The Vivo V20 joined News18’s ever burgeoning pile of review devices about three weeks ago. Immediately, it raised an interesting debate. About half a decade ago, the smartphone industry was rather different. Budget phones showed venomous lags, the term ‘phablet’ was thrown around with scorn by those with small palms, and product briefings were far, far away from mobile phone cameras with a hundred million little pixels packed into less than half a square inch of space. Back then, we were still bickering over whether phones should really have screens larger than 5 inches, and more importantly, how slim could phones really go. Back then, Chinese OEMs Gionee and Vivo were fighting tooth and nail over who bagged the title of the slimmest phone in the world – with the Gionee Elife S5.1 and the Vivo X5 Max, both claiming 5.1mm phone bodies.
Fast forward to now, and we have successfully normalised the presence of triple rear cameras on budget phones costing less than Rs 10,000. We’ve also normalised screen sizes of 6.5 inches, and phones comfortably go close to 10mm thickness and weigh close to 200 grams. Case in point – the Poco X3. In such a market, Vivo was quick to point out that their phone is super slim by present standards, without sacrificing the specifications. The Vivo V20 in question measures only 7.38mm in thickness – a mean feat, considering the specifications on offer. It has a 64-megapixel triple rear camera, a 6.44-inch full HD+ AMOLED display, and a 4,000mAh battery too. However, it also costs Rs 24,990.
At a price point that today has the venerable OnePlus Nord, and at a slight premium, the Google Pixel 4a, would you really pay for a phone just because it is slimmer than what’s around? Or, has Vivo really pulled a magic bunny out of the hat with the Vivo V20?
Design and ergonomics: Looks (and feels) good
On standalone terms, there are no two ways about it – the Vivo V20 does feel good. Given the general bulk of smartphones these days, the Vivo V20 feels like a premium phone simply out of its sheer sleekness. The 7.38mm width, which I’m sure Vivo’s engineers worked their socks off to achieve, does the trick and how. It doesn’t feel flimsy or too light – instead, it feels like a sleek slab of well-engineered glass that can slip into tight-fit pockets well enough.
I didn’t find its plastic sides taking anything away from its premium in-hand feel. On top of that, the matte, frosted rear glass has attracted practically no smudges or fingerprints, which is a real boon. Interestingly, Vivo has seeded all of us the Sunset Melody gradient colour shade that shifts through the many wavelengths of the setting sun rays, as you shift your gaze across the back of the phone. While plenty of my colleagues and peers have gone gaga over it, I’m not a big fan of carrying around a phone that shifts from azure blue to deep orange. That, though, is just my boring colour preference.
In all honesty, Vivo has really nailed the premium gradient finish on the Vivo V20, and the Sunset Melody variant does look gorgeous for all those flamboyant enough to carry a phone like this. Nitpick I may be doing, but let nothing take away the fact that the Vivo V20 is, by most parameters, a phone that’s rather fancy to hold, use and carry. Its slim body further helps in an easy grip, and you’d realise that over time, the one extra millimetre that has been shaved off the phone’s bulk does make a difference in its ergonomics.
Display: Crisp and sharp, but a bit too much
The Vivo V20 features a 6.44-inch, full HD+ AMOLED display, with 20:9 aspect ratio. On paper, this is about as much as you can expect from a premium smartphone. However, there is one important thing about the display here, that feels out of place. On premium phones, users would expect a display that sits flush with the frame of the smartphone, or bears curved edges that mould into the minimal side frame. On the V20, however, the display is slightly raised from the side frame. This, coupled with the rather plasticky and shiny side frame, unfortunately reminds of older generation smartphones that probably could have gotten away with the premium tag. Today, with the likes of the OnePlus Nord and the Redmi K20 at hand, this hardly qualifies as premium.
In terms of the quality of visuals, though, the AMOLED panel doesn’t do much wrong. The Vivo V20’s AMOLED panel looks sharp, crisp and vibrant, albeit with the signature oversaturation and tinge of over-sharpening that you’d associate with AMOLED panels. What this means, is that as long as you use only the V20 as the display you see through the day, you wouldn’t really mind it. All colours will have an extra pop, and shadows will look extra crisp and deep.
The problem surfaces if you also happen to use a PC, a TV, a second phone or a tablet as well. Unless they too come with oversaturated AMOLED panels, you will find the Vivo V20’s colours way too sharp. Thankfully, Vivo’s interface does let you tune the level of saturation, and this works rather well. Under screen colours, Vivo’s ‘Pro’ mode desaturates the colours that its native panel produces, and also lets you adjust the colour temperature. Once tuned, you’ll find the Vivo V20 display to be a crisp, rich panel.
Performance: Falters due to its interface
While the Vivo V20’s design and display both have far more pros than cons, the same cannot be said of the phone’s performance. The V20 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G chipset, which is a mid-range piece of silicon from Qualcomm that slots in below the Snapdragon 765. In more recent times, it has been outperformed by an incrementally new SoC, the Snapdragon 732G. It is the latter that can be found inside phones that are considerably less expensive than the Vivo V20, such as the Poco X3.
On standalone terms, the Vivo V20’s overall performance is decent. Booting does not take too long, and even with a sizeable load of apps, starting the V20 and getting working never took more than about 10 seconds. Everyday tasks load smoothly, but there is a clear gap between you tapping on the icon and the app actually opening. At times, the loading lag is visible, while at other times, this lag is masked by Vivo’s FunTouch OS animations.
Apart from the app loading buffers, general performance and multitasking is not too laggy. For instance, it is fairly possible to switch between Gmail, Slack, Firefox (with 15 tabs) and Spotify actively. The split-second lags will persist, so if you were previously used to a flagship-grade smartphone, these lags will annoy you enough. While we have used a number of Snapdragon 720G smartphones in the past, it is Vivo’s custom interface animations that appear to be adding to the lags.
