Technology

iQoo 9 Pro Review: A Ginormous Leap Forward

iQoo launched its first smartphone, the iQoo 3, in India back in February 2020. It sat at the entry point of the premium segment and offered competitive hardware, which made it attractive to gamers. Since then, we’ve had the iQoo Z3, and just last year, the iQoo7 Series (iQoo 7 and 7 Legend) in India, which once again sat at the lower end of the premium segment.

While the iQoo 9 was expected, the company also announced a new iQoo 9 SE (a more affordable premium smartphone) and an ultra-premium model called the iQoo 9 Pro, which is aiming to take on today’s latest flagships. As I pointed out in my first impressions, the iQoo 9 Pro is clearly dressed to impress, and also boasts of top-notch hardware including its primary rear camera with gimbal stabilisation. Clearly, iQoo seems ready to play with the big names such as OnePlus and Samsung. So, is this newcomer in the premium segment worth a look?

iQoo 9 Pro price in India

The iQoo 9 Pro is available in two variants and two finishes. There’s the base variant with 8GB of RAM priced at Rs. 64,990, and the top-end variant with 12GB of RAM priced at Rs. 69,990 in India. Both have 256GB of internal storage and are available in Legend (white) and Dark Cruise (black) finishes.

iQoo 9 Pro design

The iQoo 9 Pro’s design utilises a metal frame which is sandwiched between two sheets of glass. I received the 12GB RAM variant in the Legend finish for this review. It has plenty of similarities with the iQoo 7 Legend (Review) in terms of the overall design. There’s a three-colour BMW Motorsport-inspired racing stripe running off-centre down the rear panel. The power button is also finished in blue, just like on the iQoo 7 Legend (Review).

iQoo 9 Pro accessories case ndtv iQoo9Pro  iQoo

The iQoo 9 Pro has a body that’s made of metal and glass

 

Look a little closer and there are some new details to be found. There’s a fine carbon fibre-like weave etched into the white portion of the rear glass. The white area also has a matte finish, which feels smooth and does not gather fingerprints, but is quite slippery. Thankfully, iQoo includes a colour-matched case in the box. The stripes on the back have a glossy finish, giving the rear panel a dual-tone effect.

The camera module takes up about a third of the back panel. It barely protrudes, which I like. It’s mostly cosmetic, but also prevents the phone from wobbling when placed on a flat surface.

iQoo has utilised Panda glass for the display on the 9 Pro and it curves on the left and right sides, lending the smartphone a slim profile. The bezels are minimal, and I like how the thin slit for the earpiece is almost invisible. Both the top and bottom of the phone are flat. There’s a SIM tray, primary microphone, USB Type-C port, and speaker on the bottom, and an infrared emitter on the top, along with the secondary mic.

iQoo 9 Pro back half design ndtv iQoo9Pro  iQoo

The rear panel of the iQoo 9 Pro has a dual-tone finish with a mix of matte and glossy glass

 

A major premium feature that’s missing is an IP rating. The company claims that the iQoo 9 Pro has all the necessary seals (around ports, the SIM tray, etc) to meet an IP52 rating equivalent, but it’s not officially certified. I think it would be best to be a bit careful with this one around water and dust. The lack of an IP rating might turn out to be a dealbreaker for many, since nearly every competing phone in this price segment has one.

iQoo 9 Pro specifications and software

The iQoo 9 Pro debuted Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC in India, followed by the launch of the Moto Edge 30 Pro (Review) the very next day, and the Samsung Galaxy S22 series shortly after. This new SoC is built using a 4nm fabrication process and the CPU cores run at a maximum clock speed of 3GHz. The SoC has a three-cluster architecture with a single Arm Cortex-X2 CPU core clocked at 3GHz, three big Cortex-A710 cores clocked at 2.49GHz, and four small Cortex-A510 cores clocked at 1.785GHz. Graphics are handled by the new Adreno 730 integrated GPU. The processor also packs an integrated Snapdragon X65 5G modem.

Just like Vivo with the X70 Pro+ (Review), sister company iQoo has included what it calls an Intelligent Display Chip (IDC) in the 9 Pro. The IDC is supposed to help primarily with gaming by enhancing colours and smoothening framerates using Motion Estimation and Motion Compensation (MEMC) algorithms. In terms of connectivity, there’s Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and support for the usual satellite navigation systems. The phone is powered by a 4,700mAh battery which can be charged using the bundled 120W charger.

iQoo 9 Pro front full display software ndtv iQoo9Pro  iQoo

The iQoo 9 Pro’s Funtouch OS 12 is based on Android 12 

 

The iQoo 9 Pro ships with Funtouch OS 12, which is based on Android 12. This Android skin is available on other iQoo devices too including the iQoo Z5. You do get the new Android 12 Material You widgets for Google apps and services, and they somehow blend well with Funtouch OS. There’s even support for the theming engine which picks colours from your current wallpaper and applies them to UI elements. There are several iQoo-branded apps that are basically duplicates of some of Google’s stock apps.

