iQOO 12 Review: Riding with BMW to Android greatness

This flagship Android smartphone has the best specs you could hope for with some a beautiful design touch from BMW

iQOO 12
iQOO 12 Review
Bottom Line
The iQOO 12 wows with specs, performance, and design - it's one of the best flagship Android options, especially at the price, but it's a little heavy and the camera still isn't quite among the best.
Pros
Top notch performance
Excellent design
Terrific value for the price
Strong, bright display
Speakers get astonishingly loud for a smartphone
Cons
Camera isn't among the best of Android smartphones
Would still like to see longer guarantees for upgrades and security patches
IP64 rating and no Gorilla Glass means a hit to durability
Speakers don't support Dolby Atmos
No wireless charging
So much bloatware
4.4

vivo has been turning out solid smartphones for a few years now, but the iQOO 12 is the first one that seems to have broken through into the global flagship Android race – with BMW in the passenger seat as a design partner. But, fancy exterior design alone doesn’t make a good smartphone, and fortunately, as our iQOO 12 review will cover, this phone also has the performance and specs to stand tall with other early 2024 flagship Android phones like the OnePlus 12. It’s a beast when it comes to gaming with no glaring flaws to its name, but there are still a few reasons why this phone might not be the perfect one for you. Let’s get into why!

iQOO 12 design and build

No two ways about it: this phone is big. The iQOO 12 is a 6.78-inch smartphone with an aluminum frame, reinforced by a glass back and front. Unfortunately, the front pane is not Corning Gorilla Glass, which is a ding to durability of the screen. The phone looks terrific, thanks in part to the iQOO 12 design coming from BMW M, BMW’s motorsport division – the clean white back features BMW branding, in addition to the pretty sizeable (although maybe not too far from the mean in 2024) camera module in the top left. There are flat edges all the way around, with speakers on the top and the bottom.

I’m not sure what it is – the battery isn’t bigger than most flagships, nor is the camera array, and the materials used are similar – but this phone feels remarkably heavy. Still, it’s lighter on paper than the OnePlus 12 and the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, so I guess this is the flagship world we’re living in these days. I found it to be noticeably heavy in both hand and pocket, with the large size making it particularly uncomfortable when in my pocket. How much that matters depends on how you carry your phone around, but it’s worth keeping in mind!

The iQOO 12 is rated IP64, which means that while it is dust-proof, it can only repel light splashes. Combined with the lack of protective Corning Gorilla Glass, the iQOO 12 becomes one of the least durable flagship Android phones on the market. And that might be OK – with the BMW partnership, the iQOO 12 can easily be seen as a luxury device. There’s a good chance that if you spring for it, you’re going to be taking special care to not get it around water or dust and protect it from drops. Then again, if you find a case to put on it, you lose the benefit of the design – classic luxury smartphone dilemma! Ultimately, we’d rather see the full complement of protective features here, but as we’ll see later, this is a premium phone at a relatively low price, and that always means sacrifices get made somewhere.

iQOO 12 display and audio

No sacrifices here, though! The iQOO 12 uses a 6.78-inch 2800×1260 LTPO AMOLED display that is HDR10+ certified. Thanks to 3000 nit peak brightness, the phone is capable of the contrast necessary to take advantage of HDR content. The display also has a 144Hz refresh rate, which helps keep faster-paced mobile games looking smooth.

I really enjoyed watching movies on the iQOO 12, and not just because of the display, which made high-definition HDR content pop. I can say with pretty good confidence that this phone has the loudest stereo speakers I have ever found on a smartphone, and I’m actually not sure it’s close. At full volume, I could hear the phone crystal clear three rooms away, which seems mostly unnecessary! Anything past 75% volume started to sound distorted and tinny, so they probably could’ve done away with the high end. Then again, the volume did make me think of my mom, who has a hearing impairment and has been using Pandora to play music on an ancient Nokia phone that runs Windows Mobile because the speakers are louder. Fair enough, mom! You might like this one, too, depending on how the audio is tuned.

However, this is supposed to be a flagship Android phone, and that means stiff competition. Dolby Atmos audio processing is missed here – after getting used to the faux surround sound effects of Dolby Atmos on other phones, its absence was noted here, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a dealbreaker. The sound quality (at least under 75% max volume) was excellent on its own, complementing the terrific display.

iQOO 12 performance

When the phone was first released in China, the iQOO 12 was the first to run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, the chipset that will make the magic happen for most flagship Android phones in 2024 (the Google Pixel line being the exception). So, no surprise that it’s a top performer. No hitches or slowdowns during daily use, even with a lot of tabs and apps active – and I always have a lot of tabs and apps active.

