While gaming smartphones have yet to make a major splash in the US, they’re big business in China, as evidenced by devices like the Asus ROG, Black Shark, and Red Magic families. Like those, the Vivo IQOO (2,998 yuan, approximately $425) puts mobile gaming front and center, and does so at a very attractive price. In addition to having built-in gaming optimization software, the IQOO also features gameplay sensors on its frame and a vapor cooling chamber, making it an attractive buy for gamers. If gaming isn’t your primary smartphone pastime, however, the Xiaomi Mi 9 offers a much more well-rounded experience for nearly the same price, making it our Editors’ Choice.
Design, Display, and Audio
The Vivo IQOO stands out from the crowd of cookie-cutter flagships. Sure, it has the same glass sandwich design, but gains character from its unique color combinations. Available in black, blue, orange, or white, each color has its own distinct gradient of sorts, with subtle lines of varying shades traveling vertically on the back panel. The IQOO measures 6.21 by 2.96 by 0.33 inches (HWD) and comes in at 6.91 ounces.
The front houses a 6.41-inch AMOLED display with 2,340 by 1,080 pixels, for 402 pixels per inch. While AMOLED seems to be the default for most Chinese midrange and flagship phones these days, the IQOO looks exceptionally crisp, with excellent color accuracy. It’s also bright enough to easily see in direct sunlight.
While the display is gorgeous, the in-display fingerprint sensor leaves a lot to be desired. During our lab tests, we found the sensor only worked properly about two-thirds of the time. If the screen or your fingers are dirty, accuracy is reduced to around 50 percent.
Audio on the IQOO is also a bit of a letdown. Peak volume comes in at 84dB, which should be loud enough to fill most rooms, but sounds flat, without the slightest hint of bass. Fortunately, there’s both a headphone jack and Bluetooth included for wired or wireless headphones.
Hardware and Benchmarks
The Vivo IQOO offers several different models with varying degrees of storage and RAM. It ships with a Snapdragon 855 processor along with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM by default. You can upgrade to 8GB or 12GB of RAM if you’re willing to pay more. There’s also a 256GB storage variant available with 8GB or 12GB of RAM. If you plan on downloading a lot of games, you’ll definitely want to spring for the 256GB storage option, since there is no microSD slot for external storage.
Despite its relatively affordable price, the IQOO crushed our benchmark tests. On PCMark, a benchmarking suite that emulates everyday smartphone tasks, our review unit with 8GB of RAM scored 9,157, coming in just behind the more expensive OnePlus 7 Pro (9,874). It did just as well on Ludashi, with a score of 387,303, which is better than most of the phones we’ve tested except the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G (412,288).
We also tested the phone using AI Benchmark, which requires it to correctly identify common people, places, and objects. As you can see above, the IQOO actually did better than all of the phones we tested, with a score of 26,161, putting it ahead of the OnePlus 7 Pro (25,258) and the Huawei P30 Pro (20,920).
The Vivo IQOO has a 4,000mAh battery, which is pretty standard for your average smartphone, but seems a little light for one focused on gaming. In our battery drain test, which streams video over Wi-Fi at full brightness, the IQOO lasted 9 hours and 11 minutes before dying, which is fine, but nothing to write home about. When playing PUBG Mobile for an hour, however, we noticed the battery depleted by nearly 20 percent. While you should have no problem making it through an entire day with average use, you’ll want to make sure you have a charger nearby for extended gaming sessions. If you do find your phone running on low, the least expensive version of the IQOO offers fast charging at 22.5W, while the other models offers 44.5W charging that can completely top off the phone within 45 minutes.
While the Vivo IQOO is targeted toward mobile gamers, we’re still disappointed by its overall camera performance. The back of the phone features a triple camera stack with a 12MP primary lens with an f/1.8 aperture, a secondary 13MP ultrawide lens with a narrower f/2.4 aperture, and a 2MP depth-sensing lens with an f/2.4 aperture.
In daylight, camera performance is acceptable. In our test shots, colors look warm and background details are frequently lost. Low-light performance is worse, with extensive background detail loss, blurring, and some noise.
The 12MP front-facing camera is even more disappointing. Daylight photos are underwhelming, with significant background loss and undersaturated colors. In low light, the photos are simply too blurry and noisy to even use.
Software and Special Features
The IQOO ships with Android 9.0 Pie along with Vivo’s custom FunTouch 9 skin. Since Google apps and services are missing from Chinese phones, Vivo created its own suite of productivity apps that get the job done, but are ultimately pretty medicore. There are also dozens of third-party apps that can thankfully be uninstalled.
If you’re used to a traditional Android experience, FunTouch is a departure. It’s a very different beast, with its own gestures, settings, and menus. We encountered slight delays when multitasking and swiping between pages.
The majority of special features on the IQOO revolve around gaming. A software feature called Ultra Game Mode optimizes your phone’s network, allows you to block incoming calls and notifications, and even adds a sidebar for special controls. There are also touch sensors on the IQOO’s frame that you can use to quickly move and fire during gameplay on compatible apps. Separately, both are relatively simple features, but combined they’re a powerful duo that make gameplay a pleasure.
If you’re looking for a relatively affordable smartphone with serious gaming chops, the Vivo IQOO is definitely worth considering. In addition to loads of RAM and a top-notch processor, it features software tuned to help you play your best. That said, if you aren’t primarily focused on gaming, there are stronger options available. We recommend the less expensive Xiaomi Mi 9, which offers better battery life, camera performance, and software, without sacrificing much in the way of power. For essentially the same price as the IQOO, it’s our Editors’ Choice.