Vivo X21 Review

Without a doubt, in-display fingerprint scanner is going to be one of this year’s hottest smartphone trend. Vivo’s X21 is the first phone to receive this new technology, and we can expect to see a lot more phones with it in the near future.

But there is a lot more to the Vivo X21 than its in-display fingerprint scanner and even without it, the X21 is one excellent device. Without further ado, here is my review of the Vivo X21. Huge thanks to Vivo Singapore for lending me the review unit.


Summary – The New King of Premium Mid-Rangers

Vivo X21 is a beautiful premium mid-range device that gets a lot of things right. While not perfect, I really enjoyed my time with it and I am sure you will too.

Pros:

  • Eye-catching design, great feel in hand
  • Case, screen protector & earphones included
  • Large 6.28″ 19:9 Super AMOLED display
  • UI and most games run smoothly without a hitch
  • Fun and easy-to-use camera app
  • Very respectable camera performance for price
  • Great sounding bottom firing speaker
  • Face unlock works well, even in low light
  • Supports fast charging with included wall adapter

Cons:

  • Still using Micro USB
  • Limited app support for split screen
  • No NFC and wireless charging despite glass back
  • In-display fingerprint scanner slow, difficult to set up

Others:

  • UI is better now, but still has room for improvement
  • Battery lasts through a day of moderate usage

Variants & Pricing – Reasonable

Compared to competing products in the same category, the Vivo X21 is reasonably priced at S$799. It is only available in Black at the moment, with 128GB ROM and 6GB RAM.

In Singapore, the 128/6GB Vivo X21 will cost you S$799 off-contract. This places it between rival OPPO’s R15 (S$749) and R15 Pro (S$899), both also with 128GB ROM and 6GB RAM, so I would say that the X21 is priced reasonably.

In case 128GB of storage is not enough for you, the Vivo X21 is also expandable via a Micro SD card up to 256GB. The SIM tray is a hybrid one, accepting either 2 nano SIM cards or one nano SIM card plus a Micro SD card.

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At the moment, it is only available in black here in Singapore. I hope Vivo will bring in the red and white versions. Most of the accessories you will need come with the X21, including a pre-applied screen protector, case and earphones.


Design – Calling it Magnificent is an Understatement

A glass phone that feels thin!

You may have noticed that many phones this year are ditching metal uni-body for a glass back. The Vivo X21 is one of them, featuring a glass back that is curved at the sides, with a metal frame around the device that is equally reflective.

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The metal frame curves at a steep angle in the middle, which creates an illusion that makes the phone feel thinner in the hand. We have seen the same trick on OPPO’s R11s, which unfortunately was excluded from OPPO’s latest device, the R15.

With the steep curves around the center of the metal frame, you also get a better grip. This is especially important for a phone with a glass back; you don’t want to drop it. But if you are still concerned about breaking it, put on the included case.

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On the top, we have a headphone jack (hooray!) and a microphone. At the bottom, we have a single speaker grill, a Micro USB port, as well as a SIM tray. A little disappointing to see Micro USB on a device that costs close to S$800 in 2018.

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The left side of the X21 is completely empty, while the power and volume buttons sit on the right side, as usual. Now, to most exciting yet controversial aspect of the design: the display in front.

Why controversial? Like almost every other non-budget smartphones in 2018, the X21 has a notch on top, with tiny side bezels and a small chin below the 19:9 6.28″ display. Place it beside an Honor 10 or OnePlus 6 and have fun guessing which is which.

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Despite being “Black” according to Vivo’s website, the X21 looks more grayish under sunlight, especially with its reflective properties. Overall, I am very impressed by the design of the X21 and I am sure you will too when you use it.


Display – Not(ch) Bad Eh?

It has a notch, but there is nothing else to complain about.

Love Samsung’s smartphone displays? Then you will love this display too. The Vivo X21 uses a 19:9 6.28″ FHD+ Super AMOLED display. This display is very bright and a little over-saturated, with excellent viewing angles. A nice display.

