Vivo V20 starts at Rs 24,990. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)
V17-V17 Pro, V15-V15 Pro, V11-V11 Pro, V9-V9 Pro — that’s how the Vivo V-series has looked like all this time. Until earlier this year when Vivo for some reason decided to go off the script by launching the V19 without a pro or plus model. The V19 was a bit of an odd duck in itself but the absence of a certain V19 Pro meant, the company did not have something sizeable to count on and lessen the blow. Five months later, it has launched the V20.
While we still don’t know why there was no V19 Pro or better still, why Vivo felt the need for a successor to the V19 so soon, I’d just go out on a limb and say — the V20 is the V19 Pro that never happened.
Also, now that I think about it, it all adds up. The V19 was launched in May at a starting price of Rs 27,990. Yes, it could have been priced better, but Vivo also had to take into account factors like the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that had brought manufacturing to a grinding halt — the phone’s launch was also delayed because of this. Launching a V19 Pro at that time would have entailed climbing higher up the price ladder. Not to mention, Vivo was also planning to launch the X50-series in India soon after.
The V20 may not be the V19 Pro that Vivo would have wanted, but it’s surely the V19 Pro it needs at this point of time, ahead of the festive season. You can tell, Vivo really wants the V20 to work its magic. That’s probably one reason why the phone starts at Rs 24,990. And unlike the V19, it’s got the goods that Vivo can count on.
Design and build quality
Vivo is one of those rare brands that has never been shy of experimenting with crazy, over-the-top aesthetics. The company was doing psychedelic colour schemes when most phones were akin to bland and boring slabs serving a pre-defined utility. Vivo showed phones could be more than that. They could spark joy while also celebrating the owner’s sheer uniqueness. Vivo phones continue to do that to this day.
What’s surprising is how Vivo manages to conjure something entirely new and different each and every time. Apparently, there are around 18 decillion varieties of colours out there of which some 10 million can be seen in the lab. My best guess is, folks at Vivo won’t settle down until they’ve covered them all!
With the V20, Vivo has come up with something that it is calling sunset melody. On paper, it’s another shade of blue and off it, it’s just something else — something you’ll have to see in person for it’s difficult to describe in words. For the context of this review, I’ll still try though. It is not exactly a rainbow, it’s not a cacophony either. It’s pink at times, blue at others. It’s also orange here and there with hints of yellow thrown in. It looks like the sunset alright, so I’d say Vivo has been spot-on with the naming here. But what I’ve come to realize is, I can’t really pull this off. Midnight jazz (black) is more my kind of colour, and also the subject of this review. There’s also a moonlight sonata (white).
There’s another reason why I am fond of the midnight jazz V20. It reminds me of the fabulous X50 Pro. The back of the V20 in fact looks exactly like the X50 Pro. The only difference is the V20 is taller, skinnier and a lot boxier. It has the same hue, and the same two-step camera module that I think, beats Samsung’s implementation in every sense of the word.
The V19 marked V-series’ foray into glass territory. The V20 is also made of glass (the outer frame is plastic), but it’s a step down in comparison. Unlike the V19 which came with Corning Gorilla Glass 6, the V20 uses AG matte glass. So, if you’re someone finicky about that kind of stuff, this is something that you should keep in mind.
The V20 has a 6.44-inch display like the V19 and it has the same 1080p+ resolution too. But there are two big changes. The V20 has an AMOLED panel which is a step down from the V19’s Super AMOLED screen. Both are proprietary Samsung technologies but Super AMOLED is superior. For the average user it means, the V20 display does not get as bright which also means that there is no HDR 10 support, and it is also a lot more reflective in nature.
For what it’s worth, it’s still a pretty good display with crisp colours and serviceable viewing angles. The screen is also taller and flattened out which entails an immersive viewing experience while consuming content. It could have done with slimmer bezels though.
The other change is that the V20 has a waterdrop-style notch. I don’t mind it but the move is surely regressive after phones like V19, V17, and even the V15 that was virtually all-screen courtesy its pop-up camera.
Rounding off the package is an optical in-screen fingerprint reader. It is fast and reliable.
