iQOO 3 5G Review – One of the Fastest but not Smoothest Smartphones

iQOO 3 5G Review – One of the Fastest but not Smoothest Smartphones

Last month, Vivo’s new sub-brand, iQOO, made its first foray into the Indian market with the launch of a brand new flagship smartphone called the iQOO 3 5G. This flagship smartphone boasts some of the most cutting edge hardware on the Indian market with the central theme revolving around delivering a superior gaming-focused experience in an affordable package. With a unique design and premium hardware to boot, the iQOO 3 aims to deliver an unparalleled performance that rivals top contenders in the affordable flagship segment.

iQOO 3 5G

Following up on our first impressions article, in this article, we take a thorough look at the performance, gaming, camera, battery, and software of the iQOO 3. Our assessments are based on the iQOO 3 5G variant which is the highest-end model packing 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. These assessments also apply to the 4G variant as there’s virtually no difference between the two besides 5G support.

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iQOO 3 5G: Specifications

Specification iQOO 3 5G/4G
Dimensions and Weight
  • 158.5 x 74.88 x 9.16 mm
  • 214.5g
Display
  • 6.44″ FHD+ (2400 x 1080) Super AMOLED;
  • Punch-hole display;
  • HDR10+;
  • 180Hz Touch Response Rate
  • Schott Xensation UP for the front, Gorilla Glass 6 for the back
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 865:

  • 1x Kryo 585 (ARM Cortex A77-based) Prime core @ 2.8GHz
  • 3x Kryo 585 (ARM Cortex A77-based) Performance cores @ 2.4GHz
  • 4x Kryo 385 (ARM Cortex A55-based) Efficiency cores @ 1.8GHz

Adreno 650

RAM and Storage
  • 4G:
    • 8GB LPDDR5 + 128GB UFS 3.1
    • 8GB + 256GB
  • 5G:
    • 12GB + 256GB
Battery & Charging
  • 4,440 mAh battery
  • 55W FlashCharge fast charging
Rear Camera Photo:

  • Primary: 48MP Sony IMX582, f/1.79
  • Secondary: 13MP, f/2.46, Telephoto
  • Tertiary: 13MP, f/2.2, Wide-Angle Camera
  • Quaternary: 2MP, f/2.4, Depth Sensor

Video:

  • 4K @ 60fps
Front Camera
  • 16MP Samsung S5K3P9SP04-FGX9, f/2.45
Other Features
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • Wi-Fi – 2.4GHz, 5.1GHz, 5.8GHz
  • Dual-frequency GPS
  • 2x “Monster Touch” Pressure Sensitive buttons on side frame
  • In-Display Fingerprint Scanner
Android Version iQOO UI 1.0 based on Android 10
Network
  • 5G: N41/77/78
  • 4G+: B1/3/5/8/39/40/41/38
  • 4G FDD_LTE: B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/25/26
  • 4G TDD_LTE: B34/38/39/40/41
  • 3G: B1/2/4/5/8
  • 2G: B2/3/5/8

Review Summary

Pros Cons
  • The hole-punch AMOLED display is one of the best in the class and provides a great viewing experience under all lighting conditions.
  • Combination of the Snapdragon 865, UFS 3.1, and LPDDR5 RAM make the iQOO 3 one of the fastest phones out there
  • Great daylight camera performance across primary, telephoto, and wide-angle sensors
  • Monster Buttons are a boon for serious gamers
  • Charging speed is just mind-blowing, to say the least
  • Lack of a high refresh rate panel on a flagship at this point is a grave mistake
  • Aggressive post-processing in the camera often ends up hurting fine details in daylight images
  • Low-light performance and Night mode need serious improvements
  • The software experience can feel a little overwhelming at times due to excessive customizations and gimmicky features

Display

The 6.4-inch Super AMOLED panel on the iQOO 3 5G is among the best in this price range. It provides a great viewing experience with vivid colors and amazing contrast. The display is HDR10+ certified and we enjoyed consuming HDR content on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. The peak 800 nit brightness ensures the display is legible even under direct sunlight while the system-wide dark mode and reading mode means you won’t tire your eyes when looking at the display in a dark room.

iQOO 3 5G

The display also supports anti-flicker mode, AKA DC dimming, to help avoid eye fatigue when using the display at a very low brightness level. While I have had no issues looking at the display for hours at night without DC dimming, there are people out there whose eyes can perceive the screen flickering at lower brightness levels, which in turn can cause eye fatigue or even headaches. Turning the anti-flicker mode on gets rid of the rapid flickering caused by PMW (pulse width modulation) — which is what all OLED displays use by default to control the screen brightness — by switching to a continuous current. With the DC dimming enabled, we found text was easier to read at night, but switching to this mode also introduced artifacts like display banding when displaying dark and black shades.