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As you may expect from AMOLED technology, blacks are super deep as only required portions are lit up. Vivo uses this to show a fingerprint icon for the in-display fingerprint scanner when the screen is off. If only Vivo added always-on display…

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Vivo knows that the notch might obstruct certain buttons in some games, so they have something called “Safe Area Display”, which is basically running the games in 16:9, avoiding the notch. This can be disabled in the settings app.

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Performance – Good Enough for its Intended Audience

The Snapdragon 660 processor inside is good enough for most users but the most hardcore gamers. This phone ain’t designed for hardcore gamers anyways.

As a premium mid-range device, the Vivo X21 isn’t meant for hardcore mobile gaming. That said, with a Snapdragon 660 processor and 6GB of RAM, scrolling through the UI is butter smooth and most games run without a hitch.

Even on graphic-intensive games like PUBG Mobile and 王者荣耀, with graphics on balance and frame rate at medium in PUBG Mobile, the Vivo X21 did not stutter. Even when there is a lot of action going on, the X21 held up well.

Hence, it is no surprise that the Vivo X21 performed well in benchmarks, scoring 1615 (single-core)/ 5673 (multi-core) on Geekbench 4 and 129404 on AnTuTu.


Rear Camera – That Bokeh Mode

Capable of taking stunning bokeh photos and selfies Capable of 4K video recording, but you will want to record in 1080p for better stabilization.

On the rear, the Vivo X21 is equipped with a pair of cameras: a 12MP dual pixel main camera with f/1.8 aperture and a 5MP secondary camera with f/2.4 aperture for depth sensing.

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Under sunlight and artificial lighting, the X21’s rear cameras produce stunning photos with pretty accurate colors and plenty of details. With a 5MP sensor for depth sensing, the X21 is not only capable of bokeh, but does it surprisingly well.

You can also use the rear camera to take selfies, with face beauty (beautify) and bokeh effect. With a few taps in the camera settings, you can use your palm to activate the camera shutter, which makes taking selfie with the rear camera a lot easier.

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I (shamelessly) used the Vivo X21 to take a couple of photos for an upcoming review and the photos look so good! I shall not reveal too much but here is one of them. Look at that bokeh. Breathtaking! Tempted to get a X21 after I return this review unit.

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At night, the X21 is capable of taking good looking images that are still worthy to be posted on Instagram, but there is quite a bit of noise and the lost in detail is quite apparent.

Vivo X21 is capable of shooting up to 4K videos at 30fps. Don’t get too excited though. While colors do look good, 4K videos turn out blurry due to bad stabilization (if there is even stabilization). Will not recommend using it without a tripod.

On the other hand, 1080p videos turn out to be a lot more stable, even as I walked faster. This results in footage that looks much nicer, so you will want to shoot in 1080p most of the time.


Front Camera – AR Stickers!

For a front camera, the Vivo X21’s selfie shooter is very good, but the rear camera produces much better selfies. Ladies will love the AR sticker function.

Similar to the rear, the front of the Vivo X21 houses a 12MP dual pixel camera, but this time with an aperture of f/2.0. Selfies turn out a little soft with poor dynamic range, but compared to the competition it is already among the best

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The front facing camera on the Vivo X21 is capable of bokeh mode and it works well too, even without a secondary depth sensing camera. But whenever possible, I would still use the rear camera for selfies as the image quality is just much better.

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One thing I really enjoyed about the selfie camera is the AR Sticker mode, similar to what you get on Snapchat. While it is also available on the rear camera, it is a lot more fun when you can see yourself in the display.  My sister is addicted to it!


Audio – Great Speakers, Decent Headphone Output

Bottom-firing speaker severely lacks bass, but vocals sound good. Meanwhile, listening via headphones, the X21 emphasizes too much on bass, crippling the mids.

Listening with my 1MORE 1M301, the X21 emphasizes a little too much on bass, overshadowing and even losing quite a bit of details in the mids. While I do not get the “silent headphone jack” problem like on the V7+, it doesn’t sound as good as Redmi 5.

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With so little room in the front, the Vivo X21 could only house a single bottom-firing speaker. Compared to the Redmi 5, its sound isn’t as vibrant and bass sounds tiny even for a smartphone, but vocals sound less constricted and more natural.


