iQOO 9 review: packed with power
iQOO has made a name for itself by providing performance-oriented phones at attractive price points. I ended up recommending the iQOO 7 (review) series from last year to all my buddies indulging in BGMI gaming and the reviews I got from them were more than positive. However, now the iQOO brand appears to be making a departure from its enthusiast-focused roots to the more premium segment, sort of how OnePlus did earlier.
I have with me the iQOO 9, a smartphone launched as part of the company’s recent iQOO 9 series, and it is priced starting at Rs 42,990. There seems to be a lot going for it in terms of specs on paper, which includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+ SoC, dynamic RAM boost up to 4GB, 120Hz AMOLED panel, a bevvy of software customisation options for gaming, and more. So just who exactly is the audience for the iQOO 9? If it is for gamers then why shouldn’t the consumers opt for something like the ASUS ROG Phone 5S (review)? Let’s try and answer these questions in this full review of the iQOO9.
Table of Contents
The iQOO 9 is a device with quite a few things going for it, including incredible performance, a nice display, sleek design and superlative charging speeds. However, the gaming-centric features present on the device are a bit finicky, and aspects like the battery life and low-light camera performance have scope for improvement.
Design and display
The iQOO 9 certainly doesn’t skimp on build quality and thanks to its collaboration with BMW, looks quite stylish too. The M Power red, black and blue racing stripes run along the length of the phone’s rear, and are part of the smooth, white matte finish across the chassis. iQOO branding is prominently visible towards the bottom of the device. Like most premium smartphones, the back edges curve slightly and meet the frame to provide an easier grip. The power button gets a textured finish and a distinctive blue colour while the volume rocker above it is tactile too. I do like the silver colour of the rails that goes very well with the pearlescent white shade of the back panel.
iQOO has dispensed with the 3.5mm headphone jack, which I think is vital for gamers during intense BGMI sessions, but there is stereo sound support thanks to the earpiece doubling up as a secondary speaker. Apart from that, you can also find the USB C port and a dual-SIM slot at the bottom. At 200g, the iQOO 9 can be considered slightly heavy but it feels a lot lighter in the hand than expected. There is also the triple-camera setup on the top-right which is not obnoxiously large like the phone’s ‘Pro’ sibling, but its imprint across the surface is distinctly visible.
On the front of the device is a relatively large 6.58-inch 10-bit AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate and FHD+ resolution. The screen specs on paper are pretty standard for a phone in this space and I do like that the display edges remain flat instead of curved like the iQOO 9 Pro (review). For gamers, the phone offers a 300Hz touch sampling rate and 1000Hz of something the company refers to as Instant touch. There are the usual colour profile customisation options available on the device, allowing you to shift between standard, professional and bright profiles.
Eye-protection and dark mode toggles are also present alongside the option to set the default refresh rate. The panel is not LTPO like the Pro model, so you only have the option of a smart switch between 60Hz and 120Hz. iQOO has provided HDR10+ and WideVine L1 certification for a colour rich experience on OTT platforms. The screen brightness levels haven’t been specified but I used the device in sun-drenched afternoons and did not face any problems. As for the punch-hole, there is a minuscule cut-out on the top and the bezels surrounding the panel are quite trim. The overall display quality is excellent for viewing content and the general experience is more than satisfactory.
Coming now to the optics, iQOO 9 employs a 48MP IMX 598 Gimbal camera as the primary sensor along with a 13MP ultra-wide lens and a 13MP depth shooter with 2X optical zoom. I compared the iQOO 9’s camera capabilities with the OnePlus 9RT (review) and concluded that the former is not very adept in low-light and some daylight scenarios. In general, iQOO’s large primary sensor lacks dynamic range and uses a bit more overprocessing than I would like. The sharpness of the image is centred and becomes soft at the edges of the frame. Colour saturation levels are high, which could appeal to some users. iQOO also has several filters baked into the camera app which are quite rudimentary in nature.
There are a few other features to boost the photo-taking experience, like the Astro mode. This however, didn’t work all that well for me given the city’s polluted skies. Double exposure superimposes a separate image on the original frame in real-time but does a poor job of it. However, the Long Exposure mode works a lot better than I had expected to create an image of cars streaking past you into one long trail of light (as an example). The 48MP sensor takes pixel-binned images by default and you also get a UHD mode to click full resolution shots that have better detailing and a larger crop-in area.
In low light scenarios, the iQOO 9 isn’t impressive, and it’s easy to see why. As a reviewer, I prefer more natural tones that make the resulting image look close to real life. However, the nighttime shots on the iQOO 9 are highly oversaturated to the point it feels like an Instagram filter has been placed over the lens. Handling of exposure levels also isn’t great, in my opinion, when put up against the shots taken by the OnePlus 9RT. Highlights are not prominently defined and the detailing in the shadowy parts of the frame is poor. Moreover, very few issues, if any, are addressed by the dedicated night mode. I’ve seen a substantially better low-light performance from the Realme 9 Pro+ (review), a phone nearly half the price of the iQOO 9. The Gimbal camera does offer a few benefits for videography enthusiasts with an Ultra stabilisation mode that caps the maximum resolution at 1080p but offers incredible stability.
The ultra-wide sensor has a 120-degree field-of-view and shots captured by it show some warping around the edges. A big advantage of the lens is that it also comes with macro capabilities which enables one to take high-resolution close-ups that a dedicated 2MP lens, found in the OnePlus 9RT, can never take. Portrait mode also is quite good thanks to the 13MP depth sensor with flawless edge detection even in low lighting and a very nice background blur. You can also use the same lens to click 2X telephoto shots which are above average as compared to standard digital zoom. Lastly, there is the selfie camera which clicks 16MP pictures that are detailed, well-exposed but with some amount of skin tone altering.
