- High-end specs 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 exactly done yet. Coming up at the last minute is vivo’s performance sub-brand iQOO, presenting to the world what is actually one of the first entries into the next generation of smartphones that will be arriving 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 in the market and more yet to come, one has to wonder if every new model has what it takes to even get a bite out of that lucrative yet crowded market pie. That’s the challenge facing the nascent iQOO 11, so we take 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 unrelenting 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 rapid turnover of designs means that it’s 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 struggle for most smartphone makers aside 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 islands taking up an obscene amount of space on their backs. To its credit, iQOO has been using this structure on a large number of its phones, varying only the arrangement of the lenses and the placement of the bump’s “chin.” To be fair, the iQOO 11’s appearance isn’t as obnoxious as others, but at the same time, it might also look a tad plain to the eyes, all too common in a sea of smartphones with large rectangular boxes housing their cameras.
Granted, that’s only true for the black “Alpha” variant we’re reviewing. This model gets an AG frosted glass for its back that makes the phone look stylish yet subdued. The other “Legend” variant, however, has more personality, thanks to its BMW M branding. That is expressed in a predominantly white back with the motorsports’ iconic red, black, and blue stripes running down its back. Beyond appearances, however, there is also more variety in materials used here, including vegan leather for the majority of the surface and fiberglass for the stripes. Not everyone will like this more active design, but it’s hard to deny it is more memorable and identifiable as well.
The iQOO 11’s back curves at the edges to meet the premium aluminum frame, a bit of a holdover from the days when curved was fashionable. In contrast, the phone’s display is completely flat, which is the current trend on most devices, with some exceptions. The large 6.78-inch screen is surrounded by very thin bezels, leaving plenty of room for content. As they say, content is king, and the bright and vibrant display definitely enthrones it in the best way possible.
Considering how we use our smartphones for long periods of time every day, it is paramount that they are comfortable to hold in our hands. Given how expensive they have become, it’s 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.
The iQOO 11’s 208g weight isn’t much, especially for a phone with this big a screen. It gets a bit less wieldy, however, when you consider the size of the device, the material on its back, and how you’re forced to hold it for some 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 does ship its phones with a clear silicone case as a protective measure. Unsurprisingly, the Legend doesn’t have this problem thanks to its more textured leather back.
One small but important consideration is the placement of the fingerprint scanner on the screen 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 place your hand lower, which could make it slip from your hand, or use a finger from your other hand. It’s definitely doable but not exactly comfortable.
Other than those considerations, though, the iQOO 11 is definitely a joy to hold in your hand or hands. The curved edges of the back cover don’t cut into your hand, though the ergonomic benefits of such a design are now being contested by flatter designs. Given the power that the phone offers and the experiences it unlocks, you might easily forget about such considerations, at least until you feel the soreness in your hand or, worse, accidentally drop the phone onto the pavement.
Manufacturers often reserve the best specs for “Pro” models, leaving vanilla or base models to be flagships only in name and appearance. That’s what makes the iQOO 11 an unexpected but much-welcomed surprise because it bears most, though not all, of the features you’d expect from a high-end and expensive premium phone. That starts with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which needs no introduction. Together with fast UFS 4.0 storage, the phone exhibits chart-topping performance, whether you’re just browsing the Web, playing games, or even creating content such as videos and images.
The 1440p 144Hz AMOLED display is also a big surprise, literally and figuratively. It is simply one of the best panels around, reaching high brightness levels and displaying accurate colors that you can tweak to your preference. That high refresh rate, though, feels more like a marketing stunt than an essential feature since very few apps other than benchmarks seems to be able to use it. For the most part, the phone intelligently switches between 60Hz and 120Hz depending on the content, ensuring that videos and games will be buttery smooth while prolonging battery life for other tasks.
To support all this power, the iQOO 11 has a pretty large 5,000 mAh battery that is responsible for most of the heft you’ll feel in your hand. With moderate “regular” use, you’ll find yourself left with just a little under 50% at the end of the day, and even an intense day of watching and gaming will still see you through until you need to recharge at night. And when it does come to recharge, you only need around 24 minutes to go from flat to 100%, thanks to the included 120W charger. Suffice it to say, you won’t be wanting for anything when it comes to all-day power and performance.
iQOO did seem to cut back a bit on the cameras, though not in any way that ruins the iQOO 11’s winning streak. On paper, the trio of sensors that live on its back sound middling or mediocre, but in practice, only one of those fits that description. The 50MP main camera produces very good images, whether under bright light or on overcast days. The 13MP 2x telephoto camera is hardly perfect, but it is able to manage on its own quite well. It’s the 8MP ultra-wide sensor that’s the black sheep of the family, resulting in images that are “good enough” but never notable. Overall, the phone does remarkably well in this area, considering the hardware it has to work with. Part of its success likes in vivo’s V2 imaging chip, which can be credited for the camera’s excellent nighttime performance that makes a dedicated Night Mode almost superfluous.
If the iQOO 11’s design looks common, its sustainability is just as similar as other phones in the market. That is to say, there isn’t much to talk about it, especially in a positive light. It has the usual blend of non-sustainable materials, both inside and outside, though the use of vegan leather on the Legend edition might be a point in its favor. There’s also little to no word on the company’s commitment to sustainable practices, even in packaging. The fact that it ships with a charger might even seem detrimental, though 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. While phones are always manufactured to a certain standard of durability, there is no assurance that they all have the same survival chances against small particles and liquid. Granted, an official IP rating is quite expensive and sometimes unnecessary in light of a manufacturer’s assurances. Sadly, 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 those parts that interest users. It might not look impressive unless you grab the BMW M-branded variant, but many won’t mind that if they can get a high-performance device without overspending. Again, the iQOO 11 aims to please with a price tag that amounts to 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 that it serves, mostly in China and Southeast Asia. That means that despite all the power and performance that it can deliver, you won’t be able to experience a single one of those. You could try your luck importing it from other retailers, but network compatibility concerns make it a rather expensive gamble. You’ll be better off buying something that’s actually available in your area, even if it doesn’t have the same features.
The vivo iQOO 11 is the epitome of how looks can be deceiving. Although it is by no means unattractive, its rather common design might get it easily overlooked by potential buyers looking for something more noteworthy, even without a case or skin. The BMW M Legend edition does have more character, but not everyone will fall in love with the sports car branding. If you manage to look past appearances, though, you will find a very capable device that will get you through a day with aplomb. Whether it’s for serious business, distracting games, or even content creation, the iQOO 11 has enough muscle to support your every need and whim.
That said, they also say that the devil is in the details, and small nitpicks here and there could make it look less attractive, not to mention completely unfeasible. The cameras are good but not excellent, and the lack of IP rating could nag people’s subconscious minds. There’s definitely plenty of room for improvement and plenty of opportunities for an iQOO 11 Pro to steal the spotlight. Unfortunately, neither phone will be available on a wider global scale, making all of these nice things ultimately moot for many people.