iQOO 9 SE vs OnePlus 9RT in-depth comparison: which is the better flagship-killer?

Is the iQOO 9 SE a better buy over the OnePlus 9RT? Read on, to find out.

Following in the footsteps of OnePlus and Xiaomi, Vivo’s sub-brand iQOO finally took the plunge and launched the iQOO 9 Pro (review) in India. The smartphone is the first uber premium offering from the company and the device features high-end specs that’ll leave any tech enthusiast salivating. That’s not to say that the company has foregone its VFM roots. Case in point, the iQOO 9 SE, which is the most affordable Snapdragon 888 phone in India. In fact, starting at Rs 33,990, the device undercuts the competition, including the fan-favourite OnePlus 9RT (review) by quite a margin. So then, is the phone too good to be true? Or does the handset have what it takes to go toe to toe with arguably one of the best bang for buck phones in the biz? Well, let’s find out in our in-depth comparison between the iQOO 9 SE and the OnePlus 9RT.

Design

The design of a product is inherently subjective so, it’s hard to crown a winner in this category. But, for what it’s worth, I find the OnePlus 9RT’s design more to my liking. For one, the handset’s velvety back imparts a luxurious in-hand feel. Furthermore, the 9RT’s rounded-off frame paves way for a better in-hand grip too. And, as someone who has had his fair share of gradient-back phones with peppy colours, the 9RT’s Hacker Black hue comes across as a breath of fresh air. A fringe benefit of the same is that the finish doesn’t show any smudges. 

That’s not to say that the iQOO 9 SE looks bad, mind you. In fact, if you gravitate towards light-weight phones, then the 9 SE is a better buy. What’s more, much like the OnePlus 9RT, the back of the phone employs glass in its construction too, so it feels quite premium as well. But, for all its merits, the handset’s design doesn’t quite convey the same elegance as the OnePlus 9RT. 

On the flip side, the smartphone’s haptics is significantly superior to that of OnePlus’ offering. To wit, the iQOO 9 SE’s Z-axis Linear motor offers satisfactory feedback whenever you press a button on the screen, thereby making the device a godsend for serious typists. The 9RT’s haptics, on the other hand, feel a tad mushy. The same is true for our contenders’ audio setups too. In fact, while the OnePlus 9RT’s dual speakers sound louder and correspondingly, pave the way for a joyous movie-watching experience, the iQOO 9 SE’s speaker setup has been tuned better. To wit, the 9 SE’s dual speakers can reciprocate low-end frequencies much better. Ipso facto, to my ears, the in-game audio sounded more authentic when relayed via the 9 SE’s speaker grills. 

Much to my dismay, neither of the two phones ship with a headphone jack. That said, both handsets offer a responsive in-display fingerprint sensor that will get you to your home screen in the blink of an eye. The devices offer facial recognition too, which worked just as well, albeit isn’t as secure as their respective fingerprint sensors. I say this because I could unlock both the phones whilst wearing a protective mask, so make of that what you will. Moving on, I should point out that while both the OnePlus 9RT as well as the iQOO 9 SE feature a dual-SIM tray, the devices omit the microSD card slot. Thankfully, both the phones ship with a USB Type-C connector as well, which is great. Notably, the iQOO 9 SE doesn’t offer any unique design elements. In contrast, the OnePlus 9RT ships with an alert slider that allows users to change the system’s sound profile on the fly. 

Display 

Display-wise, both, the iQOO 9 SE as well as the OnePlus 9RT ship with a 6.62-inch, FHD+, AMOLED screen. That said, the 9RT’s screen appears a tad bigger, which can be accredited to the sleek bezels bordering the phone’s display. On the flip side, the iQOO 9 SE’s screen is circumferenced by chunkier bezels that can be a bit distracting when consuming media on the device. Other than that, though, the displays on the two phones are neck and neck.

That is, the panels refresh at 120Hz, meaning buyers opting for either of the two phones will be greeted with buttery smooth visuals and UI / app animations. Furthermore, both the phones offer a dedicated dark mode, along with an eye-care mode that should limit the strain on your eyes. That’s not all, as the devices offer a peak brightness of 1,300 nits too, meaning you can use either of the two phones in well-lit environments without squinting your eyes. Thankfully, the duo can relay HDR videos over YouTube and OTT services like Netflix as well. Correspondingly, you can watch shows like Our Planet, Witcher etc in HDR glory on the 9RT, as well as the iQOO 9 SE. 

I should add that the OnePlus 9RT offers a faster touch sampling rate of 600Hz. The iQOO 9 SE, on the other hand, caps the touch sampling rate at 300Hz. Be that as it may, I didn’t notice any major differences whilst gaming on the two phones.

Cameras 

Contrary to popular belief, the iQOO 9 SE has a fantastic camera setup that punches way above its weight. In fact, I noticed that the handset’s 48MP shooter snapped slightly better images than the 9RT’s 50MP main sensor. Don’t get me wrong – the photos from the two phones are – for the most part – indistinguishable. However, the 9 SE does have a few aces up its sleeves and the shots from the phone exhibit truer-to-life colours as well as better highlight control.



As an example, if you take a look at the slider attached above then here, you can instantly tell that the sun seems a tad over-exposed in 9RT’s shot. What’s more, OnePlus has outputted a contrast-y image with punchy colours, whereas the iQOO 9 SE has rendered the scene authentically. Having said that, both the photos are neck and neck in terms of details and sharpness. 



Here’s another example – in this next shot of my apartment complex, you can tell that the sky looks a tad too blue in 9RT’s photo. It’s almost as if the image from the OnePlus 9RT has a filter on it. On the flip side, the iQOO 9 SE has rendered the scene as is, and the device has also squeezed out ample information from the shadows. 



