Goondu review: Vivo X21 has to go beyond in-screen fingerprint sensor

May 10th, 2018 | by Wilson Wong
Goondu review: Vivo X21 has to go beyond in-screen fingerprint sensor
Cellphones
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PHOTO: Handout

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.

The on-screen fingerprint scanner is seriously futuristic. It is a matter of time when Synaptic’s solution will be found on other phones. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

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 is really thin but it doesn’t stop Vivo from putting a stereo jack in. Good thing too, because the onboard speaker is not that great. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The X21 may be futuristic thanks to the on-display fingerprint scanner but having a Micro USB port just destroys that image pretty quickly. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

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.

Glass back yet it doesn’t have the same premium feel of an Apple iPhone X, Samsung S9 or Huawei P20 Pro. Plasticky even. No wireless charging too. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

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.

With ample light, the Vivo X21 can do a nice job. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

X21 does pretty well in a mixed-lighting situation. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Daytime HDR shot is pretty good. Details in the clouds and the shadow area are quite balanced. Definitely need a bit of post-editing but this is not bad at all. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The zoom is just dismal here. Will avoid using it. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The 12-megapixel selfie camera does the aperture extraction pretty well. The skin tone is quite odd though, with a pinkish tone. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

To get the most detail, I have to switch to Professional mode and engage the Ultra HD option. There are definitely details but the exposure in the shadow areas is not outstanding. Shot this using a tripod. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The details are lost when I attempt to use HDR to grab as much detail as possible, no thanks to the high ISO noise. Shot with a tripod. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

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.

PHOTO
GALLERY

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