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iQOO 12 review: Kicking off the 2024 flagship race early

The iQOO 12 5G comes with a premium design, the latest Snapdragon chipset, good display, excellent fast charging, and massively improved cameras

The iQOO 12 comes with the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip.(iQOO)

By Tushar Kanwar

LAST PUBLISHED 30.12.2023  |  12:00 PM IST

From “iQOO who?" to being widely acknowledged as the brand that fills the void left by OnePlus for the enthusiast and gamer community, Vivo’s performance-first sub-brand iQOO has come a long way.

With the flagship iQOO 11 launched in early 2023, iQOO delivered a device that featured Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset at a sub-Rs60,000 price point, and the brand has pulled one out of the hat yet again, closing the year with the launch of the iQOO 12 with the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip – among the first to do so. This chip will be the heart of most flagships one will see in the first half of 2024. But has iQOO done enough with the iQOO 12 to get a jump on what’s to come in 2024?

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A quick word on pricing – the iQOO 12 starts at Rs. 52,999 for the 12GB RAM + 256GB storage model, and there’s a 16GB + 512GB RAM and storage variant that retails for Rs. 57,999. That’s less than what the iQOO 11 launched at earlier this year, and given the upgrades all around, this is likely going to be the most accessible way to buy the latest Qualcomm chipset, even as we go into 2024 and the launch of the OnePlus and Xiaomi flagships. Both variants are available in the white (Legend) and black (Alpha) colorways, and ship with a TPU case and a 120W SuperVOOC charger in the box.

Design

Now, unless you’re not a fan of the BMW brand, the white Legend colorway is the far more exciting version to pick up, with the enamel glass finish and the BMW M Motorsport tri-color stripes branding on the rear (unlike the long racing stripe on the iQOO 11). The rear panel is glossy and feels slightly slippery unless you slap on the included case. The switch to flat metallic sides makes it a tad difficult to grip, even as the 204g weight doesn’t feel fatiguing in the hand for a phone this size.

Yet, clearly the most distinguishing feature has to be the large squircle-shaped camera island that’s seemingly inspired by portholes on ships. It gives the iQOO 12 a distinct look and looks good to boot. Bonus: it comes with an infrared blaster to control home appliances. The IP64 water ingress protection is a step up from last year’s complete lack of IP rating, so while the IQOO 12 can survive splashes and rain, it won’t take submersion in water too well.

Display

Around the front, the iQOO 12 retains the same 6.78-inch screen size as the iQOO 11, but the AMOLED panel sees significant upgrades all around, with up to 3000 nits/1400 nits in high brightness/regular use, and a quad-HD screen that dynamically refreshes between 1Hz and 144Hz depending on what’s on the screen.

Color accuracy is good, as is the adaptive refresh rate, and streaming HDR10+ content and gaming on the large display is excellent. The on-board stereo speakers are good as well (with good stereo separation), amping up the gaming and media consumption experience. There are some handy video enhancement capabilities, such as motion smoothing (for sports), resolution upscaling and SDR to HDR color/contrast boost.

Chipset and battery

Of course, the headlining feature on the iQOO 12 is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, the first phone in India to launch with Qualcomm’s latest silicon, which makes it the most powerful Android phone at the time of writing. Needless to say, the phone is smooth and fluid in daily use, and games like Genshin Impact and BGMI run at the highest graphics settings even after extended duration gameplay. There was no lag or throttling whatsoever, courtesy the excellent vapor cooling system, the gaming prowess of the Adreno 750 graphics and the proprietary Q1 chip -- the latter bumping up frame rates and resolution in games with only the slightest overhead in terms of power consumption.

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The rest of the hardware leaves no room for complaint, with 12/16GB of fast LPDDR5 memory and 256GB/512GB of UFS 4.0 storage on the base/step-up model, along with Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5.4 for connectivity.

All of this is a step up from the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 devices, but I think the current lot of games were quite easily handled by the last gen flagship chip, so the gains will be less apparent unless you’re an avid multi-hour gamer.

The Android 14-based Funtouch OS 14 has a clean aesthetic, but it still comes with a lot of bloatware, some of which can be uninstalled, but is nonetheless a bother to deal with when you start using the phone. Battery life is excellent, with the 5000 mAh battery lasting well past a day of heavy use, and there’s Vivo’s 120W charging tech to quickly juice up the device, even if it is only for a short ten minutes in the middle of the day. No wireless charging, which is an acceptable compromise at the price point, but with wired charging speeds this fast, one isn’t really complaining.

Camera

While the headlines were somewhat rightfully all about the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, the real star of the iQOO 12 is the upgraded camera setup. There’s a 50MP main camera with OIS, a 50MP wide-angle/macro with autofocus, a 64MP telephoto with 3x zoom/portrait lens and OIS, and a 16MP selfie shooter.

Daylight shots pack in plenty of details and dynamic range, but the wide-angle and the telephoto shooters aren’t pushovers either, both turning out good photos and adding a ton of versatility to the setup (unlike the iQOO 11 where only the primary shooter was truly flagship grade). Low light shots are pretty good too, with a high degree of resolved detail and good exposure and color levels. Video at 4K/60fps on all three cameras, with 8K/30fps on the primary camera, is a nice touch.

Verdict

With the iQOO 12, it's not just the first-mover advantage that will hold the phone in good stead for the months ahead. This is a genuinely good and well sorted phone, with premium design, the latest silicon, a good display and excellent fast charging, massively improved cameras and a BMW partnership that’s subtle and not too in your face.

Even its shortcomings – lack of true water submersion protection and wireless charging – are quite easily overlooked. If this is a 2023 sign of things to come in 2024, we’re in for a fun year ahead.

Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.

Also read: Google Pixel 8 review: The little Android smartphone that can