Vivo’s X80 Pro Shows Why It Should Be Counted Amongst The Likes Of Samsung & Apple

The smartphone market, not only in India but across the world has become boring. It has been impacted by the maturity of the industry which has resulted in a multitude of commoditised products that happens more or less on the Android spectrum of the market. Apple often remains an outlier in this phenomenon but even its launches have become predictable. Samsung often is playing catch up, but aside from its folding phones, Samsung hasn’t wowed the world with something that it has done before anyone else and held the fort as the market leader. It often gets pushed around by OnePlus in India these days. Xiaomi has also been coming down the pike and if it had not been for the US sanctions against Huawei, it would’ve not shown the slight resurgence it has witnessed in the last few years.

The one brand that has impressed by leaps and bounds since the advent of the pandemic is Vivo. Its products are starting to enthuse a sense of fit and finish and a technological foundation that has been associated with Samsung for the longest time. In fact, since 2020, the Vivo X series has pushed the limits of the modern smartphone more so than any other smartphone maker with its partnership with iconic optician Carl Zeiss whose lenses we have seen on countless DSLR cameras and back in the 2000s even on Nokia’s smartphones. This confidence has made further sense in the way it has started to market its products with its being the prime sponsor for the IPL in 2020 and now will be the prime sponsor for the FIFA world cup later this year in Qatar.

Its latest phone — the X80 Pro and even its younger sibling — the X80 embodies this renaissance for the Chinese brand which was often associated with mass-market products that were sold with hefty margins backed up by huge marketing budgets. The X80 series builds on the focus on imaging, clutter-free software, and slick design that the smartphone maker has shown off since 2020 with the very first in the X series — the X50 Pro.

The X80 Pro has a lot of its predecessor in the X70 Pro with a similar design punctuated with a pebble-like matte finish on the back which is crafted out of glass. It also gets a gargantuan camera array replete with 4 cameras, massive Zeiss branding, and things like focusing sensors and flash. But this is also the first phone to get Qualcomm’s latest silicon in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Its younger sibling gets the equally powerful Mediatek Dimensity 9000 coughed up in an assortment of fruity colors that look even more attractive, at least to me.

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One gets the sense that a camera is being reviewed more than a phone. The main (wide) camera is a 50-megapixel sensor that has been custom designed by Sony for Vivo. It gets an ultra-wide f/1.6 aperture and an optically stabilized (OIS) lens. Then there are twin telephoto cameras — one with an 8-megapixel resolution and an f/3.4 aperture, OIS, and a 5x optical zoom, and the other one a 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.9 aperture with the micro gimbal system Vivo has pioneered for phones. Last but not least is a 48-megapixel sensor which has an f/2.2 aperture and a 114-degree field of view. All these lenses have been calibrated and designed by Zeiss with a bunch of custom modes added to the camera software that simulate the traits of classic Zeiss glass that have been seen on DSLR cameras for decades.

The end result of so much camera hardware is a stack that can do things that no mobile phone camera can do. Sure, overall on consistency, it still perhaps isn’t a match for the iPhone 13 Pro, but it can certainly do things that are beyond the imagination of Apple’s camera system and can do things better than most Android phones. It takes better photos in low light than any phone in the world — it takes brighter photos in a more easier way. It is able to curtail the lens flare that happens with lights. It has a great portrait mode with superb edge detection which is further embellished with Zeiss lens effects and film luts.

The video capabilities are equally admirable as it gets a cinematic mode similar to the iPhone 13, but the Vivo implementation gets the bokeh effects of the Zeiss lenses and film luts. It gets the anamorphic lens effect as well which is very cinematic. There is this crazy horizon level lock which basically allows you to rotate your phone 360 degrees but the footage gets locked to an axis so despite the rotation the video will not rotate.

This is the most versatile and impactful smartphone camera system outside of the iPhone. One would say that it does things that even then iPhone can’t do because Vivo also adds its new V1 chip which handles a lot of the processing. However, still in pure consistency, the Vivo still is a step below the iPhone. It overtakes the iPhone with fringe level capability that will not be used in most conditions — like the special Zeiss effects, the horizon level lock, the ultra low light capability and the zoom. It is certainly the best camera phone if you’re in the market for an Android.

But when one goes beyond the camera as well, there is a lot to be experienced. The software is clean and reminiscent of stock Android. Vivo has been doing work with software updates and bloatware as well which makes this phone very nice in daily use. It is of course amongst the fastest thanks to its Qualcomm chip and 12GB RAM but it felt faster in daily use against the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra which is powered by the same processing hardware. In fact while gaming, it also didn’t heat up as fast and maintained more consistent frame rates. OnePlus’s devices have been the performance champs for premium Android devices, that has changed.

Battery life of this phone isn’t its strongest suit but the 4,700 mAh battery lasts for 8–9 hours on a single charge. It supports 50 watt wireless charging and 80 watt wired charging. In my tests the phone charged fully in less than 40 minutes. This was twice as fast as the latest Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and even faster than the iPhone 13 Pro. It was only beaten by the Xiaomi 12 Pro.

Vivo has paid attention to the display with an E4 Super AMOLED 6.78-inch screen which has gorgeous colours, supple viewing angles and deep and inky blacks. It is a treat to consume video or text based content on. Vivo also provides dual speakers and a superb haptic system which makes typing comfortable on the device. This is an area where Samsung’s phones have always had an edge over the competition — not anymore I’d say.

Vivo also provides its 80-watt charger, with USB Type C earphones, a nice case and screen guard all in the package; that’s something Samsung and Apple have moved away from. The undertone here is that Vivo is building cutting edge smartphones that do things that even the best of Samsung and Apple can’t do. Vivo lacks some consistency and polish, but there is no lack of effort. There is a crazy thing about these devices that one was accustomed to seeing with Apple when Steve Jobs was in charge of the company; these days it is more clinical like its leader — Tim Cook. Vivo has taken the best of Android and created something that Steve would’ve liked.

What’s more interesting is how this partnership with Carl Zeiss progresses as it gives us a glimpse of the future. Every generation of the X series has shown off a massive leap and X80 Pro certainly is a substantial one — but one can just realish what comes next.

By Sahil Mohan Gupta

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warpcore

Serving communities on the intersection of technology, indie music and culture, the warp core is a think tank founded by technology journalist Sahil Mohan Gupta