Some of the innovations in the smartphone industry today comes from unlikely sources. Often times, it’s the most popular companies who release revolutionary technology, sometimes it’s the newcomers.
I’ll cut right to the chase and say that I’m referring to Vivo and their in-display fingerprint technology showcased in the new Vivo X21. Vivo never released any of their past X-series smartphones in the Philippines. So, we were surprised when Vivo Philippines made the decision to bring the X21 here in the country.
With that, it goes without saying that we’re really excited to test this device. The recent smartphones that we came across with felt a little boring. Sure they have faster performance, better cameras, and what not — but none of them offers something really refreshing like this.
So, without further ado, here’s our full review of the Vivo X21.
Vivo X21 Specs
- Android 8.1 Oreo, FunTouch OS 4.0
- Dual SIM, Dual Standby (Hybrid, nano)
- 6.28-inch Full HD+ 19:9 Super AMOLED display, 2280 × 1080 pixel resolution, ~401ppi
- 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 octa-core processor
- Adreno 512 GPU
- 6GB RAM
- 128GB onboard storage
- Expandable storage up to 256GB via microSD
- WiFi 802.11 ac (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), WiFi hotspot
- 12-megapixel (f/1.8 aperture) + 5-megapixel (f/2.4 aperture) rear cameras with LED flash
- 12-megapixel front camera, f/2.0 aperture
- AK4376A Hi-Fi audio chip, 3.5mm audio jack
- HSPA+, 4G VoLTE
- Bluetooth v5.0
- GPS, A-GPS
- Dimensions: 154.45 × 74.78 × 7.37mm
- Weight: 156.2g
- 3200mAh non-removable battery with fast charging
Design and Build Quality
Vivo implemented a new design language when they introduced their first 18:9 smartphone. It was then slightly altered to accommodate the display notch that they introduced in the Vivo V9. That design pattern has been carried over the Vivo X21.
The Vivo X21 is noticeably thin at 7.37mm, with an arc shape at the back that feels really nice in the hands. It also feels really premium as it is made from a combination of glass and aluminum. The back has a shiny and reflective look thanks to the glass, which greatly compliments the elegant black paint job underneath it.
In addition, the Vivo X21 only weighs 156g. You can immediately notice how lightweight it is the minute you first get your hands on it. The device looks slick, the camera bump in the back was kept to a minimum, and the ultra-thin bezels on the front makes the existence of display notch forgivable.
Taking a quick tour we have the said 6.28-inch Super AMOLED screen on the front. As a said earlier, it has ultra-thin bezels on the sides and each corner on the top. The almost seamless look is interrupted by the display notch on the top and a relatively thicker chin at the bottom.
Going back to the notch, Vivo actually stepped up a little with the technology they put in there. This thing has the earpiece, a 12-megapixel camera, and an Infrared light that helps its Face Unlock feature work better at night.
The left side of the Vivo X21 is clean, while on the right there’s lock/power switch above the volume controls. The buttons feel plastic-y and don’t provide the best tactility, but it still feels satisfying to press.
At the top, we have the 3.5mm headphone jack and a noise-canceling microphone. I would have preferred to plug in my headphones at the bottom, so it doesn’t dangle a lot when I’m using the phone.
But I guess there’s just no space for it at the bottom as Vivo oddly placed the SIM tray here. It would have been better if they had it on the sides since not a lot of people needs to access it frequently, but I guess this change was due to the engineering limitations they encountered. Right next to the SIM tray is the microUSB port and the loudspeakers.
At the back, there’s the 12-megapixel + 5-megapixel dual rear cameras. They sit closely next each other in a vertical orientation. The LED flash was outside the enclosure, and the camera bump is really tiny that it is unnoticeable. We also have the Vivo logo in the middle and a “Designed by Vivo” branding at the bottom.
Overall, I’m really impressed with the Vivo X21’s design. There were the small things, but it was easily overshadowed by lightweight-ness, sleek curves, and elegant design.
If you still don’t know by now, the display of the Vivo X21 is really special. This highlight feature has something to do with its security features, so we’ll have to skip it for now. However, the actual display is nothing short of impressive too.
The Vivo X21 is equipped with a 6.28-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED display, which has a 2280 x 1080 pixel resolution, ~401 pixels-per-inch, and a tall 19:9 aspect ratio that was made possible by the display notch on top.
This is actually the first AMOLED-equipped Vivo smartphone that we have reviewed here at NoypiGeeks. And I can definitely say that when compared to the V7 and V9, the display on this thing has better and more vivid colors, and the blacks are deep as it can be as AMOLED screen actually turns off individual pixels when it’s displaying black colors.
The contrast is also formidable. However, just like most AMOLED-equipped smartphones, it does struggle a little in outdoors. There’s also some weird color shifting when you’re looking at it from a different angle.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room — the display notch. The notch came from being an annoyance to a status symbol as you can associate it with Apple’s current flagship. However, usage wise, it feels really annoying.