Unlocking – Face > In-Display Fingerprint Scanner

The reliability of the fingerprint scanner depends on how well you set it up, but the setup process is tedious and frustrating. Meanwhile, face unlock works surprisingly well.

A key feature of the Vivo X21, one that sets it apart from most smartphones we have today, is the in-display fingerprint scanner. Unfortunately, it is pretty slow (0.6s) and if you don’t set it up properly, it will often fail to recognize your fingerprint.

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The setup process was one of the most annoying that I have been through, rejecting scans frequently and failing after multiple rejections. For best results. you want to scan your entire thumb, but it is very difficult to do so when it keeps failing.

From my testing, the best way to set it up is to avoid scanning near your fingernail. Also, the app may ask you to press deeper, but I found that to make things worst. Instead, holding down for a longer time (about 1 whole second) seems to help.

Meanwhile, Face Unlock on the X21 is quick and works well in different lighting conditions. Turn on “raise to wake” and the device will unlock instantly when you pick it up. Sweet! This has been my default unlocking method since day 1.

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Endurance & Charging – Fast Charging!!!

Lasts through a day with moderate usage. Fast charging supported with the included wall adapter! For best results, turn of the device while charging.

Powering the Vivo X21 is a 3200mAh battery. In my test, it got through a full day on moderate usage with ease, with 23% battery remaining at the end of the day. To estimate screen-on time, I subtracted the idle duration from RF service duration.

Total duration = 15h

Screen-On Time = 5h 12min

Main usage:

  • 46min Facebook
  • 40min YouTube
  • 22min Instagram
  • 1h17min music
  • 37min Xiaomi AI
  • 36min light games (Jetpack Joyride & Connection)

With heavier usage, the Vivo X21 will require charging halfway through the day. But considering that this phone is targeted at the less tech-savvy who is unlikely to use their phones so heavily, the battery endurance of the X21 is acceptable.

In my unboxing article, I mentioned that the Vivo X21 comes with a 9V 2A wall adapter, which could be a hint that the X21 supports fast charging. And that is indeed true. To test the charging speed and power drawn, I drained the X21 to under 5% battery.

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There are 3 scenarios to consider: screen on, screen off and device off. In all 3 scenarios, my USB tester read 7.45V, but the current differed, at 1.2A, 1.6A and 1.85A respectively. Hence, to achieve max charging speed, we should power off the device.

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Next, I charged the X21, powered off, from 3% battery. After 30min, the phone was at 62% and at the 1 hour mark, it had hit 93%. So if you forgot to charge your phone the previous night, an hour’s charge should get you through the entire day.


Software – Better, Still has Room for Improvement

More enjoyable to use than previous versions, but some of the flaws from before hasn’t been addressed.

If you have read my Vivo V7+ review, you will know that I was not a fan of Vivo’s Funtouch OS as it felt unpolished at that point in time. Now that we are at version 4.0, has it gotten any better? In my opinion, yes and a little bit of no.

Some of my concerns hasn’t been addressed: the weird app naming is still here and split screen added support for a few more apps but it still isn’t as good as stock Android’s.

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However, I must say that Funtouch OS feels a lot nicer now, with more modern icons and a curvier design that matches the curved corners of the display. Navigation gestures now has a tutorial and the gesture for one-handed mode seem more responsive.

There are a couple of features in Funtouch OS 4.0 that I really like. There is a gaming mode that removes distractions and obstructions when you are gaming on your Vivo X21. You can even add some non-game apps like Facebook!

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When watching videos on YouTube and a WhatsApp message comes in, you get a tiny icon bubble instead of the normal notification bubble that blocks 1/3 of your screen. Tapping on the bubble will open WhatsApp in split screen.

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Conclusion – The X21 Doesn’t Disappoint

If you are a hardcore gamer, you will not like the X21’s Snapdragon 660 processor, but the device ain’t meant for you anyways. For everyone else, while the Vivo X21 may not sound too impressive on paper, you will really enjoy using it.

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Want to get the Vivo X21 after reading this article? You can purchase it from M1 and StarHub for S$799 off-contract or at one of Vivo Singapore’s authorized distributors, listed on their website.

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