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Smartphone companies have largely stopped innovating. All we get to see in the name of innovation is minimal bezels, face unlocking, and dual or triple-lens camera setups. Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, etc. are playing safe and offering incremental performance updates rather than developing something entirely new and cutting edge.
Vivo, the Chinese smartphone maker has announced the new X21 smartphone that can change the present market dynamics. It is the first commercial Android smartphone with the new under-the-display fingerprint scanner. The bleeding edge technology brings something new to the table and is set to give a new direction to standard biometric methods followed by every smartphone maker across the globe.
Besides the innovative fingerprint scanning technology, Vivo X21 also offers a dual-lens camera setup, a massive 6.28-inch 19:9 aspect ratio screen and a capable selfie camera. We have been testing the handset for over a week now and here's what we think about this futuristic smartphone from Vivo.
New Fingerprint Scanner- Future is here
Honestly, I was not expecting this cutting-edge mobile technology from the house of Vivo, not anytime in the year 2018. Apple or Samsung was expected to come out with something entirely out-of-the-box. Vivo X21 has changed my outlook towards the brand. The world got to see the first glimpse of new technology at MWC 2017 where Vivo showcased the working model of the under-glass fingerprint sensing technology with the X20 Plus UD. With some fine-tuning, Vivo has managed to introduce the X21, the first mass-market smartphone with such futuristic technology, and without a shadow of a doubt, more handset makers will soon join the league.
For X21, Vivo is using Synaptics ClearID optical sensor, which only works on OLED/AMOLED panels. Resultant, Vivo ditched the IPS LCD panel for the new handset, which in my opinion has some other benefits, something we will talk while discussing the X21's display performance. The sensor is placed 1 cm above the chin of the device, which is a very comfortable spot for your thumb to land naturally. As there's no protrusion or any physical marking to separate the in-display fingerprint scanner, you have to see the exact spot every time you unlock the handset, which is a pain-point.
How in-display fingerprint sensor works on Vivo
The ClearID optical sensor is placed three layers down the top glass. Unlike capacitive or ultrasound biometric sensors, the in-display fingerprint sensing technology works on the principles of optics. The moment you touch the designated area on the X21's AMOLED screen, it emits light to illuminate your finger's footprint. The light photons then reflected and are captured by the sensor rooted below the screen. A slight pressure is also required for the better functioning of the sensor. The process to register your fingerprints on Vivo X21 is a tedious task as it takes longer than the usual time that traditional fingerprint sensors take. Moreover, the fingerprint reader on X21 is microseconds slower than the typical biometric scanners we use today, and it does not always unlock the device at first attempt. You are required to make multiple attempts.
And then there are times when it works just fine and unlocks the device in a jiffy. In simple words, the new technology is not consistent, yet. Vivo has claimed that the functionality will be improved after a software update; which is quite acceptable knowing the fact that the lightning-fast fingerprint scanners of today were also slow and buggy in their early days. Another important point, screen protectors will not create any problems in the sensor's functionality.
Besides, if the futuristic fingerprint scanning is giving you a hard time on Vivo X21, the smartphone also offers a snappy face recognition technology. Vivo has implemented infrared-based face recognition technology and it unlocks the handset in the blink of an eye.
Overall, as a user, you will take some time to get accustomed to the new biometric technology, but it is indeed the future and is expected to become a standard feature in the coming years.
Sleek and Premium
Talking about the design, Vivo X21 feels like a polished version of the recently launched Vivo V9. The smartphone is quite sleek and features an all-black aluminum frame and a glass back. Despite boasting a large 6.28-inch display, Vivo X21 is still comfortable to hold and is comparatively ergonomic than other big-screen devices available in the market. The glass rear panel has tapered edges, which makes X21 comfortable to hold. The smartphone is also very light and is about 7.5 millimeters at its thickest point. Overall, the design is practical and minimal.
There are two issues with the design of Vivo X21. The smartphone ships with the dated microUSB 2.0 port, which does not justify the price-point. Thankfully, fast-charging is supported. Besides, the design is not water-resistant as the handset comes sans IP certification.
Massive 6.28-inch Full HD+ Screen
The in-display fingerprint scanner allows for more room to place a large display at the front. The X21 gets a massive 6.28-inch screen with an FHD+ resolution. The FullView display is surrounded by side bezels which measures just 1.66mm in thickness. Resultant, Vivo X21 offers a 90.3% screen-to-body ratio, which is quite impressive.
And as I mentioned earlier, Vivo has opted for an OLED panel for X21 which results in better contrast and vivid colors than the LCD panels. Moreover, the OLED panel also integrates P3 display color management technology and supports a P3 wide color gamut. What this means in simple language is that the display ensures accurate, natural and saturated colors.
The X21's screen also follows the modern trends and come in 19:9 aspect ratio format with the infamous notch in the center. The screen is very touch-responsive and serves well for video playback and gaming. It also supports iPhone X like gestures that can be enabled from display settings.
