It’s been a long time since proper fingerprint scanner technology was produced for mobile phones since year 2013. Since then, mobile phone fingerprint scanners required a separate physical module that needed direct touch-contact to work.
Enter - the X21, by Vivo.
The unit being reviewed here is a 6GB RAM with 128GB Storage variant, the standard model that you can get officially here in Malaysia.
Fingerprint Scanning - Futuristic Sci-Fi Goodness
The X21 is the first mobile phone to utilise the Synaptics FS9500 Clear ID™ optical in-display fingerprint sensor. Since this is the first generation for a fingerprint scanner of its kind, you will need to press the screen with quite a bit of pressure, and the speed is not as fast as the ones on the iPhone 8-Series, Huawei flagships, etc. It is still a commendable effort by Vivo, though.
One thing I have to note is that the digital fingerprint icon appearing on the Always-On display looks pretty spectacular. The coolest part is when your finger or thumb presses onto the screen, the light emerging from the Super AMOLED screen will bump up its brightness specifically for that fingerprint area alone, a trick that only an OLED display can pull off since it can light up certain pixels while keeping other pixels off. What you saw in the promotional photos is actually the real thing!
Since the X21 only has an infrared scanner and doesn’t have a 3D-facial recognition system like the iPhone X, it’s actually better to just use the fingerprint scanner for better security.
Design and Build Quality - Solid Glass and Metal
The design of the X21 is perfect for those that love minimalist clean lines. Since the fingerprint scanner is built-into the screen, you will not find it taking up precious and unsightly space neither at the front and at the back. The glass curved-back also makes it feel great to hold without making it feel any less solid than an all-metal phone. For a phone that is meant to be classed as mid-range, the heft and build are magnificient. It feels rock solid with no creaks whatsoever, and the phone hardly (if any) flexes at all when pressure is applied at the corners.
Display - Super-AMOLED Never Fails
Sporting a notched Samsung-manufactured 6.28” Full HD+ Super AMOLED 402 PPI display with a resolution of 2280 x 1080 pixels at 19:9 display ratio, the display quality here is about as good as it gets. Punchy saturated colours and true blacks, makes using the phone a blissful experience and a feast for the eyes.
The modification of the UI around the dreaded notch, is still a tad bad. Fonts should be made smaller so details such as live network speed can still be displayed, and somehow, in my test run, the YouTube app could not run in ‘fill-screen’ mode. Software niggles only, to be honest, which I am sure Vivo can resolve in a firmware update. However, Vivo has done a great job of increasing the screen-to-body ratio. The bezels at the top and bottom are almost non-existent, with the bottom bezel being slightly more obvious, and the reduction of the notch to just focus on the top-middle area is great too, unlike the iPhone X.
Camera - Getting there, but not quite there yet
The camera, despite it’s advertised Dual-Pixel array configuration (at 2 x 12MP, totalling up to 24 million photographic units) for both the front f2.0 camera and rear primary f1.8 camera (the secondary rear camera is 5MP with a f2.4 aperture), yields your average run-of-the-mill photos. Pictures turn out great in daylight, but seems to weaken in colour accuracy as you go indoors or as the sun goes down. Detail and noise control is great, though as you can see in this close-up photo of a phone’s back case, only backlit by a laptop screen in the background. However, it’s definitely a step-up from many low-to-mid range phones, but lags slightly behind popular flagships like the Samsung S9-series, iPhone X and the Huawei P20 Pro. One thing to note is that if you are a selfie-addict, this phone is certainly meant for you. The front camera photos provide great photographic detail thanks to it having the same Dual-Pixel 12MP sensor as the rear, despite having a lack of auto-focus.
Processor - Upper Mid-Range Performance Built for Gamers
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC (System On Chip) processor in the Vivo X21 is no slouch, for sure. Almost any game thrown at it such as PUBG Mobile, Asphalt 8: Airborn, Arena of Valor and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang - runs without a hitch. Overall performance on day-to-day usage is also stellar thanks to the onboard 6GB RAM which allows seamless multitasking without having to constantly reload cached apps in memory (an issue normally encountered on Android devices with smaller RAM capacities).
The Vivo X21’s user interface and software is pretty snappy, and doesn’t feel bloated. I have not encountered any slowdown throughout my weeks of usage. Functionality wise, the UI feels similar to those from Xiaomi, Huawei and Oppo. It’s generally pretty good and would satisfy most users (except Stock Android lovers).
Battery - Keep your charger or power bank at home (unless your gaming!)
Surprisingly, with a 3,200mAh battery, the battery performance on the X21 is above-average and very respectable in its own right. Thanks to its power-efficient SnapDragon 660 processor, unless you’re gaming non-stop for hours, this should easily last you a full work-day up until you’re back home (before midnight). Sadly, the X21’s battery information UI does not include a Screen-On time tracking record, and even when I used a third-party battery monitoring app like GSAM Battery Monitor Pro, it cannot gauge the Screen-On time well as the under-screen fingerprint scanner always counts as though the screen is turned on. Nevertheless, from my anecdotal recollection, the Screen-On time is about 5 hours for a full battery drain (from 100% to 0%) on a hectic work-day outdoors on Digi’s VoLTE 4G+ network.
Final Thoughts - That Fingerprint Scanner and Screen!
After using the X21 for quite a while, I have to say that the fingerprint scanner still never fails to amaze me, and turn heads at the same time too! The RM2,299 price and the super-smooth UI experience coupled with that large beautiful Super AMOLED display - makes this Vivo X21 a terrific smartphone for everyone but the most demanding phone connoisseur. Highly recommended!
Here's a photo of the X21 side by side with the iPhone X, for some size (and notch!) comparison.
Side Note: The Vivo X21 is also available from Digi at RM1 with its Digi Postpaid plan.