Thursday, July 25, 2024

iQoo Z9x Review: Budget 5G Redefined?

Previously, budget 5G smartphones offered the bare minimum when it came to core hardware and had cameras that basically snapped a photo without caring for image quality. Things changed over the past few years, and as the chipsets became more affordable, manufacturers were soon able to squeeze in additional hardware and add more value. With the ‘5G tax’ finally out of the equation, the expectations from a budget 5G smartphone are sky-high. Samsung offers high-refresh-rate AMOLED displays, while Motorola even provides a basic IP52 rating in smartphones priced under Rs. 15,000.

iQoo’s latest 5G contender, the Z9x adds to the sea of budget 5G smartphones that you can choose from under Rs. 15,000 these days. How does it stack up against the competition? And does it perform as expected? I’ve been using this phone for several weeks, and here’s what I think.

iQoo Z9x Review: Price in India

iQoo’s Z9x is priced rather smartly, with the base 4GB RAM and 128GB storage option on sale at Rs. 12,999 in India. The 6GB RAM variant is available at Rs. 14,499, while the 8GB RAM variant is a bit pricey at Rs. 15,999. The phone is available in two finishes: Tornado Green and Storm Grey. I received an 8GB RAM variant in the Storm Grey colourway for review.

iQoo Z9x Review: Design

As mentioned in my first impressions of the smartphone, the iQoo Z9x isn’t really designed to impress but to deliver the basics, and the Storm Grey colourway sure gives you that impression. Its design seems to be a mix of the mid-range Neo 9 Pro and the premium iQoo 12 with its flat sides and its camera module that is shaped like a squircle or a rounded square. If you are looking for a brighter colour palette, Vivo’s T3X offers something better and essentially has the same specifications.

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The iQoo Z9x’s polycarbonate rear panel has an iridescent shine but is still as basic as budget phones get

 

The iQoo Z9x’s rear panel and frame are made of polycarbonate, so it does not exactly scream premium, but the fit and finish are good. Its iridescent matte finish makes it shine when viewed at an angle, but that back quickly picks up smudges and attracts plenty of dust (which is hard to wipe off).

The use of polycarbonate does help shed some of the weight brought about by the large battery but still ends up at a slightly heavy 199 grams, even if it’s packaged into a design that’s just 7.99mm thick.

Despite being made out of polycarbonate, I was in for a surprise when I was told that the phone offers an IP64 dust and water resistance certification. It’s a lot better than what most smartphones offer at this price point, which basically means that it is fully protected from dust and debris and can handle splashes of water. This means you can take it out to the beach and drop it in the sand. The phone can even handle a light drizzle but not immersion in water.

iqoo z9x front display smudges gadgets 360 iQooZ9x  iQoo

Both the front and rear panels of the iQoo Z9x are dust and smudge magnets

 

But we won’t advise you to test this out as the protections are only in place to save your device, but not to be operational under such usage conditions. Moreover, iQoo, like most other manufacturers, will not cover physical and liquid damage under warranty, so if it is damaged, the repair costs will come out of your pocket.

While its design pretty much looks like most other smartphones available at this price point, its display also follows a similar path, with reasonably thin borders at the top left and right edges but a rather thick one at the bottom.

iQoo Z9x Review: Specifications and software

IQOO Z9X SPECIFICATIONS

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 6 Gen 1

RAM: 4/6/8GB Storage: 128GB (expandable to 1TB)

SIM Slots: Hybrid Dual

Connectivity: 5G, BT 5.1, Wi-Fi 5

Battery: 6,000mAh Charging: 44W wire

The iQoo Z9x packs iQoo’s Funtouch OS 14, based on Android 14. Out here, things are fairly typical of a budget smartphone so get ready to dismiss plenty of spammy notifications. These primarily come from the native browser app. There’s also a ton of preinstalled third-party apps. Thankfully, all of these apps can be uninstalled, and notifications from the Store and other native apps can be turned off.

The software is typically iQoo (or Vivo) and comes with a ton of customisation options. It does have a slight learning curve, so be prepared to browse around in the Settings app until you get the hang of what feature lies under which sub-section. Apart from the usual changeable fonts, accent colours and themes, there’s a complete sub-section in the Settings app called Dynamic Effects, which lets one customise everything from the touch screen animation to the screen on/off animation.

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Funtouch OS, with its unique widgets and numerous customisation options, results in a heavily skinned interface that has a learning curve

 

iQoo Z9x Review: Performance

With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 SoC and 8GB of RAM, the iQoo Z9x managed decent performance for its price. Compared to competing smartphones at this price point, the phone performed on par with the rest, managing an AnTuTu score of 5,59,900 and Geekbench scores of 940 and 2,838 in the benchmark’s single and multi-core tests. In terms of graphics, the phone performed a bit better than the Moto G64 5G, which is its primary competitor at this price point, managing scores of 92, 39 and 20 in GFXBench’s T-Rex, Manhattan 3.1 and Car Chase test suites, respectively.

Gaming performance is quite good for a budget 5G smartphone. iQoo seems to have done some good optimisations, making the phone an easy-budget gaming recommendation. I tried out Call of Duty: Mobile, and it performed well (with a few dropped frames) with Medium graphics and High frame rate settings (default). Asphalt 9: Legends also works in 60FPS mode and runs in high-quality graphics settings without hiccups.

When playing games, the screen’s refresh seemed to be capped at 90Hz with the Auto Refresh Rate mode selected. It turns out one has to manually go in and enable the 120Hz mode for select (or all) apps to truly take advantage of the 120Hz screen refresh rate’s smoothness. However, one needs to keep in mind that a majority of games will not run at 120FPS because the underlying hardware is simply not capable of powering the same. Despite running the above-mentioned 3D games, the phone only warmed up and did not get hot either.

