With low-cost premium smartphones closing in from the top and high-end budget smartphones making their way up from the bottom, the mid-range is getting squeezed in. The segment was ignored for quite a few years, simply because budget smartphones could deliver on the performance front. But brands like Vivo have held onto the mid-range.
With time comes wisdom, and Vivo seems to have done its homework. While most smartphone brands focus on delivering good-looking smartphones with the guts of a top-end budget device, OnePlus went the other way around and delivered a powerful device packed in an average-looking smartphone body at a rather competitive base price.
So, how do you one-up such a smartphone? Well, corporate sibling Vivo did not hold back, and decided to give their buyers the best of both – a smartphone with a unique design and adequate horsepower under the hood. And to make the deal sweeter, it threw in 5G as well.
The back will attract attention whether this phone is placed on a table or when placing a call. The multi-coloured, matte-finished iridescent back of the ‘Sunset Melody’ option is eye-catching. But this eye-catcher also catches fingerprints, although these can be easily wiped off. This was present on the V20 as well, so what’s changed? Nothing. And that’s good.
At just 7.4 mm, this is probably the thinnest smartphone I have laid eyes on in years. And while it feels thinner than a pencil, its lightweight build gets your attention when you hold it. The phone weighs in at just 170 grams because of its plastic frame. While that’s not the lightest phone around, (that award to go to Oppo’s Reno 4 Pro) it is the lightest device in the sub-Rs 30,000 segment.
After using the rather chunky (but practical) Mi 10T Pro, the Vivo V20 Pro felt like a dream. It’s easy to handle even though it’s not a one-handed experience. The camera bump at the back is also quite flat and barely protrudes from the glass surface, meaning that this phone won’t wobble when placed on a flat surface.
Given the power it packs in, the V20 Pro is the perfect balance and hits the sweet spot for what one would expect a mid-range device to look like and perform. But the slim build meant that Vivo had to skip on features that its competitors offer like a bigger battery, headphone jack and stereo speakers.
A vibrant OLED display
The 6.44-inch FHD+ OLED display on the V20 Pro gets quite bright and delivers vibrant colours. Even at the standard colour display scheme, the colours do look a bit punchy; there’s no escaping that. But the display fared well in direct sunlight and showcased no colour shifting when viewed at odd angles. All in all, it’s a quality OLED panel, even though it does not offer a high refresh rate.
Touch sensitivity was spot-on, and the display was a delight to game on with its deep blacks. The notch that features two cameras, surprisingly, did not intrude as much as I expected it to, and the in-display fingerprint reader ran without a glitch.
What’s missing is HDR support, even though Vivo claims that it is an HDR display. Unlike the OnePlus Nord that lets you stream content in HDR 10+, Vivo does not, so this is a missed opportunity. YouTube did give an option to select HDR quality, but the display was not able to pull it off, and suffered blown-out highlights. Netflix and Amazon Prime did not let me stream HDR content altogether. But with Full HD streaming support, my weekly episode of Star Trek: Discovery did look quite nice and punchy, with saturated colours.
Android 11… the Vivo way
It’s 2020 and Android 11 has been seeded to plenty of smartphones, with Google’s Pixel smartphones running it out of the box. Vivo is the only non-Pixel mid-range device to run Android 11.
You get everything you would want from Android 11, which includes the new notifications system, the new power button menu and chat bubbles to name a few; and it almost looks like stock Android. Just that it isn’t. You will find bits and pieces of Vivo’s FuntouchOS all over the place which makes things a bit messy, visually.
Swipe to the left of the home screen and you can choose between Jovi Home or Google’s feed. There are also some Vivo apps (Notes, Music, Video, Browser, Hot Games Hot Apps and more) that I would never use over Google’s slicker options. At the same time, the native calendar app has been replaced by Google Calendar, and there’s no native File Manager but includes Google’s Files app. It’s a mixed experience and not exactly as consistent as OnePlus’s Oxygen OS or Google’s Pixel. I’m hoping that Vivo’s upcoming Origin OS makes things more consistent.
Thankfully, the software runs buttery-smooth despite this odd mix of FuntouchOS and Android 11. I faced no hiccups or lag anywhere, and did not miss a high-refresh rate display because the experience was quite fluid. Like a Pixel, really.
Performs like a mid-ranger should
It’s common practice for most manufacturers to place budget chipsets into the mid-range devices, because they deliver good-enough performance, especially when paired with 8 GB RAM. Vivo, unlike Google with its Pixel, went in for a proper mid-range chipset that apart from keeping the software running smoothly, also delivers proper gaming performance.
Call of Duty: Mobile ran at ‘Very High’ graphics and ‘Very High’ frame rate. The touch-sensing was spot-on, and the phone did not heat up much, thanks to the vapour cooling system that Vivo’s engineers managed to fit into this slim smartphone. Asphalt 9 Legends also ran on ‘High Quality’ without a glitch, so this is a smartphone you can run demanding 3D games on, and it will run them without breaking sweat.