The iQoo 9 Pro also comes with some preinstalled third-party apps such as Josh, Netflix, Facebook, Cred, Moj-Lite, and ShareChat, but all of these can be uninstalled. I also kept getting annoying push notifications from the default browser even though I never opened it, but I managed to disable these notifications in the Settings, so they stopped bothering me after that.

iQoo 9 Pro performance and battery life

The iQoo 9 Pro features a 120Hz 6.78-inch curved-edge AMOLED display with a 1,440×3,200 pixel (2K+) resolution. Text and images appeared quite sharp. Colours appeared a bit too saturated at the default ‘Standard’ colour setting, so, I switched to the ‘Professional’ setting which made them appear more realistic and natural. The display also got quite bright outdoors and was legible under direct sunlight. It is an LTPO panel which means it can regulate its refresh rate down to 10Hz when required, which in theory should allow for better battery life. The screen also supports a 300Hz touch sampling rate which came in handy when playing FPS games.

iQoo 9 Pro front gamepad ndtv iQoo9Pro  iQoo

iQoo’s new Gamepad is quite useful and offers plenty of physical buttons, but needs to be purchased separately

 

The iQoo 9 Pro’s panel is capable of 10-bit colour reproduction, supports HDR10+, and has a Widevine L1 DRM certification for HD video streaming. However, HDR did not work in streaming apps such as Netflix on my review unit. Standard content looked sharp and showcased deep blacks. Amazon Prime Video for some reason only played video at blurry SD quality. YouTube was the only app that managed to showcase HDR content. The stereo speakers on the iQoo 9 Pro were loud and quite clear, which made gaming and streaming movies enjoyable. However, I did notice that they weren’t balanced, and the primary speaker pushed out more bass than the earpiece.

The phone features a 3D ultrasonic fingerprint reader under its display, which is quite unique. It takes just one firm tap to register a fingerprint instead of multiple taps, which makes setting it up a breeze. The readable area for registering or reading a fingerprint is also a lot larger than on other smartphones; enough to accomodate two thumbs side by side, so authentication was always quick and seamless.

The iQoo 9 Pro performed as expected in our benchmarks, achieving better scores than smartphones with a Snapdragon 888 SoC. The iQoo 9 Pro managed 9,91,830 points in AnTuTu and 1,222 and 3,636 in Geekbench’s single and multi-core tests. The phone also managed 84fps in the Manhattan 3.1 test and 47fps in the Car Chase test in GFXBench.

iQoo 9 Pro front half display fingerprint ndtv iQoo9Pro  iQoo

The sensor area for registering or reading a fingerprint is a lot larger than on other smartphones

 

Gaming performance was also top-notch. The phone only got warm when maxing out the graphics settings in games such as Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) and Call of Duty: Mobile, and ran cool when playing racing games such as Real Racing 3. Both FPS titles seemed to be capped at 60fps, no matter what graphics settings or frame rate I selected. The frame interpolation feature, which claims to make use of the IDC to bump up framerates and make gameplay appear smoother, did not appear to have a noticeable effect. The 4D Game Vibration feature was nowhere close to the kind of feedback you’d get from a controller, so I ended up switching it off as I found it quite distracting. The display’s touch sampling rate was spot on and I did not notice any lag while playing FPS titles. As for the 120Hz refresh rate, only a few games such as Real Racing 3 and Subway Surfers seem to take advantage of it. Most other titles were capped at 30 or 60fps.

iQoo has also announced a new iQoo Gamepad which is sold separately. It snaps on to the left side of the phone (when held horizontally) and adds several useful physical buttons (L1, L2, R1, an analogue stick and a D-pad) which were useful when playing FPS titles. I tried it out with Call of Duty: Mobile and I experienced no lag during gameplay which is quite good because it connects to the handset via Bluetooth. The gamepad comes in a black finish with yellow accents, has its own built-in battery (charges via a USB Type-C port), and offers a nice grip albeit only for your left hand.

iQoo 9 Pro back battery charging ndtv iQoo9Pro  iQoo

The iQoo 9 Pro has a 4,700mAh battery which can be charged quickly using the bundled 120W charger

 

The iQoo 9 Pro’s 4,700mAh battery is a big upgrade over that of the older iQoo 7 Legend’s 4,000mAh unit. This one easily gets the job done and lasts a whole day even with heavy gaming. The phone managed 17 hours and 16 minutes in our HD video loop test, which is quite good. With casual use, the phone should have about 30-40 percent left by the end of the day. The iQoo 9 Pro supports 120W fast charging. The relatively large 120W adapter charges the phone from a dead battery to a 100 percent in just 20 minutes. It takes just 10 minutes to get to 50 percent, which is well above average.