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The iQoo Z9x offers stereo speakers and has a 3.5mm headphone jack

 

The iQoo Z9x’s full-HD+ resolution display is not the best we have seen in this segment but supports a dynamic refresh rate in Auto mode, switching between 60Hz/90Hz/120Hz depending on content to conserve battery life. During my testing, I noticed that the display’s refresh rate usually hovers at 90Hz when interacting with it and then steps down to 60Hz when not in use or when watching video.

The display is not exactly the brightest one in this segment, but seems sharp enough for casual usage. While it shows saturated colours, there’s a noticeable yellow tint at the bottom edge of the display, which is more visible when viewing content with a white background.

The phone supports Widevine L1 certification for streaming content, so it lets me view video content in sharper, full-HD quality. I like that iQoo went with a stereo speaker setup which makes the viewed content and games sound a bit immersive compared to a single bottom-firing speaker. While the volume level was sufficiently loud, it sounded very tinny and irritating, convincing me to plug in a pair of wired earphones (accept a 3.5mm plug) or connect TWS earphones for better quality.

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The iQoo Z9x’s 6,000mAh battery easily lasts two days with casual use

 

Battery life was not a problem with the iQoo Z9x. The phone easily lasts two days with casual usage (no camera usage or gaming) and can easily go past a day with heavy usage (camera, gaming and calls) as well. In our battery loop test, the iQoo Z9x lasted an impressive 22 hours and 35 minutes, with the screen’s refresh rate set to 120Hz/High, which makes all animations in apps (except games) appear smoother.

When the battery does eventually die out, the 44W charger manages to juice up this phone to 35 percent in 30 minutes and 71 percent in an hour, completing the charge in 1 hour and 39 minutes, which isn’t shabby given how much longer smartphones in this category take and the fact that it has a larger than usual battery.

iQoo Z9x Review: Cameras

IQOO Z9X CAMERAS

Primary camera: 50MP (f/1.8), AF

Depth camera: 2MP (f/2.4)

Selfie camera: 8MP (f/2.05), FF

Despite its dual camera appearance, the iQoo Z9x only has one user-accessible camera. The 50-megapixel camera captures binned 12-megapixel photos that have saturated colours and a decent amount of detail. However, these photos aren’t sharp and, at times, also appear soft when shooting in daylight. Details are fine provided your subject or object is a few feet away from the camera and diminishes thereon, resulting in reduced quality or flat textures on surfaces that are further away. White balance is a bit of hit or a miss so the camera lacks shot-to-shot consistency when shooting. Focussing on objects or subjects is also quite slow, even in daylight, and so the photos may appear a bit soft at times.

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The iQoo Z9x has just one user-accessible rear-facing camera

 

The camera also struggles with dynamic range in brighter scenes, with clipped highlights visible in many camera samples and contrasted lighting. The phone does not have a macro camera or any dedicated macro mode but can capture objects up to 10 centimetres away, which is handy.

When using the rear camera, the Portrait mode captures good photos with decent detail and edge detection, provided there’s sufficient light on the subject. However, skin colour tones aren’t accurate, and the backgrounds, when shooting in contrasted scenes, get clipped badly.

iQoo Z9x daylight camera samples: Auto mode (primary), close-up (primary), portrait mode (selfie) (tap images to expand)

 

Low-light photos come out a bit soft and are low on resolved detail thanks to the increased noise. Using the dedicated Night mode only makes things worse, snapping soft photos with very little detail.

Selfies captured in daylight are decent at best and don’t come out sharp as expected. The selfie camera also struggles with bright backgrounds, and photos captured in low light come out very noisy.

iQoo Z9x low light camera samples. Top: Auto mode (primary), Bottom: Night mode (tap images to expand)

 

The phone offers 4K 30fps video recording only on the 8GB RAM variant of the iQoo Z9x. Else the phone is limited to 1080p 30fps video recording, which seems a bit restrictive given its price. 1080p 30fps footage looked the best with decent detail and a steady framerate and managed better stability compared to the 4K 30fps footage, which appeared a bit too shaky despite capturing better detail.

iQoo Z9x Review: Verdict

The iQoo Z9x is a solid contender for a budget 5G smartphone in India. However, it does end up falling a bit short of the Moto G64 5G (Review) in some areas, including price.

The Moto G64 5G is priced at an attractive Rs. 13,999 for the 8GB + 128GB variant and even has a 12GB + 128GB variant at Rs. 15,999, which is what the iQoo Z9x (8GB variant) I received for review retails for.

Pricing aside, the G64 5G definitely has an attractive design, offers a clean and near-stock serving of Android 14 and has a primary camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS) along with an ultrawide camera as well.

Samsung’s Galaxy M34 5G (launched last year) seems like a solid contender and is available from Rs. 14,999 for the 8GB + 128GB variant. It offers a 120Hz AMOLED display, has been upgraded to Android 14 and offers three rear-facing cameras, including a primary camera with OIS. However, it lacks the budget gaming performance, IP rating and fast-charging capabilities of the above two.

What the iQoo Z9x excels at is an IP64 rating and faster 44W wired charging. So, if these are your priorities when picking a budget 5G smartphone, then the iQoo Z9x should be high up on your list. For everything else, Motorola and Samsung seem to offer a better overall package.


Is the iQoo Neo 7 Pro the best smartphone you can buy under Rs. 40,000 in India? We discuss the company’s recently launched handset and what it has to offer on the latest episode of Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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