What can you do if you want to maximise the amount of display space on your phone and yet maintain the sleek profile seen on some of the latest flagship smartphones now?
The first is to fill up the empty space between the notification icons via the notch. The second is to forgo the home button cum fingerprint scanner. Samsung has pushed the fingerprint scanner to the back of the phone, for example.
Taking a new approach, Vivo’s X21 wants to impress consumers tired of current designs. The Chinese company has integrated its fingerprint scanner under the phone’s display, something that Apple and Samsung have tried to do for some time but not succeeded so far.
And this is not the first phone that Vivo has an on-screen fingerprint sensor – its X20 Plus UD and Project Apex were introduced with this same feature earlier this year. However, the X21 is the first Vivo phone with such a feature to be introduced in Singapore.
At first glance, I have to say the X21 has the most futuristic vibe I’ve seen on a smartphone in a while. The on-screen fingerprint sensor feature certainly helps with that.
Notably, it takes longer than usual to register my thumbprint. Perhaps the sensor has to work through the 6.28-inch Super AMOLED display to get a good fingerprint read. Once that is done, access to the phone is quite fast. Not blazingly fast but fast enough not to slow you down.
The X21’s specification list generally has all the necessary elements to be a flagship except for one – the processor. Granted, the Snapdragon 660 is not the fastest chip in Qualcomm’s stable of processors but I have no issues with using the phone on a day-to-day basis. Users who are really into complex photo and video editing might want a faster chip.
The X21 may not be the fastest in terms of processor speed, but it has other features that are lacking in flagship phones today. I definitely welcome the headphone jack and the presence of a microSD card slot to expand storage. The included 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space are more than sufficient for most users.
The phone is certainly thin, measuring just 7.37mm with no camera bump. Vivo has also squeezed in a long-lasting 3,200mAh battery, which is no small feat.
The tapered sides of the phone don’t help with ergonomics though. I find it a tad less secure when holding the phone to take photos, unlike heavier and beefier phones. A thicker casing may be preferred by those with big hands.
The X21 wins in some departments but not others. If watching Netflix or listening to Spotify is your favourite past time, get ready to whip out the earphones as the speaker system on the X21 is rather dismal.
There’s only one speaker churning out sound from the bottom of the phone. That means while watching a show horizontally, the soundtrack can only be heard coming from the side. Much preferred is the stereo effect that you can now come to expect from a flagship phone.
What about photography? The X21’s 12-megapixel main wide-angle camera comes with f1.8 lens, good for night shots. The secondary rear camera has a 5-megapixel sensor with a f2.4 zoom lens and the 12-megapixel front-facing f2.0 camera rounds up the imaging system on the X21.
I have no particular issues with the X21 since it can shoot pretty decent photos, especially if they are to be shared and viewed on a screen. However, if you are an avid snapshooter, there are better choices around.
With an in-screen fingerprint sensor, Vivo certainly leads the field with a forward-looking design. However, for some reason, it has stuck to an old Micro USB port, instead of the newer USB-C that is standard in new flagships today.
You may argue that the X21’s other features are not that unique, either. There’s a striking resemblance to the R series phones from Vivo’s sister company, Oppo. Even the quick settings menu is flicked up from the bottom of the screen, just like on an Oppo phone.
Ultimately, you’d have to ask if it’s worth paying S$799 for the standout feature – the in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is the first here. For me, the answer has to be no.
Not when you have more able flagship phones at similar prices on the street in Singapore. Huawei’s P20 which shoots better photos is going for $780. The LG V30+ offers better audio at about $880.
If you want the latest processors, you can have Sony’s Xperia XZ2 at $850 and the Samsung Galaxy S9 at $890. For the X21 to win over more users, Vivo needs to do more. The in-screen fingerprint scanner is a good start but it’s not a deal maker.