Vivo is a brand you would generally associate with selfie-centric smartphones. After all, their tagline itself is ‘Camera and Music’. However, we were surprised to see Vivo showcase the first smartphone with an under-display fingerprint scanner back in CES this year, and now after a couple of months of testing, they’ve brought the all new tech to India with the Vivo X21. Given that Vivo has a major share in the offline smartphone market of India, it was expected that they surely wouldn’t compete against the likes of OnePlus and Honor in terms of pricing, as we all know that the offline market is seller-margin driven. With solid hardware and a unique USP of an under display fingerprint scanner, what is it that separates the X21 from the likes of the OnePlus 6 and Honor 10, both of which are sold at similar price points? Let’s find out.
1. The underdog processor
The Vivo X21 comes with a Snapdragon 660 SoC which is an extremely capable chip. But, in a spec-driven market like India, it’s extremely difficult to market a 600 series chip against the flagship Snapdragon 845 found on the OnePlus 6. Of course, the 845 is the better SoC in all regards, but that in no way means the 660 is a slouch. In day-to-day tasks, you wouldn’t notice much of a difference between the two phones. The major difference would be visible when we perform more intensive tasks like gaming or video rendering. The 845 is built on the 10nm manufacturing process meaning it technically is more power efficient than the 660 which is built on the 14nm FinFET process. Of course, when a smartphone is available with a top-of-the-line chipset at the same price, why would you pick the inferior one, right?
2. The buggy software
The way you interact with your phone is through the software and the UI, and unfortunately, the iOS rip-off interface from Vivo is lackluster to say the least. Headers are just straight translations from the Chinese Language resulting in funny captions. Also, the region where the fingerprint scanner is present under the display is always lit up helping you to place your finger in the right spot. But the problem is, at times, even though the region is lit up, placing your finger on the scanner does nothing and you’ll have to turn the screen on and off once to get it to work again. A very weird observation was that the phone does not get locked even after pressing the power button while you’re on a call. Another thing that annoyed me was when I enabled developer options to reduce the speed of animations, a prompt saying “Dev Mode” was persistent on the status bar and just couldn’t be removed unless I turned developer options off. Extremely weird.
3. Noisy low light photography
The Vivo X21 has a dual 12+5MP camera setup to the back with an aperture of f/1.8. Thanks to the high aperture, the camera does capture sufficient light during low-light situations but also ends up capturing a lot of noise due to higher ISO. Details are preserved for close-up shots but details in faraway objects look completely smudged. Edges are softened too and tend to blend into the background. Colors are on the slightly dull side too with skin tones not appearing to be natural. For an asking price of Rs. 36,000, we expected much better low-light performance. And truth be told, with a capable camera module, the blame should majorly go to the unoptimized software. Wish Vivo works on it and provides an OTA.
4. Age-old micro USB
USB Type-C has now become a standard on most mid-range and flagship Android phones, but unfortunately, Vivo has still decided to go with the age-old micro USB port on its “flagship”. Type-C offers reversibility and faster speeds for data transfer and is also said to be more durable. Also, we’re not too far from the time where we see almost every gadget using USB Type-C as a universal port. While phones like Mi A1 and Nokia 6.1 offer a Type-C port at a price of under Rs. 20,000, Vivo, at the price point of the X21, should have made the switch to USB Type-C.
These were a few factors that hinder the Vivo X21 from being right up there with the likes of OnePlus or Honor in terms of being called a “flagship” device. Don’t get me wrong, the X21 isn’t a bad device by any means, but it just doesn’t do anything better than what other devices from well-established brands do in this segment, other than the under display fingerprint scanner, which seems cool during initial days, but then starts to feel like any other smartphone. Stay tuned for our full review of the X21 which should be out in a couple of days.