- High-end specifications in a “vanilla” model
- Large, fast-charging battery
- Decent cameras especially at night
- No dust or water resistance rating
- Limited availability
- Forgettable Design (Alpha Variant)
The year is almost over, but smartphone manufacturers aren’t quite done yet. Last minute comes vivo’s performance sub-brand iQOO, presenting to the world what is actually one of the first entries to the next generation of smartphones coming next year. This gives the brand the opportunity not only to end the year with a bang, but also to start the next one on the right foot. But with so many smartphones already on the market and more to come, one has to wonder if each new model has what it takes to get a piece of the lucrative but crowded market pie. That’s the challenge facing the burgeoning iQOO 11, so we’re taking it for a test drive to see if it can stand out and rise above its peers.
Designing the appearance of a smartphone can be a delicate and relentless balancing act. On the one hand, you need to be noticeable at first glance, even from afar, to attract attention and potential buyers. On the other hand, the market’s high and fast turnover of designs means that it is difficult to pick out brands and even models just by looking at them. This tug-of-war between individuality and brand recognition is an ever-present battle for most smartphone manufacturers apart from Apple, and it seems that iQOO has tried to play it a bit safe this time around.
The iQOO 11’s basic design is pretty much standard among phones, with large rectangular camera eyes taking up an obscene amount of space on the back. To its credit, iQOO has used this structure on a large number of its phones, varying only the placement of the lenses and the placement of the bump’s “chin”. To be fair, the looks of the iQOO 11 aren’t as hideous as others, but at the same time, it can also look a bit easy on the eyes, all too common in a sea of smartphones with big rectangular boxes that house their cameras.
Granted, that’s only true for the black “Alpha” variant we’re reviewing. This model gets an AG frosted glass on the back that makes the phone look stylish, yet subdued. However, the second “Legend” variant has more personality, thanks to the BMW M branding. It is expressed in a predominantly white back with motorsport’s iconic red, black and blue stripes running down the back. Beyond the look, though, there’s also more variety in the materials used here, including vegan leather for most of the surface and fiberglass for the stripes. Not everyone will like this more active design, but it’s hard to deny that it’s also more memorable and identifiable.
The back of the iQOO 11 curves at the edges to meet the premium aluminum frame, a bit of a holdover from the days when the curve was fashionable. In contrast, the phone’s screen is completely flat, which is the current trend on most devices, with a few exceptions. The large 6.78-inch screen is surrounded by very thin frames, which gives plenty of space for content. As they say, content is king and the bright and vibrant display definitely enthrones it in the best possible way.
Considering how we use our smartphones for long periods of time every day, it is important that they are comfortable to hold in our hands. Given how expensive they have become, it is also important that they allow a firm grip on the device to prevent it from slipping or falling off our hands. Unfortunately, the design of some phones and the materials they use don’t always work towards that goal.
iQOO 11’s weight of 208g is not much, especially for a phone with such a large screen. However, it becomes a little less heavy when you consider the size of the device, the material on the back and how you are forced to hold it for certain operations. The black Alpha’s frosted glass is nice to look at and feels good in the hand, but it’s also slippery and almost precarious. Fortunately, iQOO ships its phones with a transparent silicone cover as a protective measure. Unsurprisingly, the Legend doesn’t have this problem thanks to the more textured leather back.
A small but important consideration is the placement of the on-screen fingerprint scanner used to unlock the device or authenticate logins and transactions. On the iQOO 11, it’s a little too low for comfort, forcing you to put your hand lower, which can cause it to slip from your hand, or use a finger from the other hand. It’s definitely doable, but not exactly comfortable.
Apart from these considerations, the iQOO 11 is definitely a joy to hold in your hand or hands. The curved edges of the back cover do not cut into your hand, although the ergonomic advantages of such a design are now contested by flatter designs. Given the power that the phone offers and the experiences it unlocks, you can easily forget about such considerations, at least until you feel the soreness in your hand or, worse, accidentally drop the phone on the pavement.
Manufacturers often reserve the best specs for “Pro” models, leaving vanilla or base models to be flagships in name and appearance only. That’s what makes the iQOO 11 an unexpected but very welcome surprise because it has most, but not all, of the features you’d expect from an exclusive and expensive premium phone. It starts with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which needs no introduction. Coupled with fast UFS 4.0 storage, the phone shows top performance whether you’re just browsing the web, playing games or even creating content like videos and photos.
