Vivo X21 Review: It’s time to let go of those boring fingerprint sensors

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New Delhi | Published: June 18, 2018 4:11:44 PM

Vivo X21 is a first-of-its-kind device that has set a benchmark in the mobile phone industry for others to breach

Vivo, Vivo X21, Vivo X21 review, Vivo X21 priceVivo X21 is the world?s first smartphone to come with in-display fingerprint sensor

Vivo introduced the notched display on an Android phone with the launch of Vivo V9 in India earlier this year. Slowly percolating to other models, the notch is now ubiquitous among Android phones. But, Vivo stopped at nothing and launched the world’s first smartphone – Vivo X20 Plus UD with an in-display fingerprint sensor earlier this year in China. For India, Vivo has launched the phone as Vivo X21. The Vivo X21 sports a fingerprint sensor that, unlike the regular one, is integrated into the display itself. Apart from this, there is a higher screen-to-body ratio and thinner bezels than the other Vivo phones with notched displays.

The futuristic concept of embedding the fingerprint biometric technology into the displays came into reality at CES 2018 this year, thanks to Vivo that previewed the world’s first phone to pack this technology. It was only a matter of time when Vivo announced that it is going to launch this concept phone commercially.

Vivo surpassed Samsung and Apple to become to the first company to have successfully implemented this technology. Without any changes except for the name, the Vivo X21 disrupts the Indian smartphone market, not by one but many key factors. The smartphone is priced at Rs 35,990 for a single 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage variant. How does the device fare well against its pricing? Let’s find out in our review.

Vivo X21 Design, Display, and Hardware

Vivo X21 is meticulously built to suit to all sorts of hand sizes, thereby, giving it an ergonomic real estate. The phone is not unwieldy and fits perfectly into the hands. The front of the phone has an all-black display, which shows the compact notch at the top on being turned on. The notch is similar to what other Vivo phones such as Vivo V9 and V9 Youth have. There is a selfie camera, earpiece speaker, an LED indicator, and an array of sensors residing in the notch. There is a thin chin at the bottom of the phone, despite having no physical buttons. There is no button on the back as well, which could possibly have been for fingerprint sensor but since the fingerprint sensor is inside the display, there’s no logical viability for the former.

Vivo X21 comes in only Black colour, so the question that possibly strikes the mind is whether this Black finish is shimmery or matte. Well, the price tag of Rs 35,990 demands the phone to have a shiny surface, if not a gaudy one, which is suitable for the glass panel. It doesn’t attract fingerprints, so you would easily pass this one as not having the most bothersome rear surface. There is a vertically-aligned dual camera setup on the top left corner, sitting inside a capsule-shaped island. Below it is the dual-tone LED flash. The centre of the rear panel has the Vivo logo while at the bottom, you will see “Designed by Vivo” inscribed. The edges are properly rounded to give a good grip.

The display, which is perhaps the best selling point for this phone, is not any different from the Vivo V9 we saw earlier this year. The notches are becoming more mainstream, which is why it is no more a thing to gaze at. Vivo has packed a 6.28-inch full-HD+ Super AMOLED FullView display on this the X21, making it contend against the likes of OnePlus 6 and Samsung Galaxy S series phones. The display produces sharp and punchy colours, thanks to the AMOLED display. The blacks are at their best hue, without any tints of grey. The sunlight legibility on this phone is impressive – only if you have set the brightness to Auto mode otherwise you will struggle to find the brightness setting in the dimmed display. The aspect ratio of the display is 19:9, so for the apps that are do not support this proportion, Vivo gives a neat setting in the Display setting to turn on the Full Mode. The videos look good and produce good colours, while the photographs turn out to have the crispness in them while viewing them on the display.

The bells and whistles for the Vivo X21 is the fingerprint sensor that is inside the display. After the first boot, the device will ask you to set the unlock method and you can choose fingerprint sensor, to begin with. The Vivo X21 is perhaps the first test run of this technology to learn how customers are liking it and how it is going to be positioned amid other biometrics available today. Vivo has teamed up with Synaptics to enable the technology on an OLED panel. The sensor is manufactured by Goodix and paired with a Snapdragon 660 SoC.

For the fingerprint sensor to work on a display – which has to be OLED, of course – the sensor needs to scan the given portion of the screen by lighting it up. Since the backlight of the rest of the display could have hindered this process, Vivo has worked around this ticklish situation by making the light over the sensor area light up brighter than the remaining portion. The fingerprint sensor area has different animations that you can change later. The moment you touch the fingerprint icon on the display – a little harder – the animation begins and ends up unlocking the phone. It’s not like a button so you would need to exert some pressure and keep your finger there for a while.

The fingerprint sensor takes a little more time than the regular ones, but we are seeing the technology for the first time and it obviously will evolve over time. In our testing, the fingerprint sensor worked interestingly fine, however, sometimes it doesn’t detect the fingerprint in one go unless you try for like two-three times. Anyway, for all it’s worth, the fingerprint sensor on the display makes it up for all those times when your one hand is occupied and the other is barely available to allow you to flip the phone to access its fingerprint sensor on the back. In the sunlight, the fingerprint is sometimes hard to locate, thanks to its limited space – which Vivo is doing away with the Vivo Nex.

One thing to remember here, the in-display fingerprint sensor won’t work properly with a tempered glass or screen protectors applied, the company has noted in the packaging for X21. Vivo has provided a compatible protector with the phone that minimises the impact to some degree.

