We’re not even a couple of months into 2020 and we’ve already seen over 20 phones being launched. It speaks volumes about the cut-throat competition in India. One would assume that the smartphone market in India is saturated and that there’s no room for yet more brands, but one might also be wrong.
Enter iQOO — a company that started life as a Vivo sub-brand and which is now a separate brand unto itself. This takes BBK Electronics, the parent company, to five sub-brands, namely: Oppo, OnePlus, Vivo, Realme, and now iQOO.
And by the way, iQOO translates to ‘i Quest On and On’.
Naturally, as a new brand, iQOO couldn’t just waltz in with something average. It had to make a splash, and making that splash is the iQOO 3.
How does it do that? By offering a phone with the most powerful smartphone chipset in the market today, i.e. the Snapdragon 865, and at a relatively affordable price at that. It’s too bad that Realme with its X50 Pro pipped iQOO to even that target, however. With neither the chipset, nor 5G support, nor the timing being unique, iQOO has opted for the “gaming smartphone” route by offering dedicated gaming buttons (pressure sensitive ones) on the iQOO 3. There’s also a cheaper 4G-only variant, which was a surprise given that the Snapdragon 865 supports 5G by default. We’ve reached out to iQOO for clarification on this.
Despite the flagship specs, however, the iQOO 3 does miss out on some essential flagship features like wireless charging and water and dust resistance.
The specs are certainly impressive, but what’s the iQOO 3 really like in day-to-day use? Is it really worth it?
Build and Design: Looks elegant, but it's a tad heavy
The first word I said when I held the iQOO 3 in my hands was, “Wow!” I must admit, the iQOO 3 does look pretty darn interesting.
Well, the front is standard 6.44-inch glass slab protected with something called the Schott Xensation glass, with a tiny punch hole present on the top right hand corner. Turn the phone around and that’s where the magic lies. The iQOO 3 is officially available in three colours namely Tornado Black (the phone under review), Volcano Orange and Quantum Silver, all of which are very eye catching.
The Tornado Black version is covered with Gorilla Glass 6 and looks smart, although it does manage to collect smudges. It is on the thicker side at 9.2 mm and weighs in at a massive 214 grams. But, thanks to the good weight distribution, you won’t feel like the phone will topple over when typing.
The glass barely hides a patterned design underneath that has a subtle purple hue when a sliver of light shines on it. The edges are curved, which also assists with the good grip. I also liked the fact that the phone wasn’t too wide.
There’s no mention of water resistance, so it’s safe to assume that it does not come with any IP rating.
It houses an optical fingerprint scanner in the display in the lower half. iQOO has also bundled a frosted silicon case, which looks nice and has the rims jutting out a bit over the display to protect it. iQOO has also added a glass protection layer on top of the display.
The camera module is ever so slightly raised and looks smashing. It is a rectangular module housing the 48 MP + 13 MP + 13 MP + 2 MP array, but the way the cameras have been arranged adds an elegant touch to the module. It makes use of glossy and matte finishes, which looks good. The dual-tone LED flash is present just above the 2 MP depth camera.
The top and bottom edge have a flat finish, which is good to see for a change. You get a 3.5 mm headphone jack up top (Yay!), USB Type-C (More yay!) and dual SIM support. There’s only a single, downward firing speaker though.
On the left hand edge, you have the AI assistant button, which can be pressed to activate Google Assistant. A patterned power/standby button (in striking orange) and the volume rocker button are located on the right. There is optimal tactility on these buttons, although the AI button seems a bit too flush with the edge.
The right edge features two flat spots near either corner, which turned out to be pressure sensitive buttons for gaming that iQOO calls “Monster Touch Buttons”. And if you’re wondering, yes, they work through the silicon case.
For those with long fingers, the placement may seem a tad bit inconvenient as your index fingers will be in a claw formation rather than just resting along the top edge when you hold the phone horizontally.
- Display: 6.44-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED display with HDR10 support
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
- Graphics: Adreno 650 GPU
- RAM: 8 GB LPDDR5
- Primary Camera: 48 MP Primary camera (Sony IMX582), 13 MP Telephoto with 20x digital zoom, 13 MP wide angle with macro lens, 2 MP Bokeh lens.
