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iQOO 3 5G review: come for 5G, stay for the performance

While there’s still time for 5G to land in India, smartphone makers are tailgating each other in a bid to launch the first 5G-enabled device in the country. Realme launched its X50 Pro 5G (first impressions) just yesterday, and Vivo’s sub-brand iQOO released the iQOO 3 5G today. While the 5G aspect of these devices might not be relevant for the Indian buyers yet, these are still the most powerful smartphones on the market at the moment thanks to the Snapdragon 865 SoC ticking at their core. I received the iQOO 3 5G ahead of the launch and have been using it for a while now to bring you this review. So, without any further ado, let’s dive in.

Design and display

The iQOO 3 is one of those smartphones that has a solid heft, which is more confidence-inducing than unwieldy. Additionally, the curved back panel ensures that the handset is ergonomic despite being heavy. The glass on the back has a fine mesh pattern to resemble the look of carbon fibre and Corning Gorilla Glass 6 for scratch-resistance. iQOO is offering the smartphone in Volcano Orange, Quantum Silver, and Tornado Black colourways. I received the Tornado Black variant and it picks up smudges like a white shirt picks up stains on the day of Holi. I would suggest putting on the case provided with the phone, which hides the beauty of the back panel with its frosted construct but is sturdy and keeps smudges at bay.

The back panel is home to an L-shaped quad-camera setup sitting inside a rectangular module in the top left corner. We have already seen this in several Samsung and Vivo smartphones in the past. What separates iQOO from the flock is the great attention to detail. The chamfered sides of the smartphone have bevelled edges on the top and bottom to help with better grip despite the back panel being slippery. The power button on the right edge gets a contrasting orange paint job with a textured finish and volume keys right above it. Directly opposite to the volume keys on the other side is a dedicated smart button, which can be programmed to fire either Google Assistant, Google Search or Jovi Vision (iQOO’s version of Google Lens).

As for the other elements, you will find the dual nano-SIM card slots (no microSD card slot here), USB Type-C port and speaker grill on the bottom edge. I was relieved to find a 3.5mm audio jack, which is placed on the top along with a noise-cancelling mic. What deserves a mention again is iQOO’s attention to detail. The USB-C charger provided by the brand has a unique capsule-shaped inlet that snaps on horizontally much like Microsoft Surface laptops. I personally prefer this design change since the cable doesn’t poke or go through my fingers if I decide to play PUBG or watch a movie while charging the phone. Speaking of unique details, iQOO has also placed two pressure-sensitive buttons on the right-edge called Monster Touch Buttons for better in-game controls.

There is no physical fingerprint scanner as iQOO 3 comes with the new generation in-display biometrics module.  iQOO claims that the fingerprint scanner takes just 0.29 and 0.31 seconds with the display on and off, respectively. In my time with the phone, I was mighty impressed with the speed and accuracy of both fingerprint and face unlock.

Display-wise, the iQOO 3 flaunts a rather large 6.44-inch Super AMOLED display with FHD+ screen resolution. The screen uses an E3 luminescence panel, which is said to offer a peak brightness of up to 800 nits that reduces 5 percent power consumption. The display is stunning with deeper blacks and punchier colours as well as ample brightness to be legible in direct sunlight. My only gripe with the screen is the use of the standard 60Hz refresh rate, which feels sub-par in the era of 90Hz and 120Hz displays. The saving grace is the touch latency of 180Hz, which means that the display is incredibly responsive to touches resulting in a faster interaction with the smartphone. iQOO claims that the punch-hole camera on the front is the smallest in this segment and I can vouch for the claim as during my usage, I barely even noticed the front camera. The display also flaunts an impressive screen-to-body ratio of 91.4 percent.

However, the major dealbreaker for me was the absence of Widevine L1 certification. This means that despite having a brilliant display with HDR10+ support at my disposal, I could only stream my favourites shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or any other OTT platform in standard quality. Strangely, the Netflix app didn’t even show up on the Play Store for me, although this is likely to be a software bug.

Cameras

On the topic of cameras, the iQOO 3 comes with a quad-camera setup on the back as mentioned earlier. You get a 48-megapixel f/1.8 primary sensor accompanied by a 13-megapixel f/2.4 ultra-wide and macro lens, 13-megapixel f/2.2 telephoto camera with 20x zoom and 2MP depth sensor. As for selfies, the smartphone features a 16-megapixel f/2 snapper on the front. The camera interface is equipped with features like portrait, 48MP, night, pro, HDR, live filters, AI scene identification and a lot more.

The camera specs do look underwhelming on paper, however, if the Apples and Googles of the world have taught us something, it’s that a superior software processing can beat any powerful camera setup. It seems that iQOO has been diligently taking notes because the imaging prowess of the smartphone is anything but underwhelming. The camera setup captures crisp images in the daylight with well balanced dynamic exposure across all lighting conditions. The AI scene recognition works pretty well and kicks in with almost every shot, however, if you are not a fan of saturation boost then it would be advisable to turn AI off from settings.

The dedicated cameras in the quad setup do their job pretty good as well. The telephoto lens offers up to 20x digital zoom and as you can see above, the zoom works well, however, you need extremely steady hands for it. The wide-angle lens, on the other hand, offers a 120-degree field of view without distorting the edges much. The wide-angle camera also doubles up as a macro lens and can capture details accurately from as close as 2.5cm to the object. The dedicated bokeh sensor also does a good job of detecting edges and creating artistic blur in the background to pop the subject. There is a dedicated Super Night mode, which captures great shots in less than ideal lighting with crisper details and balanced exposure. However, the regular low-light shots are not bad either.