Performance and software
Right then, how is the performance of the iQOO 9? Well, I have used several Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 smartphones over the last year and my view on the processing prowess of the chipset has not changed. Being a flagship-grade, top-of-the-line silicone, and based on a small 5nm fabrication process, the Snapdragon 888 fulfils all criteria for power-packed smartphone usage. The iQOO 9 uses a slightly higher clocked Snapdragon 888+ chipset under the hood with the main Kryo 680 CPU spinning at 3.0GHz as compared to 2.84GHz on the regular 888. If you are using the device for normal day-to-day work, you won’t face any issues whatsoever, whether you have lots of Chrome tabs open, numerous heavy apps in the background, and while browsing through the UI in general. I, however, did find the overclocked chip tends to heat up a bit under sustained load, a problem seen on a few Snapdragon 888 phones. On Antutu V9.3.1, the iQOO 9 scored decently at 844,073 but gained about 6.1-degrees in temperature. Running the CPU Throttle test, on 50 threads at 30 minutes, the device throttled to about 79 percent of its peak performance which is reasonable but not exemplary by any means.
iQOO has implemented some gaming-focused features on its device including a dedicated Intelligent Chip for gaming. This dedicated piece of silicone accomplishes various things such as optimising colours and frame rates on GPU-intensive games through MEMC, a technology seen previously on OPPO and OnePlus phones with mixed results. On the iQOO 9, I tested out BGMI and the game runs on Extreme frame rate plus HDR graphics quality, about the highest you can get on a smartphone right now. While the game worked as smoothly as it could, the device ran pretty hot after about an hour of continuous gaming even though iQOO claims to have put a massive vapour chamber inside. I also found that Game frame interpolation made the gaming experience a bit more jittery with the fps counter fluctuating rapidly, leading to dropped frames. It is worth noting that BGMI directly offers you a 90fps option when the graphics are set to the lowest at Smooth so you don’t have to resort to these interpolation tricks for boosting frame rates. As for the dual X-axis linear motor termed “4D Game Vibration”, the haptics were more or less consistent while shooting, but not so much when you are getting hit by bullets in the game. There are pressure-sensitive screen customisation options that functioned sparingly and are definitely not a substitute to the dedicated shoulder triggers iQOO had used in its first phones.
In terms of memory, the phone has 8GB or 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM along with 128GB or 256GB of UFS 3.1 internal storage. As for the in-display fingerprint reader, it isn’t as snappy as what you will get on the Pro version but is works well enough. iQOO 9 has Hi-Res audio certification for compatible wireless headphones and the dual speakers aren’t too shabby, although I did wish they had more depth to the sound. 5G capabilities on the phone are yet to be tested but I hope that by 2023, India will have the telecom infrastructure in place. For the here and now, the phone’s 4G LTE speeds suffice mobile data needs while the earpiece and microphone quality is at par with what I was expecting.
iQOO is running Vivo’s FuntouchOS 12 which is based on Android 12. The interface has come a long way from being an iOS clone to actually moving towards a cleaner and more intuitive software experience. Bloatware issues persist and I suspect the problem is not going away anytime soon. iQOO uses its software capabilities to expand the RAM on the phone by up to 4GB by borrowing from the internal storage. Personally, I feel 16GB RAM is a bit of an overkill but bigger numbers are generally favourable for marketing. In general, the thematic approach towards the UI wins a few points in my book. There is an app drawer by default and the integration of Google Feed with a right swipe on the home screen is the cherry on top. Icons are large and the drop-down notification panel is spaced-out for ease of access.
The battery life on the iQOO 9 is not spectacular. With a relatively small 4,350mAh cell housed inside the device, I barely managed to finish the day without having to reach for the charger. This is especially troublesome when you put the iQOO 9 through its paces on BGMI and see the battery drain by 27 percent in about an hour. Combine that with a couple of hours on Netflix or YouTube along with Instagram scrolling and the battery is all but dead by evening. Fortunately, the iQOO 9 features support for 120W charging which promises to juice up the battery from 0-100 percent in 19 minutes. I charged it from 10-100 percent in 16 minutes, so there is some merit to the claim. How much wear and tear it will cause to the battery health in the future remains to be seen, although iQOO has assured me that it tested the phone through 1,000 charge cycles and the battery health didn’t drop below 80 percent.
Specifically from the standpoint of gaming, the iQOO 9 offers a few gimmicky features that sometimes hamper the experience on the device and the rather average battery life is another cause of concern. Even so, some consideration should be given to the super-fast 120W charging technology. As for the camera underperforming compared to the competition, it could be a potential deal-breaker for many.
The ASUS ROG Phone 5S, with specs much better suited for gamers, is priced higher at Rs 49,999 and can be considered as the optimum choice for mobile gamers if the pricing is not an issue. It has a 144Hz AMOLED panel, a much larger 6,000mAh battery, shoulder triggers, faster 360Hz touch sampling, and a world-class audio setup. If it is a better camera and software experience you are after, while still keeping the performance, then you would do well to consider the OnePlus 9RT. That said, the iQOO 9 is a decent phone with a nice design, powerful performance and a pleasant display, and does deserve a second look for these aspects.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Excellent performance
- Nice display
- Superfast 120W charging speeds
- Cameras could use improvement
- Some gaming-centric features are gimmicky
- Poor battery life