iQOO 9 Pro Review: The unchallenged winner

    The iQOO 9 Pro is currently the best phone in its price segment on paper. But should you splurge on it? Find out in our full review.
    By: AMRITANSHU MUKHERJEE
    | Updated on: Mar 02 2022, 10:00 IST
    iQOO 9 Pro is the most expensive phone iQOO has ever sold in India, starting at Rs. 64,990.
    iQOO 9 Pro is the most expensive phone iQOO has ever sold in India, starting at Rs. 64,990. (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro is the most expensive phone iQOO has ever sold in India, starting at Rs. 64,990.
    iQOO 9 Pro is the most expensive phone iQOO has ever sold in India, starting at Rs. 64,990. (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    An iQOO phone for Rs. 65,000? That's too much asking for a brand that's barely three years old, right? After all, if you are paying top money for your phone, you expect it to have a solid brand identity, offer a great experience, and, most importantly, lots of ego pampering when you take its case off! These are reasons why Apple is able to survive and rule while getting away with less capable products at exorbitant prices.

    Hence, for iQOO, it had to cram everything it could think of to justify such a high price. That means that other than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the iQOO 9 Pro had to get some awesome cameras, good battery life, very fast charging, and a good user experience. You know what? iQOO almost achieved all of it. For less than Rs. 70,000, this might be the best phone you can buy this year, unless Xiaomi drops its Xiaomi 12 Pro for lower.

    After spending almost two weeks with the iQOO 9 Pro, I think it deserves the tag “Legendary” more than anything else. But there's an exception too. Find out what it is.

    iQOO 9 Pro Design

    The iQOO 9 Pro is nothing less than bold! With its mega camera hump covering 1/4th of the phone's rear, and the other half dominated by the BMW M motorsport stripes, the iQOO 9 Pro can be recognised from a mile away. In an era when phone makers are going for borderline-boring design on their flagships, the iQOO 9 Pro with its loud colours and design choices stands out. Like it or not, you cannot miss it.

    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    It is built well too. Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and smudge-resistant matte glass on the rear make it nice to hold. The attention to design is great and while the phone's overall dimensions are huge, this is still a comfortable phone to hold. No IP certification for water and dust resistance though, which means you need to be cautious outdoors. The curved display design always looks sexy but even here, it makes for those accidental palm touches.

    iQOO is also the only brand in this range to offer a fancy BMW themed plastic case inside, the charger and cable, and some BMW M postcards. Quite an unboxing experience in an ear when Apple and Samsung only stuff their phones inside with a cable!

    iQOO 9 Pro Display

    iQOO is using a 6.7-inch curved edge display on the iQOO 9 Pro. This is a Samsung E5 AMOLED panel with LTPO 2.0 technology, which means the refresh rate varies from 1Hz to 120Hz. The display also gets the latest and the largest ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, which is faster and more convenient to use than the traditional optical sensors. Plus, you experience a 300Hz touch sampling rate that can go up to 1000Hz.

    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    All good on paper but what about in reality? Quite representative of the same! This is a nice-looking display for a flagship phone, with finely calibrated colours, lots of brightness, and a smoother interaction. The default colour tone is cool but you can change it to a warm one from the settings. The only issue I observed was with the adaptive refresh rate – the phone loves to stick to a lower figure while scrolling through menus or social media; I had to keep it at 120Hz to keep the experience smooth. Maybe iQOO has tuned it in favour of better battery life but it is something that can be fixed with a future software update.

    iQOO 9 Pro Performance

    The Snapdragon 888 from last year is still a beastly mobile chipset and with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, you are essentially buying performance overhead. Unless you play Genshin Impact, you cannot truly witness the full might of this chip at the moment. Optimised games such as Call of Duty: Mobile and BGMI are a joy to play on the iQOO 9 Pro, all set to maxed out graphics. Weirdly, you don't get the 90-fps mode in BGMI, something which is available on the cheaper iQOO 9. The MEMC chip does its bit to smoothen things out in COD and BGMI but I didn't see much of a difference. I liked the 4D vibration feedback though.

    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    More performance means more heat and like the Motorola Edge 30 Pro, the iQOO 9 Pro warms up notably after a 40-minute gameplay session. Occasional frame drops are a thing with such loads but the iQOO 9 Pro can keep going with a good enough gameplay experience. The Game Space overlay helps to keep a track of system resources and hardcore mobile gamers will find this to be a delight.

    What's not delightful is the software experience. iQOO discarded its iQOO UI after the iQOO 3 and has since then stuck with Vivo's FunTouchOS. FunTouchOS 12 in its latest avatar is still a highly unpolished software experience, flaunting dated interface design and incomplete elements. Plus, there's some copious amount of pre-loaded apps and bloatware that shouldn't be there on a phone costing north of Rs. 50,000. Xiaomi cleaned up its MIUI for these high-end phones and it is high time Vivo does it too.

    iQOO 9 Pro on FunTouchOS 12
    iQOO 9 Pro on FunTouchOS 12 (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro on FunTouchOS 12
    iQOO 9 Pro on FunTouchOS 12 (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    Hence, despite an eager performance from the UI, the iQOO 9 Pro's software feels half-baked and not on par with Samsung's One UI, Motorola's MyUX 3, and Apple's iOS. I don't want to see spam notifications from the proprietary web browser polluting my notifications shade, or see dubious apps and games suggestions in the menu. 

    On a sub- 20,000 phone, this is acceptable but not at all on Rs. 65,000 flagship. The interface is also missing most of Android 12's features that we fell in love with on the Motorola Edge 30 Pro. iQOO also promises only two Android OS updates at a time when the industry is moving towards four OS updates.

    iQOO 9 Pro 
    iQOO 9 Pro  (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro 
    iQOO 9 Pro  (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    Another area that has room for improvements is the audio experience. There is a stereo speaker setup wherein the earpiece acts as a second speaker. The volume levels are decent and the audio quality okay but if Xiaomi can afford to stuff a dedicated second speaker on its cheaper Xiaomi 11T Pro, why can't iQOO do it on its flagship? After all, this is a gaming phone and it needs good speakers.