But, gaming is where the real test is, and the iQOO 12 passes. As part of the Funtouch OS layered over Android, the iQOO 12 has a robust set of gaming features that boost and optimize performance. There’s lot to tinker with, but you’re basically adjusting sliding scales that strike a balance between performance and battery life. There are a few other fun features – 4D game vibration that vibrates the phone based on where you get hit on screen, a brightness lock in case you’re using adaptive brightness and don’t want shifting brightness levels to mess with your gameplay, picture-in-picture for major messaging apps like Viber and WhatsApp, and custom motion controls (which, admittedly, I never ended up liking).

There’s even a frame rate booster that ignores increases to operating temperature. I thought I was on the way to toaster town when I turned that on, but even with that toggled on and other performance settings cranked to max on Genshin Impact, the phone never got uncomfortably hot. A little warm, for sure, but nothing unlike what I’ve experienced with similar phones.

I’d imagine this level of performance is contingent on what configuration you get, though. We reviewed the 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage model, which is the middle road. There’s a 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage model and a 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage model, and I’d guess the former might struggle a little more at the higher end of performance settings.

Thanks to that Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, the phone does have 5G connectivity. It’s also got Bluetooth 5.4 and works with Wi-Fi 7, the new Wi-Fi standard making the rounds in tech starting late last year.

Wrapping things up here, the iQOO 12 also has an on-screen fingerprint scanner and facial recognition, both of which worked consistently and quickly. The phone has two SIM card slots, which is great for travel, but not as great as it would be if it supported eSIM, which it unfortunately doesn’t.

iQOO 12 battery life

The iQOO 12 features a 5,000mAh battery compatible with up to 120W wired charging – no wireless charging, which is a minor thing, but becomes a major thing if you’ve already invested in wireless charging gear for your home or workplace. The hardware and the bright display definitely put the battery to the test – during daily use, I always managed to get to the end of the day, but without the 20-25% headroom I’m used to on many other phones. Don’t expect to stretch the battery past a day – you’ll always need to charge this phone at night. But, even without using a 120W charger, the phone got back to 100% in a few hours, so some spot charging here and there should get you plenty of battery life.

I wasn’t surprised to find that pushing the phone to its limits during gaming ran the battery down very quickly. An hour of Genshin Impact with all gaming settings maxed out took me from 45% to 17%, which was about what I expected. You’ll get much better battery life if you adjust those performance sliders to favor battery life. In fact, as a media machine, the iQOO 12 is definitely capable of efficiency – an hour of watching video at full brightness only took me from 73% to 65%.

iQOO 12 camera

The iQOO 12 has three sensors in the rear camera setup, including a 50MP main camera with a f/1.7 23mm-equivalent wide-angle lens and OIS, a 64MP sensor with a f/2.6 70mm-equivalent periscope telephoto lens capable of 3x optical zoom and OIS, and a 50MP sensor with an f/2.0 15mm-equivalent 119-degree ultra-wide lens. The first two sensors are equipped with phase-detect autofocus, with the ultrawide getting standard autofocus. No fancy AI processing features like we found in the Google Pixel 8, so we’re just relying on hardware and the strength of the on-device image processing on the iQOO 12. There’s a little bit of AI when it comes to video, though – the phone can detect what kind of scene you’re shooting and adjust settings accordingly, although it wasn’t clear if this was any more advanced than the phone telling night from day.

The iQOO 12 takes solid, if unspectacular photos. The primary camera can generate crisp, detailed shots, but struggles with high dynamic range conditions, often resulting in the sky getting overexposed.

The phone leans on the periscope telephoto camera to take portrait shots, which works well enough during the day. The bokeh effects don’t look artificial, and even if they’re not perfect, you can play around with that after you take the picture.

Details aren’t quite as sharp as the best of the best, but not bad by any means, and I liked the results from portrait shots I took at 2x and 3x much more than at 1x with either the zoom camera or primary camera.

The ultrawide camera struggles even more with high dynamic range conditions, and was the weakest of the three.

