Vivo V9 Review: Android finally embraces the ‘notch’, but does it look good?

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New Delhi | Updated: April 2, 2018 5:40:09 PM

Vivo V9 was launched last month as the first Android smartphone in India that comes with an iPhone X-like display. It also comes with mid-range specifications and really decent cameras. But does the Vivo V9 justify its price of Rs 22,990, read our review

vivo, vivo v9, v9, vivo v9 reviewVivo V9 comes with a 6-inch AMOLED display with a notch on top

Last year, Apple reinvented the smartphone design by introducing a first-ever ‘notched’ display on the iPhone X. Like always, other smartphone makers began adopting the new design for their smartphones starting with this year’s first notched Android smartphone – Asus ZenFone 5Z – which was launched at the MWC in February. Soon after, the Chinese company Vivo showed its full-screen concept phone Apex – which later was officially announced along with mass production plans that will begin towards mid-2018. However, despite showing off a full-screen bezel-less smartphone, Vivo dared to ape the iPhone X-like design on its new smartphones, including the recently launched Vivo V9.

The Vivo V9, which was launched last month, comes with a notch and a FullView bezel-less display. Known for the selfie-centric smartphones, Vivo showcased some really interesting marriage of a 24-megapixel front camera with the notch that’s a part of a 6-inch bezel-less display. Besides, it comes with facial recognition along with a fingerprint scanner mounted at the rear. The smartphone looks fresh, different from the predecessor Vivo V7, and boasts mid-range specifications in a body giving iPhone X run for its money. Will the Vivo V9 be able to attract buyers who want the iPhone X-like beauty and affordability together? Does it have the right features and specifications to justify the price tag of Rs 22,990? Let’s find out in the review.

Vivo V9 design, display, and hardware

The first thing that you will notice while looking at the smartphone is its all-black display that doesn’t really tell you about the notch at the top. However, as soon as you turn the screen on, the notch appears at the top, giving the feel of holding an iPhone X. The notch in Vivo V9 is comparatively smaller, mainly because of the lack of the array of face-depth and other 3D sensors that iPhone X sports. The notch on V9 houses the 24-megapixel selfie camera, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, earpiece speaker, and an LED indicator.

Putting the notch aside now, the other thing that is impressive about the Vivo V9 is its light weight at just 150 grams. Despite embedding a 6-inch display that has a screen-to-body ratio of 90 per cent, the smartphone manages to feel less bulky, as opposed to other smartphones that have phablet-sized displays. There are no physical touch buttons on the front, leaving room for the display to extend to the lower part easily, however, a thin chin is still there on the phone.

While the front side of the display impressively catches the eye, the rear of the smartphone looks a little boring, to be honest. The company provided us with the Champagne Gold colour variant of the Vivo V9, as the rear of the phone is painted likewise (the other colour model is Pearl Black). There is a dual camera setup vertically stacked on the top left corner of the smartphone, below which is an LED flash module. The camera island is a little protruding, but not much so as to be prone to surface scratches. At the centre is the Vivo logo distinctly visible with a fingerprint scanner sitting right above in a squircle shape, while at the bottom is a small tag saying ‘Designed by Vivo’, surrounded by two bold dots to protect it from getting smudged or erased with regular use. The Vivo V9 has round edges that look good, meanwhile taking care of your comfort to hold it perfectly with one hand. However, it is worth noting that people with smaller hands are likely to struggle reaching the top left or right corner to pull down the notification shade.

The bottom of the smartphone has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microphone, a standard Micro-USB port, and speaker grille, in that order. Vivo is still not feeling the need to switch to USB Type-C ports, which is why V9 has the standard ‘Android’ charging pins, however, you will have to use it upside down, meaning that the front side of the phone accepts the charging cable side having two equidistant hooks on the Micro-USB pin. On the left side is the SIM tray with three slots – two for Nano SIM cards (one 4G card at a time) and one for microSD card up to 256GB capacity. The power button and volume rockers are on the right with a less snappy tactility. There were times when a little touch on the volume buttons would change the volume on the phone.

