In recent years quite a few smartphone brands have broken down from their parent company to make a mark in the industry. However, a successful story needs two main ingredients. First of all, the search is for the right balance between functions and price. Thesecond is the generation of hype. When OPPO sub-brand Realme left the company a year ago, it managed to cash in both mantras and as such gave Xiaomi, its biggest rival who has been in India for almost 6 years, a run for its money. Now we have a new brand on the market called iQOO, previously under Vivo, and it also has a product that has been generating a hype for some time. iQOO products (short for I Quest On and On) are largely active on the Chinese market before Vivo decided to expand the iQOO user base in other areas, including India.
The very first phone from the company in the country is the iQOO 3 5G. It is one of the first 5G phones to find its way to India, although 5G coverage is virtually non-existent in the country. It is also one of the first devices that comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset. For clarity’s sake, there is no iQOO 1 or iQOO 2. Looking at paper, the iQOO 3 has everything. First-class specifications, great camera hardware, newest Android, flashy (subjective) designs, a great screen, 5G and more. Priced at Rs 44,990, the IQOO 3 5G has signaled the war on the grass that has been owned by OnePlus for a number of years. I have had the device for a while now and here is what I make of it.
The IQOO 3 5G is undoubtedly the fastest phone I have used in the Android world so far. However, the price gap between the 5G and 4G variants of the device has tipped me to the latter, simply because there is no usable infrastructure for 5G support in India.
Design and display
We have reached that saturation point in the smartphone world where almost all devices look the same. That does not mean that the iQOO 3 looks boring. A shiny layer of glass adorns the back of the phone, while the camera range on the top right is slightly raised so that the phone wobbles when placed on a flat surface. The quad camera module itself seems very familiar with the one that can be seen on the Samsung Galaxy A51 (review) or the Vivo V17 (review), both of which have an L-shaped housing for the rear cameras. The IQOO branding can be seen at the bottom left. The color scheme for our review unit is called Tornado Black, which has a two-color color shift between black and purple. There is also a flashy Volcano Orange-colored variant that, to say the least, does not look so good.
The iQOO 3 feels quite bulky in my hand, which is surprising because it is not in a mammoth battery. The phone is also on the thicker side with the screen slightly raised from the phone’s frame rather than sitting flat like most premium / affordable flagship phones. However, the curved back gives sufficient grip on the device, although the excellent display feels a bit uncomfortable. I would still recommend that you refer to the transparent but very durable case that IQOO has supplied in the box.
Regarding button and ports, iQOO has placed both the volume button and the on / off buttons on the same side, an arrangement that I personally do not prefer. This causes a problem when I try to lower the volume but accidentally press the power button. The right side of the phone has a special AI Assistant key that can be adjusted to activate the Google Assistant. I love the orange accents that the on / off button has on our review unit. The bottom of the phone has the speaker grille, a Type-C port, and the dual SIM port without expandable storage. It’s nice to see that the headphone jack is still being maintained, although I’m not a fan of the top positioning. To appease gamers, the iQOO 3 also has two capacitive sensors on the left side of the phone and these can be assigned to virtual buttons in the game. More about that later. There is something to be said about the charging cable that clicks horizontally instead of vertically, which is very reminiscent of MacBook Pro chargers. If iQOO thought this would make it easy to hold, they were wrong. The charging cable always gets in the way of my little finger and is even more difficult if I keep the phone in landscape mode.
The iQOO 3 has a large 6.44-inch Super AMOLED screen with FHD + resolution. As with other Samsung panels in advanced phones, the iQOO 3 also has a stunning and accurate color image. The phone would reach a peak brightness of 1200 nits, even more than that of the latest iPhones. Although I could not test this claim quantifiable, I did not see any readability problems, even in the harshest sunlight. The screen supports 100 percent sRGB color gamut that provides brighter colors and deeper black than a standard IPS LCD screen. iQOO has opted for a perforation implementation to accommodate the selfie shooter and it is said to be the smallest in the segment. Whether that statement is true or not, I have never found the perforation intrusive enough to disrupt my viewing experience. The only downside that I have about this fantastic screen is that it is only refreshed at 60Hz instead of the 90 or even 120Hz refresh rates that exist. On the positive side, however, the screen has a touch response of 180 Hz, higher than most competing smartphones with 120 Hz. In short, this means that the phone will register your touch faster.
Like many middle-class smartphones, the iQOO 3 features a setup with four cameras. The L-shaped housing has a 48MP primary sensor with f / 1.8 aperture, 13MP ultra-wide lens with f / 2.4 aperture, 13MP telephoto lens sensor with f / 2.2 aperture and 2MP depth sensor. At first glance, the camera hardware is very similar to smartphones in the budget category, but the image processing takes place in the background where the magic happens.
Clicking on daylight photos is something that all budget flagships / smartphones from the middle segment do pretty well and it is the same with the IQOO 3. Images are extremely clear and detailed, even without the UHD 48MP mode on. The phone can be exposed extremely well with a good dynamic range in the photos under different lighting conditions. Some points can be linked for a slight oversaturation of green and red, but it may not even be noticeable for every normal person.
In other modes, the ultra-wide lens happens to have a field of view of 123 degrees that encapsulates much more in the image than the primary sensor. However, it comes at the expense of details and crooked color temperatures, something that teases almost all ultra-wide sensors. The ultra-wide lens also doubles as the macro lens and iQOO has said it can focus on objects up to 2.5 cm. Detailing and focus are pretty remarkable on the phone, but it requires a lot of light, so it’s not ideal to use it at night.