The 1440p 144Hz AMOLED screen is also a big surprise, literally and figuratively. It’s simply one of the best panels out there, reaching high brightness levels and displaying accurate colors that you can adjust to your preferences. However, the high refresh rate feels more like a marketing stunt than an important feature since very few apps other than benchmarks seem to be able to use it. For the most part, the phone intelligently switches between 60Hz and 120Hz depending on the content, ensuring videos and games are butter-smooth while extending battery life for other tasks.
To support all this power, the iQOO 11 has a rather large 5000 mAh battery which is responsible for most of the weight you will feel in your hand. With moderate “regular” use, you’ll find yourself back with just under 50% at the end of the day, and even an intense day of viewing and gaming will still see you through until you need to charge at night. And when it comes to charging, you only need around 24 minutes to go from flat to 100%, thanks to the included 120W charger. Suffice to say, you need nothing when it comes to all-day power and performance.
iQOO seemed to cut back on the cameras a bit, but not in any way that ruins the iQOO 11’s winning streak. On paper, the trio of sensors residing on the back sounds average or mediocre, but in practice only one of them fits that description. The 50 MP main camera provides excellent images, whether in bright light or on cloudy days. The 13MP 2x telephoto camera is hardly perfect, but it does pretty well on its own. It’s the 8MP ultra-wide sensor that’s the black sheep of the family, resulting in photos that are “good enough” but never remarkable. Overall, the phone does remarkably well in this area, considering the hardware it has to work with. Part of the success likes in vivo’s V2 image chip, which can be credited to the camera’s excellent night performance that makes a dedicated night mode almost redundant.
If the design of the iQOO 11 looks ordinary, the durability is as similar as other phones on the market. That is, there is not much to talk about, especially in a positive light. It has the usual mix of non-sustainable materials, both inside and out, although the use of vegan leather on the Legend edition may be a point in its favour. There is also little or no word on the company’s commitment to sustainable practices, even in packaging. The fact that it comes with a charger might even seem detrimental, although you’d be hard-pressed to find a compatible 120W charger anyway.
What makes the phone’s situation a little worse is that it has no advertised IP rating for dust and water resistance. Although phones are always manufactured to a certain standard of durability, there is no guarantee that they all have the same chance of survival against small particles and liquids. Admittedly, an official IP rating is quite expensive and sometimes unnecessary in light of the manufacturer’s assurances. Unfortunately, iQOO doesn’t even make claims to assure buyers of the device’s long-term survivability.
The iQOO 11 definitely checks all the right boxes when it comes to smartphone features, at least for the parts that interest users. It might not look impressive unless you grab the BMW M-badged variant, but many won’t mind if they can get a high-performance unit without spending too much. Again, the iQOO 11 aims to please with a price tag of around $540, significantly lower than most premium flagships.
The problem, however, is whether you can get your hands on one in the first place. Unlike its parent company, iQOO has an even shorter list of markets it serves, mainly in China and Southeast Asia. That means that despite all the power and performance it can deliver, you won’t be able to experience a single one of these. You can try your luck importing it from other retailers, but network compatibility concerns make it quite an expensive game. You’ll be better off buying something that’s actually available in your area, even if it doesn’t have the same features.
vivo iQOO 11 is the epitome of how looks can be deceiving. While it’s by no means unattractive, its fairly plain design can make it easily overlooked by potential buyers looking for something more noteworthy, even without a case or skin. The BMW M Legend edition has more character, but not everyone will fall in love with the sports car brand. If you can look past the appearances, however, you’ll find a very capable device that will get you through a day with confidence. Whether it’s for serious business, distracting gaming or even content creation, the iQOO 11 has enough muscle to support your every need and whim.
Having said that, they also say that the devil is in the details, and little niggles here and there can make it look less attractive, if not downright impossible. The cameras are good, but not great, and the lack of IP rating might bother people’s subconscious. There is definitely plenty of room for improvement and plenty of opportunities for an iQOO 11 Pro to steal the limelight. Unfortunately, neither phone will be available on a larger global scale, which means that all of these niceties will eventually become moot for many people.