For one, it’s distracting when watching videos on YouTube. However, since most videos are shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio, watching it on 19:9 not only means that your view would be obstructed by the notch, but the top and bottom frame would also be slightly cropped out.
But if you’re watching movies or films with a cinematically wide aspect ratio, then you can watch it in full screen by doing a pinch-to-zoom gesture. If it doesn’t work, just go to the settings menu and enable the Full-screen mode.
In-display fingerprint scanner and Face Unlock
We don’t want to keep you waiting so let’s head right away to the highlight of the Vivo X21. Vivo made quite a name for themselves when they told everyone that they finally figured out how to laminate the fingerprint scanner on the screen. And now, we have it in our hands and it is now a reality.
Based on my testing, it really works very well especially when we consider that the technology is still in its infancy stage. Well, probably not as good as the conventional fingerprint scanner yet, as it takes roughly a second before it can unlock the device. But that delay is usually because of the unlocking animation, so it’s not an issue.
I also like how the in-display fingerprint scanner of the Vivo X21 is implemented. When you lift up the device or it detects any movement, the fingerprint logo lights up and is ready to pickup your print. It also helps that the display is an AMOLED panel as the actual logo would only line up and not the entire screen.
Moving on, we also have the Face Unlock as another biometric access. This thing works incredibly well. So well that you wouldn’t even have to use the fingerprint scanner most of the time as it can immediately recognize your face and unlock the phone in a snap.
This security feature uses the 12-megapixel selfie camera of the Vivo X21. And thanks to the additional Infrared light located on the display notch, it can still see your face even in complete darkness.
Performance and Hardware
Vivo was pretty generous when they were building the Vivo X21. However, it still belongs in the midrange line, so it doesn’t come with a Snapdragon 845 processor or any flagship grade hardware.
Instead, they are using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 for the Vivo X21, a chipset often found in the midrange category. In addition, there’s a huge 6GB of RAM and a spacious 128GB of storage.
The gaming experience on the Vivo X21 is top notch. I played PUBG Mobile, one of the hottest and most resource-demanding mobile game today, and it was playable at smooth frame rates. However, the game automatically set the graphics settings to Medium to match the hardware. But still, the graphics look fine and there are no significant stutters or slow downs.
You can also feel the processor’s performance all throughout the interface. The home screen feels fluid to scrub through, the apps launch fast and switching between them is also seamless. You can also flicker through your Facebook feed for hours and not notice any major hiccups.
Speaking of apps, its 128GB of storage is more than enough to store all your games and other media files. You can also save your entire Spotify library here. But if that’s still not enough, then you can just throw in a microSD card (up to 256GB) in there to have more space.
Other than its selfie prowess, some of Vivo’s midrange to the high-end smartphones are known for the incredible sound quality that comes out from its headphone jack. This is due to the dedicated chip that Vivo is using.
With the Vivo X21, we have an AK4376A Hi-Fi audio chip, which delivers mind-blowing audio quality through your headphones. You can easily get the best possible audio quality and volume from whatever headphones you are using — a feature that is surprisingly uncommon in a lot of Android smartphones.
You can instantly know if the audio chip is working via the Hi-Fi icon flashed right next to the clock on the top.
On the other hand, the loudspeaker only provided ample performance. It has balanced sound with audible bass and it doesn’t get distorted at max volumes. However, it’s only good for private listening as the volume struggles to cope up in loud environments.
The Vivo X21 runs on Android 8.1 Oreo with their own FunTouch OS that is designed to work well with the new screen design. We used to hate Vivo’s custom UI as it tends to slow down the device. But now, it’s more improved and refined.
It goes without saying that the FunTouchOS is clearly an iOS copycat. The UI feels really minimalistic with thin fonts, lack of an app drawer, and more iOS-like features.
As you can see, the lock screen looks clean. It has both the Fingerprint and Face Unlock icons on the back as I use them at the same time. The home screen also looks pretty neat and it will even look cleaner if you’re perky enough to organize them into folders.
The control center can be pulled up from the bottom, making it easier to access — especially for a device at this size. It houses all the toggle buttons, brightness and volume adjustments, and the recently used apps. On top, there’s the notifications tab and the Search field.
The Vivo X21 also sports handy software tricks. There’s the Smart Motion, Split screen, One-Handed mode, long screenshot and recording, App clone for better multi-account management (although it only works in a limited number of apps), and smart clip that assigns a customizable shortcut when you press and hold the volume down button.
Probably my only gripe with this interface is the lack of the search button on the settings menu. A problem that I’ve been ranting about even in our previous Vivo smartphone reviews. This means that you still have to dig in on the long list of items in the settings just to turn a specific feature on or off. Or worse, you won’t even see that a feature is even available on the Vivo X21 because you didn’t explore it enough.
Oddly enough, it took me a couple of tries before I got used to the keyboard of the Vivo X21. Vivo uses a special keyboard that they co-created with TouchPal. It actually works well once you get used to it. Maybe I was just overwhelmed by its tall and slim keys, which is different from other keyboards that I have tested.