As for the video capabilities, the iQOO 3 can record up to 4K videos at either 30 or 60fps and super slow-motion videos at 960fps. iQOO also emphasises on the ‘Super anti-shake’ mode, which makes uses of the EIS algorithm and the ultra-wide-angle lens to record super steady videos. However, if you choose to use this mode, videos will be capped at 1080p.

Coming to selfies, the iQOO 3’s 16-megapixel punch-hole camera capture’s good selfies as well. However, excessive skin smoothening even when the beautification is turned off is a major turn off (pun intended). The portrait mode on the front is pretty decent though.

Performance, software and battery

The iQOO 3 comes backed by the latest and greatest from Qualcomm, which is the Snapdragon 856 chipset. Qualcomm announced that the 7nm Snapdragon 865 SoC will offer 25 percent faster performance than its predecessor and it shows. I received the 12GB RAM and 256GB storage variant with over 230GB available out of the box. On the topic of the storage,  the iQOO 3 is the world’s first to feature the UFS 3.1 flash storage for the fastest transfer speeds. Moreover, the 12GB RAM also uses the latest LPDDR5 standard, which is optimised for enabling 5G and AI features. Needless to say, the iQOO 3 sailed through everything I threw at it with almost every app opened in the background all the time.

While on the topic of the world’s first, the iQOO 3 is also the first smartphone to offer a Snapdragon 865 SoC with 4G-only option.  This variant is available in 8GB + 128GB configuration. Since Snapdragon 865 comes with an integrated X55 modem for 5G, my best guess is that iQOO has specifically turned off the 5G capabilities of the modem for the 4G variant. But I am not complaining as I already mentioned, 5G is not even in picture in India at this point.

One hiccup that I ran into was while playing PUBG. The game allows for the graphics to be set to Ultra and HDR settings on this smartphone. However, the gameplay is pretty jittery in these settings and there were random frame drops as well. As soon as I dialled down the graphics to High with HDR, the experience just skyrocketed. The gameplay was blisteringly fast and the 180Hz touch response I mentioned before came in very handy while manoeuvring in the game. The 4D vibration was a revelation as it gave a vibrating feedback every time I fired or some other action happened. It took me a long time to get used to the Monster Touch Buttons, but if you are a passionate gamer unlike me, you would benefit out of these for sure. There’s also a Multi-Turbo Mode and Game Assistant, which optimises the processor, RAM, network, thermal management and activates the 180Hz to ensure a superior gaming performance.

In the software department, the iQOO 3 boots Android 10 but with a proprietary iQOO UI garnished on top. In essence, iQOO has taken Vivo’s Funtouch OS and fixed everything wrong with it. There’s no more control panel swipe up from the bottom, and tacky colourful interface, You get a much cleaner interface with a sorted settings menu, pastel icons, and a much better implemented system-wide dark mode. What I didn’t like was the amount of bloatware present on the smartphone and how so many of these apps couldn’t be uninstalled. While the configuration of the review device I received didn’t let me feel the pinch of bloatware, it’s still a deal-breaker for me to have unwanted apps on a phone.

Rounding up the spec sheet is the 4,450mAh battery powering the iQOO 3. In the PCMark Android Benchmark, the smartphone returned a duration of 21 hours and 43 mins, which is impressive by itself. Additionally, iQOO claims that the 55W SUPER FlashCharge can juice up to 50 percent in just 15 mins. In my testing, the phone charged from 20 per cent to full in just under 45 minutes, which is blazing fast indeed.

The competition

There’s no other smartphone currently that can take on iQOO 3 than the recently launched Realme X50 Pro 5G. Both smartphones are Snapdragon 865-powered 5G-enabled offerings from their respective makers. At Rs 44,990 for 5G model and starting at Rs 36,990 for 4G variants, the iQOO 3 5G is priced similar to its competitor. The iQOO offering does lose out in terms of cameras, Widevine L1 certification, selfie camera, 65W fast charging and more. However, as mentioned before, iQOO is offering a 4G-only variant of the smartphone as well, which is Rs 8K cheaper with an identical spec sheet.  And with 5G being non-existent at the moment in India, the 4G variant makes a whole lot more sense.

On the flip side, if you are considering the 4G variant, you will be better off with smartphones like OnePlus 7T (review) or the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite. These are both Snapdragon 855+ powered handsets and offer more or less the same spec sheet but with better software.

Bottomline

Quite frankly, I can wholeheartedly get behind the base 4G variant of the smartphone, which offers the Snapdragon 865 chipset with a price tag starting at just Rs 36,990. The combination of flagship Snapdragon processor, good RAM and software optimisation, makes iQOO 3 one of the fastest device available at the moment. However, it would be wise to give the 5G variant a wide berth until 5G becomes more mainstream and by then there will be much better 5G options available.

Pricebaba’s rating: 9 / 10

What works:

  • Immersive AMOLED display
  • Powerful processor
  • Good cameras
  • Massive battery with 55W fast charging
  • Android 10 based iQOO UI

What doesn’t:

  • 60Hz refresh rate
  • No Widewine L1 support
  • Bloatware that can’t be uninstalled

Photos by Raj Rout

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