Vivo has always wanted to differentiate itself from its sister brands by focusing on innovative photography and selfie solutions. But this is the first time they are really gunning after the premium flagships with their camera set-up, premium finish and a design that isn’t short of desirable.
The only tell tale sign that this isn’t going to cost you a body part is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 chipset in the X50 Pro and Snapdragon 730 in the X50. Both phones have a similar 6.5in screen but the Pro gets the 3D screen that drops off the edges and with vanishingly thin bezels all around along with a thickness of only 8mm, the X50 Pro might be the slimmest phone I’ve held in recent times.
Both phones also get 90Hz screen refresh rates and 180Hz response rates for faster touch response but it’s only in the international market where you can also buy the X50 Pro Plus, which gets the 120Hz screen refresh rate as in the OnePlus 8 Pro. In terms of overall aesthetic and industrial design, these twins are certainly one of the best looking duos of the year and that’s saying a lot considering how many phones we get in an average work week!
Design for the well-heeled
Vivo has tried to differentiate itself with a distinctive two-step camera module design and that’s certainly a smart move. With Android phones beginning to look like clones of each other, this will help it stand out of the clutter and its finishes go a long way in getting eyeballs too. The frosted finish has been done before but Vivo proudly finishes the velvety back with top and bottom “chokers” with the words ‘5G Professional Photography’ subtly printed on the top. It’s definitely easy on the eyes and fine in the hands, except the curved screens still need to better their palm rejection algorithms, especially while composing a tricky shot. More than once, I could not tap to autofocus because the side of my palm was already resting on an option. The displays on both devices are great, with HDR10+ support and Full-HD resolutions that are made fun with live wallpapers and enough customisable options to keep you busy for days, thanks to Vivo’s Funtouch OS on Android 10.
There is some bloatware and repetitions that although aren’t intrusive, remind you of the nature of these devices. 8GB RAM on both the models is enough to handle every task, although it does take a tad bit longer for images to process before being saved to Albums, especially if you use burst mode a lot. Playing anything from CoD to Asphalt didn’t pose a problem, even with Ultra Game mode off and the 90Hz screen with curved edges on the X50 Pro does make it a fun experience. Pity about the onboard mono speaker though. The quest for thin bezels means that only a bottom-firing speaker could be installed and while there is no headphone jack, a dongle is provided in the box. The audio is loud and clear though, so unless you watch a lot of streaming content on the phone, it won’t be a concern.
Even while it’s design is great, screen respectable and processor adequate, the thing that most potential buyers would be interested in is its photography chops. And when you tout a hashtag that says #PhotographyRedefined, expectations are presumably high. Though both the models feature a quad-camera set-up, their specs are different. But both do have a customised Sony IMX598 main sensor but only the X50 Pro gets the gimbal camera system that is said to elevate the stabilisation into another class altogether. For the sake of the review, we will focus on the X50 Pro since most of the lens topography is similar, except the X50 Pro gets a 8MP periscope zoom lens capable of 5x optical/60x digital while the X50 substitutes that with a 5MP macro lens.
Photography for the patient
First thing that you experience when you open the camera app is the wealth of choices. There are filters and styles for every mode and in Portrait mode, things get especially OTT. You can select various aspects of Face Beauty or Posture with some hilarious “posture” presets or choose from preset filters that change the overall tone of the image. And last, an adjustable bokeh with stops from f/0.95 all the way to f/16 with more effects for the background blur, from hearts to stars and more! Slide to the main lens and again you have a ‘Lens’ switch option that cycles between Super Wide Angle, Bokeh, Super Macro and off. Again, you get separate filters and styles…you get the drift by now. It’s frankly a lot of options to soak in before you can even begin to do any serious photography and in a way, reminds me of the Huawei P30 Pro and its ability to take stunning shots, better than even the best out there, but only if you have the patience to compose the frame properly, choose the right mode, have steady hands and after all that, hope that the subject doesn’t move. Let’s not even get into the post and editing side of things!