Speaking of which, the iQOO 3 also has a special night mode for low-light photography. Fundamentally, it is the same as the night mode that Vivo offers on its mid-range / budget flagship smartphones. However, the Spectra 480 image signal processor used by the Snapdragon 865 SoC gives extremely pleasant results. Although the focus in some photos can be considered soft, the details and lighting are quite commendable. Varied low-light conditions produced more than satisfactory results, while flash photography worked as expected.
There is a 16MP, f / 2.0 lens on the front that also supports portrait mode shooting. The phone generally shoots great selfies with good details, but the excessive smoothness of the face, even when beauty mode is off, remains a problem. As for the video recording capabilities of the phone, you have the option to shoot with 4K, 1080p and 720p videos @ 30/60 fps and slow-mo videos @ 960 fps. The phone also offers a “Super anti-shake” mode that significantly reduces the vibration in the video, but limits the resolution to 1080p.
Performance and software
Qualcomm is busy offering some of the best, if not the best, mobile computer platforms in the world. It comes as a small surprise that the company’s newest flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 865, makes the iQOO 3 incredibly fast. As mentioned earlier, this is the very first phone in India that uses the 865 SoC and according to statistics, processing has increased by more than 25 percent and the battery consumes 30 percent less. Benchmark wise, the iQOO 3 has the highest AnTuTu score ever recorded for a smartphone with 597,583 which is higher than even the newest iPhone 11 Pro (review). Another thing that contributes to this super fast speed is the UFS 3.1 storage, the first for every smartphone in the world together with LPDDR5 RAM. All this combined makes the iQOO 3 the fastest phone I have ever used. App transition was seamless and the 12 GB of RAM in our review unit meant that almost all apps that I opened in the background remained in memory.
Gaming is a central focus for the device considering the inclusion of this high-end chipset. I have installed Call of Duty Mobile and PUBG Mobile on the device and I must say that I have never seen such a startup time in both games. From clicking on the app to the login page in Call of Duty, the phone only took 12 seconds. For context, the same action on my OnePlus 7T (review) (Snapdragon 855+ SoC) took 20 seconds. iQOO has a separate Ultra Game mode that frees up space and cache, diverts incoming calls and more while you play a game. There is also a 4D shock function that simulates a vibration when something happens in the game. The capacitive buttons that I mentioned earlier work just about as well as those I had seen in the Nubia Red Magic 3 (review). Their value is somewhat on the gimmick side, unless you really invest time in understanding the pressure sensitivity to improve your game.
Apart from just the performance, the IQOO 3 also has the fastest face and fingerprint verification I’ve seen. The device uses an in-display fingerprint scanner that is comparable to the OnePlus 7T and faster than all its competitors. The face verification is even faster and with raising to wake up, the phone is unlocked as soon as I pick it up. The phone also mentions Hi-Res audio certification, although the speakers on the phone were not exactly loud but reasonable enough. The earphone and microphone worked as expected on the device.
iQOO 3 has come out with a completely new software experience called iQOO UI that is based on Android 10. Unlike Vivo’s own FunTouchOS, for which I rarely chop words about usability, iQOO UI actually does a few things right. The quick action panel and notifications appear from above rather than two separate windows for both, as seen on FunTouchOS. The Settings menu has been slightly redesigned to make it much easier to navigate. There is a system-wide dark mode and there is also an intuitive user interface for games that sorts all your titles and allows adjustments to improve performance. However, the underlying problems, which I wish they were solved, are still the re. There is an unearthly amount of bloatware that plagues the home screen and most of it cannot be removed. There is also no option for an app drawer by default and you have to search the settings to find it. Even if you want to reach for the quick settings, you’ll have to drag them from top to bottom as opposed to OxygenOS or even ColorOS which allows you to swipe down from anywhere on the home screen to bring the notification bar down. However, in general there is still some room for improvement, but I like the direction that iQOO UI is taking.
The IQOO 3 does not have a giant battery, as I said before, which makes me a little confused as to why the phone weighs as much as it does. The 4,450mAh cell on the device will be quite efficient in controlling you one and a half days of work on WiFi, while at 4G the time will be about a day. The phone does not have to contend with a higher refresh screen that uses more battery. Add to this the energy efficiency of the Snapdragon 865 and you have a telephone that can easily last a whole day even with intensive use. I generally have two or more social media accounts active on my phone. In addition, I also streamed Netflix for about 2 hours and played PUBG Mobile at the highest settings for about an hour while I was on mobile data. I had about 26 percent battery left when I went to bed. If that’s not enough, the iQOO 3 has an amazing 55W fast-charging technology that will keep your phone from 0 – 100 in 45 minutes. It only takes about 20 minutes to reach a 50 percent battery level.
I have no problem in saying that IQOO 3 is perhaps one for the Best phones introduced this year, and it is certainly the fastest I have ever used. It has The Best hardware specifications that you can imagine, supported by a capable camera and a battery charging speed that will put many rivals to shame. However, there is one feature that I think will not be useful this year given the current scenario of the Indian telecom sector. 5G is a technology that is coming, but will not be realized in the form of a heavy coverage such as 4G / LTE. Therefore, people who plan to keep their phone for at least two years should consider buying the 5G version of the phone. The 4G version of the phone has identical specifications to its 5G brother with the exception of 12 GB of RAM in the latter compared to 8 GB in the first. The 5G iQOO 3, however, costs almost Rs 10,000 more than its 4G variant and I think that this should be enough for people to go to the latter.
Editor’s rating: 4/5
- Ultra fast performance
- Suitable cameras
- 55 W charging is insanely fast
- No screen with high refresh rate
- Room for improvement in the software department
- Currently no use for 5G functionality in India
Photos clicked by Raj Rout