The Vivo V9 retail box comes with the handset, travel adapter, Micro-USB cable, SIM ejector, earphones, a transparent mobile case, and manuals. As soon as you will unwrap the Vivo V9, you’ll praise Vivo for having shipped the device with a tempered glass cover applied. The Vivo V9 comes with a 6-inch display full-HD+ AMOLED 19:9 display with 1080×2280 pixel resolution and Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The major USP of the smartphone is its display that looks exactly similar to the one on iPhone X with a smaller notch. On the top left, there are network signal bars, system time, and notification badges of the apps. Now, Vivo lets you customise these badges with either the number of all the notifications received or the individual app icons, or just a clear space without any icons visible on the left side. On the top right, you see the battery with or without the percentage, as per your preference, mobile data network information, and the vibration, silent mode icon.

The AMOLED display produces crisp colours with a wider gamut so that photographs that have different colour shades and hues can be identified distinctly. The real utility of the display kicks in when you play videos on it. Vivo has preloaded two B-roll videos with 19:9 aspect ratio that look impressive on the display. However, we are yet to see the spike in the videos with that aspect ratio, so you’ll have to settle for the standard 16:9 or a few 18:9 videos for now on one of the best displays at this price point. The brightness of the display is sufficient, however, under the sunlight, the colours look a little blackened. But, overall the claims of packing an iPhone X-like display in a mid-budget segment smartphone by Vivo deserve some applause.

Vivo V9 cameras

The Vivo V9 comes with a dual rear camera setup, comprising of 16-megapixel and 5-megapixel sensors. The camera app on the Vivo V9 has not been significantly overhauled with new features, however, there are some as you explore more. The rear cameras are accompanied by an LED flash. You get HDR mode, Portrait mode (Bokeh), Live photo mode, and a foursquare icon tapping on which pops up further options – Ultra HD, Doc, Slo-Mo, and Time Lapse. Additionally, there are Panorama, Face Beauty, Professional, and AR stickers modes.

Now, breaking down the major features here, we have the Live photo mode first. It is similar to the Live Photos seen on iOS wherein you can record a video few seconds before and after taking a shot. The recorded video is played on long-pressing the captured still photo. Vivo has done a pretty good job in implementing this feature that works flawlessly. Next up is the Portrait Mode, or the Bokeh mode, which is essentially a much-touted feature on all the smartphones that come with dual cameras, except for Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones that have surpassed the technology to produce Bokeh effects without needing two cameras. Vivo V9 does a decent job at defining the edges of the subject in focus, however, sometimes the edges don’t turn out sharp but smudgy. The portraits of people who have frizzy hair are not up to the mark as the hair merges with the defocused background.

The normal photography on the Vivo V9 produces photographs that come out crispy with details, but otherwise, lose texture and become grainy under low-light or slightly unfavourable light conditions. We were able to focus in the bright daylight, however, subjects that are brought closer to the camera aren’t lucky to come in focus. The HDR mode works magic for some photos taken in poor light conditions, however, zooming into the photos makes it dull with little detail. There is no optical zoom on the V9, so you may not want to zoom your camera while photographing if you want to avoid loss of details.

The 24-megapixel selfie camera on the Vivo V9 is what Vivo marketises itself with – giving its tagline ‘Camera & Music’ the very definition. The selfie camera takes decent selfie shots with a good amount of details. Top this with the AI-based Beauty mode and your selfies become better that you can surely use on social media. You get many beauty effects that are handy for removing blemishes or just improving the skin tone. As we said, there are AR stickers preloaded with the camera app that can turn out to be a worthy pastime for many. The front camera is also deployed for recognising your face to unlock the phone, but more on this later.

Here are the camera samples – 

Vivo V9 software, performance, and battery

The Vivo V9 comes running Android 8.1 Oreo out-of-the-box topped with Funtouch OS 4.0. This is the latest Android version available currently that comes with features such as Autofill, Notification Dots, and Smart Text selection. The Vivo V9, sadly, supports just the Autofill API, which we found working flawlessly on almost all the apps. The customisation done by Vivo brings some neat features to the phone, however, along with bloatware. You cannot delete these apps while there are another set of preloaded third-party apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Amazon, Prime Video, WPS Office, Newspoint, and UC Browser that can be uninstalled. The interface of the V9 is snappy and apps open in no time, given that it has 4GB of RAM under the hood.

The default action buttons on the phone are given at the bottom – recent apps, home, and back. However, to make the full use of the FullView notched display, you can switch to swipe gestures, much like what iPhone X has. Swiping on the bar at the centre takes you to the home screen while leaving it midway will open the recent apps. Swiping up on the left bar pops up the quick settings toggle, which looks identical to its iOS counterpart, while the right bar swipes up to return to the previous screen. You can customise the actions in the phone settings. Vivo has taken cues from iPhone X to further customise the swipe actions – you can swipe all the bars left to switch to the previous app. The gesture actions can also be used to unlock the phone by just waving at it.