The hole-punch cutout, which is one of the smallest out there, doesn’t seem distracting or get in the way when watching videos or playing games. Most apps have no issue stretching to full screen without affecting their usability or having their resources blocked. Additionally, iQOO UI lets you control which apps should surround the hole-punch cutout area or leave it to the app to decide how it should display its content and interface so that important information is not being blocked by the front camera region.


iQOO 3 Performance

When it comes to raw hardware power, the iQOO 3 flexes its muscles with the beefiest of innards, featuring the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoC, blazing-fast LPDDR5 RAM, and speedy UFS 3.1 flash storage, the first phone to feature it. With hardware this powerful, there’s no doubt the phone is among the fastest out there. In my first impressions, I noted that the device felt extremely quick and fluid in general use, and over the course of this review period, that impression hasn’t changed.

In this section, we take a look at benchmark scores, compare them to other competing devices, and also assess the real-world performance using our in-house tools.

System Performance — PC Mark 2.0

PCMark remains the most reliable indicator of how a smartphone will perform in the real-world, and to that end, it’s more useful to assess the overall performance compared to other synthetic benchmarks that test CPU and GPU in isolation. The tests in PCMark are designed to simulate the activities and operations that users encounter in their daily usages such as web browsing, photo editing, video editing, working with documents, and more. These tests also stress the overall system and UI performance by taking into account memory and storage access times, encoding/decoding performance, Android API calls, database management, and more. The final PCMark 2.0 score is the average of all subtests.

PCMark for Android Benchmark
Developer: UL LLC
Price: Free

Starting with the web browsing test, the iQOO 3 seriously lags behind the Samsung Galaxy S20+, OnePlus 7T, and even the POCO X2 which costs half the price. The browsing test is sensitive to scrolling performance and here the iQOO 3’s 60Hz display simply can’t match the fluid scrolling experience offered by the high refresh rate panels, as is made apparent by this test.

The video editing test relies on OpenGL ES 2.0 and Android MediaCodec APIs to test editing and video playback performance. It applies common effects to a series of video clips with varying resolution and framerates and measures how well your device handles these tasks.

In the photo editing test, we see the iQOO 3 finally taking a lead over last year’s flagships, finishing off at the third spot.

The data manipulation test measures the time it takes to parse data from multiple file formats and tracks framerate while interacting with dynamic charts. Just like the browsing test, this test is directly tied to the overall smoothness and scrolling performance. And here, too, we see a similar pattern emerging with devices with 90Hz/120Hz panels posting much higher scores than the iQOO 3, regardless of their underlying hardware power.

The writing test is always a good indicator of the overall snappiness of a smartphone, and here the iQOO 3 isn’t that far behind the top performers.

In the final Work 2.0 Performance score, the iQOO 3 finishes off at fourth.

As is evident, most of the tests within PCMark place a strong emphasis on the refresh rate of the display, indicating how smooth the overall experience would be. And we are inclined to agree. The lack of a high refresh rate display on a “gaming” smartphone is an oversight, one that cannot be ignored. While the iQOO is fast at what it does, the experience of smoothness is not comparable to what other devices offer. High refresh rate displays will be the overarching theme of 2020, and iQOO misses this train.

UX Performance

No matter how fast your processor is or how many gigabytes of RAM your phone is packing, you can still notice stutters or jank if the system UI is poorly optimized. On devices with a high refresh rate display, system UI lag is less perceivable with interactions like scrolling and swiping feeling noticeably smoother. Users and reviewers alike are of the opinion that it’s really hard to go back to a 60Hz display after being spoiled by the smoothness of 90Hz or 120Hz displays. In this regard, it’s a disappointment that the iQOO 3 doesn’t feature a high refresh rate panel as it would have improved the user experience to a great extent and pitched the phone head-to-head against its competitors.

The lack of a high refresh display is a glaring omission and one that doesn’t sit well with the device’s gaming-focused appeal.