- Battery: 4,400 mAh with 55 W Fast Charger
- Colours: Tornado Black, Quantum Silver, Volcano Orange
- Cooling: Carbon fibre VC liquid cooling technology
- Audio: Hi-Fi audio with AK4377A chipset
- Software: Android 10 with iQOO UI
Gorgeous display ticking of all boxes
The iQOO 3 employs a 6.44-inch Super AMOLED display which has a FHD+ resolution of 1,080 x 2,400 pixels, giving you a pixel density of 409 PPI. There is a punch hole selfie camera on the top right, and it’s not much of an annoyance, though I’d have preferred a black bar over it at least when gaming in full screen mode.
Thanks to the pixel density, the display is sharp even when using the smallest system font. While this isn’t a high refresh rate display, I didn’t find that to be much of a deal breaker.
Contrast and brightness levels are top notch, and iQOO also promises a peak brightness of 1,200 nits. As it supports HDR10+, it was a joy to watch HDR content on streaming platforms. Even in gaming mode, you get a feature called Eagle Eye Mode that make even the tiniest details pop out when gaming — but to be honest, I didn’t find it actually enhancing the gaming experience over the regular mode.
Sunlight legibility is on point. You do get the standard eye protection mode and dark modes.
Overall, the iQOO display leaves little to complain about.
Performance and Software
With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset and 12 GB of LPDDR5 RAM, there’s barely any point talking about the performance — it’s superlative. If you are the kind who wants that to be verified by numbers, here’s how the SD865 + 12 GB RAM combo compares with top end phones with SD 855 and SD 855+.
Call quality is top notch, and that’s par for the course. The phone supports 5G, but for now, and likely for a few years, there’s nothing you can do with that feature in India.
The major draw, however, is gaming, as evidenced by those Monster Touch Buttons. Speaking of, while the buttons do work with the silicon case on, I preferred gaming with the case off as the buttons were more sensitive that way.
Games such as PUBG Mobile, Mortal Kombat 11, Asphalt 9 ran without any hitch even at the highest settings. After around 20 mins of gameplay, the back of the device as well as the edges warm up, but not worryingly so.
In addition to these hardware touches, the iQOO 3, which runs on a skinned version of Android 10 called the iQOO UI, also offers a dedicated gaming mode called the Ultra Game Mode, which can be found in Settings. It offers all the possible optimisations that gamers would appreciate, such as blocking background calls and notifications, an eSports mode, frame-rate precedence, 4D game vibration mode (which provides force feedback while playing your games), game picture-in-picture, among other things.
The Eagle Eye View feature I mentioned earlier does localised tone mapping, contrast adjustment, colour enhancement, detail sharpening and more to help you perceive your game with more clarity. You have the option to have different settings of the Ultra Game mode for different games, which is also quite cool.
The Asus ROG II Phone is probably the only other gaming phone that offers more features on the gaming front.
You also get a slider overlay when you are in the game that lets you quickly toggle certain features.
The iQOO UI seems to be based on FunTouch UI, which we’ve seen on Vivo phones, and it also supports the Jovi smart assistant.
If there was one thing I didn’t like about the phone, it has to be the bloatware. On first boot, there was so much bloat on the device that it just made me want to tear my hair out. Of course, you can uninstall some of those non-system apps, but why not give me the choice to select which apps I really want at the installation stage?
To add to this, there are two apps called Hot Apps and Hot Games which are basically search elements to add more apps over and above the iQOO.com app. Why couldn’t iQOO just combine these three apps into one? I don’t know who in iQOO’s software department thought this is a smart idea. Then there are ads. the system browser, which one cannot uninstall, kept bombarding me with notifications for clickbait news stories which I never asked for. Suffice it to say, iQOO’s UI bloat is very annoying.
Moving past that, the iQOO UI offers many shortcuts and gestures to speed up certain operations, such as opening apps, responding from the lockscreen, and even one-handed mode, among other things. Oh, and there’s ‘Dynamic Effects’, which offers a whole bunch of animations if you’re into that stuff.
Camera leaves a lot to be desired
Did I mention that this camera module looks like a work of art? I have? Well, I’m still fawning over it. But enough of that, let’s get down to brass tacks.