So, the Vivo X50 is capable of some great pictures but its inherent tendency to over sharpen and overexpose is consistent throughout the system, no matter which mode or lens you choose. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since along with the added noise, it also does deliver on detail and resolution but transfer the images to a laptop and a lot of artefacts are suddenly amplified. Random blurring of certain areas, increased ISO and its ability to hold focus for a short period of time before HDR kicks in and decides to expose other areas of the frame all lead to images that are best seen on social media. And for that medium, the X50 Pro is certainly one of the best out there. The sheer choice it offers in terms of filters and light effects is staggering and most of them are genuinely fantastic, adding a level of professional finesse to your everyday pictures that elevate them out of the ordinary. Even its built-in tools like object eraser work brilliantly, which only a few months ago, would require a dedicated Photoshop app!
The large aperture does allow for a lot of creativity with background blur and lends instant “mood” to mundane subjects but while stabilisation is most required in capturing great portraits, the gimbal stabilisation can only work when the portrait framing mode is off. The aperture slider lets you choose any value between f/0.95 to f/16 and the results are real and tangible. You can easily get creative with your pictures and even though you may not the keenest eye, this phone can flatter your photography skills and make it look easy.
Vivo could improve on the edge detection on fine haired subjects as this is an area where some of the competition just gives you cleaner, more defined edges with bokeh. There is eye, face and body tracking and it’s easy to double-tap on the subjects face and lock focus but it’s a hit or miss in most situations. In video mode, the stabilisation offered across both axes by the gimbal suspension system doesn’t make a strong case for it to become the ‘next big thing’ in phone videography. But, for still photography it works exceptionally well in handheld low-light situations where the shutter is kept open for up to 7.5 seconds and the final image is processed without any blur or signs of shaky hands! If you do have a tripod, the camera will sense it automatically via the gyroscope and can keep the shutter open for up to 18secs under extreme low-light conditions and if you see the sample photos, you’ll find one of a room light only from another phone’s flash light firing upwards, in complete darkness and the X50 Pro does deliver an image that is shocking.
What is great about the camera is the colour accuracy of what you capture in either video or still. Few Androids do it right and the X50 twins impress with their dedication to staying colour correct and not resorting to the usual bumping up of the primaries. Night mode is impressive with a high level of detail while maintaining acceptable levels of noise and though Vivo claims to have an extreme low light mode, it’s best dismissed as overzealous marketing. It works but needs some source of light to work its magic. What takes getting used to is the change in focal length when you change the lens from say, a super macro to a wide angle or anything in between. Even when you zoom to 5x, the image shift means you’ll have to readjust focus and possibly even position of the camera. Coming in from the smooth switching between lenses on an iPhone, this abruptness is amplified on the Vivo.
Optical zoom works well till 2x and to a lesser degree at 5x but slide the scale to 60x digital and while you can get closer to the action, it’s no replacement for a front seat at a concert at Vivo likes to put it. Still, the fact that you can even identify subjects from 100mts away using an 8mm thin camera phone is no mean feat and full marks to Vivo for doing their best. Eventually, it’s in the best interest of the buyer to disregard most of the marketing hype, and there is a lot! Some bits like photo restoration which are very obvious in their manipulation may not work for everyone, but others like shadow removal and document straightening work exceedingly well. It will boil down to what aspect of photograph is important to you…fast, point and shoot or experimental, hobbyist and creative. This one’s for the latter group, obviously.
The plethora of choices continue in the 32MP selfie cam too where you can do everything to your face every plastic surgeon ever dreamt of (or didn’t) and the result is typical of BBK phones. Softening of the skin texture and removal of most blemishes (i’m not complaining on that) but that’s only in Portrait mode. Switch to regular mode and you get a crisp, as-is selfie that is on par with some of the top tier phones, if a little overexposed.
As an everyday phone, there’s a lot to like besides the camera. 33W fast charger, 4315mAh batteries that last more than a day under normal use, high-quality DAC, innumerable customisations possible with Funtouch and a great screen. I do wish there was an option out of the box to just use gestures for navigation like on OnePlus and Huawei but that’s a minor preference nitpick. Overall, the X50 series is more than a challenge to the OnePlus 8 series than they would like and its camera chops are definitely better than the OnePlus but then it also has more bloatware and the screen while smooth at 90Hz, isn’t in the same league as the 120Hz on the OnePlus 8 Pro. A comparison with the Mi10 wouldn’t be out of place either but where the Vivo X50 can stake a claim is in photo editing and there’s absolutely nothing else that comes close to it. For content creators and social media fiends, this could be the difference between amateur and professional photography, without ponying up for the professional photographer!