In any case, it’s a glaring omission and one that doesn’t sit well with the device’s gaming-focused appeal as pretty much every gaming-focused phone in this segment is at least offering a 90Hz panel, and some like the Nubia Red Magic 5G go as high as 144Hz.

With this out of the way, let’s get started with some real-world performance metrics to get a general idea as to what to expect from the device in day to day usage — as well as how all these benchmark numbers and optimization claims that iQOO made during the keynote translate into actual performance.

First, we start with our app opening test which measures the cold starts of three popular Google apps, namely the Google Play Store, Gmail, and YouTube.

Methodology: The test starts at an ambient temperature of 34°C. The test opens each application 150 times in rapid succession. Keep in mind that we are not measuring the time it takes for an app to be fully rendered with all its elements drawn on the screen. Rather, we are using a proxy by recording the time it takes for the app to create the main activity of the application. The time measure we include encompasses launching the application process, initializing its objects, creating and initializing the activity, inflating the activity’s layout, and drawing the application for the first time. It ignores inline processes that do not prevent the initial display of the application, which in turn means the recorded time is not really affected by extraneous variables such as network speed fetching burdensome assets.

We also threw in some of the mid-range and budget phones we had in our possession to the mix to add some perspective and showcase to what extent a modern flagship improves upon the budget phones in this particular area. The test was performed in a controlled environment with all background services and apps either killed or disabled on the devices used.

The results are presented below in the graphs.

Device iQOO 3 5G Samsung Galaxy M31 Motorola Moto G8 Plus
Gmail (avg. ms) 266.4 719.7 1091.9
Play Store (avg. ms) 437.0 1337.9 1855.6
YouTube (avg. ms) 533.0 1792.5 2218.0

As you can see, the iQOO 3 is leagues ahead of mid-range probably-competitors when it comes to application launch times, and the results above speak for themselves. The important thing to note here is how consistent the iQOO 3 behaves throughout the test as it’s able to maintain a steady performance without showing any sign of throttling. Whereas in the graphs for the Samsung Galaxy M31 and the Motorola Moto G8 Plus, the performance variations are quite noticeable as represented by the horizontal lines showing big spikes and dips.

iQOO says they have implemented various system optimizations like resource caching of frequently used apps and an “AI acceleration engine” that helps achieve faster app launches. And to that end, these enhancements do contribute to the faster app startup times and the overall snappiness of the phone.

Smoothness

Moving to our UI smoothness test, we used our in-house tool and the Profile GPU rendering to thoroughly test various parts of system UI as well as in-app performance.

Smoothness is determined by the device’s ability to consistently render the UI at 60FPS with even frame pacing. Every time a frame or a set of frames exceeds the 16.7ms deadline, you will see the vertical bars shooting past the green horizontal line, which may result in perceptible stutters. Usually, the higher the bar shoots above that green line, and the more bars find themselves crossing it, the more noticeable the stutter will be to the user.

First, we decided to test the scrolling performance as this is one area where stutters can be quite perceptible to users. The test involves scrolling the Google Play Store’s Top Chart entries in a rapid motion before moving on to the Gmail app to scroll through the mailbox. The test makes sure to preload the apps listings and email entries so the smooth scrolling isn’t interrupted.

In Google Play Store, the device maintains a buttery smooth scrolling throughout the test and shows no frame drops, however, the same doesn’t carry over to the Gmail app as a few frames can be seen shooting past the green line.

Next up, the side panel test is a pretty basic test that opens and closes the side panel in the Gmail app multiple times across 3 runs. As expected, the device handles this test quite easily and shows few perceivable frame drops.

Finally, we finish with the Gmail composite test to measure in-app performance. The Gmail test involves complex UI navigation such as scrolling through the mailbox entries, opening the side panel, opening and closing emails from the spam folder, and navigating the General Settings. Here, the performance wasn’t particularly smooth, and we did see some noticeable frame drops that occurred when opening an email entry and returning to the primary inbox.

The iQOO 3 won’t be able to match the smoothness offered by phones with a 90Hz/120Hz panel, but it’s still measurably smooth in scrolling and across common UI interactions

We also inspected other parts of the UI such as the default launcher, the Settings app, transitions between submenus, pulling down the notification tray, opening the multitasking screen, etc. and noticed no serious frame drops or lags — all of which match our subjective real-world experience. The bottom line is: The iQOO 3 won’t be able to match the smoothness offered by phones with a 90Hz/120Hz panel, but it’s still measurably smooth in scrolling and across common UI interactions while only slightly lagging behind last year’s flagships in in-app performance.

