Smartphones mean different things to different people, but they’re so ubiquitous that catering to a niche can be rewarding. For the average smartphone maker in 2017, finding and catering to these niches is important.
The Vivo V7 Plus could easily be dismissed as yet another Chinese smartphone, but it’s not. With a 24 MP selfie camera, an 18:9 display and a brand-new Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 chipset, the phone is far from average and is targeting a specific audience. Does that still make it a worthwhile device, however?
Build and Design: 7/10
Most smartphones today are rectangular slabs, but the Vivo V7 Plus takes a page or two from Samsung’s and LG’s books and goes the 18:9 route. It’s still a rectangular slab, but this time, it’s an elongated rectangular slab. As a bonus, the bezels are also quite small.
The device is made of plastic and glass. The rear looks like metal, but don’t get fooled into thinking that it’s the real thing. The 2.5D glass on the front curves into a raised plastic lip and not seamlessly into the sides of the device. At this price, that’s alright, but I do expect to find higher quality materials and finish at Rs 22,000.
The phone is light and a bit slippery, but because it’s so light, it won’t fall out of your hands as easily as, say, an iPhone 7. The narrow bezels and taller display also mean that the phone is easier to grip.
You’ll find a single camera and flash unit on the rear, a power button and volume controls on the right, the dual-SIM+microSD card slot on the right and a headphone jack, speaker grille and microUSB port at the bottom.
Despite the plastic, the phone feels sturdy. There’s no flex or squeaking anywhere. We’ve seen better bodies on devices like the Xiaomi Mi A1, but the V7 Plus isn’t disappointing.
The hardware in this phone is interesting indeed. First, this is the first phone to feature Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 450 platform, and that’s exciting. Second, the phone features a mammoth 24 MP selfie camera that’s worth checking out.
The rest of the specs include a 5.99-inch 18:9 HD display (1440x720), a 16 MP rear camera, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB of onboard storage, support for 256 GB microSD cards and a 3,225 mAh battery.
Connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, FM radio, microUSB 2.0, USB OTG, LTE and dual-nano-SIM support. It’s also nice that you can use two SIM cards as well as a microSD card rather than feel restricted by the hybrid SIM tray in most dual-SIM phones.
As mentioned earlier, the phone features a 5.99-inch IPS LCD HD display (1440x720) in an 18:9 aspect ratio. This is the same aspect ratio that you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6.
The screen is bright enough for use in sunlight and its colour reproduction is decent. In terms of colour quality, it’s an average screen. The biggest problem with the display, however, is its resolution. At 5.99-inches, the screen is large, taller, in fact, than that of the iPhone 8 Plus.
While most phones we’ve seen with 5.5-inch screens offer full HD displays, including the much cheaper Redmi Note 4 and Mi A1, this device only offers an HD display. At first glance, you won’t notice the pixels, but use the phone for a bit and you’ll start noticing them. These pixels become more prominent in videos, when you’ll hold the screen closer to your face. VR content is simply out of the question when you can see the pixels as is.
The lower resolution screen should contribute to better battery life and a snappier system, however. It’s not a trade-off that I want to make, not at this price, but if you’re fine with it, go ahead.
OS and Software: 8/10
I’m normally very critical of phones that don’t use stock Android. Most skinned versions of Android are a pain to use, feature design decisions that make no sense and include features for the sake of including them. Stock Android is nice because it works well, doesn’t hog system resources and there’s a consistency to the OS.
Vivo’s Funtouch OS 3.2 (on top of Android 7.1.2) was, for me, a surprise. It’s a heavily customised, iOS-inspired OS that I would normally have been horrified to have on my phone. However, Vivo has done a really good job with the tweaks. The design is a direct iOS rip-off, but the new feature that Vivo has added are nice, useful and work well. They’re not janky, they don’t stutter and they don’t throw up errors at random.
My favourite features on iOS are raise-to-wake and system-wide search. Vivo’s faithfully aped both these features and they work well. Vivo has also one-upped Apple by offering a face unlock feature that works incredibly well with raise-to-wake. You just pick up the phone and it unlocks, brilliant and simple, if unsecure.
Speaking of security, Vivo very clearly explains that face unlock is not secure and that, in fact, the feature can be speeded up by further reducing the security standards. Honestly, this is how Face Unlock should have been advertised to begin with. For most of us, I think, it’s a convenience. The average person who finds your phone will not be able unlock your device. Anyone who’s concerned about security should be shunning any form of biometric authentication anyway.
If you don’t want to use Face Unlock, you can use your fingerprint to unlock the device. The fingerprint sensor is located on the back of the device.
Either form of authentication is very fast and the device unlocks instantly.
Split view, a standard feature in Android now, has been available for a while. I’ve never used it much because I’ve never felt the need to run two apps side-by-side on a smartphone. However, Vivo’s implementation makes a pretty strong case for the feature. When you get a message via the default messaging app or on Facebook, you get a small chat bubble that you can simply drag into your fullscreen app. I found this very convenient when watching videos on YouTube, for example.
