The winds of change. An emerging contrast from a time when IQOO as a brand wouldn’t perhaps figure prominently in a conversation about Android flagship phones worth spending money on, to the IQOO 12 which is a flagship phone that’s difficult to ignore. Even if for conversation’s sake, complete with BMW Motorsport’s tricolour for good measure. If this being the first phone in India powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile platform didn’t convince you, the motorsport legacy’s inspiration should.

IQOO 12. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)

There’s perceived value that’s onside too. Before discounts, cashbacks and a variety of offers, the 12GB RAM and 256GB storage config is priced at 52,999. Step up to 16GB+512GB and that’s 57,999. Tremendous difference to Samsung’s Galaxy S23 series, which starts at 79,999 and you must still go much higher in the price band to find some parity in specs and performance with the IQOO 12. It’s even undercutting the OnePlus 11 variants (no pressure then, ahead of the OnePlus 12 in early 2024).

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There are two colours to pick from – Legend (the one we’re reviewing here) and a closer to conventional black-er colourway called Alpha. Specific to the Legend is an enamel glass finish on the back, with metal frame for the flat side spines. Nothing to complain about the ergonomics, except the phone can be a bit slippery if you aren’t careful. Good enough reason to use a transparent case (helpfully, there’s one in box), more so to protect the BMW Motorsport tricolour.

A highlight is the processor, IQOO 12’s not-so-secret ingredient. Being the first flagship with Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 gives it an advantage of time. It’s competition, including OnePlus 12, arrive a month or so later. Simply put, there isn’t a phone that matches IQOO 12 for outright performance, at least for now. It is not just a factor how quickly apps open, games load or multitasking smoothness. This generation of chips unlocks a lot more, such as a better photo processing pipeline which is particularly useful with intricacy laden shooting modes (handheld Astro mode, for instance) and artificial intelligence (AI) smarts such as photo expansion (its similar to Adobe’s Generative Expand, for those familiar with it).

Good time then, to speak about the cameras. IQOO hasn’t gone around messing with any in the troika, and megapixel numbers mean business. There’s the primary 50-megapixel wide camera which they claim is well placed for taking photos of the moon and the stars, a 50-megapixel ultrawide camera (a big step up from the 8-megapixel camera on the IQOO 11) and a 64-megapixel telephoto with periscope and 3x optical zoom.

Photography and video results are impressive, and very much in flagship phone territory. You’ll likely be most impressed by the colours and depth in most photos, across lighting conditions. Keeping HDR, or high-dynamic range, turned on delivers richer photos because the camera handles contrast and colours much better as part of the processing. Zoom in significantly, and there is some noise that’s quite apparent in most photos. That problem can be eliminated to an extent if you take the really important photos in the full 50-megapixel mode. But then again, the 12.5-megapixel pixel-binned photos could also improve noise reduction better with software updates.

Macro photos are a delight – the beads of water on a leaf, come through with a level of realism that indicates the IQOO 12 isn’t leaning towards unnecessary post processing. That neutrality is good news, and I hope it stays that way.

There really isn’t much to complain about the 6.78-inch LTPO AMOLED display (that’s 2800 x 1260-pixel resolution). There could always be an argument for more megapixels, but what really matters is the pixel density, and that isn’t a concern. Pair that with the 144Hz fast refresh rate and the fact this display can go really bright (as much as 3,000 lumens in some conditions), you’re well sorted with gaming, media consumption and legibility under bright sunlight.

The one complaint I do have, is with the software. The family familiarity with Vivo’s software is clear, but my grouse with the Funtouch OS 14 revolves more around the finer aspects which get magnified in flagship phones – these discerning buyers will look more closely, than perhaps someone buying something significantly more affordable. It is usable, but that’s about it – the template to follow really is something between OnePlus’ OxygenOS and Samsung’s updated One UI.

Preloaded app clutter (third-party and IQOO’s own too surprisingly; EasyShare, IQOOCloud, Notes, Smart Remote, V-App Store, some examples) and app duplicity is still a significant problem (what’s the point of a browser app when Android bakes in Chrome anyway?). In a flagship phone, the software treatment has to lean towards refinement and minimalism – the same brush used on more affordable Android phones, cannot be used here too.

Being the first mover with Qualcomm’s latest and most powerful processor, and timing this before the 2024 Android flagships begin to arrive on the scene, IQOO has given the 12 a solid foundation to build with. They haven’t taken any chances with the spec sheet too, and cameras in particularly, really impress. As does the build quality, consistent battery stamina that you’d expect from a 5000mAh battery and a visual personality that will have automotive enthusiasts interested. You’ll just have to make do with cluttered software though, and for some, that may prove a cinch.

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