Vivo has a Search menu that aggregates the results to a query from the phone, apps, contacts, call records, and the Internet. This feature is similar to Spotlight on iOS. To trigger it, you just need to swipe down on the home screen. This feature comes as Vivo has killed search in settings, so if you want to look for a particular setting, you will need to search that from the home screen. Another addition to the software is the TouchPal keyboard that is intuitive and works fine. Considering the size of the display, some people might have to resize the keyboard.

There are OS customisations to a level where just the stack Android features cannot be spotted. There is a Picture-in-Picture mode on the phone that works with select apps. To check which apps are supported, you can go phone’s settings. While visiting the settings, you might also find an option to enable the floating widget for certain chat apps such as WhatsApp, Line, Facebook Messenger, and others that work in split-screen mode. There is a one-hand mode, gaming mode, and app clone mode that allows you to duplicate an app to run two different accounts/ profiles.

For the security, you have PIN, password, fingerprint sensor that’s located on the back, and Face Unlock. The facial recognition features works just fine in the daylight, however it struggles to identify your face in low light conditions. Vivo has done a commendable job of equipping this feature with some artificial intelligence. The phone detects your face with or without facial hair (moustache, beard) if you are a male. We found the failure rates less when there were changes in how the face looked while unlocking the phone. You can set up the facial recognition feature in phone’s settings.

Coming to the display and the apps that need a lot of work to suit to the notched displays. Most of the apps and games that we opened were in 18:9 aspect ratio, however, a few of them were stretched to fit the screen losing the proportion. While playing games, the notch doesn’t mix up with the graphics, and this looks extremely odd. Even the YouTube videos won’t enlarge themselves to fit the screen, rendering two black stripes on either side of the display. However, the native player of the phone can resize the videos to fill the screen, however, with a distorted ratio.

The Vivo V9 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor under the hood, which is mostly the preferable one at this price point. It has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage that is expandable up to 256GB via microSD card. The hardware inside makes the V9 a perfect smartphone for your daily needs, on top of flaunting an iPhone X-like exteriors. We put the Vivo V9 to the game test. The Vivo V9 handled heavy games such as Asphalt Xtreme: Rally Racing and Playerunknown’s Battleground, or PUBG. There were no lags, frame loss, and heating issues while playing these games, however, the boot time was a little more.

The sound in Vivo V9 is loud enough to fill your room with impressive detailing. You can make out the difference between bass and treble while listening to songs. The call quality on the phone is satisfactory, where the VoLTE calls were clearer than the regular 3G network calls. Surprisingly, there is no option to switch to video calls in an audio call interface, unlike many other smartphones that are available in the market now. The earphones that ship along with the handset gives decent sound output with a remarkable distinction between highs and lows.

The Vivo V9 is backed by a non-removable 3260mAh battery that lasted a day on a single charge. It is worth noting here that all kinds of tests, photography, gaming, multimedia consumption was included while checking the battery performance. This is actually applaudable considering how a smartphone with a display this big managed to survive an entire day on a single charge. The phone does not support fast charging.

Final verdict

The Vivo V9 is a strong contender in the mid-range that offers some decent specifications and features. The 19:9 notched display is the major selling point of this smartphone. The performance is at par with all your daily smartphone needs. The cameras do a reasonable job of what they should actually do – capturing photographs worth sharing on social media. Those who are looking to buy a powerful device at the sub Rs 25,000 pricing get a notched display as a bonus that you have only seen on the iPhone X until now. The Vivo V9 is India’s first Android smartphone to sport a notch on the display. The software needs some work, but the hardware is bang for the buck.

The Vivo V9 is priced at Rs 22,990 for the 4GB RAM, 64GB storage model and it will be available across online and offline retailers including Amazon, Flipkart, Paytm, and others. The smartphone competes with the likes of Honor 8 Pro and Moto X4, however, Samsung Galaxy A8+ (2018) can also be seen racing against it, despite bearing a little higher price tag.

Our Ratings:

Design – 9/10
Display – 9.5/10
Camera – 8/10
Performance – 8/10
Battery – 8/10
Value for Money – 8/10
Overall – 8.5/10

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