Hands on: Vivo X21 review

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Early Verdict

Although it shares its design with the Vivo V9, the X21 looks like a much better proposition of balanced hardware that supports the feature-rich software. The under the screen fingerprint isn't as efficient as the physical sensor, but it's a really cool feature to flaunt.

For

  • Good in-hand feel
  • Unique in-display biometric unlock
  • Good display

Against

  • Micro-USB port is dated
  • Bloatware heavy

It's been only two months of existence for Vivo V9 in the Indian market, and the Chinese tech major has come back with the X21. Though the names don't match, for me, the phones are identical. The new device is more of a pro variant of the Vivo V9

'Pro', as I said, would indicate that it is a more 'superior' product than an existing one; in this case, the name is different. However, device-wise, the 'pro' factor holds true. 

The Vivo X21 looks like an ordinary mid-range phone with a decent overall package of features. But it's actually not. It carries a feature which the whole tech industry is currently eyeing. It's the next step towards making the bezel-less phones even more meaningful.

It has the in-display fingerprint sensor that Vivo showcased during the MWC on the Apex, the concept phone. The good part is that it actually works. But how well does it work? We'll find out. 

Vivo X21 price and availability

The Vivo X21 has been priced at Rs 35,990 and is available exclusively on Flipkart. Vivo has also announced that the device will come with the company’s XE710 headphone.

Design and display

  • Premium design 
  • Fits well in hand
  • Big for one handed usage

The Vivo X21, as I've already said, shares its aesthetics with the cheaper sibling Vivo V9. It has the same glass back with slightly curved sides, providing users a good grip.

It has a glass and metal design, which surely is solid to hold. It is densely built and the glass feels strong too.

Yes, it does look like the Vivo V9, but without a squarish fingerprint sensor on the back. If Vivo would've named it the V9 Pro, that would've made no difference. It's THAT similar.

The front is interesting, as it was on the V9. It has a full HD+ display with a 19:9 aspect ratio sporting a notch at the top. It's a very nearly bezel-less display with the thickest bezels on the chin. But that's still thin considering the competition. There's no Vivo branding on the front either. 

There's a dual rear camera module on the top left. It's quite small compared to the other vertically stacked sensor. There's a sharp, thin rim around the camera, but it's quite subtle and shouldn't get scratched when placed on rough surface. Vivo anyway provides a plastic case to protect the body. 

Despite being thin, it carries the traditional 3.5mm jack on the top. There's one shortcoming though - the micro USB at the bottom. 

Still, the 6.3-inch AMOLED display manages to impress with its size and immersive viewing experience. It's a full HD+ panel that sits like a layer on top of the body, and looks even from different angles. It's sharp, colours pop up well, and even sunlight legibility isn't a problem.

All-in-all, the 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. 

Software and UI

The Vivo X21 runs Android 8.1 Oreo, but thanks to Vivo's FunTouch OS, it looks nowhere close to stock. There's a thick skin of customised FunTouch OS 4.0, which brings along tons of additional features and bloatware. 

There's V-Appstore (Vivo's own application store), i Music, i Theme, i Manager, EasyShare, vivo.com app, and some popular apps like Facebook, Amazon, PhonePe and WhatsApp. Unfortunately, Vivo gives you no option to uninstall the resident apps. The ones inspired by the character 'i' in particular. Third party apps like Facebook and WhatsApp can be removed.

As always, FunTouch OS draws some 'i'nspiration from the iOS, but it works well. Animations are subtle, transitions are smooth and there are no signs of lag and latency initially. However, the default icon pack isn't that subtle.

Enter Settings, and you will see another iOS-like screen with similar icon packs and UI layout. There's a lot to see in the settings, so I just jumped around the few new options I've never seen before.

One of such options was the smart motion. It basically lets you customise gestures like - raise to wake, double tap to wake (LG's knock knock), shake to turn the flashlight (Moto's chop-chop), tilt to zoom, air unlock, lock-screen gestures and so on.

Furthermore, there's the split-screen, picture in picture, app cloning and more such features. This basically means, there's a lot to explore and use, but it's still has to be seen if those work as well.

In-screen fingerprint sensor

My first move was to open security settings, registering my fingerprint as soon as I unboxed the X21. And that's because this is something unique the device has on offer. 

An in-display or under the display fingerprint sensor is a technology that allows you to scan your fingerprint through the display. A technology that the Samsung Galaxy S9 was expected to come with. However, the X21 is the first phone to have this feature ready to use. 

The conventional smartphone fingerprint sensor has become faster and more efficient over the years. And that will also be the case with the in-display fingerprint sensor well, but for now, this one of the X21 works. It's not as fast as the normal sensor on the OnePlus 6, but then, it's not as slow as the one on the iPhone 5S. 

It does take its time to register initially. I had to try thrice on my first attempt to register my fingerprint, but once you get used to the right way to place your finger, it works just fine. While registering, I realised it's easier to move your finger around the sensor when you actually see it; otherwise, you'll fail to 'register' it quite a few times.

Once done, it works quite well. It's accurate 8 out of 10 times and it does unlock quickly. However, the animations do add an extra second to the unlock time.

Camera

Similar to the Vivo V9 it has a dual camera module with a 12MP primary and 5MP secondary camera with f/1.8 and f/2.4 aperture respectively. It's a downgrade if you consider the megapixel count but it's an upgrade for better low-light photography.

During our initial tests, the results were convincing. We tested it in day light and it showed promise. At times, the pictures looked artificially enhanced. We have not gotten a chance to test it in low-light yet, but we'll be updating this review once we're done with that. 

It uses a monochrome lens to click portrait photos, and allows adjustment of blur to strengthen or lighten the effect. Also, the shutter speed and image processing remains snappy on a new Vivo X21. We'll test it further to see if it slows down overtime.

Camera samples

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Verdict

Vivo X21 at Rs 35,990 sits at a position where there are phones like the new OnePlus 6 that are popular and have their own space. The X21 brings a good set of specifications along with a premium look and feel to the table, but there's nothing that feels sufficient to justify the price as of now. The in-display fingerprint sensor is a feature that's new and unique, sure, but is that enough to justify spending this amount of cash on it? 

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.