Vivo X21 Review

Vivo X21

Vivo X21

Vivo

March, 2018
6.28" display, Snapdragon 660 chipset, Dual: 12 MP + 5 MP primary camera, 12 MP front camera, 3200 mAh battery, 128 GB storage, 6 GB RAM, Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
EUR:€450
Rate It:User Rating: (Good)


Vivo X21 Review

Vivo X21 Review


Introduction

With Vivo V9 out in market just for two months, Vivo decided to launch yet another of their flagship device. This time, one which comes with some minor upgrades from previous models, and a feature we have never seen on any smartphone device before, an in-screen fingerprint scanner. Phone is priced close to OnePlus 6 and Huawei Honor 10, so the question remains, is it worth its price and is it worth an upgrade from previous Vivo V9 which looks identical to this one? How does in-screen fingerprint scanner tech work in day to day usage? Let's find out.

Design

Vivo X21 looks similar to Vivo's V-series flagship, Vivo V9. Phone features an all-black aluminum frame and a glass back with tapered edges, which make it very comfortable to hold. It's about 7.5 millimeters at its thickest point, but it's surprisingly easy to handle, especially considering large 6.28-inch screen. It has a glass and metal design, which surely is solid to hold. It is densely built and glass back feels strong too. There's no doubt that phone looks like Vivo V9, but there's no fingerprint scanner to be found on back. To be honest, if Vivo would've named it V9 Pro, that would've made no difference.

Front of device is interesting, as it was on Vivo V9. Most of it is covered with edge to edge display, which has a notch. Notch holds earpiece and sensors, together with front facing camera. There's a slight chin at bottom and minimal bezels at sides, but rest of front is all covered with screen.

At back of device, you'll find a dual camera setup vertically placed on top right with an LED flash just below. It's quite small compared to other vertically placed sensors. There's a sharp, thin rim around camera, but it's quite subtle and shouldn't get scratched when placed on rough surface Vivo provides a plastic case to protect body anyways. Back is covered with glass, giving a premium feel and look to it. It shines well, but not as much as Mirror black finish on OnePlus 6. You'll see some Vivo branding in middle of phone and some tiny writing on bottom part, with rest of back kept clean and simple.

One thing that many people will notice is that there's no fingerprint scanner anywhere to be seen on this phone, and this because Vivo X21 comes with an in-screen fingerprint scanner, first in any smartphone.

A welcome design decision is inclusion of 3.5 mm headphone jack which is now found on top of phone. On right side of phone, you'll find a power button with volume keys with left side kept clean. At bottom, there's a single bottom-firing speaker, sim tray and a Micro-USB port, which is a bummer as most phones now come with USB Type-C instead, especially at this price.

All-in-all, overall look and feel of the phone isn't bad for the price. If you look at the OnePlus 6, there's a lot of similarity between the two and even the quality isn't compromised. However, this design is repetitive and most people will be expecting something new in design department of Vivo X21.

Display

Vivo X21's display is straight out beautiful. It's a 6.28 inch Full HD+ AMOLED display with a resolution of 1080x2280p, aspect ratio of 19:9 and pixel density of 402 ppi. Screen is an OLED panel which means it has vibrant color palette and inky blacks. Icons just pop, especially when you use a nice dark background.

An important point about Vivo X21's display is that it is very bright. Even phones like Google Pixel 2 really struggle in broad daylight, especially when displaying darker images or UIs. In contrast, I could use Twitter's dark UIs without straining my eyes on Vivo X21. At some instance, Vivo X21 looks even brighter than Samsung Galaxy S9+.

Another thing to talk about is notch on screen. It breaks all-screen illusion, though at least it's fairly small. It often disappeared into black border around it but even when it didn't, I hardly noticed it. Only issue is that it steals real estate from status bar, which makes it much less useful and unfortunately, you don't get an option to turn it off as you do on some other Android smartphones carrying notched displays.

Vivo X21 also features an always-on display that looks pretty similar to Samsung's implementation. It even offers a Side Clock version, though phone doesn't have curved edges of Samsung's flagships. You can customize color and background of always-on clock, but you can only opt to see notifications for missed calls and messages, not emails, or other types of notifications, which is quite disappointing. Whether you enable Always-on display or not, Vivo X21 always shows a fingerprint icon when screen is turned off. This is so you know where embedded fingerprint sensor is. Icon also pops up when you need to authenticate in apps that use fingerprint scanner. I am curious to see how the Vivo X21 fares after a while, because that always-on fingerprint icon could cause burn-in. I haven't noticed any issues so far, but it's something to keep an eye on.

In display Fingerprint scanner

Vivo X21 is the first commercial smartphone with a fingerprint sensor underneath its screen. It doesn't sound like a big deal, as most non-techie people aren't impressed, but it is.

