Vivo phones are highly underrated. The brand has been silently churning out one innovative product after another over the last couple of years and yet, not so many people seem to care enough, the way they care about a new OnePlus phone for instance.
The great divide is perhaps more visible this year, than ever before, with both Vivo and OnePlus launching near identical product lines – Vivo X60 series, OnePlus 9 series – at around the same time, with big emphasis on photography. OnePlus has tied up with Hasselblad while Vivo has secured the rights to ZEISS branding, to reiterate their commitment to the whole endeavor.
Whether or not, all this translates into real-world success is something that only time will tell, but I guess the point that I am trying to make here is that, the Vivo X60 series phones deserve as much attention as the OnePlus 9 series, even a little bit more, if I may add. Here is why that is.
A camera system that is a marvelous feat of engineering
Vivo took everyone by surprise last year with its gimbal-totting X50 Pro. The X60 Pro builds on that solid foundation with a second-generation version intended to offer – at least in theory – even better stabilisation. To be clear, a gimbal does not make it an action camera.
Having the camera lens propped on a “micro” gimbal gives a phone like the X60 Pro 5-axis of stabilisation whereas standard optical image stabilisation or OIS gives you three levels. You can actually see the camera module moving around – in the opposite direction – as you move the phone around. Think of it as a souped-up OIS, so your videos for instance, will have less jitters even during tilt and roll. It does not however mean you can start recording GoPro-style footage straight off your fancy new Vivo phone (believe me I tried, physics just doesn’t work that way).
There are a few more things that limit the X60 Pro from being an out-and-out action camera. For one, the X60 Pro offers no stabilisation at [email protected] Even at [email protected], the phone lets you only use standard stabilisation. The gimbal mode – or ultra-stable mode – is available only at 1080p (@30 or @60fps). Vivo pairs this mode with electronic image stabilisation and a clever on-screen animation adding a fair bit of extras that – when they do kick in – enhance the overall experience.
While it is nice that the main camera is getting all the necessary bells and whistles, there is no such stabilisation on the ultra-wide-angle so you’re stuck with a narrower field of view – while using ultra-stable mode – which is a bummer. To go all in, you’ll have to invest more, and get the X60 Pro Plus which seems like the holy grail for adventure photographers at this point of time – the X60 Pro Plus also has a more powerful ultra-wide-angle camera.
Lastly, none of the X60 series phones have any sort of ingress protection, which come to think of it, also doesn’t bode well for a product in this class.
Luckily, the X60 Pro isn’t a one-trick pony. Vivo is using the same 48MP Sony IMX598 sensor from last year but it has paired it with a faster f/1.48 lens (f/1.6 in the X50 Pro). There are two more 13MP cameras, one with an f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle lens (120-degree FOV) and another with f/2.46 50mm portrait lens for 2x optical zoom. Eagle-eyed readers will be quick to point out that there is no periscope-style telephoto here like the X50 Pro – this is another thing that is unique to the Pro Plus model this year.
Vivo has added two other “groundbreaking” features to the X60 Pro, both borrowed from professional cameras. One is motion, including eye autofocus, a technology that we’ve already seen in the brand’s more budget-oriented V20 and V20 Pro phones. The other is pixel shift, a technology that allows the sensor to automatically take multiple shots, pick the best one and use data from the others to boost detail and colour. Spoiler alert, this is another area where the phone’s gimbal system comes into play.
So, that’s the X60 Pro “core” camera hardware. But before we dig into the results, it is important to address the elephant in the room – ZEISS. The iconic German lens maker has a fabled history of partnerships, especially with Nokia. This is the first time it is collaborating with Vivo.
The goal is to add the ZEISS-look to photos with big focus on sharpness, true colour and bokeh – there is also a dedicated “ZEISS Biotar Portrait” filter in the X60 Pro which works surprisingly well (the X60 Pro Plus gets you a few extra chops including ZEISS T Coating to minimize ghosting in photos caused due to lens flare). All said and done, it is always advisable to take all this with a pinch of salt and if at all, the cameras actually turn out to be good, that “co-engineered with ZEISS” branding then becomes an icing on the cake.
So, are the cameras any good?
Well, mostly yes.