Performance, software and battery life
The V19 was critically underpowered at its launch price. The V20 tries to fix that by offering faster hardware at a lower price. The phone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G, a processor we’ve already seen inside phones like the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max at even more affordable prices. There are more powerful phones in and around the V20’s price point, yes, but at least it’s better equipped to handle that competition now — so that’s something to look forward to.
The real kicker is not the hardware though. It is the software. The V20 holds the title of being the first phone in India to launch with Android 11 out-of-the-box. That’s right, a Vivo phone beat Google, and Samsung, and every other brand to it — I’ll let that sink in for a minute.
Now that we’re all settled, here’s my quick take on the company’s take on Android 11. Not every Android 11 feature that Google made, works on the V20 just yet. That or instead, it works with a Vivo twist. The good thing about the latter is that Vivo hasn’t twisted things drastically. Aside from a handful of cosmetic changes, it is still pure Android 11 at heart. That’s a huge development coming from a company that was once notorious for ripping off iOS.
Everything from conversation-specific notifications to smart home controls placed directly inside the power menu to granular privacy controls that let you grant apps access to microphone, camera or location, just once, it’s all there. It’s all put together nicely too instead of being an incoherent mess that Vivo software was once upon a time. But most importantly, this software is well optimised with the available hardware, at least for the most part, which makes the V20 an excellent daily driver.
Unless you’re specifically looking for a gaming phone, the V20 will be more than ideal for almost everything that you will ever throw at it. That’s not to say it can’t do gaming, but it’s good to know what you’re getting into before making your purchase. There’s plenty of RAM and storage available too — 8GB RAM and up to 256GB storage which is also expandable via a dedicated micro-SD card slot. That said, Vivo still bundles a lot of unnecessary bloat that would need some spring cleaning should you get it.
Battery life isn’t the phone’s big highlight though. The 4,000mAh battery inside the V20 lasted just over 16 hours in our video loop test — that’s respectable but not great. There is support for 33W fast charging and you get a compliant charger in the box which is nice.
The V20 has a 64MP main camera paired with an 8MP ultra-wide-angle plus another 2MP mono camera. That’s not bad at all, but the real star is the front camera. It has a resolution of 44MP and it has autofocus that’s also seemingly smart enough to track your eye. Eye autofocus is a technology mostly reserved for “real” cameras, so seeing a smartphone trying to pull this off is, well, it’s amazing — and exciting. There aren’t a lot of phones, none that I can think of in this price range anyway, that support even regular autofocus so the V20 surely has something special going for itself.
The V20 has the best front camera on any phone in its price range and it could be a ticket for a lot of people trying to dip their toes into the world of Vlogging. It’s an easy recommendation for that crowd not just because of the all-round quality and quick focus but because Vivo has also bundled several neat software tricks inside it to make the package more useful. You can record videos in 4K, record videos using both front and rear cameras simultaneously, record slow-motion videos, and apply filters in real-time and more. And it can do all this across varying light scenarios. Aside from a few hit and miss portraits here and there, the V20 is the phone to get if you’re looking for all this.
The rear camera setup is also promising. The 64MP main camera can capture a lot of details and dynamic range is also excellent for the price. The 8MP secondary camera serves triple duty by serving as ultra-wide-angle, macro and depth camera. Its quality is also quite good with consistent colours, something that is rare even among more expensive phones.
Should you buy the Vivo V20?
It’s safe to say the V20 is what the V19 should have been in the first place. I like to call it the V19 Pro too. Even though there are areas where it takes a few steps back — in comparison to the V19 — it takes big steps forward in areas that matter. That’s what really matters.
An interesting thing to note about the V19 is that Vivo slashed its prices a couple of months after launch. A quick check on the company’s website reveals that it is selling the V19 at the same price as the V20 currently — that is, at Rs 24,990 and Rs 27,990. I don’t know why that is but between the two, I’ll definitely put my money on the V20.
As for competition, I’ll pick the Samsung Galaxy M51 over it but that’s because I am not a Vlogger and therefore all those V20 selfie chops aren’t as exciting to me as all-round power, better screen, and long-lasting battery. For those into it though, the V20 is the best phone that you can get today without breaking your bank.