Moreover, there are no software toggles to turn on manually, and the phone will always charge at this rate when it’s plugged into the 120W charger. It also supports up to 50W wireless charging, provided you use the proprietary wireless charger which iQoo sells separately.

iQoo 9 Pro cameras

The iQoo 9 Pro has three rear-facing cameras. There’s a 50-megapixel primary camera with sensor and optical stabilisation for gimbal-level smoothness, a 50-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera with autofocus, and a 16-megapixel telephoto camera with OIS and PDAF. Selfie duties are handled by a 16-megapixel front-facing camera. The camera interface is similar to what we’ve seen on other Funtouch OS-powered phones, with customisable camera modes and important controls accessible under a hamburger icon in the top left corner.

iQoo 9 Pro daylight camera samples. Top to bottom: Ultra-wide-angle camera, primary camera, telephoto camera (tap to see full size)

 

Photos shot in daylight came out sharp and clear and with good dynamic range. There was plenty of detail and depth in the images captured by the iQoo 9 Pro, no matter which camera I chose. The pixel-binned 12-megapixel images taken with the ultra-wide-angle camera appeared a bit cropped (due to software distortion correction), but you can tap on the globe icon in the viewfinder to see the full 150-degree field of view with a fisheye effect, which should make for some interesting Instagram-worthy photos. The 2.5X telephoto camera captured some sharp-looking photos, but this depended on the amount of available light on each subject or scene. Shadows in photos looked soft with less detail, but shooting subjects or objects under good lighting delivered really good results that looked sharp and packed in plenty of detail.

iQoo 9 Pro macro camera samples. Top: Primary camera, bottom: Macro camera (tap to see full size)

 

The selfie camera managed some sharp and clear photos with good dynamic range and detail. However, Portrait mode had some issues with edge detection in complicated scenes with foliage or trees in the background and this resulted in a halo-like effect around the subject. Since the iQoo 9 Pro’s ultra-wide-angle camera features autofocus, it is also used as a macro camera that can shoot subjects with impressive detail as close as 3cm away. It is indeed one of the few usable macro cameras in this segment.

iQoo 9 Pro low-light camera samples. Top: Primary camera (Night mode), bottom: Ultra-wide-angle camera (Night mode) (tap to see full size)

 

Low-light camera performance was also quite good. The 5-axis gimbal stabilisation for the primary camera is the star of the show here and iQoo has even included a toggle in the viewfinder to show off how the gimbal moves and compensates for handshake. The camera by default captures photos with a longer (one second or more) exposure when shooting in low light. Photos shot in ‘Auto’ mode also came out quite well and packed in plenty of detail. Firing up Night mode added more dynamic range and brought out even more detail with some added sharpness. Photos taken with the ultra-wide-angle camera were also quite usable, but the Night mode images from this sensor came out a bit soft due to the lack of OIS. Selfies taken in low light also came out a bit soft compared to daylight photos, but showcased the same halo effect when using the Portrait mode even at night.

Video quality in daylight was quite good. Footage taken with the primary camera appeared rock steady but also maintained good quality, no matter what the frame rate or resolution. Videos shot with the ultra-wide-angle camera were also usable, but I noticed plenty of noise in darker areas and purple fringing in brighter areas. The electronic stabilisation caused any movement of the camera to appear a bit robotic, which was a problem when I wanted to pan the camera around. In low light, video quality took a slight hit, but stabilisation was still pretty good. However, videos captured at all resolutions had a hazy or dreamy effect.

Verdict

The iQoo 9 Pro fixes the iQoo 7 Legend’s main problem – poor battery life – and adds plenty more features, which justifies its higher price. My biggest gripe is the lack of an IP68 rating, which is commonly found in smartphones in this segment. Software is up-to-date and gaming performance is not a problem. Still camera performance is good and the same goes for video recording, although low-light videos could have been better. The 120W charging speed is the icing on the cake and there’s also wireless charging.

At a starting price of Rs. 64,990, the iQoo 9 Pro competes directly with the OnePlus 9 Pro (Review). When compared side by side, it’s clear that the iQoo 9 Pro offers better features with the latest Qualcomm silicon, faster charging, and a gimbal-stabilised primary camera. What the iQoo 9 lacks is an official IP rating which sticks out as a sore point. There’s also the recently announced Samsung Galaxy S22 which starts at Rs. 72,999. The Apple iPhone 12 (Review) is also still a solid premium smartphone, even though it’s a year old.

Overall, it’s easy to recommend the iQoo 9 Pro as there’s little direct competition at the moment. However, the OnePlus 10 Pro is expected to launch towards the end of March in India, and this will make things a lot more interesting . If you’re not in any rush, it might make sense to wait a bit and see what the competition has to offer.


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