Several non-standard gestures including swipe-to-unlock, shake to turn on the flashlight, tilt to zoom, air gestures and more are supported. I had fun experimenting with them, turning features on and off until I found the feature set that I was happiest with.
Of course, the upward swipe for the control centre and the downward swipe for system-wide search that Vivo stole from iOS are much appreciated on Android. Putting aside ethical conundrums, they’re undeniably useful.
Additional battery saving features that help users monitor background battery usage are nice as well. You also get a settings menu that shows you the amount of power consumed by specific background apps and toggles to disable their background processes.
Overall, except for the rip-off design, I’m happy with what Vivo is doing with Android.
When I first saw the specifications of the phone, I was worried that the Snapdragon 450 wouldn’t be up to scratch. Low performance on a sub-Rs 10,000 handset like the Redmi 4A is fine, but not on a device that costs Rs 22,000. At this price, I was expecting to see something like a Snapdragon 625 or equivalent MediaTek platform. The Rs 12,000 Redmi Note 4 and the Rs 15,000 Mi A1 both offer a 625 for a fraction of the Vivo’s price.
Thankfully, the situation wasn’t as bad as I expected. It’s testament to Qualcomm’s work and Vivo’s OS that the device felt snappy throughout the time I spent with it. Heavy websites did stutter on occasion and games like Real Racing 3, while they ran smoothly, ran at a much lower resolution. In contrast, the Nokia 6 (review coming shortly) with its Snapdragon 430, was a nightmare to use. The combination of the full HD screen and SD430 meant that the Nokia 6 offered a nightmarishly slow Android experience that I’d rather not relive.
On the V7 Plus, everything just happened smoothly. I suspect that the lower resolution screen has something to do with the V7 Plus’ smooth performance. As you can see from the graphs, notably the GFXBench score, the Vivo V7 Plus does really well for itself, beating more powerful chips. The GFXBench test runs a game at the device' native resolution, so it clearly has a frame-rate advantage over more powerful, better specced rivals. In other words, you're getting great performance, but at the cost of fidelity.
Biometric performance was particularly fast and I never felt that the phone was lagging.
The speaker was quite loud, louder in fact, than my iPhone 6s Plus.
Mumbai weather being what it is, most of my time with the device was spent indoors and thus, most of the images were taken indoors. The device not being waterproof was a downer and I couldn’t take pictures with it in the pouring rain. That said, the Vivo V7 Plus made a decent showing for itself in all conditions.
The phone features a 24 MP f/2.0 front camera and a 16 MP f/2.0 rear camera. Clearly, selfies are a priority. Honestly, the selfies from the phone are quite impressive. The front camera supports autofocus, for example, and focuses almost instantly. HDR and some “beautifications” modes are also supported. Selfies were sharper and had better colour reproduction than other selfie cameras in this price range.
The rear camera wasn’t bad either. It was also just as fast to focus and the images it captured were as expected for a camera in this price bracket. Colours were pleasant and enough details were captured to make the photograph seem nice. You can’t really crop the images of course, but for using as is, this camera captures good enough images.
Images in moderately low lighting are noisy and aggressive noise-reduction algorithms blur out textures.
Of course, the V5 Plus is more expensive and more powerful, and is now retailing at the same price as the V7 Plus.
Battery Life: 8/10
The 3,225 mAh battery is about average for a smartphone today. Our standard PCMark Battery Life Work 2.0 test estimated that this phone would last around 8 hours and 43 minutes. We’ve seen phones last much longer in the same test, but those have usually had larger batteries.
In real-world usage, I found this phone to be lasting me between 1-1.5 days of use, which is quite impressive and better than many other Android devices that I’ve used. For the same usage, which usually involves 2-3 hours of video, at least two hours of audio over Bluetooth, responding to a 100-odd messages and email, a handful of calls and some light gaming, my iPhone 6s Plus lasts about 12 hours.
Verdict and Price in India
I was surprised to find myself warming to the Vivo V7 Plus. I normally shun heavily-themed Android devices with low-end chips. However, Vivo’s customisations are useful and add value. The Snapdragon 450, a yet untested platform, certainly proved more capable than I expected.
As surprisingly good as the V7 Plus is, I don’t think I can recommend it without adding some caveats.
If you expect great selfies, the Vivo V5 Plus offers better selfies.
If you really want an 18:9 display, great battery life and among the best front cameras in its price range, the Vivo V7 Plus might appeal.
The biggest competitor to the V7 Plus, however, is Vivo’s own V5 Plus. The phone debuted in April this year, and while a few months old, it’s the more powerful, capable version of the V7 Plus. Better yet, the V5 Plus features a dual-front camera that offers a portrait selfie mode that is leagues ahead of most selfie cameras in the market today, let alone that on the V7 Plus.
Right now, the V5 Plus is available for just Rs 23,000, which is just Rs 1,000 more than the V7 Plus, and this was the phone that we called the best selfie smartphone that money can buy.
Given the V5 Plus’ price, the only reason you’d pick up the V7 Plus is if you’re in love with that 18:9 aspect ratio.
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