Phone makers and component suppliers have been working on this technology for years. Now, Vivo and Synaptics have finally cracked the problem, even better, Vivo beats big boys too such as Samsung and Apple, who have yet to release phones with in-display fingerprint scanners. Huawei only did it on extremely expensive Huawei Mate RS, announced shortly after the Vivo X21.

Put simply, Vivo embedded a thumbnail-sized sensor on back of phone's OLED display. Light from OLED display reflects on minute ridges and valleys of your fingerprint and reaches sensor through tiny gaps between display's pixels. It also works great most of the time. Just touch it like a regular fingerprint sensor and phone unlocks itself in a split second. It's only marginally slower than a conventional scanner and you don't even need to press harder than usual, though it helps if you place your whole finger print on screen, not just tip.

However, this is clearly first-gen technology. It doesn't always work on first try and occasionally it requires multiple presses to register and unlock. A couple of times, phone even asked me to enter my PIN, after multiple failed attempts to use registered fingerprint. It's also inconsistent, as sometimes phone unlocks super-fast, while other times you need to press and hold for more than a second.

Vivo will no doubt solve these issues within a couple of years, but right now, embedded fingerprint technology is not as reliable as conventional sensors. If you buy Vivo X21, have a little patience.

Hardware

Vivo X21 is powered by Snapdragon 660 processor and Adreno 512 GPU, coupled with 6 GB of RAM with wither 64 or 128 GB of on-board storage. Phone also supports external memory expansion through Micro-SD card slot, so running out of memory on this phone won't be an issue.

For most part, Vivo X21 manages to deliver impressively and works really well. As far as daily tasks are concerned, things feel snappy and there is literally no lag anywhere. Performance is similar to that of Nokia 7 Plus, which features the same processor. However, extra 2GB of RAM on Vivo X21 does give it an edge over Nokia 7 Plus. As for graphics intensive tasks, Vivo X21 is definitely not the best phone out there, but it's not bad either. Phone was able to handle PUBG on medium settings and a higher framerate, which is quite good. Also, while I've previously had troubles on Vivo V9 force quitting apps in background, I faced no such issues on this phone, which to me is again great.

On hardware level, Vivo seems to have made some good decisions and some bad. While phone retains 3.5 mm headphone jack, it ditches USB Type-C port yet again, for an outdated micro USB port. This gives competitors of this device and edge over it as they will be able to transfer data and charge much faster than Vivo's latest flagship. There's no stereo speaker support found either, and if you get your phone wet, you will be out of luck as it doesn't come with dust and water resistant.

Even without stereo speaker support, speaker on this thing is pretty loud as well and is good for loudspeaker calls as well as decent media consumption. It is not the loudest out there, but at least the levels are balanced, which, in my opinion, is what matters more. Vivo also provides a pair of earphones inside the box, which is something I really admire.

Overall, it seems like Vivo paid attention to the very important hardware features, such as a fast processor and ample RAM and sacrifices on other features which you might see on other Android devices in this price range.

Battery

Vivo X21 packs in a non-removable 3,200mAh battery, which seems just about right. Thanks to power efficient Snapdragon 660 processor onboard, I was able to get a decent amount of battery life. In my testing, device easily managed to last an entire day of average usage, which involved playing a bit of PUBG, checking my emails, adding loads of stories on Instagram, and listening to some music on SoundCloud.

Also, when it comes to charging, despite sporting a micro USB port, it does support fast charging. Phone charges from 0 to 100 % in under 110 minutes, which is pretty impressive. While it's not the fastest charger out there, it certainly gets closer to big dogs in market.

In case you rely heavily on your phone are a glued to it then you might need a charging point after 8 to 10 hours. The good part is that the smartphone comes with fast charging support which means that the device can charge up pretty quickly. However, it would have appreciated a lot more with a larger battery.

Camera

Vivo X21's camera setup is similar to what you will find on Vivo V9. It is a dual camera setup consisting of a 12 MP main sensor and 5 MP secondary sensor with f/1.8 and f /2.4 aperture respectively. Camera is a downgrade if you consider megapixel count but it's an upgrade for better low-light photography.

During my initial camera test, results turn out to be convincing. I tested it in day light and it showed promise, however, at times pictures looked artificially enhanced. Phone uses a monochrome lens to click portrait photos, and allows adjustment of blur to strengthen or lighten the effect. It uses AI to separate background from subject in foreground while using portrait mode. Edge detection may not be perfect but it is still pretty good. Camera shot some decent and satisfactory images when I took portrait shots. Bokeh effect is not that great and on many occasions camera blurred both the subject and background. Image quality of images captured in daylight turned out to be really good but they turned out to be grainy and full of noise as soon as light gets dim. Also, Phase detection autofocus is not up to the mark and I often got unstable shots of moving subjects.

