iQOO 9 SE Review: The Galaxy A53 Killer!

iQOO 9 SE Review
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In this review, I am going to talk about the iQOO 9 SE, which—believe me—is an insanely good midrange phone to buy right now. And, this could even be a Samsung Galaxy A53 killer! As a result, I’ve been putting it through its paces alongside the Galaxy A53, and what we can tell is that the A53, for what it’s worth, is a good camera phone. Plus, it has an IP67 rating and a class-leading display too. But that’s about it! Its performance is pretty bad for the price, you don’t get a charger inside the box, and more importantly, it is more expensive than the iQOO 9 SE.

For INR 34,000 and some bank discounts, the IQOO 9 SE is the best phone in its price range in my opinion. We don’t really have as many things to complain about here since iQOO has delivered an excellent all-rounder phone—just like last year’s iQOO 7. Anyway, let me talk about the things that are great about the iQOO 9 SE and some aspects where it could improve with future updates.

iQOO 9 SE Specifications:

  • Body: 163.2 x 76.4 x 8.4 mm, Plastic frame
  • Display: 6.62-inches AMOLED, 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+, 1200 nits (peak) brightness, Panda Glass Protection
  • Resolution: FHD+ (1080 x 2400 pixels), 398 PPI, ~20:9 aspect ratio
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G (5nm mobile platform)
  • CPU: Octa-core:
    – 1x Kryo 680 Prime (Cortex-X1, 2.84 GHz)
    – 3x Kryo 680 Gold (Cortex-A78, 2.42 GHz)
    – 4x Kryo 680 Silver (Cortex-A55, 1.80 GHz)
  • GPU: Adreno 660
  • Memory: 8/12GB RAM, 128/256GB UFS 3.1 storage
  • Software & UI: Android 12 with Vivo’s Funtouch OS 12 on top
  • Rear Camera: Triple (with LED flash);
    – 48MP, f/1.8 primary sensor, OIS
    – 13MP, f/2.2 ultrawide sensor, 120º FoV
    – 2MP, f/2.4 depth sensor
  • Front Camera: 16MP, f/2.0 sensor (hole-punch cutout)
  • Audio: Dual speaker, Hi-Res Audio, No 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Security: In-display fingerprint sensor (optical), Face unlock
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Ambient Light, E-compass, Gyro, Proximity
  • Connectivity: Dual-SIM (Nano), WiFi 5 a/b/g/n/ac (Dual-band), Bluetooth 5.2, GPS / AGPS / Glonass, USB Type-C, 4G LTE (VoLTE), 5G
  • Battery: 4500mAh with 66W FlashCharge (66W power adapter provided)
  • Color Options: Space Fusion, Sunset Sierra
  • Price in Nepal: N/A (INR 33,990 for 8/128GB | INR 37,990 for 12/256GB)

iQOO 9 SE Review:

Design

  • 163.2 x 76.4 x 8.4 mm
  • Glass front, Plastic frames

First off, let’s talk about the design. And I must admit that although it’s not as good as the more expensive iQOO 9, it is still a well-built phone. It has a good heft to it and the phone doesn’t feel that bulky either. Moreover, the slight curves on the sides help with the grip as well.

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iQOO9SEDesignBut, being Vivo’s sub-brand, I wished iQOO had gone with that color-changing back like the one on the Vivo V23, which would have made it more appealing. This Sunset Sierra variant does catch some fingerprints and smudges, but it’s not that prominent.

Overall, the design of the iQOO 9 SE isn’t spectacular. You don’t get any form of IP rating, the frames are still plastic-made, and the display comes with a cheaper Panda glass protection. But these are the things where you expect brands to cut costs on their midrange phones. So for me, it’s not a deal-breaker.

Display

  • 6.62-inches FHD+ AMOLED
  • 120/300Hz refresh/touch sampling rate
  • HDR 10+, 1200 nits peak brightness

Moving on to the front, the iQOO 9 SE’s display is quite similar to the one we got on the iQOO 7, which means it’s a very good AMOLED panel. We found its quality to be a class above some of the cheaper phones like the Redmi Note 11 Pro or even the Realme 9 Pro+ that we recently reviewed.

iQOO9SE Display

But when it comes to displays, I think Samsung’s color optimization on its A-series phones is still marginally ahead of other brands.

Still and all, the iQOO 9 SE’s screen is quite good. It has excellent contrast, near-accurate colors—albeit with a slightly blueish tinge—and it can get plenty bright too. Hence, you will enjoy watching movies and shows here. This display is also HDR10-certified and it plays HDR videos on Netflix and Prime Video just fine. It houses an optical fingerprint sensor as well and if you compare it against the A53, it’s just way faster and more reliable.

I also found the typing experience to be pretty decent on the 9 SE. However, its 300Hz touch sampling rate is nothing extra-ordinary and personally, I find Xiaomi and Realme’s premium midrange phones to have slightly better touch latency, but this is something not everyone’s gonna notice.