But other than that, I’m pretty satisfied with how the FunTouchOS 4.0 have turned out. It’s now cleaner and really feels refined. And thanks to the Android 8.1 Oreo hiding behind it, it’s fast and responsive.
The Vivo X21 comes with a 12-megapixel + 5-megapixel dual rear cameras and a 12-megapixel selfie shooter on the front. Both cameras have the dual-pixel technology.
Quality-wise, the camera on the back provides impressive performance. It can take pictures with good details, even in low-light scenarios. The colors might look a bitplain, but at least you know there’s not a lot of oversaturation going on in the automatic post-processing.
The contrast is a bit on the downside, but the dynamic ratio is fine. It is not the best, but it is good enough for what it offers.
Just like in the Vivo V9, the secondary 5-megapixel sensor on the Vivo X21 is doing a great job at its task. It is used for better depth-sensing for the portrait mode effect — which allows the device to produce convincing professional-looking images.
If you have the right subject, the camera system of the Vivo X21 can isolate the foreground to the background really well without that cut-out look that you get on other devices. You can also adjust the blur intensity on the gallery after the shot was taken which is really convenient.
Moving on, the 12-megapixel camera on the front of the Vivo X21 also takes good selfies. Since it almost uses the same camera sensor on the back, it can also produce images with good sharpness, colors, and contrast.
The Face Beauty mode works well. It has seven different levels, with the first one being the AI-assisted level. I highly suggest that you use it as it provides a good balance and doesn’t make the image look fake.
The camera app has tons of Snapchat-like AR stickers built-in. Vivo has a wide portfolio of available stickers, which you can easily download right from the camera app itself. The AR Stickers also work on the rear camera.
The Vivo X21 doesn’t have slow-mo video recording. Although you can shoot videos at up to 4K UHD resolution.
Just like most Vivo smartphones, the Vivo X21 has two slots for nano-SIM cards and a dedicated one for a microSD card that can hold up to 256GB.
And speaking of SIM cards, the call quality on the Vivo X21 is great. The earpiece has decent volume and clarity, while the dual built-in microphone can capture my voice really well even on noisy environments like malls.
Vivo X21 also comes with dual-band WiFi 802.11 ac, which basically means that you can expect exemplary connection through your WiFi network. During my tests, it really showed better performance than the basic WiFi connection. The same goes for the Bluetooth 5.0, which was able to seamlessly connect with my wireless speakers and headphones.
Vivo used a 3,200mAh battery to power the X21. It is definitely not the best battery capacity that we have seen on a smartphone of this caliber, but it’s also not the worse.
Understandbly, the Vivo X21 only delivered decent performance during my testing. After a day of casually browsing the web and different social media apps, streaming music on Spotify over a Bluetooth speaker, and sending text messages and calls from time to time — the battery already reached the 20% warning mark by late afternoon.
But if you’re a light user, who pretty much use the device to browse through their Facebook and Instagram feeds or listen to music over headphones on your daily commute, then the battery might last you until you get home at night.
I also ran PCMark’s battery test (WiFi off, screen brightness and volume set to 50%) to get a more factual result. The Vivo X21 scored a screen-on time of 9 hours and six minutes, which put it in line with the average battery performers on our list.
The Vivo X21 is undeniably a really cool smartphone. Its in-display fingerprint scanner is a breath of fresh air and it gives us a sneak peek of what the future has in store for us. But, is it actually worth Php29,999? It depends on the consumer.
Its extremely innovative feature and attractive almost bezel-less design might be appealing, but I certainly think it shouldn’t cost as much as this. Vivo X21 is the first-ever device to sport an in-display fingerprint scanner in the Philippines, so that’s probably a huge reason for its high asking price. And with the same price tag, consumers have a lot of other choices to choose from.
On a lighter note, the Vivo X21 is actually a good smartphone when we disregard the price. The screen is large and sharp, plus it has great colors thanks to its vibrant AMOLED display. The Snapdragon 660 processor, despite being inferior to the competition, provided decent performance on both day-to-day tasks and gaming for the X21.
In addition, the Vivo X21 has a killer set of cameras, and the dedicated audio chip delivers mind-blowing audio quality. However, those qualities are barely enough to justify its price tag. If you want a more practical, realistic, and just a smartphone that offers really good value for the money, you should really look somewhere else.
But if you really want to get your hands on the latest in-display fingeprint scanner innovation in the smartphone industry, then going with the Vivo X21 is the way to go.
Pricing and availability of Vivo X21
The Vivo X21 has an official price of Php29,999 in the Philippines. Customers can head on to any Vivo stores or kiosks in malls and check it out themselves. In case you want a more convenient purchasing option, it’s also available online in Lazada and Shopee.
- In-display fingerprint scanner
- Good display
- Great sound quality
- Underwhelming processor