Rear camera took good images in decent lighting conditions while surprising me with its HDR mode. HDR mode managed to handle complex scenes with extremely bright and dark areas managing to balance the entire scene. There was some noise and Vivo X21 is no Samsung Galaxy S9 or Google Pixel 2 when it comes to capturing textures, but it was overall good. A positive side to see was that shutter speed and image processing remains snappy on Vivo X21. Unlike other Chinese devices, including some from Vivo, that just makes the images soft for no reason, the Vivo X21 manages to produce great results.

Vivo X21 shoots videos up till 4K at 30 fps, which is fairly decent for a phone at this price point. Camera lacks Optical Image Stabilization and Electronic Image Stabilization so footage comes out pretty shaky, especially in 4K. At 1080p, though, Vivo X21 manages to capture some decent videos with accurate color reproduction and good dynamic range as compared to older Vivo flagships.

Front of Vivo X21 houses a 12MP selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture. Camera app on phone has a very simple user interface. As it is a Vivo phone, it is mandatory that it comes with a beauty mode and with it, you can capture a selfie or a portrait and then beautify it by smoothening skin or removing wrinkles. Camera software does manage to give a range of options to control camera and watermark images. Both the front as well as back camera support portrait mode and HDR modes. Users can also shoot 'Live' images using 'Live Photo' mode.

Overall, it's a decent camera, something you will expect on a midrange smartphone device. While it's not bad, there are plenty of other phones in market with better cameras in this range so Vivo needs to address this issue in their next iteration.

Software

Coming to software, Vivo X21 runs on Android 8.1 Oreo topped with company's own layer of customization via FunTouch OS. Phone has the same User Interface as other Vivo smartphones. Vivo has taken some aspects of iOS such as shape and look of icons, absence of app drawer, quick settings at bottom of screen, etc. I'm personally not a fan of quick settings on Android phones and on Vivo X21, quick settings menu was not easily accessible. Many times I had to swipe three to four times to get hold of menu.

Vivo X21 comes with a gesture mode which allows users to navigate through it with the help of gestures just like on Apple iPhone X. In gesture mode, screen is divided into three parts: Swipe up on right side to open control center, swipe on center to go back to home screen and swipe up on left to go back one screen. If you swipe on central area then screen allows you to scroll through active apps. Status bar is a bit messy as notch covers a lot of area and remaining is not been utilized very well. Notification bar has a very simplistic UI and one has to tap on it to read complete information which can be a turn off for many users.

Launcher is also pretty basic and there is no app drawer which means that all your apps will be placed on multiple home screens. Apart from this, it has all standard features of Android 8.1. With Vivo X21, company is also focusing a lot on the Music and audio experience of smartphone. Device consists of a "Hi-Fi" DAC on board and has a mono speaker located at bottom of device. Audio is satisfactory, though, and nothing great.

It is a software experience which most Vivo users and fans are familiar with and they won't be blown away with anything on Vivo X21's software. For stock Android fans, software on Vivo X21 is a huge no go area.

Conclusion

Vivo X21 is available in market for around $500 dollars or 450 Euros. Phone comes in three colors: Black, Aurora White and Ruby Red. It is an all-rounder with good performance, decent camera and a futuristic new in-display fingerprint scanning technology at heart of device. This phone is a living example to what dedicated Research and Development teams can achieve to beat tech titan like Apple and Samsung.

The biggest concern most people will have is price of this phone. At around 500 dollars, there are plenty of new phones coming out which come with better hardware and camera performance, such as OnePlus 6. Sheer performance, specifications, camera performance and design of OnePlus 6 manages to surpass Vivo X21. If you are a Vivo loyalist or someone who wants to have that in-display fingerprint scanner months before others, then by all means, go ahead and buy this device. However, in case you're looking at more options, there's Samsung Galaxy S8 or Motorola Moto Z2 Force, but they lack the joy of unlocking themselves without a visible fingerprint scanner.

However, Vivo X21 is a fun device that gets a lot of things right. Display is a joy to look at, performance is solid, and fingerprint sensor and facial recognition works well. It looks great, and most of the times, it works just as well as its competitors. It's let down by software, which lacks polish and attention to detail, and comes with several UI elements that just don't make sense. If Vivo can somehow manage to fix that in an update, that would give this phone a great fighting chance against its rivals. In the end, it depends whether you're a Vivo fan or not and whether you want to have futuristic fingerprint scanner quicker than everyone else, and if that's the case, then you won't be disappointed with this phone.