For the specifications, the Vivo X21 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC, which is a significant downgrade from the OnePlus 6’s Snapdragon 845 SoC in the same price bracket. The phone packs 6GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage with support for using a microSD card to expand it via a dedicated slot. The phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top with a secondary microphone for noise cancellation. On the right, you will find the volume rockers and the power button while the left side is button-less. The (dual) SIM and microSD card tray is at the bottom, next to it is the Micro-USB port, and finally the grille speaker.

The Vivo X21 has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and other standard sets of sensors at this price range. It supports VoLTE for Jio and Vodafone (and perhaps for Airtel too but we couldn’t test it because of its limited availability in Delhi-NCR). The calls made using the phone are clear and we didn’t face any call drops or voice distortion during calls.

Vivo X21 Cameras

The smartphone has dual cameras on the back combining a 12-megapixel sensor – with 2PD technology and an aperture of f/1.8 – and a 5-megapixel secondary sensor to produce the Bokeh effect in the photographs. The photos we clicked from the camera have punchy colours and there is no loss of detail. The colours don’t get washed away in the photos and bring distinction to the subjects. The camera is quick to focus and automatically adjusts the camera settings for the shooting mode. You get HDR with the camera, so when the phone detects its need, it turns HDR on to enhance the photographs.

The Bokeh mode, or the Portrait Mode, works fine too. The cameras are able to focus and defocus the subject and the background, respectively. While the edges are noticed by the camera well, a few times they turn out smudged. In low light, the cameras are fine – nothing outstanding about them. There is a lack of detail though, which even the HDR mode cannot help reduce. Coming to the selfies, they are good enough to post on social media. There are many controls to tune the camera before taking a selfie, or you can just turn on the Beauty mode and let the phone work the magic.

Here are the samples:

You can record the videos up to 4K resolution from both the front and rear cameras. The videos look good in bright conditions, however, things turn south in dim light. There is no stabilisation to the videos available on the cameras. Everything about the camera app is similar to other Vivo phones. You get the same options to fine-tune the settings to click the desired shot. Vivo has touted the AI capabilities integrated within the cameras to detect the shooting mode, person’s face, his/her age, colour tone, sex.

Vivo X21 Performance, Battery

The Vivo X21 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo-based FunTouch OS, so you get the latest Android version. This phone also qualifies to be one of the first set of phones that you can install the Android P Beta version on, as announced by Google at I/O this year. However, for that, you will need to manually download and install the ROM with the help of the instructions provided by Vivo on its website. The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC, which is like one of the most preferred chipsets for the mid-rangers.

The handset handled the daily tasks of opening multiple apps, playing videos on YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and running some graphically-intensive games. Talking solely about the app switching, the phone does a good job. We could also multitask without any hiccups. The split screen mode also works fine, however, you cannot push the unsupported apps to run in this mode. Vivo offers a floating icon feature for the highly used apps – Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger among others, to inform you of any incoming notification while you are watching a video.

Rest is pretty much similar to other Vivo phones. You get all the standard options – customised icons, as well as additional options that you might not get in the stock Android version. There are Vivo apps preloaded with the phone and you cannot uninstall them. You also get Facebook, WhatsApp, Amazon, UC Browser apps bundled with the FunTouch OS. There is facial recognition available as well, which we found more than average. During the day, it works well but stutters in the nighttime. You can use fingerprint sensor and Face Unlock together, however, the latter will be available when you turn on the screen so as not to override the former’s applicability.

There are gestures – as is the case with every other phone with 19:9 displays nowadays – to allow you totally get rid of the soft buttons on the display. You can rearrange the home buttons, remove them completely, and choose gestures to experience even a larger screen. While there are smaller indicators at the bottom of the screen when gestures are enabled, you can hide them too.

We played games such as Asphalt Xtreme, PUBG, and Injustice 2 on the Vivo X21. The handset handled all the games impressively well. There were no lags and frame drops visible while playing these games. In our playing time of around 2 hours, the phone did not get heated, given that we played the games indoors, away from direct sunlight, which may have otherwise brought a spike in the device’s temperature.

The battery that fuels the internals of the Vivo X21 holds a capacity of 3200mAh battery. For us, the battery lasted for an entire day and a little more before going into the critical power mode. Our battery testing included using apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video periodically in the day. On top of this, we played games for over 2 hours on the device and did some photography for a good 1 hour. The device does a good job of giving enough juice to last a day. Vivo has bundled a fast charger with the handset that can charge the phone up to 60 per cent within an hour.


Vivo X21 is a first-of-its-kind device that has set a benchmark in the mobile phone industry for others (Xiaomi, Huawei, and maybe Samsung next year) to breach. The fingerprint sensing technology is new but you won’t take much time getting used to it. However slow you may find the in-display fingerprint to be, it deserves your excuse for it being the pathfinder. There is a notched display with some really good viewing experience, according to us.

The Vivo X21 is priced at Rs 35,990, which is a slightly higher than what OnePlus 6 costs. However, you will have to compromise the in-display fingerprint sensor for a significantly powerful Snapdragon 845 processor. If you are not into flagship devices and want to show off the new technology, you can buy the Vivo X21. It is available via Flipkart, Vivo store, and other offline retailers across the country.

Our Ratings:

Design – 9/10
Display – 9/10
Camera – 7/10
Performance – 8/10
Battery – 9/10
Value for Money – 7/10
Overall – 8/10

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