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Vivo X21 Review - In-Display Fingerprint Scanning Experience

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Earlier this year, Vivo introduced a concept smartphone with a new feature of the future, the In-Display Fingerprint scanning technology.
Vivo X21 Review - In-Display Fingerprint Scanning Experience
Meet Vivo X21

As a quick recap, the In-Display fingerprint scanning tech is a new way of unlocking your phone through your screen. According to Vivo, this tech is convenient to use without compromising the sleekness of modern bezel-less smartphones compared with traditional fingerprint scanners.

Fast forward mid 2018, that concept is now a reality. Meet the Vivo X21 premium smartphone!

Why is it a big deal? Vivo beat some of the bigger mobile brands in the In-Display fingerprint scanner race. Apple and Samsung have yet to release a phone with such tech.

Let's check it out!

Vivo X21 Specs

Display: 6.28-inch 2.5D curved Super AMOLED screen w/ FHD+ 2280 x 1080 resolution, and Gorilla Glass 3 protection at 402 ppi
CPU: 2.2GHz 64-bit Snapdragon 660 octa-core processor w/ Qualcomm AIE Artificial Intelligence Chip
GPU: Adreno 512
RAM: 6GB
ROM: 128GB expandable via microSD card slot up to 256GB
Back Camera: 12MP f/1.8 + 5MP f/2.4 w/ Dual Pixel PDAF and LED flash
Selfie Camera: 12MP f/2.0 w/ A.I. Face Beauty
Battery: 3,200mAh w/ fast charging
OS: Android 8.1 Oreo w/ Funtouch OS 4.0
Connectivity: WiFi, 4G LTE w/ VLTE, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, dual SIM (hybrid)
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, orientation, proximity, gyroscope, sound, magnetic
Others: Fingerprint sensor, In-Display fingerprint sensor, face unlock, AK4376A HiFi DAC, Colors: black, aurora white, ruby red
Dimensions: 154.45 x 74.78 x 7.37 mm
Weight: 156.2 g
Price: PHP 29,999

Unboxing/Accessories

Unboxed
Unboxed

The Vivo X21 is loaded with accessories. You'll get the fast charging USB wall charger, micro USB cable (yes it is still on micro USB), in-ear monitors (earphones) with microphone and extra tips, SIM, TPU clear case, and some paper documents.

Note: It has one of the very best FREE case you'll find today. The stock earphones is also fantastic for freebie. We'll talk more about it in the audio quality department.

Build Quality / Design

Premium build and design
Premium build and design
The Vivo X21 feels premium in terms of build build. It's simply great for an upper mid-range device.

The back cover of the device is made out of ceramic-like curved 3D glass. Even the frame on the sides is has that glossy ceramic-like material.

On the top, it has a 6.28 notched 2.5D FHD+ screen with Gorilla Glass 3 protection. It should be durable enough to withstand light drops and avoid minor hairline scratches.

Again, it feels premium. If you are a clumsy type of person, putting a case on it is a must because its body is mostly made out of 3D glass.
Top
Top
Bottom
Bottom
Right
Right

In terms of design, this one is not that flashy, but it is still considered as sleek with nice curves. The minimalism is on point here. The glossy back design is isn't that reflective and flashy. It is also very slim and handy for a phone with a massive 6.28-inch screen.

In particular, it is just as small as traditional 16:9 phones with 5.5-inch display. It measures at just 154.45 x 74.78 x 7.37 mm.

To nitpick, it has a small camera hump at the back.

On the top, you will find the 3.5 mm headphone jack (WHEW) and mic. Below, you will see the hybrid slot tray (dual SIMs or single SIM/microSD card), micro USB port, another mic, and speaker grill. At right, the usual power button and volume rocker are there.

We also like that it is not that slippery to hold and not that prone to fingerprint smudges. Impressive!

Display Quality

Notched, but vibrant screen
Notched, but vibrant screen

Vivo used a 6.28-inch Super AMOLED panel on the X21. It has an FHD+ resolution of 2280 x 1080 and 19:9 screen ratio. It has a notch, but it isn't as big as the one found on the iPhone X. I'm still not a fan of the notch, but it is forgiveable.

Very bright display!

In terms of quality, it doesn't have the sharpest resolution at 402 ppi, but it has one of the best color reproduction and sunlight legibility for an upper mid-range device.

It has the color punch and deep blacks you'll expect from an AMOLED panel, but Vivo managed to make it not that saturated. White balance is actually nice.

As expected, viewing angles are also great. Sunlight legibility is also quite good. It has a very bright type of display. It is even brighter than some of my higher-end phones.

In the settings, it has an accurate type of auto-brightness mode, eye protection, and set the screen color to cool or warm.

It also has always-on mode for notifications and the In-Display fingerprint scanner of course.

