image

Smartphones

Vivo V11: smallest smartphone notch yet, in-display fingerprint reader updated, excellent battery life

More cutting-edge than Samsung, much longer battery life than the iPhone X and its camera gives you a digital facelift – Vivo V11 looks a winner if pricing is right

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 8:47am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 8:58pm

The iPhone X isn’t quite a year old yet, but in that time, Chinese phone maker Vivo and sister company Oppo have seemingly already gone through the entire notch life cycle.

They were among the earliest to “borrow” the notch idea (the tiny black cut-out on top of the edge-to-edge screen) with releases in February, and they both introduced radical handsets that avoided the notch with a pop-up mechanism a couple of months ago.

Apple to embrace iPhone X design with new colours, bigger screens

Now they each have new phones with an evolved notch, one that is so small no one should really have a problem any more. This review is of the Vivo V11.

Design and hardware

The V11’s hardware is, at once, a brazen iPhone X-copycat. We’re not talking just about the notch, but also about the back camera module’s location and the overall shape of the device. Yet it’s also full of innovations that make the current top phones from bigger names like Apple, Huawei and Samsung look dated.

For example, the V11 has a fingerprint reader embedded underneath its display, and this second-generation version works noticeably faster and is more accurate than the first Vivo device (X21) that used this feature back in May. This is cutting-edge tech that Samsung definitely wanted for its phones but could not get done (very credible rumours suggest Samsung’s next flagship handset, the Samsung Galaxy 10, will have this feature).

Meanwhile, the V11’s screen-to-body ratio beats anything other than its own Nex and Oppo’s Find X. The bottom chin is still noticeable but just like the notch, it’s smaller than ever. The Huawei P20 Pro’s chin looks huge by comparison. And the V11 is noticeably sleeker and easier to hold than the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 despite having the exact same 6.4-inch screen size.

While the iPhone X could be forgiven for having a significantly larger notch, as it has a much more complicated face-scanning camera system inside the space, how V11 managed to cram in a headphone jack and a larger battery while keeping the body slim just shows Apple up.

On a recent business trip, I carried the iPhone X and V11 with me and used both phones equally, and it was jarring how much longer the V11 lasted. On most days, when the iPhone X would get to 10 per cent by dinner time, the V11 still sat at over 40 per cent.

The V11 isn’t a flagship device, but other than the less powerful processor (Snapdragon 660) and plastic body, one would be hard pressed to tell. The display is OLED and pumps out rich colours; there’s 6GB of RAM to keep things relatively speedy, and the 12-megapixel main camera and 25-megapixel selfie camera are surprisingly strong for a mid-tier handset.

Software and features

While the core software experience is unchanged from Vivo’s recent releases – the V11 runs on Vivo’s FunTouch Android skin over Android 8.1 – there are new AI features that are exclusive to the V11 for now.

They are all photo-related, such as scene/object recognition and more interestingly, a new AI beauty mode that allows the user to make a variety of cosmetic changes to their face. These go beyond just the usual face slimming and skin whitening; there is the ability to increase or decrease the size of the subject’s nose bridge, the distance between their eyes, and the size of their lips.

Much to my surprise, the feature works pretty well.

Vivo’s camera seemingly does a good job of scanning my face, resulting in face morphs that actually looked natural – as long as I didn’t push the changes too far. Other people tried the feature and the digital facelifts look natural on them too.

Xiaomi’s new Poco brand to take on Samsung, Huawei

Vivo’s FunTouch Android skin is like most Chinese Android skins, so it has an iOS-like vibe that isn’t my cup of tea. But whether the software looks nice is a matter of opinion. What’s objective is that Vivo’s settings page is terribly implemented. There is no search option inside it, so whenever you need to make a change, you might have to dig through dozens of menus just to find what you need.

But some of Vivo’s FunTouch software additions are useful. For example, the V11 allows the user to double tap on the display to lock or wake the phone. There’s also screen recording and an intuitive one-hand mode.

Performance and battery life

I already talked a bit about the battery earlier – it is excellent. The 3400 mAh cell isn’t the largest, but the combination of the 1080p OLED display and software battery optimisation have given me a full day of use always.

The cameras are also shockingly good. Taking photos during the day with the V11 will result in photos that look no different than same shots captured by the iPhone X or Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (the two most expensive handsets on the market).

Even at night, the V11 routinely pulled in more light than same shots captured by the iPhone X. To be fair, the iPhone’s night shots are a lot more natural and faithful; the V11 is obviously using software trickery to produce a brighter, but more processed, image. Some would rather sacrifice some lighting to keep the original scene’s integrity.

Only in extreme low light situations – think inside a theatre or a dark alley – and on video recording does the V11 clearly lose to Samsung and Apple’s US$1,000 phones.

Conclusion

Here comes the tricky part: Vivo has not announced pricing. If this phone is priced in the US$300-US$400 range, then it is of superb value. But I have a feeling Vivo will price it a bit higher, in the US$400-US$500 range.

In that case, then Xiaomi’s US$300 Pocophone is far better value because it has a Snapdragon 845 processor. But the V11 is a sexier-looking device with an in-display fingerprint that screams cutting edge.

How Android Pie could change the way you use your phone

Specifications

Dimensions: 157.9mm x 75.08mm x 7.9mm

Weight: 156g

Display: 6.4-inch OLED

Battery: 3400mAh

OS version reviewed: FunTouch OS 4.5 over Android 8.1

Processor: Snapdragon 660

Cameras: 12MP f/1.8 with a secondary 5MP lens; 25MP front-facing camera

Memory: 6GB; 128GB

Colours: “Nebula” (gradient purple and black); “Starry Night” (gradient blue and black)

Price: to be announced