RAM Management

The iQOO 3 comes in two memory variants with the base model offering 8GB and the top variant packing a whopping 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM. Our variant is the top model and while we expected nothing less from memory of this size, it was a relief to see that memory management wasn’t tuned to the aggressive side. In day to day usage, the system was able to hold all my apps for a long period without having to experience unexpected background killing or activity reloading when I reopened them. Even the apps that I opened and left hours ago were kept intact when I revisited them.

Storage Speed

Last year, OnePlus was first out of the gate with a UFS 3.0-equipped device. This time around, the iQOO 3 has taken the lead to feature the latest UFS 3.1 technology.

Contrary to what the small numerical jump may lead you to believe, the UFS 3.1 standard is a substantial upgrade over its predecessor, enabling significantly faster sequential write and random read/write speeds. To measure the storage performance, we ran storage benchmark tests in AndroBench.

AndroBench is a fairly old benchmark with an equally dated design, but it’s still the go-to for storage testing. It tests the speed of sequential read/write operations, random read/write operations, and SQLite insert, update, and delete operations. A sequential read/write is an operation that involves reading/writing storage blocks that are contiguous while a random read/write involves reading/writing randomly scattered storage blocks. SQLite describes a type of database management system; developers dealing with large databases often have to make SQLite calls to retrieve or modify the database.

Compared to the UFS 2.1 standard, we see a massive 96% increase in sequential write speed and up to 71% and 61% jump in random read and write speeds, respectively. Meanwhile, in comparison to UFS 3.0 on the OnePlus 7T, there’s a 64% boost in sequential write performance and a 161% boost in random write speed.

Samsung phones are usually in their own league when it comes to storage performance, and the Galaxy S20+ is no different. As you can see, despite using UFS 3.0 storage, the Galaxy S20+’s read/write speeds are close to UFS 3.1 territory. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though, as we had observed similar behavior when reviewing the Galaxy S10 Lite as well where Samsung was able to match the performance of UFS‌ 3.0-equipped phones despite using the generation-old UFS 2.1 storage.

During day-to-day usage, the effect of UFS 3.1 is quite apparent. App installation times are reduced significantly, games take less time to get to their main screen, and photos and media load up instantly when you’re scrolling through a pile of photos and videos in Google Photos and instant messaging apps.

The iQOO 3 is as fast it gets. Its speedy performance leaves no room for complaints and handles everything you throw at it effortlessly without breaking a sweat.

To wrap up the performance section, the iQOO 3 is as fast as it gets. Its speedy performance leaves no room for complaints and handles everything you throw at it effortlessly without breaking a sweat. Although much praise goes to the improvements brought forth by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoC, UFS 3.1, and LPDDR5 RAM, iQOO’s software-level optimizations and excellent memory management also contributes to the excellent performance and thus deserves a big thumbs up.

Gaming Analysis

To assess the gaming performance we played, well, games. From the modern-day sensations that are PUBG and Call of Duty to the classic hits from the era bygone, we put the device through some intensive loads to test its graphic potential. We used GameBench to obtain detailed stats on framerate, FPS stability, power consumption, etc. for each gaming session to corroborate our subjective experience.

Thanks to GameBench for providing us a professional license to test the real-world performance of mobile games. GameBench is a tool to help users, developers, journalists, and engineers alike measure the performance of a device in games. Visit GameBench.net for more details.

PUBG Mobile

PUBG MOBILE
Developer: Level Infinite
Price: Free

PUBG Mobile needs no introduction. It remains one of the most popular and intensive games on the mobile gaming front. A device with a weaker GPU will struggle to render the graphics in their full glory at a consistent framerate, but with the Adreno 640 taking the charge, the iQOO 3 handled PUBG like a champ and showed no stutters or lag on the highest settings.

The unedited Play Store version of the game maxes out at 40fps, so we decided to use the GFX Tool to push things further. We set the frame rate to 60FPS and pushed pretty much every effect and quality-related setting to its maximum limit (Extreme, Ultra, High). Even then, the gameplay remained buttery smooth. However, the device did get uncomfortably hot after half an hour of continuous play, owing to the maxed out brightness and graphics settings.

Call of Duty

The mobile installment of the highly popular PC shooter came to the Google Play Store in October 2019 and since then, Call of Duty: Mobile has garnered a sizable fanbase. With