, that doesn't automatically mean it's incredibly slippery, as it would be if it had been metal. It's still a little bit slippery, but nothing too dangerous. Handling is great for people with average or big hands, owing to the very mainstream screen size and width.
Of course, the usual caveat applies: if you have small hands, you'll struggle using it one-handed comfortably, but unfortunately, that's a reality for most phones these days, and sales numbers across the industry seem to imply that even people with small hands end up buying big phones. That extra screen real estate is hard to ignore, we assume.
On the back, our review unit has a very interesting design. This colorway is called "white" but don't let that deceive you, as it's not your run-of-the-mill boring white. Instead, there are a lot of shimmering patterns built-in, that almost look like ice or snow from some angles. It's a very interesting look and every single person who saw us use this phone has commented about that in a very positive fashion, regardless of their gender.
The two bigger camera islands have rings around them which seem (but aren't) almost semi-transparent from some angles, and they have a very nice design that elevates the phone's look some more. Of course, this might not be for everyone, so if you want something traditional-looking the black version is for you, or the blue one if you desire the middle-of-the-road option. The rings around the cameras are still there;however, they're most subdued in the black iteration.
Speaking of cameras, there are three individual circle islands for the three snappers, which is a design we much prefer to the huge monolithic camera islands that seem to be in fashion these days for some higher-end models. That said, if you place the phone in landscape mode and then look at the circles, you might get a 'robot face' vibe, with the two bigger ones being the eyes and the smaller one being the mouth. Or the nose, if your imagination created a mouthless robot. This can be cute or disturbing, it's up to you.
To create some semblance of symmetry on the sides of the smaller ring, you get the LED flash on the left (as you look at the cameras in landscape mode), and an inscription on the right. This time Poco went with something that makes sense: "64 MP camera". We still find these superfluous and pointless, but Poco is definitely on the right track, as this is miles better than the nonsensical text that adorned the F4 GT last year. Hopefully, at this rate, we won't have any useless text on the F6? We can dream, at least.
Build quality is flawless, and overall, while the design of the Poco F5 isn't something that's very far removed from the generic outline of a smartphone nowadays, it still has enough nice little touches to stand out - but not in a shouty way. More like - if you get one you'll appreciate the little things every day.
Let's not mince words, this is one area where cost has been kept extremely low. The vibration motor is definitely not what we've been used to in recent times from Xiaomi / Poco / Redmi at this price point, but on par with some competitors' offerings. It's there, but its vibrations lack any sort of depth and oomph.
It's not great, and you can barely feel it and barely hear it, even on the highest possible setting of the "Haptic feedback level" slider, which is the worst combo you can possibly have. If you're used to the Redmi numbered series' vibration motors, this will feel similar, but it's a bit of a letdown considering how much emphasis Xiaomi and its sub-brands generally place on the higher-than-expected quality of their vibration motors. This is not one of those, plain and simple.
The Poco F5's stereo speakers won't win any awards, but they get the job done. The sound is higher-pitched and slightly tinnier than what today's flagships are able to produce, and bass is almost non-existent (compared to higher-priced devices, which is not a fair comparison, let's acknowledge).
In terms of how loud they get, we'd say they are about one to two notches below the best speakers we've heard on mainstream slab-style flagship smartphones, which, considering the price differential, we think is quite a feat. You do need to bring the phone closer to your ears at a lower ambient sound level than you would with a handset that's twice the price, but the difference isn't big enough that we'd call this a downside.
We understand that to reach such price points, some compromises have to be made, and in terms of speakers, we feel like most people will be perfectly happy with them - we have other devices to compare side-by-side with, hence why we can discern differences that you probably won't, unless you're switching to this from a higher-end device, which is not a road that's much traveled we'd wager.
As usual in recent years with handsets from the Xiaomi / Poco / Redmi stable, the top speaker has two outlets, one is the earpiece and the other is on the top frame. This does mean that when you take calls the voice of the person you're talking to will 'leak out' somewhat, but when you're listening to media or are talking on speakerphone that means the sound is much fuller and the two speakers are closer in terms of volume and quality.
The Poco F5 has a side-mounted fingerprint scanner, embedded in the power button, and it's on par with the best side-mounted fingerprint scanners we've ever used. It's fast and it's incredibly accurate - in our experience, we got in upon the first try in about 98% to 99% of cases, which is just amazing. Some fingerprint sensors can be exceedingly frustrating to use, this one has given us zero frustration throughout our extended time with the phone. There's nothing bad we can say about it, it's just that good.
The usual note applies here regarding side-mounted sensors. Make sure that, when you enroll a fingerprint, you cover as much of your finger's surface area as possible - the sensor is thin, and you won't always be touching it with the same part of your finger. If you do that, like we did, we don't think you'll ever have any problem with it.
You can choose to unlock upon a touch of the power button, or a press. We always go for the latter option since the former results in many accidental unlocks for us, but of course you're free to choose whatever suits you. Just keep in mind that unlocking upon a mere touch is the default, so if you want to switch you'll need to dive into Settings. We're used to pressing power buttons on other devices to wake them up, and so here it's incredibly seamless to press and then be on the home screen within an instant.
There is face unlocking too, as you'd expect, but as with most other Android smartphones out there, it only uses the camera and is thus way less secure than fingerprint authentication. You even get a warning about this when you're about to scan your face. Although it's not mentioned anywhere, and there's no specific setting for it, we checked and face unlocking won't happen if your eyes are closed. So there's no chance of someone unlocking your phone while you're sleeping. At least not with your face, there have in the past been demonstrations showing it working with a picture, so do keep that in mind.