The iQOO 3 5G is a gaming phone that doesn’t look like a gaming phone

Technology

When someone says “gaming phone,” you probably know what to expect. Aggressive design. LED effects. Maybe a vent or two. The proscribed gamer aesthetic is unsubtle and, despite the widespread popularity of video games, very much not for everyone.

The iQOO 3 5G is the first in the recent wave of gaming phones that’s tried to look a little different. iQOO is a gaming-focused sub-brand of Vivo, the BBK-affiliated sister company of Oppo, OnePlus, and Realme. The brand launched in China last year, but the 3 5G is the first iQOO phone to see release in India and other markets.

So, what makes the iQOO 3 5G a gaming phone? There’s the flagship-level Snapdragon 865 processor, of course, which is also why the phone is marketed as 5G-capable in India despite the networks not yet having rolled out. Other specs are par for the course: up to 12GB of RAM, a 6.4-inch 1080p OLED display, a 4,440mAh battery, a headphone jack, a 16-megapixel holepunch selfie camera, and a 48-megapixel main sensor along with 13-megapixel telephoto and ultrawide cameras. This is also yet another BBK phone that offers ultra-fast wired charging — 55W in this case — but no wireless.

A more explicitly gamer-focused feature is the pressure-sensitive shoulder buttons on the top edge of the phone when you’re holding the phone in landscape — iQOO calls them “Monster Touch Buttons.” Other gaming phones from Asus and RedMagic have done the same thing, but the iQOO 3 5G’s smaller size makes them a little more comfortable to use.

iQOO also highlights the screen’s 180Hz touch response rate, but oddly, the actual refresh rate is just 60Hz. Usually touch response rate is double the refresh rate, so I’d expected to see a 90Hz screen here, but for some reason that isn’t the case. I kind of think that’s a deal-breaker for a gaming phone unless you’re playing games at high settings or with enough visual intensity that you’d never top 60fps, but even if that’s the case it’s hard to recommend a high-end 60Hz phone in 2020. High refresh rates improve almost everything about using a phone, not just gaming.

Still, the iQOO 3 5G is pretty good value, even undercutting Realme’s X50 Pro as the cheapest Snapdragon 865 phone available in India. It’s available now for Rs. 38,990 ($510) for a model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, Rs. 41,990 ($550) for 8GB/256GB, and Rs. 46,990 ($615) for 12GB/256GB. At prices like that, it should be a pretty strong upper-mid-range offering even if its screen isn’t the fastest around.