iQoo announced three smartphones this year as a part of its premium 9-series lineup. We all expected an iQoo 9 to be launched, but iQoo surprised us with two new phones. The iQoo 9 Pro (Review), with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and gimbal-stabilised camera is meant to compete with top-tier smartphones from Samsung and OnePlus. And then there's the iQoo 9 SE, a smartphone designed to take on the competition at the value end of the premium smartphone segment. After testing iQoo 9 SE for a week, I discovered that it isn't perfect but still offers good value for money. Here's why.
The iQoo 9 SE is available in two variants and finishes. The 8GB RAM and 128GB storage option is priced at Rs. 33,990, while the 12GB RAM and 256GB storage variant costs Rs. 37,990. Both are available in Space Fusion and Sunset Sierra. I received a Sunset Sierra unit with 12GB of RAM.
The iQoo 9 SE in the Sunset Sierra finish looks premium. It has a slim overall profile. The back panel and frame are made of polycarbonate, while the raised rear camera module is metal. The iQoo 9 SE's matte frame and back panel make it quite slippery but these surfaces are good at resisting fingerprints. This phone does not feature an official IP rating, but the company does claim that it has all the necessary seals around its ports and the SIM tray to meet an IP52 rating equivalent.
The iQoo 9 SE has a 6.62-inch full-HD+ Super AMOLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. The bezel is thin all around, and the hole for the front-facing camera isn't distracting. The display's screen is made of Panda glass and is good at rejecting fingerprints. The volume rocker and power button sit on the right, with the SIM tray, Type-C USB port and primary speaker at the bottom. The phone features an in-display fingerprint reader which is quick and reliable.
The 9 SE has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC, and iQoo says it has also implemented its own Intelligent Display Chip (IDC), which it claims assists the integrated GPU with MEMC (Motion Estimation and Motion Compensation) and SDR-to-HDR video upscaling when needed. Communication standards include Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and the usual satellite navigation systems. There's no 3.5mm headphone jack, but iQoo does provide a Type-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box. There's a dual-SIM tray and this phone supports dual-5G standby, but there's no slot for storage expansion.
The phone runs Funtouch OS 12, based on Android 12. Android 12 features, including the new Material You widgets, the permissions manager, and the privacy dashboard have been implemented. Despite running Funtouch OS 12, iQoo has not included the theming engine that's available on the iQoo 9 Pro, so the colours of the keyboard and widgets do not automatically change to match the wallpaper you choose. There are a lot of preinstalled third-party apps that I'm glad can be uninstalled.
The 6.62-inch full-HD+ Super AMOLED display shows punchy colours at the default 'Standard' setting. While many people will be happy with what they see, there's also a 'Professional' setting with more natural-looking colour tones. Sunlight legibility is quite good, and I had no problems with touch sensitivity with regular use.
The 120Hz refresh rate setting is adaptive but only switches between 120Hz and 60Hz depending on content. The display is HDR10+ certified, so I did enjoy watching supported content on Netflix and Amazon Prime in HDR. The dual stereo speakers sounded loud, clear and balanced when streaming video and playing games.
Day-to-day software performance felt smooth and fluid with no sign of lag or stuttering. Benchmark results did not disappoint either and were on par with the competition. The iQoo 9 SE managed a score of 8,54,095 in AnTuTu, as well as 1,065 and 3,414 in Geekbench's single and multi-core tests. These scores are comparable even to what even some Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-powered smartphones have produced.
Gaming performance was quite good overall. The phone did get a bit warm when playing games at the highest settings, but performance did not take a hit. Asphalt 9: Legends ran buttery smooth with the graphics set to High Quality (60 fps mode). Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) also ran smoothly with HDR graphics and the frame rate set to Extreme. Call of Duty: Mobile seemed to have some optimisation issues. This game stuttered and lagged from launch to the menus and even during gameplay. It did not run smoothly even at the lowest graphics settings. Hopefully, this can be addressed with future software updates.
Battery life is quite good, and the phone lasted 20 hours, 1 minute in our HD video loop test, which is quite good. The smartphone's 4,500mAh battery managed to last a day and a half with gaming and some camera usage. The iQoo 9 SE's 66W charger takes this phone from 0-76% in 30 minutes and completes the charge in 50 minutes.
The iQoo 9 SE has three rear cameras and a single 16-megapixel front-facing camera. The rear camera setup consists of a 48-megapixel (with OIS) primary, a 13-megapixel ultra-wide-angle, and a 2-megapixel mono camera for capturing depth data. The ultra-wide-angle camera also doubles up as a macro camera as it is capable of autofocus. The camera interface is typically iQoo, with important buttons on the left side of the viewfinder. A hamburger menu gives access to camera settings, aspect ratio, a countdown timer, and an on-screen overlay to help you frame shots. The main camera modes shown in the app (photo, video, portrait, and Night by default) can be replaced with others that you use more frequently.
Photos taken in daylight showed excellent detail with good dynamic range. Images shot using the Portrait mode with the rear camera came out sharp with detailed textures and good edge detection. The ultra-wide-angle camera shot decent photos but they appeared sharper in the centre and blurry towards the edges. Macro shots came out with impressive detail since they are captured using the 13-megapixel sensor of the ultra-wide-angle camera. Photos shot using the front-facing camera also came out clean and sharp with good dynamic range.
In low light, details in textures weren't very clear when using the auto mode. There was some noise in dimly lit scenes, but the overall quality was still good. Switching to Night mode brightened up images and added a bit of sharpness, but the quality remained much the same. The ultra-wide-angle camera's low-light performance was strictly average, and it captured images that looked soft. Selfies shot in low light came out well, with good detail and noise under control. Edge detection was average in such conditions, though.
Videos captured in daylight came out a bit saturated but with good dynamic range. Video looked well stabilised, but not when I went beyond 4K 30fps. 4K 60fps clips were good in terms of quality but appeared quite shaky. In low light, 30fps footage (1080p or 4K) looked the best, with good stabilisation and noise under control.
The iQoo 9 SE is a solid contender in the sub-Rs. 40,000 smartphone segment as it offers excellent value for money. This category in India currently has a few attractive options from various manufacturers, but the iQoo 9 SE's software and camera performance make it stand out. There are also other meaningful benefits that increase this phone's appeal, such as an HDR-capable display, a selfie camera that works well in low light, and the ability to take impressive macro shots.
And then, there's the attractive price tag. Available starting at Rs. 33,990 for the 8GB+128GB variant, the iQoo 9 SE seems quite enticing compared to the Realme GT 5G (Review), which has also been a good value offering. The iQoo 9 SE would also be a better choice than Samsung's recently launched Galaxy A53 5G (Review) unless you are specifically looking for that IP67 rating. Those looking for a near-stock Android software experience can also look at Motorola's Moto Edge 20 Pro (Review).