Picture of mural taken with iQOO 12 ultra-wide camera
Taken with iQOO 12 ultra-wide camera

In low-light conditions, you’ll just want to use the primary camera, but it performs well. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of detail and clarity I got – no major artifacts noticed. The night mode helped a little, but even the shot I took without night mode activated came out pretty well.

The periscope telephoto camera takes terrific zoomed in shots in addition to portraits, up to 3x. Past that you’re relying on digital zoom, and while the quality still dips, I was more impressed than usual with the results. Past 20x it gets a little rough, but it’s an improvement over what we’re used to with digital zoom. You can get up to 100x digital zoom, where things get real blurry.

You can take video in 8K resolution at 30fps, 4K at up to 60fps, and 1080p up to 240fps, and the phone uses electronic image stabilization (EIS) to provide stabilization, which works out OK – in most circumstances I thought it performed well enough compared to phones that use optical image stabilization (OIS).

Finally, there’s a 16MP f/2.5 wide-angle selfie camera on the front, but it can only do video in 1080p. That’s probably good enough for most uses, especially video calls, but it’s not the best out there.

All in all, the camera array falls short of titans like the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, and the Google Pixel 8 Pro. But, that’s to be expected, and for the price I think the iQOO 12 performs more than adequately in the camera department.

iQOO 12 software

The iQOO 12 runs vivo’s Funtouch OS 14 over Android 14 – it’s not better than the stock Android experience. There are strange additions like a separate music player widget – why this is needed over simply using the music player that appears in the notification bar by default, I’m not sure – but otherwise most additions are harmless. There is a ton of bloatware, in all forms familiar to us – apps that duplicate Google’s, icons and folders on the home screen featuring suggested apps to download, pre-downloaded apps (including a VOD app called Viu), and even a whole separate app store, the V-appstore.

I’ll admit, this isn’t as big of a deal anymore. Most of this stuff can either be uninstalled or hidden, making all this a one-time annoyance at startup. The V-appstore absolutely bombards you with notifications suggesting apps to download, but hey, you can just turn off notifications from the V-appstore at the system level, and that solves the problem. Once I got through that, I didn’t find much about Funtouch OS 14 to complain about. Is all the bloatware ideal? No, but when you’re getting a flagship phone at a lower cost, this is one of the sacrifices you tend to have to make.

It’s worth noting that there are no special AI features to be found here. I don’t know that that matters to most folks yet, but if you are interested in getting goosed up photos from AI features or other AI productivity hacks, you’ll have to look to something like the Google Pixel 8.

iQOO 12 sustainability

Sustainability isn’t a focus here. Nothing much was changed about packaging from the norm, and there are only 3 guaranteed years of OS updates and 4 guaranteed years of security updates for the iQOO 12. Combine that with the durability hit – the IP64 rating and the lack of Corning Gorilla Glass – and you get a phone that you probably won’t own as long as other flagship options, which remains the most important marker for progress when it comes to sustainability. Nothing in particular here about sustainable or recycled materials, so sustainability doesn’t yet seem to be a priority here.

iQOO 12 price and availability

The iQOO 12 comes in three configurations: 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, and 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. The phone comes in black, red, and white, but only the white phone is the BMW M version of the phone. The iQOO 12 was launched in China and India last year, with India getting the version of the phone running Funtouch OS that we reviewed. The iQOO 12 starts at ₹59,999, or about $724.

iQOO 12 review: Should you buy the iQOO 12?

If you want a flagship phone that runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset ASAP, sure! But, if you’re willing to wait, it depends more on what you value in a smartphone. Folks who use their phone for mostly gaming and videos and don’t need them to survive bumps and scrapes won’t be put off, especially if they’re looking for some extra style points courtesy of BMW. The only thing that prevents the iQOO 12 from being the perfect entertainment smartphone is the absence of Dolby Atmos sound.

If you do favor durability and battery life that gets you over a day, you should probably look elsewhere. And, if you really need the best camera array in a smartphone, there’s no way around it – you’re getting a Samsung Galaxy S23, the iPhone 15 Pro Max, or the Google Pixel 8. No one other phone comes close, including the iQOO 12.

On the whole, I think the negatives are justified by a price tag that comes in under what we’re seeing from a lot of other flagship Android phones. The iQOO 12 is a legitimate option in this space, which is a huge step forward for vivo. There are areas to improve, but if this phone is any indication, they’re on the right track.

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