It lacks an option to turn off the notch though.

It also has 10 points of responsive multi-touch. It should be great for gaming and other types of applications that requires multi-touch inputs.


Audio Quality

This handset has a single speaker below. Sadly, its earpiece doesn't act as a secondary speaker for stereo audio.

In terms of quality, it has respectable audio reproduction with decent bass punch (for a phone) and clear enough mids. It has some grain and distortion on max loudness though.

It has average loudness. However, I expected it to be a bit louder.

For wired headphones, it has a AK4376A HiFi DAC (32-bit/192kHz audio) which can produce pretty balanced and clear tunes.

It also has enough driving power to make some HiFi grade in-ear monitors and some low powered headphones shine with ease. Its quality is comparable/close to a budget dedicated HiFi DAP.

Bonus: Its FREE in-ear monitors (earphones) in the package sounds great. Its better than the ZenEar and most stock earphones. The cable is just a bit flimsy and prone to dirt, but finding a FREE earphones with this level of resolution, clarity, separation, and tightness of bass is pretty hard.

Microphone quality for calls is decent. Just as good as most upper mid-range phones we tested in the past. We also like that it can record balanced stereo audio for videos. It is quite clear and not that noisy.

Battery Life

Unfortunately, we weren't able to measure the screen on time as it is not available in the battery settings. But, the Vivo X21 has stellar battery performance for a phone with big 6.23-inch screen and small 3,200mAh battery.

Super impressive battery efficiency!

In my personal experience, it can last for a day and a half on a single charge! That's very impressive as I am a heavy smartphone user. I usually turn the 4G LTE data on, open the WiFI hotspot from time to time, and take lots of photos. I'm always on my phone to check the news and more as well.

Charging time from 0 to 100 percent is also impressive at around 1 hour and 20 minutes to 30 minutes.

VERY IMPRESSIVE!

Camera

Dual cam
Dual cam

At the back, the Vivo X21 has a dual camera setup. It goes with a 12MP f/1.8 primary sensor paired with a 5MP f/2.4 secondary depth sensor. It also has Dual Pixel PDAF focus and LED flash.
Pro mode
Pro mode

This device has plenty of camera modes. You will find the face beauty, AR stickers, and HDR. Vivo claims that its HDR and face beauty is AI assisted to make sure that it'll get well exposed photos most of the time.


The X21 also has an impressive type of portrait mode where you can digitally adjust the "aperture" from f/0.95 to f/16.

For the more serious mobile photographers, the Vivo X21 has a pro camera mode. It is one of the most complete pro mode found on a mid-range smartphone. You can adjust the EV from -2 to +2, ISO from 50 to 3200, and shutter from 1/12000 to 32s. It also has white balance and focus adjustments.

Vivo also claimed that it has AI for scene detection. It can detect the type of subject you are shooting at and it will automatically adjust the right setting for that particular scene.

In terms of shooting quality, the focus speed of this phone is impressive. Taking close-up photos up to 2.5-inch near is also possible. Shutter speed has a bit of a delay. But it is still at 1/50 of a second. Still decent.

Close to flagship grade daylight camera performance!

Picture quality is close to flagship grade. Its color reproduction, white balance, detail, and dynamic range can compete with some of the more expensive phones from the bigger brands. Contrast level is a bit high too.

Our only concern in its daylight shooting capability is its auto HDR mode. There are times where it'll get the exposure and white balance correctly, but there are also times where you'll get a slightly washed image with some visible grain.

The bokeh of the secondary snapper is quite consistent. It has the cleanest looking edges from any Vivo smartphone yet.

Indoor performance is also good. It won't be as detailed as the daylight shots, but for me it is better than most of the other upper mid-rangers out there.

Lowlight camera performance is also good. It'll have some obvious grain, but dynamic range is still considered as decent to my eyes. Use the pro mode or flash if you want to take high quality lowlight shots.

Rear Camera Samples

Normal daylight 1
Normal daylight 1
Auto HDR with decent white balance
Auto HDR with decent white balance
A bit exposed and grainy auto HDR
A bit exposed and grainy auto HDR
Good indoor well-lit sample
Good indoor well-lit sample
Indoor dim
Indoor dim
Deep bokeh at f/4.0
Deep bokeh at f/4.0
Close-up dim
Close-up dim
Lowlight auto
Lowlight auto
Pro mode sample
Pro mode sample

For selfies, it has a 12MP f/2.0 snapper with 6-level A.I. Face Beauty and screen flash. It also has auto HDR, portrait mode, and AR Stickers. But, this time the level of background blur in the portrait mode is not adjustable anymore.
The selfie camera is found on the notch of the phone
The selfie camera is found on the notch of the phone

As expected, it has good autofocus speed in front too. Shooting speed is also decent. Picture quality is arguably better than other lower-end phones with high megapixel size.

