Poco recently announced its C3, it’s first step into the entry-level segment. It has been touted as “the #GameChang3r”. But after using it for a while, I can conclude that it doesn't go quite as far as the hashtag, but simply delivers the basics. That’s not a bad deal, especially when you consider its Rs 7,499 starting price.
Is an entry-level smartphone for you?
Let’s go through a short checklist that describes what an entry-level smartphone should be capable of:
- It should be able to place calls
- It should be able to run third-party apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.
- It should be capable of placing video calls (because grandma’s on Zoom too)
- It should click decent photographs and videos
- It should have a large display for movies
- And it should have a large battery to keep up with all of the above
In short, you don’t get a lot, just a smartphone that covers the basics.
In the entry-level smartphone segment, gaming and performance is the last thing on a buyer’s mind. So if you are chasing performance, you will be better off with a budget smartphone that starts upwards of Rs 10,000.
Entry-level smartphones are for buyers who aren’t playing high-end games, nor do they expect crazy multi-tasking from them. These are first-time smartphone buyers, who are upgrading from a feature-phone to a smartphone. And all they want is a device that can connect them to the web, entertain them and let them perform basic tasks. Battery life is also a concern, as feature phones do deliver on that front.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with the review.
The Poco C3 is best described as chunky and practical. It’s made from plastic and appears slim from afar, but feels chunky and oversized when you hold it. Part of the reason why it weighs 194 grams, is its large display and battery.
And in this price segment, you can taper the edges as much as you want, but you can’t pull off miracles when it comes to weight and dimensions.
The plastic back feels like… plastic. But Poco’s gone with a thick layer of paint to give it some texture. It has some character instead of a plain plastic back. The back is also a fingerprint magnet because of its basic, painted finish, and also picks up dust quite easily.
It’s a big display
The C3 gets an HD+ resolution LCD display, which is standard stuff in this price range. It is quite large at 6.43-inches, and gets a notch to accommodate the front-facing camera. There’s thick bezels all around and a thicker chin at the bottom.
The display is big enough to enjoy movies on, and the colours look quite natural without going overboard. But it isn’t bright enough to tackle the daylight when outdoors, so you can forget about watching movies outside.
The display glass is a smudge magnet, and I also noticed a mild yellow tint around the bottom edge of the display.
Viewing angles are decent. It’s good for watching a video with a few people around you, just that the single speaker just isn’t loud enough to do that. It’s best to plug in a pair of earphones.
MIUI 12 with the latest Poco launcher is what you get on the Poco C3. It’s not exactly fast, and MIUI 12 with the usual bloat seems to slow down the already basic chipset.
There’s plenty of unnecessary stuff that’s been added. Glance Screen (a lockscreen app) does make your unlocking experience interesting, but it seems unnecessary. The same goes for the pre-loaded games that can, thankfully, be uninstalled, because the internal storage options seem quite limited at 32 GB and 64 GB. There’s no fingerprint reader either. You have to punch in a PIN or swipe out a pattern to unlock your phone, every single time you want to check a WhatsApp message. Or you can use the not-so-secure face unlock option.
The good bit is that you do get the latest MIUI 12 experience, like on a budget smartphone, with nothing left out.
The bad bit is that MIUI 12 just feels a bit too heavy for a phone with a MediaTek G35 chipset and 4 GB of RAM. The base 3 GB of RAM variant will only make the multi-tasking experience worse.
It’s not that C3 cannot multi-task, it's just that it’s slow to respond in general, and users will suffer stuttering and skipped animations from time to time. Opening apps takes a second extra compared to a budget smartphone, and I often ended up waiting for apps to re-open, because they would shut down in the background thanks to the limited RAM (or bad RAM management).
This may sound like a nightmare to a regular budget smartphone buyer, but is the standard scenario with most entry-level smartphones, unless you happen to find one with clean, stock Android inside.
While the software experience is average, the gaming experience is passable.
You can play 3D games on this phone, but you won’t really enjoy them as they work best at the lowest settings. Games like Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty: Mobile, end up looking quite pixelated, and with plenty of dropped frames and stutters during gameplay. Given the RAM and the chipset, it’s best to go with casual games like Subway Surfers and Blades of Brim, and this approach also works well when it comes to battery life.
A decent camera
Instead of going with a dual camera layout on the back like most smartphones, the Poco C3 goes with a triple camera layout. There’s a 13 MP primary, 2 MP macro and a 2 MP depth camera at the back, and a 5 MP camera for selfies. While that seems like a big leap, the performance is just on par with the competition.
The rear camera offers decent photos with oversaturated colours and a good amount of sharpness. However, pictures fall short on dynamic range. This results in a severe loss of detail in the brighter and darker parts of the photos.
Selfies come out with a decent level of detail at 5 megapixels, but with blown-out backgrounds. There’s also a ‘Portrait’ mode for the rear camera that does a decent job with edge detection.
The macro camera is not bad when it comes to overall quality, but the 2 MP resolution is just too low.
The camera’s performance holds up around sunset, but takes a U-turn in low light. It has a tough time focussing, and this often results in blurry photos with lots of noise, with low or no detail.
Video recording is only available in 720p and 1080p at 30fps. It does an OK job at capturing what you want, but the output is severely oversharpened.
Two-day battery life
As with any entry-level smartphone, battery life is of paramount importance. And the C3 does not disappoint. Given that playing 3D games was not really worth it, the Poco C3 gave me a solid 2-day battery life. My usage included a few hours of YouTube/Netflix, a bit of casual gaming, continuous WhatsApp, emails, and some voice and video calls.
The 5,000 mAh battery combined with MIUI’s battery optimisations work well together. But the in-box 10 W charger is nightmarish and will take about 3 hours to go from 0-100 percent. The good part is that the charger manages to fill up the big battery upto 18 percent with a 30 minute charge. And on a smartphone like the C3, this is good enough to keep the phone running for a long time.
Should you buy one?
The ongoing pandemic makes entry-level smartphones essential to brands, as most people just need a device that can get them on a video call for work, a zoom call for school, or simply staying connected with family.
While most entry-level smartphones deliver value when it comes to the spec sheet, they do fall short when it comes to the software experience, especially when there’s heavily skinned software involved.
At a starting price of Rs 7499 for the 3 GB RAM variant, the Poco C3 gets the job done. It provides all you need in an entry-level smartphone, at a price tag that’s a few hundred less than the competition.
If you seek even better battery life, you can check out Realme’s C12 at an additional Rs 1500 (from Rs 8999) as it offers a 6000 mAh battery with the same hardware as the Poco C3.
The Poco C3’s low price tag is what will attract buyers, but it’s definitely not going to change the game.
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