Most flagship camera phones in the market today are brilliant no doubt. But they’re also a bit scary. It all makes sense until it doesn’t. And while no one can contest the merits of good hardware, these devices are supposed to be “mobile” at the end of the day for crying out loud. They ought to feel that way. Since it’s not as common as one might think, every once in a while, when such a phone comes out of the blue, it makes you sit back and notice, wonder why ergonomics have all of a sudden taken a backseat in this mad rush to fit the latest and greatest of tech, user-friendliness be damned.
The X90 Pro, the subject of this review, is that one rare breath of fresh air I’ve encountered recently and while it does have its quirks, it’s a phone that you, we, and competition should definitely pay attention to. It’s not the best phone that Vivo makes at the time of writing – that will be the China-exclusive X90 Pro Plus— but it might just be the best phone it has launched globally, to date. Even more importantly, the X90 Pro is its strongest contender against the usual suspects— the high-end Galaxys and iPhones of the world.
Vivo X90 Pro: Design and cameras
The formula is pretty much the same that most camera phones from China seem to be following blindly these days which is to make the camera housing circular. Not to mention, as big and bulbous as possible. Ah, it’s a great feeling when you can tell your phone’s got a large – 1-inch-type— sensor and optics to match. Then when you get a legend like ZEISS to back the narrative, you know you’re onto something ground-breaking potentially.
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In essence, every brand is trying to make their phone look more and more like a point-and-shooter (remember how they used to be a big thing once?!) even if most don’t quite feel like it, yet. The X90 Pro manages to put up a believable show and feel experience to some extent and for that Vivo deserves credit. It’s not compact or anything. It weighs A LOT (nearly 215g) and is almost 9.3mm thick. But those paper specs only tell half the story.
You see Vivo has traded glass with vegan leather that sits nice and plush with solid plastic. The textured panel— as a result— is not only resistant to smudge and fingerprints, it makes the X90 Pro the grippiest camera phone I’ve used in a long time. The curvature on the front and back, too, is just the right amount. The sides, top and bottom are all metal and while I do wish it wasn’t glossy, it doesn’t look gaudy. Even more so, it doesn’t come at the expense of comfort. You also get a proper IP68 rating, which is still a rarity among phones coming from China for some reason.
The X90 Pro is very attractive in an understated way even though it’s anything but subtle. You can’t confuse it for anything else. It is, for al intents and purposes, a top-shelf camera phone first and except for maybe a missing physical shutter button, it does an excellent job to lure you in, if you’re into that sort of thing. The underlying hardware, too, has got enough bells and whistles to make you want to stay.
Vivo has taken a slightly different approach with the X90 Pro compared to last year’s X80 Pro. You don’t get as many cameras, for one, and zoom seems no longer as big a focus area. Rather, it has put all its eggs in one basket. The star of the show is the same “true 1-inch-type” Sony IMX989 sensor we’ve seen inside some of Xiaomi’s recent phones like the 12S Ultra and 13 Pro. Vivo pairs it with a slightly wider f/1.8 optically stabilised lens. You also get Dual Pixel PDAF, Laser AF tech, and the next-gen V2 chip that promises enhanced low-light capabilities.
The sensor maybe the same, but the X90 Pro uses it in a very, very different way at least visually. While the Xiaomi 13 Pro inclines more towards punch, the X90 Pro goes for more natural colour tones. There’s a flip side to that. Most people might prefer the 13 Pro’s larger-than-life contrasty hues in a blind camera test, even though the X90 Pro can eke out more detail and better dynamic range even in tricky situations. The way that things are cruising, it won’t be long before you start buying camera phones much in the same way you would an actual camera. Leica, ZEISS, Hasselblad, it’s all there for the taking— already. And as these partnerships evolve, over time, we can expect to see even more clear-cut distinctions.
One of the ways that Vivo holds an edge over peers is that the X90 Pro’s cameras can benefit from ZEISS’s T* lens coating. Ghosting is a major issue and size limitations make it next to impossible to correct it in smartphones. At best, you can minimise it. ZEISS’s expertise in the field means instances of lens flare are almost negligeable in photos shot on the X90 Pro. You can choose to add the effect artificially, if you want to, and Vivo is happy to supply you enough LUTs – some “naturally” inspired from ZEISS lenses including an excellent cinematic option – to keep you satisfied.