Both the phones click appealing closeups too, with the underlying difference being their respective colour science. Once again, iQOO’s image is a more accurate representation of the scene and the handset has replicated the yellow tinge near the centre of the flower to a tee. On the flip side, the OnePlus 9RT has spruced up the yellow hue to the point where it looks orange-ish.

What’s more, the high-res images from the 9RT appear grossly over-sharpened at a closer crop. The 9 SE’s 48MP snap, however, offers bountiful details without compromising the textures of the elements in the frame. Suffice it to say, while both phones output pleasing images during the day, the iQOO 9 SE’s main sensor reciprocates colours better and the device’s dynamic range, as well as exposure control, is a cut above the 9RT. 



Moving on, the portrait shots from the two phones are once again, on par with one another. While the 9RT’s image offers slightly better details, the iQOO 9 SE’s shot has rendered the subject’s skin tone much better. That said, the blur effect is equally consistent across the two phones. 



Now, if you rely on a phone’s wide-angle sensor an awful lot then you might want to side with iQOO’s offering. For one, the handset offers better exposure control than the 9RT, which can be seen in the slider attached above. Furthermore, if you pan your attention to the right of the frame, then you’ll notice chromatic aberration in 9RT’s shot. To wit, the device exhibits a reddish tinge on one of the buildings.



The same is true for the phones’ selfie cameras as well. While the 9RT can click tasteful selfies, the subject’s skin tone is often rendered incorrectly. The iQOO 9 SE, on the other hand, clicks detail-laden selfies with natural colours. 

Lastly, let’s take a look at the nighttime shots from the two phones. Now, credit where credit’s due, the iQOO 9 SE and the 9RT have kept a lid on lens flaring equally well. Furthermore, neither of the two phones has introduced a ton of noise in the frame. However, the OnePlus 9RT’s image appears oddly darkened.

In fact, the leaves look black and the edges of the buildings appear oversharpened too. On the other hand, the iQOO 9 SE’s image, albeit a tad too bright, offers pleasing colours. With that said, both the phones are neck and neck in the video department. To wit, the duo comes with OIS chops and correspondingly, you will be able to record smooth video clips with either of the two phones.

Performance and Battery Life 

Coming to the meat of the matter, the iQOO 9 SE and the OnePlus 9RT are backed by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor. While not the latest chip on the market, the SoC is still plenty powerful, especially when paired with our contenders’ UFS 3.1 storage and speedy LPDDR5 memory. Unsurprisingly, the handsets breezed through everything I had to throw at them with ease – be it running demanding games at the highest graphics and FPS settings, or multitasking between a handful of apps, the handsets could do it all. To give you a better picture, take a look at the slider attached below which will have the benchmark scores for the two phones across a myriad of apps. 

Evidently, the phones are neck and neck in the performance department. The same is further substantiated when running games on the phones too. To wit, both the smartphones can run BGMI at the Extreme FPS preset, and that’s with the graphics set to HDR and anti-aliasing, as well as in-game shadows enabled. Furthermore, the duo can also make use of the game’s UHD texture pack, which is great.

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Now, I will admit, the iQOO 9 SE gets a tad warmer to the touch but, the temperature difference between the phones isn’t night and day. In fact, at no point in time did I stumble across any thermal throttling issues on the two phones. As such, the smartphones performed admirably in the CPU throttling test, as well as 3D Mark’s Extreme stress test. 

Moving on, the iQOO 9 SE, as well as the OnePlus 9RT feature a 4,500mAh battery pack which, with moderate usage, should last buyers a full day off a single charge. Thankfully, both the phones come bundled with fast charging bricks too, ensuring you don’t have to stay tethered to the power outlet for long. Notably, the OnePlus 9RT ships with a 65W charger, whereas the iQOO 9 SE employs a 66W brick. In terms of charging, the devices take around forty minutes for a full charge, so rest assured, the iQOO 9 SE and the OnePlus 9RT are at a level pegging in the battery department.

Software

Part of the charm of owning a OnePlus phone is undeniably OxygenOS, the company’s custom interface that is layered on top of Android. In the case of the OnePlus 9RT, the smartphone boots OxygenOS v11.3 based on Android 11. The iQOO 9 SE, on the other hand, boots Android 12 with the company’s FunTouch OS V12 custom skin on top. Right off the bat, the 9RT offers a cleaner UI with little to no bloatware. Furthermore, the handset ships with a slew of customisation features too, including the ability to stylise your home screens with third party icon packs, and more. The iQOO 9 SE’s interface, while good, cannot hold a candle to the 9RT’s OxygenOS in terms of theming and customisation.

Understandably, the iQOO 9 SE boots Android 12 from the get-go, however, the device will only get two major software updates. The OnePlus 9RT, on the other hand, will get three major device updates and correspondingly, both the phones should offer similar longevity. 

Verdict 

The iQOO 9 SE retails for Rs 33,990, whereas the OnePlus 9RT can be picked up for Rs 42,999 in India. Without leveraging any discounts, the iQOO 9 SE undercuts the 9RT by Rs 9K and despite that, the smartphone offers similar performance and a better camera array. The 9RT does have a few things going for it too and the device offers a trendy design along with a feature-rich UI.

Now, provided you don’t care too much about a phone’s custom skin, I’d say go for the iQOO 9 SE – it is clearly the more VFM phone of the lot. That said, if you don’t mind shelling extra for OxygenOS, by all means, get the OnePlus 9RT – it’s not a bad phone either.