Pretty good selfie camera performance!

It has sharp details, punchy color reproduction, good contrasts, and decent dynamic range. To my eyes, it is one of the better selfie shooters at this price point. There are times where it can go toe to toe with the Nokia 7 Plus when it comes to shooting detailed selfies.

The background blur and edge detection is almost as good as the one found on the selfie camera. Maybe the machine learning and AI of this phone for selfies has something to do in that regard.

My only problem is its auto AI face beauty is more aggressive than the ones found on the lower-end Vivo V9. I hope that it gets better in time.

Lowlight selfie performance is also acceptable and far from grainy. It also has screen flash that won't overexpose your face that much.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Selfie bokeh
Selfie bokeh
Indoor with face beauty
Indoor with face beauty
With AR sticker
With AR sticker
Selfie lowlight with screeb flash
Selfie lowlight with screeb flash

For videos, it can shoot up to 4K 30 fps in quality. The one with 1080p with 30 fps has better stabilization though. For selfies, it can also shoot up to 4K. But again, I'm always at 1080p mode. But if you have a gimbal, choose the 4K mode.

Anyway, its video shooting performance is impressive for an upper mid-ranger.


Video Samples


Performance

Benchmark scores
Benchmark scores

The Vivo X21 has respectable specs for a premium upper mid-range device. It has a 64-bit 64-bit Snapdragon 660 octa-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz with Adreno 512 GPU.

Good overall performance!

Vivo claims it is better than your usual SD660 as it has the Qualcomm AIE Artificial Intelligence Chip. It has AI which ensures the long-term smoothness of the phone. The phone will learn the task that you always do and ensures that it is as optimized as possible.

In our personal experience, performance is close to flawless. Opening of apps is swift, switching from an app to another is quick, and multitasking performance is so smooth.

Thanks to its LARGE 6GB of RAM. For apps, it also has 128GB of expandable storage. 128GB is more than enough even for users who has tons of apps, games, and other files. It has over 
100GB of usable.

It isn't still as fast as the higher-end flagships, but overall performance is still quite impressive.

Anyway, gaming performance is also noticeably smoother than the Nokia 7 Plus with the similar chipset. Maybe, Vivo has better optimizations this time.


Thermal management is decent. It doesn't heat up that much even if you play games and turn your data on at the same time.
The FunTouch OS skin
The FunTouch OS skin

As expected, the X21 has Android 8.1 Oreo OS w/ Funtouch OS 4.0 skin. It is a very simplistic UI that looks very much like Apple's iOS more than an Android skin. It has the shortcut keys when you swipe up and notifications when you swipe down.

But it isn't for everyone, it could be too simple. Some may also not like that it is an iOS styled UI.

Fortunately, it does most of the little things well. We like its animations and set of features. It doesn't have much bloats too. We also like that it has many gestures for shortcuts to choose from.

It also has a dedicated game mode which enhances your gaming experience. It'll also block unwanted calls and other notifications while in game.

FunTouch OS is not for everyone, but it could be good for you if you want a simplistic iOS looking UI. But, for some, it could be too much of an iOS copy.

Going to the main highlight of this phone, the In-Display fingerprint scanner is mind-blowing! It can really unlock your phone by just touching the screen. It is special because Vivo is actually the first one to make it happen.

But, it isn't perfect. The unlock speed is not as fast as traditional fingerprint scanners. It is still less than a second, but it is not instantaneous. There are even times where it'll require you to do a long press before it unlocks. It works 4 out of 5 tries.

It is cool, but it is a work in progress.

If the In-Display fingerprint scanner is not for you, the Vivo X21 also has the crazy fast face unlock tech.

The rest of the telephony experience is good. WiFi signal, 4G LTE, and GPS signal is mostly stable on locations where there's good connectivity. You won't have a problem with doing calls and SMS as well.

Pros - Premium build, respectable performance, crazy good battery efficiency, promising cameras, In-Display fingerprint scanning is cool
Cons - Still on micro USB, no stereo speakers, no water and dust resistance, no wireless charging, In-Display fingerprint scanner is in its early stages

Verdict

The Vivo X21 is the company's most impressive offering in the country yet. It is flagship-grade in terms of design, battery life, camera performance, and features. It has more pros than cons based on our experience.

Our only concern is its speed for the price. The chipset that Vivo used is a pretty capable one, but it is a bit below compared with similarly priced phones from most Chinese brands right now.

But, none of those devices has the innovative In-Display fingerprint scanning technology.

What do you think guys?

Build / Design - 4.5
Display - 4.25
Audio - 4.25
Battery - 4.5
Camera - 4.5
Performance - 4.25
Average - 4.33/5
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