Capable Dual-Lens camera Setup
While the new fingerprint sensor is indeed the highlight of the X21, Vivo has also significantly improved on the camera part. The X21 sports a 12 MP+ 5MP dual-lens rear camera setup that works on ‘Dual Pixel' sensor technology. The tech improves low-light camera performance, focus speeds and picture clarity due to a larger pixel count.
Good details and effective HDR
In real-world situations, the performance in daylight in impressive and there's very minimal pixelation even if you zoom in images to 100%. The colors are punchy, not exactly natural but the pictures come out to be vivid and beautiful. The images also show good contrast ratio and look impressive on X21's AMOLED screen. The focus is fast but not always consistent so you would require a very stable hand or a tripod in unfavourable light situations. The HDR mode on Vivo X21 is quite effective, too intense sometimes though, but brings out a lot of shadow details.
Low-light camera samples
Surprisingly, the low-light performance is also improved a lot as compared to last few Vivo handsets we have tested. The camera software keeps the noise in check and colors are represented beautifully. Check out the above low-light image sample that shows how beautifully Vivo X21 has captured the colors emitted from the light sources. The noise levels are also very well controlled. Overall, I found that the Vivo X21 is actually a better camera handset than OnePlus 6 in low-light photography.
Pleasing Bokeh Effect
The 5MP secondary camera on X21's dual-camera setup is able to create a pleasing bokeh effect. The shallow depth of field can be customized as per your requirement to get the desired output. At its maximum point, the images look artificial but as I said, its customizable and can produce some good portrait shots.
Selfie Camera performance
As expected, Vivo has also offered a capable front-facing camera. The 12MP sensor can make you look good in every selfie you click. It doesn't matter if you were awake last night and did not take a shower in morning. The selfies are bound to come good. If you can adjust to this reality shift, you will love the Vivo X21's selfie camera performance. The front camera now also supports AR stickers to make you popular or wannabe on Snapchat or other similar social networks. P.S no hard feelings for the selfie and Snapchat fans. We all love them.
Hardware: Gaming, Multitasking and Battery performance
Vivo X21 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, the same chipset that also supplies power to Nokia 7 Plus. The CPU is paired with 6GB RAM and 128GB internal memory. Performance output is smooth and lag-free. The 6GB RAM effectively handles all the multi-tasking requirements and 128GB internal storage will be more than enough for most of the users. If not, you can expand it further by up to 256GB via microSD card.
I also wanted to see how well the Vivo X21 handles graphical intensive games. To my surprise, I did not come across any performance issues while playing heavy games like Asphalt 8, Marvel Strike Force, etc. The handset rendered graphics smoothly and also maintained an optimal temperate reading during long video playback and gaming sessions.
Vivo X21 is powered by a humble 3,200 mAh battery unit that can last a day if you use your handset moderately. If you like play graphical intensive games on a stretch or watch too many videos, you would need a charger or a power bank handy. The smartphone also supports fast charging- Dual Engine Quick Charge in X21's case and it is really effective.
Audio: Good performance via headphones
Vivo X21 is also a solid audio device if you love to hear music via headphones. The package includes Vivo's newly designed earphones that when combined with Hi-Fi audio chipset ‘Deep Field' technology delivers impressive audio output. The audio app offers a plethora of modes and presets such as panoramic surround, mega bass, clear voice effects and various environmental audio effects. Sadly, the Vivo X21 comes sans stereo speakers and the mono down firing speaker is not very effective.
Software: FunTouchOS based on Android Oreo
Like previous Vivo handsets, the new X21 also runs on company's FunTouch OS 4.0 skin. The UI is based on Android 8.1 Oreo and shares a very close resemblance to iOS. The performance is smooth and you get plenty of features and customization options. Some useful pre-installed apps include iManager, Vivo Cloud, File manager, Easy share, etc. You can customize notifications, status bar, apply Game mode for the uninterrupted gaming experience, and can also enable iPhone X like gestures to take the full use of the massive 6.28-inch screen. However, Vivo still needs to make some important software changes to utilize the complete potential of big AMOLED screen while you consume multimedia content and use gestures controls at the same time.
Vivo has largely focused on selfie-centric smartphones with mid-range specifications that cater to the offline market. I was expecting Vivo to unveil further advancements in front-facing camera with a good use of Artificial Intelligence; however, Vivo has changed the game altogether.
Vivo X21 is by far the best Vivo smartphone I have used till date. It is packed with bleeding edge technology and is also a power packed performer. With the new Vivo X21, the company is now one of the most exciting smartphone makers in the modern times.
Truth to be told, the Vivo X21 will compete head to head with OnePlus 6, the smartphone I am also using side by side. Undoubtedly, OnePlus 6 is a performance beast and is a better handset for power users; Vivo X21 is more exciting and fun to use. Importantly, the camera performance on Vivo X21 is significantly good and the handset is also a great device for multimedia consumption. If you are in the market for something interesting and futuristic, Vivo X21 is your only bet. The smartphone will be available on Flipkart, Vivo's E-store and in the offline market across the country.