    The iQOO 9 Pro makes up for it with the network connectivity and call performance, both of which are good for a phone of this class.

    iQOO 9 Pro Cameras

    While the software experience is a bit disappointing, the iQOO 9 Pro makes up for it with its cameras. With its 50MP Samsung GN5 sensor for the main camera, the iQOO 9 Pro can deliver a great photography experience. Whether in daylight or night, you are getting some of the brightest, clearest and most colourful photos on any phone. The gimbal stabilisation helps with clear smudge-free photos even for shaky hands.

    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    Eager eyes will notice the issue with colour consistency though. Most of the time, the iQOO 9 Pro takes spot-on colours, with the AI intervening to boost the saturation slightly. But as soon as light levels drop, the colours look unnatural and specially indoors, the results are not too desirable. This is fine at night when colour consistency doesn't matter a lot but low light performance could be better. There's also some detail loss compared to the phones using Sony sensors from last year.

    Helping the main camera is the 50MP ultrawide camera that impresses with almost the same colour science, and some astonishingly wide views. I am not a fan of the fisheye effects but for those who want to be creative, this should be fun. The macro mode is fine but it can't go as close as a Xiaomi 11T Pro's dedicated 5MP camera.

    Lastly, the third camera is mainly used for portraits. With its 16MP resolution, this camera takes some good portrait photos in both day and night, with decent subject separation and great facial details. You cannot use it for zoom in the Auto mode, as the camera digitally crops in the 50MP main camera. You can get around this by going in the Pro mode and choosing the zoom camera but the results are not as good as the digital cropped solution.

    Click here to check some photo samples in High Resolution

    The selfies from the front camera look bright, clear and fairly natural in both day and night. In videos, the 5-axis stabilisation results in stable video output at 4K at 30 fps. Video quality is good with bright colours, well managed exposures, and good noise suppression, but still can't match the iPhone 13's video quality. You can shoot Night Videos too and it works when you want to get brighter video footage at the cost of grains.

    iQOO 9 Pro Battery

    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    On the iQOO 9 Pro's 4700mAh battery, the combination of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and the 120Hz display take some noticeable toll. On the busiest of days that involve lots of 1-2 hours of phone calls, 1-2 hours of social media browsing, streaming music for two hours, and some more, the iQOO 9 Pro can make it to the end of the day but with 20-25 percent charge remaining. Throw in 30 minutes of gaming and you will need the charger by early evening.

    Thankfully, with the 120W charging solution, the iQOO 9 Pro fills up fast. From under 10 percent, it takes close to 25 minutes for a full refill. Note that this time depends on the ambient temperature and the apps installed on your phone. Similar to Xiaomi's 120W charging, the iQOO 9 Pro does very slow charging if you plug it in while taking calls. You have to use the in-box provided charger to get these full speeds.

    iQOO also offers Vivo's 50W wireless Flash Charge technology but due to the lack of a supported charger, I couldn't test it. It works with Qi-standard wireless chargers though and takes hours to fill up the same battery. If you have the 120W adapter and cable, just prefer carrying it for a quick top-up.

    Verdict

    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
    iQOO 9 Pro
    iQOO 9 Pro (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

    iQOO's revamped high-end smartphone lineup has pushed the brand to compete with the very best in the business. In the world of Apples and Galaxys, the iQOO 9 Pro carves its space well. It caters to those who seek all the luxuries of a 2022 flagship but without sacrificing any performance. And that's where the iQOO 9 Pro shines – its performance. If you are into mobile gaming, or doing video editing on your phone, the iQOO 9 Pro offers a brilliant combination of a very capable chip, a nicely calibrated display, and a decent audio experience. Couple that with the 120W fast charging, and you have got a powerhouse of a smartphone

    Photographers tired of iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S devices can also consider this for a change. This is a brilliant camera system that never fails to impress most people with its vibrant and detailed photos across all situations. Those seeking accurate colours should stick to the iPhone and Samsung devices.

    Sadly, iQOO disappoints in terms of its software experience. A phone of the iQOO 9 Pro's calibre deserves a mature operating system, which the FunTouchOS 12 isn't. You can install third-party launchers to reduce the blow but the messy notifications situation from the Browser app and other preloaded bloatware seems petty on iQOO's part. The OS feels like a decade old compared to Samsung's One UI and Motorola's MyUX 3.

    At this price, the iQOO 9 Pro hasn't got much of a competition yet. The Samsung Galaxy S22 comes close but despite having the same chipset, it has a smaller battery with a slower charging system. The iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 12 are other alternatives that nail the user experience but can't quite match the iQOO in terms of still photography and charging speeds. In the coming weeks, the Xiaomi 12 Pro is expected to put up a good fight but until it arrives, the iQOO 9 Pro reigns as the unchallenged winner.

    Rating
    4 out of 5
    Price
    INR 64,999/-
    Product Name
    iQOO 9 Pro
    Brand Name
    iQOO
    Pros
    • Striking Design
    • Superb gaming performance
    • Great cameras
    • Superfast charging
    Cons
    • Poor software experience
    Specifications
    • Chipset
      Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
    • OS
      FunTouchOS 12 on Android 12
    • Battery
      4700mAh
    • Charging
      120W wired, 50W wireless
    • Display
      6.7-inch QHD+ 120HZ AMOLED
    • Rear Cameras
      50MP + 50MP + 16MP

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    First Published Date: 02 Mar, 09:42 IST
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