Vivo promises ‘High Res’ audio despite skipping on the all-important headphone jack. The smartphone delivers on this front, provided you don’t plug in the cheap in-box earphones. Third-party earphones and headphones worked well, and delivered clear sound with the in-box adapter. What did not impress was the bottom-firing speaker. It was loud enough, but completely lacked bass when listening to music or watching videos, which is probably the outcome of the slim design.
Overall, I was quite impressed by the camera performance of the Vivo V20 Pro. It leaves barely any room for complaint, so I really had to nitpick in most cases when judging its camera performance.
For starters, it’s a really people-friendly camera. If you click a lot of portraits (whether it’s babies, kids, pets), this is the best possible camera performance you can get from a smartphone in this segment. Photos (regular and portrait) shot in daylight and indoors come out sharp, and a wee bit saturated. The focus is almost always accurate, and the reason for this is Vivo’s eye-autofocus system that focuses on the subject’s eye instead of the entire subject, ensuring that faces are perfectly-focused in most shooting scenarios.
Landscapes also look quite detailed, provided you prefer saturated photos, as the camera tends to pump up the colours quite a bit. Also a common theme across all types of shooting scenarios is the dynamic range. It almost seems perfect, but then the camera (possibly because of its AI bits) tends to crush the shadows quite a bit to give the photo a contrasty and dramatic look.
In short, you end up with photos that are almost Instagram-ready the second you shoot them, and require little-to-no editing. And while I usually prefer natural-looking images, the almost Pixel-like synthetic-looking photos won me over.
In street-lit or dimly-lit scenarios after sunset, the standard mode has this weird tendency to overexpose, especially when there are multiple bright street lights, and headlights of passing cars in the scene. Thankfully, the ‘Night’ mode does a fantastic job of keeping it all under control and getting you some sharp-looking photos no matter what the lighting situation.
One gripe about the ‘Night’ mode is that it takes about 4-5 seconds to capture a photo. So, be prepared to hold your hands steady for a while, but the results are worth the wait.
Video recording is available at 4K and 1080p at 30 and 60 fps respectively. No matter which setting you choose, the output looks stabilised, accompanied by a steady bitrate, while the focusing is quick and smooth even when moving from a dark scene to a bright window.
The macro camera clicks surprisingly good pictures and Vivo’s secret sauce is to use autofocus on the ultra-wide angle lens to accomplish this feat (something we usually see in the premium segment). The icing on the cake are the selfie cameras. There’s two of them and while I’m not a fan of the ultra-wide angle camera, the main 44 MP unit did a fantastic job of shooting selfies in any sort of lighting conditions, delivering clean and crisp photos that convinced me to click a few more than the usual test samples.
It’s a one-day smartphone
With a rather average-sized 4,000 mAh battery inside, the V20 Pro, surprisingly, managed a full day of use with about 9 hours of screen-on time. Slim smartphones usually have tiny batteries (such as the new iPhone 12 Mini) but with a decent 6.44-inch display running from edge to edge, Vivo’s engineers managed to squeeze in a respectable battery in that slim body.
There’s also no high-refresh rate display. That, along with Vivo’s Funtouch OS software optimisations, meant that I could enjoy playing graphics-intensive games with the settings maxed-out and not worry about battery, as I would on a Pixel 4a (when playing those games).
And when the charge runs out, there’s always Vivo’s 33 W fast charger that’s good enough to get you going from 0-100 in a little over an hour.
Should you buy one?
The OnePlus Nord reviewed by Ameya may seem like the best device to get in the mid-range. It’s priced right too with top-end hardware inside that’s available from as low as Rs 24,999. It will no longer be the stock Android alternative it used to be after OxygenOS 11, and it does not offer Android 11 just yet. But it’s not exactly a proper mid-ranger because it solely focuses on performance. The design is pretty basic.
Oddly, Vivo did not have to try too hard.
That’s because if you head to the OnePlus.in or Amazon, you will have a hard time purchasing a OnePlus Nord, simply because it’s never available or in stock. It suffers the same fate as the Google Pixel 4a. The Pixel gets quick software updates and has a great camera, but it’s almost never available for purchase, so it’s hard to recommend one.
If you are looking for an equally stylish smartphone with a 90 Hz curved OLED display, super-fast 65 W charging, and can settle for toned-down performance (Snapdragon 720G vs Vivo’s 765G), the Oppo Reno 4 Pro is also a great alternative, just that the camera isn’t great and it lacks 5G, which is rough, considering its Rs 35,000 sticker price.
But, if you are in the market for a “proper” mid-range smartphone that looks unique, packs a vibrant OLED display, runs Android 11, has a great-performing camera and gets you future-proof 5G, the Vivo V20 Pro is the one to go for. And hey, you don’t have to wait in line to buy one either!
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