Great design that will stand out in the crowded market.
The selfie experience is better if you like beauty mode.
The performance is not in the same level as its rivals.
Vivo shipped a record 5.8 million smartphones in India during the second quarter of 2019. The Chinese smartphone maker expanded its market share to 18 percent from 11 percent a year ago. As Canalys observes, its “growth has been commendable”. The important fact is that this growth has come at a time when Realme is growing rapidly and Xiaomi is holding the fort as market leader. It has also achieved this growth with lesser-known Y series models like the Vivo Y17 and the Vivo Y91 and not popular V series.
The product portfolio of Vivo, like its rivals, includes a wide range of products. While its popular product is the V-series, the company is now expanding to other segments as well. The Vivo Y series has become popular in the sub-Rs 15,000 price segment. The newly introduced Vivo Z series is aimed at gamers in budget. Now, the company is adding a new series with Vivo S1 that is aimed at those seeking style, substance and best selfie experience.
Ahead of the launch, Vivo shared a review unit of Vivo S1 with BGR India. Here is my review, after using it for well over a week. Can style dictate success in the age of hardware specifications? Let’s find out.
Vivo S1: Design
“Design is intelligence made visible,” author Alina Wheeler, said. I want to say that intelligent design is very much visible on the Vivo S1. Smartphones have evolved significantly over the years where good smartphones have become inexpensive. While the design was generic for this segment, specifications made us look the other way. Now, design just cannot be an afterthought. Vivo S1 is among the most well-designed smartphones to launch this year.
It all starts with a dual-tone finish that aims to mimic the gradient finish seen on premium flagship devices. The smartphone has a metal frame with the sides split between greenish-blue and purplish-blue hue. While we have seen smartphone makers try such weird patterns on the back of the device, the sides look exceptional. Unlike automakers, smartphone makers have little room for experimenting with design. Vivo has used all the space in its disposal to make a well-designed device. The real kicker is on the back of the device. Our review unit came in diamond black color, which is much better looking than the skyline blue variant.
It reflects a combination of colors ranging from black to blue to green depending on the light reflecting from the surface. One might argue that they have seen a similar design on competing devices. However, Vivo’s designers had ideas to take this design a step further. Almost more than half of the back is home to a diamond lattice structure. Depending on how you hold the device, it reflects diamond patterns that vary in size and dimension. It can be described as building a Zenga structure with diamond pieces but in a horizontal layout. The most common response to this design was “WOW” and I really appreciate that design is evolving in such an intelligent manner.
Most of the action is on the back of Vivo S1. The back is home to a triple rear camera setup and LED flash which are enclosed together using the golden enclosure. The camera module is accompanied by “AI Triple Camera” branding. Towards the end, there is a big Vivo branding accented in gold color as well. There is a 6.38-inch display at the front and a 32-megapixel selfie camera. The right side is home to the volume rocker and power button. On the left, there is a SIM card tray and Google Assistant button. The top is clean of any ports while bottom side hosts the microUSB port, audio jack and speaker cutouts.
Vivo S1: Display
The Vivo S1 features a 6.38-inch display and uses a Super AMOLED panel with U-shaped notch. The panel supports Full HD+ resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels and 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Vivo is using the AMOLED panel mainly to enable the in-screen fingerprint sensor. The display is a marked improvement from the LCD panel seen in this price segment. With AMOLED panel, you get better colors, sharper details, deeper blacks and always-on display that does not strain your eyes. The S1’s display, in my opinion, can get really bright, which makes it great for viewing that darkest episode of Game of Thrones.
Vivo S1: Camera(s)
Vivo S1 is definitely a good looking smartphone but one of its other highlights is the 32-megapixel selfie camera. It is among the cheapest smartphone in the country to feature a 32-megapixel camera for selfies. The sensor is placed behind a lens with an aperture of f/2.0 and uses screen flash in low-light scenarios. I am no selfie expert but the images I took from Vivo S1 ended up looking too soft. Some of the selfies were even described as funny by my family members. I am not saying it is bad, it’s just that the algorithm sharpens the image a bit aggressively. Some might prefer this result which makes you look younger but I am not a fan.
On the rear side, the story is different altogether. There is the primary 16-megapixel camera with wide f/1.8 aperture. It is paired with an 8-megapixel ultra wide-angle camera and a 2-megapixel camera for depth. Out of the three, the primary camera is the most versatile here. It not only captures great details thanks to the wider aperture, but it also ends up being the sharpest. The images offer great details in the highlights area but the shadow can seem a bit squeezed. The main camera also retains the character of the scene better than the ultrawide angle camera.
