Over the course of the last 2 months or so, we saw smartphones coming and going as usual. However, there are two smartphones in particular that stood out – the Honor Play and also the brand new Xiaomi Pocophone F1. The main question that got thrown around is always the same – why are they so cheap?

Let’s take a look and guess why are these phones so cheap. Of course, we do have data to back up our arguments. We’ll use the term chipsets and SoCs interchangeably to address the Snapdragon 845 and Kirin 970 as a whole.

There are a lot of speculation and extrapolated data from the information we gathered in this article. Also, correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

What does the Pocophone F1 & Honor Play have in common?

Stating the most obvious first, the price. The Pocophone F1 with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage is only priced at RM1,299 (post-SST) while the Honor Play with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage is priced at RM1,249 (pre-SST), while the so-called flagship-killer OnePlus 6 is priced at a hefty RM2,399 (no SST). Ouch – seems like the flagship-killer just got slaughtered.

While comparing these two phones spec-to-spec on paper, it’s pretty obvious. These two phones have what we always call “flagship specs” – either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 970. We wanted to put the ASUS ZenFone 5z in this list too, but the ZenFone 5z is a bit more expensive than the Pocophone F1 and Honor Play. The ZenFone 5z does have its own merit points for a higher price tag, by the way.

Honor Play Pocophone F1

Huawei owns HiSilicon, who is the designer of Kirin chipsets. The reason I called HiSilicon a “designer” is because they lease out their designs to other fabrication companies like TSMC to fabricate those chips. Click here to learn more about HiSilicon and Kirin here.

Besides having the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Kirin 970 chipset, they are also equipped with LPDDR4X RAM chips together with speedy UFS 2.1 internal storage flash chips. These RAM and flash chips are also found in more expensive flagship smartphones that we reviewed here – the Galaxy Note9, Galaxy S9, Huawei P20, and ASUS ZenFone 5z, just to name a few.

Honor Play

These two phones can run the latest mobile games with relative smoothness – Honkai Impact 3, Asphalt 9, Injustice 2, and PUBG Mobile.

Xiaomi Pocophone F1

How can they be so cheap?

There are a few speculations, actually. Let’s first list them out and then go in-depth one by one.

  1. Excessive units left over and near the end of the chipset’s life cycle
  2. Chipsets used in these smartphones were “binned”
  3. Cutting cost on the smartphone’s hardware
  4. Cutting cost on the smartphone’s software support and development

Once again, these are only speculations. For each point, we do have some data to back it up, alongside with some extrapolation of information.

1. Leftover units while nearing the end of chipset’s life cycle

Actually, the first scenario is most likely why the Pocophone F1 and Honor Play are so cheap to begin with. Not long ago from the publication date of this article, news broke out that Qualcomm has already started production of the upcoming Snapdragon 855 chipset. It is obviously the replacement of the current Snapdragon 845 chipset. Huawei has also announced the Kirin 980, and the first phone that uses Kirin 980 is the upcoming Mate 20, which be launched in October.

Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 980
New Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 980 chipset coming soon

Speculation time: these companies might have ordered excessive units of these chipsets and as it is already at the end of its life cycle, the chips themselves are now, cheap. Think of it like a stock clearance. These chips can’t be sold off per-chip only basis, they need to be built into the device.

The best way to clear off these stocks? Make them cheap. That’ll naturally attract customers.

2. Cutting cost on the smartphone’s hardware

I think to reduce the retail price of a smartphone, sacrificing some hardware – in terms of build quality of physical components – is the best and most straightforward method. We have solid proof that both the Honor Play and Pocophone F1 did cut cost using this method.

Firstly, let’s talk about the Honor Play. In our in-depth review, we highlighted that the Honor Play actually overheated. Upon looking at some teardown videos of the Honor Play, we realized that it does not have a heatpipe.

What we saw is thermal paste between the metal cover on the chipset and the internal metal frame. No wonder the Honor Play overheats and its screen is excruciatingly hot while playing games! 🔥

The official POCO India Facebook Page published a video showing the teardown steps of the Pocophone F1 and also its components. Here, we can see a heatpipe running from the chipset down to the body of the phone.

Pocophone F1 teardown LiquidCool

Other than its plastic back, the Pocophone F1 does have a few other drawbacks. From what we tested, the Pocophone F1 does not support LTE-A CA. In English, that means the Pocophone F1 does not have 4G+ support. Thanks to one of our dear reader for the email to test 4G+ support! 😁

Xiaomi Pocophone F1

Also, we have not started talking about the Honor Play’s horrible camera quality and Pocophone’s copy-pasted cameras from the Redmi Note 5. Copy-pasting camera modules does help in reducing cost, by the way.

As for what we can find online, the Pocophone F1 uses Gorilla Glass 3, while the Honor Play doesn’t have any of those fancy glass. Our review unit has a few microscratches already.

3. Cutting cost on the smartphone’s software support and development

We also know that Xiaomi has cut implementation and testing time with the Pocophone F1 as it does not support Widevine L1. From what we can find online, Widevine L1 implementation is completely free, but does need to go through testings and certifications – which take time. When time is concerned, so is the labor. When labor is required, price of the end product gets higher too.

Widevine is a DRM protocol that is used by services like Netflix. The Pocophone F1 only supports Widevine L3, which plays videos in low resolution. Without support for Widevine L1, that means the Pocophone F1 cannot watch Netflix at full 1080p. The implementation of Widevine L1 DRM is free, but requires time to go through its certification procedure.
Xiaomi Pocophone F1
No Netflix and chill in full HD with this phone.

Following the story of Widevine L1 support in OnePlus devices, an update did roll out after the release date to add support. However, you’ll have to send the phone back to OnePlus to get it updated to support Widevine L1. That’s truly inconvenient.

We do not have the Honor Play with us so we cannot confirm if the Honor Play supports Widevine L1.

In terms of software support, so far it’s pretty okay. The Pocophone F1 just got a brand new update that further improved its camera performance, and Honor Play received the GPU Turbo update – which ironically came after our review period.

You can click here to learn more about GPU Turbo, by the way.

Bear in mind that these two phones is less than 6 months old, so we can’t comment its long-term support or the speed of their software update releases.

Can we expect cheap Snapdragon 855 & Kirin 980 smartphones early next year?

Perhaps – but I doubt it’ll be as cheap as what we have now. Back to point number 1 that we made earlier. High-end SoCs like the Snapdragon 855 and Kirin 980 will be in high demand early next year, so the price wouldn’t be cheap. Remember the supply vs demand graph?

As for points number 2 and number 3, yes – they’re applicable to every single smartphones out there. That’s how smartphone brands can make a profit with higher margin.

Maybe we’ll see the Huawei Nova 4, Honor 11 (or Honor 20) using a Kirin 980 chipset in April 2019. Maybe Xiaomi’s upcoming Pocophone F2 will be released in March of 2019 – though I still think it’ll only arrive in August 2019.

In whichever case, don’t expect cheap Snapdragon 855 or Kirin 980 smartphones early next year. Wait for about a year from now for a more realistic measure.

Until then, stay tuned to Nasi Lemak Tech where we’ll bring you in-depth reviews on new smartphones with cutting-edge technologies and prices. Also, visit our Facebook page!