From typical teenagers to hip grandparents, from Instagram influencers to Hollywood stars, selfies are going nowhere – and Chinese brand Vivo is capitalizing on that fact with its V21 5G selfie smartphone.
Don’t take it the wrong way – if you’ve never heard of Vivo, this isn’t a train car brand that just pumped out a selfie phone with no credentials. Vivo has been around for years, recently launched some great gimbal camera phones, and even partnered with Zeiss to add some ooh-la-la heritage to its 2021 camera phone launches.
Getting back to the Vivo V21 5G, and three things give its selfie camera an edge: First, there’s that high-resolution 44-megapixel camera. Next is optical image stabilization (OIS), which helps combat handshakes. Finally, it’s backed by a pair of front-flashing LED lights.
At £399, the V21 5G’s plastic build and mid-range specs don’t exactly sing when stacked alongside phones like the much cheaper Redmi Note 10 Pro and OnePlus Nord. But can a killer selfie camera save Vivo’s latest midranger from mediocrity?
Design: A sleek plastic sandwich
The Vivo V21 5G features a glass screen and plastic back that encloses its plastic frame. For its price, you can start to find some very snazzy looking glass and metal phones, like the OPPO Reno 4 Pro, which immediately makes the Vivo’s phone feel a little lackluster.
Thankfully, the V21 5G looks good as plastic phones go, and it’s also super thin at just 7.3mm – compared to the 7.7mm iPhone 13 and 7.9mm Samsung Galaxy S21. It’s available in Dusk Blue and Sunset Dazzle, and in certain lighting conditions it’s easy to mistake the back for frosted glass, which helps add a bit of class.
Buttons and ports are as predictable as they come – power and volume buttons are on the right side; The underside houses the USB-C port, which is occupied by a single mono speaker and SIM tray, and there’s no headphone jack.
While the speaker is a major disappointment – it’s far too easy to cover up when the phone is held sideways, the SIM tray is a highlight. Either two SIM cards or one SIM card and one microSD card are required, making it easy and inexpensive to add memory.
While there’s no IP water or dust resistance, the phone comes with a case in the box and a screen protector pre-applied, so there’s some protection from keys.
Screen: 2019 wants its level back
There aren’t many Android phones now that notch over £350. Most mid-range and premium Androids have punch-hole selfie cameras. The fact that the Vivo V21 5G missed the memo makes its first impression seem a bit more entry-level than its price suggests. We understand that fancy selfie cameras take up more space – but the screen’s look is still a bit dated.
However, once we passed the notch, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the V21 5G’s display. At 6.44 inches, the 90Hz AMOLED screen is smooth and a comfortable size for swiping and typing.
With a resolution of 1080×2400, it’s about as sharp as the OnePlus 9 and not far behind the iPhone 12 Pro. The 90Hz refresh rate lets menus glide and webpages flow — which helps make the whole experience feel that little bit faster.
Add HDR10+ support to the mix and the screen becomes a highlight, creating a fantastic streaming experience on Vivo’s selfie phone – provided you bypass the tinny speaker with some headphones.
The Vivo V21 5G’s 44-megapixel selfie camera has a wide-open f/2 lens, autofocus and OIS, meaning its selfies should be best-in-class. The camera also features not one but two front LEDs, allowing it to evenly flood a face with light and fill in unwanted shadows. There’s a lot more going on here than just fancy hardware, though.
The Vivo V21 5G’s camera software offers no less than 10 live filters, tons of portrait lighting effects and a disturbing amount of face customization options. Launch the selfie camera in portrait mode and you can change the size of your forehead, increase the distance between your eyes, or even narrow the distance between your nose and upper lip.
While we didn’t like the idea of a full-fledged digital face-off experience, we were happy to see that the front camera can take a really impressive photo in auto-only mode or in portrait mode with no filters or face adjustments.
The fact that the selfie camera has autofocus means the eyes are generally sharp, which is important for a portrait. Detail is great even in bright scenes, and when the lights go down, a steady hand and fill flash help taking selfies from the V21 5G to stay ahead of the competition. The addition of 4K video is also a boon for selfie video fans and vloggers, with results impressive in all but dimly lit environments.
The main camera of the Vivo V21 5G is a triple camera system. There’s a primary 64-megapixel camera with OIS, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide camera, and a 2-megapixel macro camera. Both the ultra-wide and wide cameras are mediocre at best and only usable in bright scenes, but the 64-megapixel main camera shows promise. Photo detail is plentiful, it produces a pleasingly shallow depth of field when taking macro shots with it, and colors have a natural but warm balance.
Achievement: mews while others roar
While you can get heaps of gaming performance for £399 – the OnePlus Nord 2 does a good job on most games, while the mighty Poco F3 can handle pretty much anything on the market despite being priced at just £329, Vivo chooses performance for itself back V21 5G.
With a MediaTek Dimensity 800U 5G chipset paired with 8GB of RAM, you can play on it, but advanced 3D games like Genshin Impact are rendered with low graphics quality.
However, if you’re not a gamer, you might not even notice the missing grunt. Running Android 12 with Vivo’s FunTouch OS 12, Vivo has the latest version of its mobile operating system from Google on board, and its user interface is nice and light for Western markets. Coupled with a 90Hz screen, the whole experience feels smooth and masks the comparatively modest internals.
The phone also supports both an in-display fingerprint scanner and Face ID, so you can access it quickly and relatively securely (Face ID isn’t nearly as secure as Apple’s Face ID). When it comes to storage, a generous 128GB is combined with support for microSD cards, so you should have plenty of room for games, photos and videos.
Battery: Small but fast charging
Most mid-range and entry-level phones these days, like the Poco M4 Pro and Redmi Note 10 Pro, come with capacious 5000mAh batteries for a comfortable 1+ day battery life. With just a 4000mAh battery in its slim case, the Vivo V21 5G can’t compete in numbers.
While its power savings are helped by its modest processor with modest power requirements, it’s also hampered by the fact that it’s a 5G smartphone – 5G is a big battery drain, especially when tethering. Despite the fact that you’ll likely get a full day out of the Vivo V21 5G for most of the week, even with a few messages and photos, if you’re anything like us, you might struggle with heavy 5G days.
However, if you need a quick top-up, the phone will power up at 33W, which is pretty fast considering its price. Unlike iPhones and Galaxys, the Vivo V21 5G comes with an included charger, so you can charge it by 50% in just 25 minutes.
The Vivo V21 is a unique phone. On the one hand, it ticks a lot of boxes – the selfie camera is best in class, the screen and in-display fingerprint scanner are great, and there are plenty of storage options. It also offers a decent daily user experience.
Gamers will want more power – check out the Poco F3, while traditional photographers will want a better rear camera – like in the cheaper Redmi Note 10 Pro. If you don’t like selfies, you should look elsewhere – the OnePlus Nord 2 is a great all-rounder at 369 euros.
If your gallery is full of mediocre selfies, you wish it were better, and you love the idea of rotating your face so that you can see yourself to within an inch, or you just want some extra fill light, when you take pictures of you and your loved ones. Then the Vivo V21 5G is a very fun phone that does a lot of things right.
|screen||6.44-inch 1080×2400 AMOLED, 90Hz refresh rate, 20:9 aspect ratio|
|processor||MediaTek Dimension 800U 5G|
|camera||64 MP, f/1.8 (OIS), 40 MP, f/1.8 monochrome, 2 MP macro, f/2.4, 8 MP, ultra wide angle, f/2.2|
|camp||128GB + microSD card support|
|battery||4000mAh, 33W fast charge|
|Dimensions||159.7 x 73.9 x 7.3mm, 176g|