It won’t be too far fetched to say that iQOO had a good run in 2021. Thanks to its value-oriented smartphone offerings focussing on performance, the brand managed to make a name for itself amidst cutthroat competition. Devices like the iQOO 7 and the 7 Legend stand out and deserve special mention. Hoping to continue in the same vein this year, the brand has recently introduced the 9 series lineup, comprising the iQOO 9, the iQOO 9 Pro, and the iQOO 9 SE. While the iQOO 9 Pro (review) stands out as the country’s first phone to come powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC, the iQOO 9 (review) is also a performance-packed device with its SD 888+. The 9 SE, just like its siblings, is also keeping its sights focussed on performance, and comes packed with the Snapdragon 888 SoC. In fact, at Rs 34k, the iQOO 9 SE is among the most affordable phones to utilise the services of the SD888 chip.
Scoring high in almost all aspects, the iQOO 9 SE is an all-rounder that comes across as good value for money. While some bloatware persist, the smartphone delivers good performance and adds decent shooting prowess and fast charging to the mix.
The iQOO 9 SE doesn’t look too different from the iQOO 7 that came before it, and that’s both good and bad. Good, because the phone looks clean and elegant, thanks to its slivery gradient back and prominent camera module that sports a brushed metal finish. The back of the phone is devoid of flashy branding or text, though not does have a subtle iQOO logo and OIS mentioned below the cameras. At the front, the flat screen looks par for the course, with a centrally placed punch hole and slight bezels all around. That said, the phone won’t really stand out in a herd of similar-looking devices, and you can’t expect heads to turn. The build quality is solid though, with the usual buttons and controls placed at their usual locations. The right spine is home to the power button and volume rocker, while the bottom has the Type-C port, speaker, and SIM tray. There’s no 3.5mm headset socket though.
The 6.62-inch AMOLED display on the iQOO 9 SE features FHD+ resolution and 120Hz refresh rate, and at 1300 nits, gets sufficiently bright for outdoor usage. You have the usual eye protection and dark modes available, and the option to tweak screen colours and choose between standard, professional and bright options. The colour temperature can be adjusted via a slider as well. The device gives you the option to lock the refresh rate at 60Hz or 120Hz if you wish, or take the middle ground and choose the smart switch options that selects the most appropriate refresh rate automatically. HDR playback is supported for compatible services and the display is quite capable overall, displaying deep blacks and vivid colours… so no complaints there. The stereo speakers do their bit to add to the multimedia viewing experience too.
The triple camera setup at the rear comprises a 48MP main sensor featuring optical image stabilisation. Complementing this are a 13MP ultra-wide (that doubles up for macro duties) and 2MP depth sensors, with a 16MP snapper gracing the front. Overall, the iQOO 9 SE fares quite well when it comes to photography prowess. The shots taken in daylight exhibit accurate colours and good highlight control. The images show good dynamic range, with shadowy areas showing ample detail. Even for portrait shots, the skin tones oh human subjects are rendered well. The wide-angle sensor does its job well too, and the same is true for the phone’s low-light image-taking abilities. And when it comes to selfies, the device clicks detailed selfies with natural skin tones.
The iQOO 9 SE runs Funtouch OS atop Android 12. From what I can make out, the custom skin has been toned down quite a bit and seems close to stock Android now, at least in terms of look and feel. That said, bloatware is still an issue, and you get a bunch of apps pre-installed, including Byju’s, Spotify, PhonePe, CRED etc. Thankfully, most of them can be uninstalled. Funtouch also provides a bunch of customisation options in settings, along with quite a few tweaks meant for gamers as part of the Ultra Game Mode. The latter include game frame interpolation which enhances FPS of games like BGMI, and 4D Game Vibration that adds to the haptics for certain game scenario effects.
Now Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 might be last year’s flagship chip, but it does pack in a lot of grunt. And both real-world performance, as well as benchmark scores logged by the iQOO 9 SE, are testament to its strong performance. Mated to 12GB of RAM (plus 4 gigs of extended RAM) and 256GB of storage, the SD888 delivers smooth, strong performance that handles pretty much everything thrown at it with aplomb. While most benchmarks show expected results, the CPU Throttle test shows the phone throttling to 74 percent of its peak performance, though I didn’t face any issues in my usage.
The 4,500mAh battery inside the device delivers reasonably good performance too and can last a day with medium usage. Use the phone more extensively or game it for longer durations though, and you might find yourself for the charger by evening. In PCMark’s battery test, the phone lasted 14 hours 21 minutes to drain to 20 percent, which is a reasonably good score. Speaking of the charger, the phone supports 66W charging, and the bundled brick juices up the phone fully in about 45 minutes.
Priced at Rs 33,990, the iQOO 9 SE definitely comes across as a value proposition, especially given the fact that it delivers on most aspects of the smartphone usage experience. Talking about the competition in this price range, the Realme GT (review) is possibly the only one that can match the iQOO 9 SE in terms of performance but leaves a bit to be desired in the camera department. There are quite a few other contenders, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G, OnePlus 9R, the Realme GT Neo 2, and others. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G should be better in the shooting department, while OnePlus delivers a cleaner software experience, but the iQOO 9 SE’s all-round proposition does seem to tilt the balance in its favour.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Smooth performance
- Capable cameras
- Decent battery life & fast charging
- Value for money
- No 3.5mm headphone jack