Also Read | Xiaomi 13 Pro: The shooting star | Hands-on and first impressions
Now, the TL;DR version: the IMX989 is great and the X90 Pro puts it to good use, mostly. Also, Vivo does night mode better than many phone brands, and you’re going to have a lot of fun with it, if you like to take a lot of photos. The video output (which can go up to 8K@24fps), while it’s nice and sharp and well stabilised for the most part, still needs some work though.
Moving on, there are two more cameras in this phone. A 50MP telephoto with f/1.6 aperture and OIS for 2x optical zoom for portraits. And another 12MP ultrawide with autofocus so it can double as a macro. The X90 Pro does both pretty well, which makes the X90 Pro a case study on how quality trumps quantity any day. Still, comparisons with the X80 Pro are bound to come up because the X90 Pro’s camera system even though quite stellar, is not as versatile, or even as powerful as its predecessor.
Vivo X90 Pro: Display and performance
The rest of the specs are in line with what you’d expect from a phone of its class. There are no major red flags, unless you’re looking for one specifically. The 6.78-inch 1.2K AMOLED display with 120Hz (non-LTPO) refresh rate can get nice and bright— Vivo claims a respectable 1300nits (the X80 Pro could go up to 1500nits though). The panel can output 10bit colour depth and supports HDR10+ playback. The optical fingerprint scanner is fast and reliable mostly.
The X90 Pro marks the India debut of the 4nm Dimensity 9200 which is the fastest chip that MediaTek makes currently. Performance is slick and even though the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 outperforms it in benchmark scores and real-world fringe cases, there is very little to complain here, in fact nothing at all. The X90 Pro handles everything you throw at it like a pro. There is no perceivable throttling. Unless you’re really pushing it (running benchmarks or the graphically demanding Genshin Impact), it doesn’t get hot, either.
The optimisation is on point which reflects in the phone’s battery life as well. The X90 Pro with its 4,870mAh battery can go through a full day with ease on moderate use. A full charge takes only about 25 minutes with 120W fast charging baked in. You also get speedy 50W wireless charging.
Software deserves a special mention as Vivo has cut down on many unwanted apps and spammy nonfictions. I was surprised to see no “hot apps, hot games” folders in the phone. Its user interface has otherwise been neat and stock-ish always and that’s the case with the X90 Pro as well. Sadly, Vivo still has work to do on long-term support as the X90 Pro is only eligible for 3 years of major OS and 3 years of security updates at a time when even its sister brands— Oppo and OnePlus— are offering 4 major OS and 5 years of security updates on flagships going neck-and-neck with Samsung. The X90 Pro is based on Android 13 with Vivo’s Funtouch OS 13 on top.
Rounding off the hardware package are a pair of loud and fairly clear stereo speakers, IR blaster for controlling smart home devices, 12GB of RAM and 256GB of non-expandable storage, a 32MP selfie camera that’s just about okay, Wi-Fi 6, and USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-C.
Vivo X90 Pro: Price and verdict
The X90 Pro is a few steps forward (in all-round design, performance, main camera, battery life, and even software), but it also takes a few steps back (in areas like the display for instance or that its cameras are not as versatile maybe) and it costs a bit more than the outgoing X80 Pro while at it. Vivo X90 Pro 12GB/256GB price in India is set at Rs 84,999. And that could be a problem, or at least, it would appear so.
But here’s another way of looking at it. Phones like the X80 Pro come once or twice maybe. They’re not a regular phenomenon. Anything following that up will have big shoes to fill and big specs will always be hard to sustain year-on-year, especially in the current state of global economy. There’s no denying that Vivo has made some compromises in this generation. But the question to ask is, do these quirks make any impact, make it a lesser flagship? The answer is no.
The X90 Pro, in fact in all its totality, is a more polished product from every perceivable angle. Its real USP though is that it makes mobile photography fun whether it be in how Vivo has built it inside out or the sheer calibre of its imaging system. Hardware-wise, it’s got everything going for itself, so much so that it won’t be wrong to say the X90 Pro is one of, if not the best camera phones of 2023. Now, if only Vivo can –also— up its software game, that would really set alarm bells ringing for the Galaxys and iPhones of the world.
|Stylish, ergonomic design||Display a downgrade from X80 Pro|
|IP68 rating||Only 2x optical zoom|
|Good display||Long-term software support|
|Fast performance||Haptics could be better|
|Great camera system|
|Fantastic battery life, quick charging|