The module houses these cameras: 48 MP primary camera module, f/1.8 max aperture, 0.8 micron pixel size — 13 MP telephoto camera, f/2.5 max aperture, 2x optical zoom — 13 MP ultra-wide camera, f/2.2 max aperture — 2 MP depth sensor with f/2.4 max aperture — 16 MP selfie camera housed inside the punch hole with a max aperture of f/2.5
Daylight photos are packed with detail and show an impressive dynamic range. The HDR and AI modes, when activated, tend to produce punchy photos, so if you don’t like that aesthetic, do ensure you have disabled them. While I didn’t notice any sharpness drop off around the edges, I observed that the noise reduction algorithms tend to smoothen out textures of everyday objects such as buildings, roads, leaves on trees, and so on, and this is visible when you are seeing images at full resolution.
Another issue I faced, which was quite annoying, was the changing white balance levels whenever I moved from the primary camera to the ultra-wide or telephoto. Purple artefacts were visible quite often and that meant reframing a photograph to avoid that purple haze. The photos below illustrate my point succinctly. The shots are from the same position but are taken using the different cameras.
Selfies turned out fine, provided there was enough light. By default, beauty mode is in overdrive, so I had to manually tone things down a notch. Low-light selfies, especially ones in portrait mode, are a bit noisy. Edge detection was a hit and miss as well.
When it comes to low-light photography, one thing that immediately put me off was the unnatural look of any scene when the Night mode was turned on. There were colours and unnecessary bright spots introduced at random. I know many phone cameras with Night mode are guilty of this, but the iQOO 3 took the cake in this aspect. I hope there is a future update to control this.
Low light photos are otherwise quite average, but if you’re shelling out Rs 40,000 for a phone, I’d expect something better.
While the images look great on the mobile display, and are good enough for uploading to social media sites, when seen on larger displays, the flaws become apparent. Noise reduction algorithms seem to always be in an overdrive, thereby rendering a smooth, texture-less image. The cost of noise-reduction is just not worth it, but if you don’t mind that, you’ll be fine.
Video quality leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, you can shoot 4K 60 fps video, which is nice in theory, but you’re still shooting bad video.
Stabilisation is only offered at FullHD and videos are noisy on any reasonably sized display.
Shooting in daylight while not panning around much will give you good videos, but shoot while moving or shoot in low light and you’ll end up with very average videos. At night, footage is too noisy to be usable.
If it wasn’t clear enough yet, the camera isn’t great. Some of the issues can, hopefully, be fixed in a future software update, but for now, sub–20k smartphone cameras perform better than the iQOO 3.
Battery life is great, fast charging is awesome
The iQOO 3’s 4,400 mAh battery is bog standard in this segment, but what isn’t standard is the 55 W charger that comes in the box. That charger’s powerful enough to power most laptops these days.
There’s also a sort of capsule element near the USB-C end of the cable, which iQOO says is for comfort when charging and gaming. That fast charger takes the iQOO 3 from 0 to 100 percent in just under 60 minutes.
As expected with a battery of this size, you can easily manage a day and a half of use from the phone. With light use, I could extend this to two days. Gaming does drain the battery rapidly, but that’s to be expected.
I did notice that the phone tends to get very warm when charging, so I’d recommend keeping it away from your head when sleeping and charging.
Verdict and Price in India
One thing I’d like to immediately get out of the way is that the 5G version is simply not worth spending money on. Sure, your phone will be future-proof, but for how long? It’ll likely be several years before we see 5G in India, and by that time, you’ll have moved on to a newer phone. And that 12 GB RAM? You really don’t need that either. If you are going for this phone, get the 4G, 8 GB RAM + 256 GB storage variant that retails at Rs 39,990.
To reiterate, 5G, for now, is just a marketing gimmick. You can’t use it, and by the time it goes mainstream here, you’ll have more advanced smartphones to choose from.
The Snapdragon 865 and Monster Touch Buttons are reason enough to buy this phone, but if you’d rather not buy an iQOO 3, it certainly won’t be long before the likes of the OnePlus 8 (and follow-up 8T), ASUS ROG III and the like pop up with similar specs. Immediately, you can even opt for the Realme X50 Pro.
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