The ultrawide cameras have become new eye-candy for smartphone imaging experience. On the Vivo S1, it is not the best experience I have seen on mobile devices. The images are wide but look muted for the most part. At f/2.2 aperture, the camera struggles to capture a lot of details. For instance, at a pub, it did not retain much detail in the shadow and highlights. As a result, the final image looks fudgy and underexposed. The depth sensor does the trick of adding adjustable bokeh to images but you need to position yourself well to get the best result.
Most people would be shooting with the primary camera if they buy the Vivo S1. This main camera does not disappoint and that’s the real good news. Vivo has shown that it has the camera software chops to enhance the experience with the Vivo V15 Pro. I expect Vivo to gather feedback and issue updates to make the other cameras perform well. For now, I would stick with the 16-megapixel main camera for my imaging needs.
Vivo S1: Hardware
The Vivo S1 is the first smartphone with MediaTek Helio P65 to debut in India. It is an octa-core processor with two performance Cortex A75 cores clocked at 2.0GHz. The chipset is aided by six efficiency Cortex A55 cores clocked at 1.7GHz. These cores are placed in a single, octa-core configuration along with ARM Mali-G52 graphics processor. The smartphone is offered in three different storage variants. Our review unit is the top of the line model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB internal storage. It also has a dedicated microSD card slot that supports cards up to 256GB.
Vivo S1: Performance
The Vivo S1 works well when your use cases are limited to basic applications. It is a smooth operator when you do things like phone calls, text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. It also handles video streaming applications like Hotstar, YouTube and Netflix without any sweat. As far as gaming is concerned, it was a mixed bag experience for me. I had zero issues playing Asphalt 9 on the smartphone. Whether drifting or competing for special events, the game worked really well. Even the graphics seemed very good on the native display. However, with PUBG Mobile, things started to take a different turn.
The device started to get warm faster and the graphics dropped to a lower setting. At high graphics settings, the drop in frame rate was apparent. MediaTek’s mid-range chipsets are not really known for performance gaming and are instead better for casual gaming. One can even play PUBG Mobile at lower setting but that would mean making some amount of compromise. Vivo has also added a dedicated gaming mode called Ultra Game mode. It allows you to block notifications while playing games and disable automatic WiFi connection. The software can also be configured to prevent accidental touches and reject incoming calls. It is a very useful tool that is available in the form of Game Turbo on rival devices.
If there is one area where Vivo S1 really shines then it has to be battery life. The large 4,500mAh battery paired with a low-power MediaTek Helio P65 SoC results in great endurance. I have been going for two full days without having to charge the device. My usage has been the usual mix of social media applications, a little bit of slack, news on Chrome and Twitter, video streaming and gaming for at least half an hour every day. For instance, I charged Vivo S1 to 100 percent yesterday and I am left with 75 percent battery right now. If you are backpacking for a couple of days and want to leave the charger behind then Vivo S1 has great chances of surviving. However, I would not recommend leaving the charger behind since it uses older microUSB and not USB Type-C for charging.
On the software front, the Vivo S1 runs Funtouch OS 9 based on Android 9 Pie with May security patch. The operating system looks identical to Apple’s iOS and has the widget interface straight from Apple. It also integrates a gesture navigation system that works better than Google’s half-baked interface on Android Q beta. Sliding down reveals the notification while sliding up from left corner reveals quick settings. Sliding up from right takes you back to the home screen. Vivo should probably tweak the gesture system to enable back by swiping from either side of the screen.
As someone who briefly owned a Vivo V3, I want to say Funtouch OS 9 is much better than its predecessors. It is not all-consuming, but it does have a few apps that many would consider as duplicate apps. For example, there is the Google Play Store and Vivo’s own app store to download applications and games. It also comes preloaded with a bunch of applications which are easily available for the Play Store. With software becoming a defining factor, Vivo should follow Marie Kondo and tidy up its user interface with the release of Funtouch OS 10.
Verdict: Should you buy?
Since I started using the Vivo S1, I am reminded of Lenovo Vibe S1 from 2017. It also arrived with the same ambitions of offering a stylish device with best-in-class selfie experience. Like Lenovo, Vivo has also succeeded in that effort. It not only looks great but also feels great to hold and use thanks to the 2.5D design. It is not free from poor design choices. For example, the dedicated Google Assistant does not serve any purpose. The double click for Jovi image recognition is so bad that you would rather not have it.
Vivo S1 delivers on premium design at an accessible price point and superior selfie experience. Price in India starts at Rs 17,990 and goes up to Rs 19,990. However, it belongs to a price segment where every other device is good in its own merit. Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 7 Pro offers value, performance and experience in an incredible package. Realme 3 Pro, on the other hand, offers good performance and imaging experience. Then there is Vivo Z1 Pro, which sets the bar high for performance devices. If your priority is absolutely best in selfie experience then pick Vivo S1 else its rivals look better.