Few Caveats

The only issue we found with this display is that auto-brightness doesn’t work as it should. For instance, while I am in bed at night with lights turned off, the phone’s brightness level doesn’t drop all the way to its lowest possible nits. And most of the time I had to manually toggle it to a more comfortable viewing level.

iQOO9SE Display -1

Likewise, this screen refreshes at 120Hz and we used the phone in the 120Hz mode at all times instead of the Smart Switch option that iQOO offers. That’s because the Smart Switch option is kinda hit-or-miss. For example, while browsing Chrome or scrolling through the Messenger app, the refresh rate is restricted to just 60Hz.

And because of this, we used it at 120Hz mode, which means it did take a toll on the battery life—although you can turn on Smart Switch for slightly better endurance. But even so, the battery life here isn’t that great as I was getting just around 5 to 6 hours of screen on time under moderate usage. Charging, on the other hand, is quite fast as the phone can go from 0 to 100% in less than 40 minutes with the provided 67W brick.

Performance

  • Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G SoC (5nm)
  • 8/12GB RAM, 128/256GB UFS 3.1 storage
  • Android 12 with Vivo’s Funtouch OS 12 on top

Now, getting to the performance side of things in this review, the iQOO 9 SE has one of the most powerful hardware packages for the price. It employs Snapdragon 888 with 8GB of RAM on the base model which easily makes it the best performing smartphone per dollar.

iQOO9SE User Interface

In our 3 weeks of use so far, we played a lot with the phone, and we saw no stutter, no lags, no weird screen issues, and it never heated enough to trigger throttling. Multitasking is fluid and memory management is excellent too.

Gaming

As for gaming, PUBG mobile runs smoothly at 60 fps in its highest setting which is HDR graphics and Extreme frame rates. The phone does get warm pretty fast under this setting, so we needed to dial down the setting for better thermals.

iQOO9SE Gaming

But overall, it looks like the vapor chamber cooling inside the iQOO 9 SE does a decent job of not throttling the performance that much, contrary to what we saw on last year’s Snapdragon 888-powered phones. Still, iQOO needs to work on an update to improve the gaming performance in other games.

Here, the COD Mobile can only reach 30 fps for some reason. And other 120 fps-ready games like Critical Ops and Injustice 2 don’t reach their full fps potential as well, even though the Snapdragon 888 is more than capable of handling it.

Cameras

  • Triple camera setup at the back
  • (48MP main, 13MP ultrawide, 2MP depth)
  • 16MP selfie camera (hole-punch cutout)

Alright, let’s talk cameras now. And this is an area where iQOO has got to improve many things since I found its cameras to be “not as reliable” and definitely not that consistent.

Normal Images

Although it’s marginally better than say the OnePlus Nord 2 or the Vivo V23, but given its camera hardware and the image signal processor of the Snapdragon 888, it should be doing better.

In comparison, the Galaxy A53’s camera brings livelier photos most of the time, whereas the iQOO 9 SE’s images feel unnaturally warm.

Portrait Images

When it comes to human subjects, there’s too much processing going on, which I definitely think could be improved with a software update.

But if there’s uniform lighting, the portraits come out decent as well with acceptable subject separation and bokeh.

Nighttime Images

Plus, during nighttime, the normal photos take 1 or 2 seconds to process the shot which means if you are taking a photo of your pet or your drunk friend, chances are the image will end up blurry.

But if you could look past all of these issues, the iQOO 9 SE does take some good photos with excellent dynamic range and sharpness thanks to OIS.

Selfie Images

Selfies are also quite good with excellent HDR processing, good color presentation, and exposure levels.

Videos

Moreover, for what it’s worth, I think the 9 SE is a good camera phone for shooting videos too. It can record at up to 4K 60 fps although iQOO has disabled both EIS as well as OIS at this resolution. But other resolutions like 4K 30 and 1080p 60 fps have good stabilization where the videos are fairly detailed and with accurate color processing. Still, it would have been great if the selfie and ultra-wide lens could record beyond 1080p 30fps.

IQOO 9 SE Review: Conclusion

iQOO9SE Design - 1

Wrapping up this review, the iQOO 9 SE is a great smartphone with a good design, excellent screen, a powerful Snapdragon 888 processor, and a good set of speakers. So, despite its cameras not being as capable as the Galaxy A53, at Rs. 34,000, the iQOO 9 SE is an unbeatable value and without a doubt my first choice in the sub 35K price segment right now.

IQOO 9 SE Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • Quality 120Hz AMOLED screen
  • 66W Fast Charging
  • Optimized for day-to-day tasks
  • 67W fast charging
  • Good set of speakers
  • Value for money

Cons:

  • No IP rating against dust and water damage
  • Most games aren’t well-optimized
  • Not so reliable cameras
  • Average battery endurance
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Design & Build
8
Display
8.5
Performance
9
Back Camera
7.5
Front Camera
8
Software & UI
8.5
Battery
8
Speaker & Haptics
8
Value for Money
9
The iQOO 9 SE is another addition to the company's product line that emphasizes exceptional performance and value for money. It is aimed at those who place a premium on raw performance above everything else. It also brings a contrast-rich AMOLED panel and a good set of stereo speakers, making it a capable multimedia consumption device. However, the company needs to make its camera more reliable, which can be readily done with a proper software upgrade.iqoo-9-se-review