Gaming performance, however, is better than the overall performance. Vivo’s game optimisation modes seem to work fairly well, and there haven’t been too many debilitating lags and stutters, even in graphic-intensive games such as Mortal Kombat, Asphalt 9: Legends and Elder Scrolls: Blades. It is this that is the saving grace for the Vivo V20, and potential gamers will find the V20 a good phone to game on. The rich contrast and saturation of the V20 further adds to the richness of the gaming experience. However, the lack of high refresh rate, which is now featuring in far cheaper smartphones, is a big letdown.
Cameras: The best bit of the phone
The Vivo V20 features a triple rear camera, which features a 64MP main sensor, an 8MP ultra-wide angle unit and a 2MP depth unit. Up front, it features a rather budget-phone-like waterdrop notch, which features a very able 44MP front camera with eye recognition autofocus. Vivo has thrown everything it could think of in terms of camera algorithms, and for the most part, the software optimisations work rather well. As long as there’s plenty of light, that is.Vivo V20 camera: Daylight photos, unedited. (Images: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
The most impressive bit of the V20 is its Backlight HDR recognition, which balances exposure contrast in sharp backlight photos very, very well. For instance, if your camera is facing the sun, the subject in your photo will get darkened all the time (unless you’re using one of Apple’s latest iPhones or Google’s Pixel phones). While the V20 does not outperform either the iPhones or the Pixels, it does well enough on its own right. From rendering artistic lens flares to balancing face exposure well, and locking on to a subject in the frame accurately, the V20’s camera software optimisations work as intended here.
The overall colours rendered look clean and well detailed, and dynamic range is decent as well. What’s more impressive is the level of details, which too are sufficiently rich for you to use the Vivo V20 as a dedicated camera on a holiday. The details are impressive, and while I did find the camera app a bit cluttered, the level of utility it added to shooting is undeniable. The V20 does very well with autofocus performance also, and only really struggles with interlacing, image noise and drop in details when shooting at night.Vivo V20 camera: Night photos, unedited. (Images: Shouvik Das/News18.com)
At night, while the V20 does succeed in rendering the accuracy of colour tones, its level of image noise really takes away from the overall appeal of photos. The V20 struggles quite a bit here, and while it does attempt to pull off the Night Sight magic that Google’s Pixel phones can, it doesn’t quite nail the end product.
The same cannot be said of the 44MP front camera, of which the eye autofocus can be a major boon for video bloggers. It manages what its overall intention is, and the accuracy and consistency of its eye recognition autofocus is almost at par with entry level Sony mirrorless cameras. Selfies have a host of algorithm-based optimisations, and even if you disable them all, there is a certain level of softening that I personally dislike. Nevertheless, all cameras considered, the Vivo V20’s cameras are definitely nothing short of good. They are able and worthy of being considered, and almost single-handedly pulls the Vivo V20 into the list of phones worth being considered at this price range.
Software: Customisation you won’t really need
The Vivo V20 is the first Android 11 smartphone that I have used. However, Vivo’s custom interface, FunTouch OS, modifies it to such an extent that unless you’re told about this being an Android 11 phone, you’ll never know about it. Android 11’s definitive identity here are the granular privacy settings, which you will be thankful for. FunTouch OS has attempted to keep things clean, and the result is varied. While this means that you do encounter a large chunk of bloatware, you thankfully get the option to uninstall most of the rubble.
I’m not a major fan of FunTouch OS’ settings menu customisation, either. At the end of the day, interfaces that offer custom features without giving users a learning curve is what’s ideal for any Android user, and unless you’re upgrading from a previous Vivo phone, you’d find the interface an acquired taste.
Battery: Lasts long enough
The Vivo V20 has a 4,000mAh battery with proprietary 33W fast charging technology. When charging, nought to 30 percent comes up in less than 15 minutes, and 65 percent charge takes a shade over 35 minutes. Charging up to 100 percent takes longer than an hour, as Vivo slows down the charging pace to preserve battery longevity. In terms of battery stamina, the Vivo V20 lasts for a full work day fairly easily, on a full charge. However, if you get too many phone calls, and also use a smartwatch paired with constant location and notification relays enabled, the V20 will need to be put for charging before your day ends. You’d still get over 12 to 14 hours of usage time, including sleep/standby, quite comfortably.
Verdict: Not the Nord and Pixel killer
The Vivo V20 costs Rs 24,990 for the 8GB + 128GB variant, and Rs 27,990 for the 8GB + 256GB variant. At this price, its primary rivals are the OnePlus Nord and the newly launched Google Pixel 4a, both of which cost more and do not match the V20 for specifications. However, if you’re spending about Rs 25,000 on a smartphone, chances are high that you wouldn’t mind exploring other options even if they cost Rs 5,000 more.
While the specifications tell a different story, the OnePlus Nord is a better overall phone in terms of usability and overall features. The Google Pixel 4a will still beat the V20 with its camera, thanks to Google’s prowess in computational photography. As a result, in the end, the Vivo V20 should be your phone only if you’re enamoured by the frankly resplendent shade of colour at the back, or if you’re an ardent fan of Vivo’s software ergonomics.
The V20 is a good phone on standalone terms – its display looks good, and its camera is quite good as well. But, phones such as the Poco X3 offer equivalent or better performance and display, without giving too many trade-offs. By that measure, the V20 lands in a no-phone’s-land. At Rs 24,990, I’m not convinced if Vivo has done enough to sway the buyers away from the venerable OnePlus Nord and the understated Pixel 4a.