I have been particularly impressed with the phone’s primary 48MP camera (that shoots 12MP photos by default). Aside from a few colour inaccuracies here and there, the X60 Pro’s main camera can go neck and neck with the S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro and that’s saying a lot about what Vivo has been able to pull off here. Even more so in low light. The level of detail may not be impressive – in low light – but the X60 Pro produces some of the brightest and pleasing night mode shots I have seen at this price. Even some of the more expensive phones are prone to goof-ups here and there.
During the day, when lots of light is available, the X60 Pro’s main camera captures lots of detail with warm, punchy – if a little oversaturated – colours and wide dynamic range. Photos taken under artificial light also maintain a sense of consistency which is again, a big deal. At its price, the X60 Pro is a no-brainer when it comes to still photography. More importantly, the camera is fun to use without being gimmicky or anything. It is fast, fluid, and easily the most versatile when it comes to pro-grade control. That main camera can also produce some of the most natural blur in close-up shots – making the dedicated portrait camera look inferior since it cannot capture so much detail.
The ultra-wide-angle camera takes good shots generally, with Vivo’s AI holding up pretty well in distortion correction. The dynamic range is not as wide, the level of detail not as much as that main camera though. But I really like that there is no variation when it comes to colour science when switching between the two lenses – that switching also takes place almost instantly without any noticeable stutter. The shutter does slow down under tricky and low light but not to the extent of being an issue so to say. The ultra-wide-angle camera is also capable of shooting macros. Aside from a few focus hunting cases, I have had no complaints vis-à-vis this implementation. The quality of close-up shots is also right there with the best in the business.
Portraits shot with the dedicated camera are a hit or miss affair but that is generally the case with most phones. In Vivo’s defence, the quality is serviceable.
Video recording also holds up well, as it should with all the hardware, but audio pickup needs work.
How’s the X60 Pro as a phone?
The design, even though it has been carried forward from last year, stands out from anything and everything in the smartphone space even today. The X60 Pro was already a looker. It was so sleek. If anything, Vivo has made the X60 Pro even sleeker despite all the extra hardware. Vivo phones have always been good-looking. They’ve been so original, not something that is trying to be another Samsung Galaxy. And yet, they’ve been so underappreciated in their time. The irony.
Like the X50 Pro, the X60 Pro also has a glass back with a soft matte finish which feels really, really good in the hands. The whole thing is also very ergonomic. It sticks to your palm and stays there no matter how you’re using it. But even more importantly, this is a phone that you can hold for hours without straining your hands, a rarity in today’s smartphones. I don’t mind the camera bump too, it is very distinct and eye-catching, but if I were to nitpick, the power button and volume rocker are a tad too sharp – but that was expected considering the phone’s razer thin profile. They are nice and tactile though, very premium.
Colour-wise you get a choice of black and blue. The black version I have for review looks like it belongs in a boardroom. It’s very sharp and yet, understated, the sort of thing that simply melts into the background. The blue version is a wee bit louder but not tacky.
The screen size remains the same at 6.56-inch, so does the panel-type which is AMOLED, and resolution which is 1080p+. But the refresh rate has been bumped up from 90Hz to 120Hz and what a world of difference that makes. Everything feels smoother, faster, and more responsive. Vivo has also done well with optimization. Variable refresh rate is supported.
As for the screen quality itself, it gets plenty bright, shows deep saturated colours (not akin to the Galaxy S21 Ultra though), and has excellent viewing angles. I am not particularly fond of the way that screen curves though, it’s a little too intense for my liking. But clearly, Vivo was going for a sense of immersion and the X60 Pro achieves that although the punch-hole cut out in the centre could have done with a smaller border.
The X60 Pro is also getting a bump in processing power with its new flagship-grade Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor. The top-of-the-line Snapdragon 888 is still reserved for the Pro Plus, but I believe the SD870 is a very smart choice. With it, Vivo can offer high-end performance at relatively more affordable prices. The bigger draw however is the heat management. For a device so thin and light, and designed to be used so extensively, I have been pretty impressed with the X60 Pro’s thermals. It does get warm when pushed, which seems fair, but not once did it turn toasty – that is amazing.
Vivo has also put in ample RAM (12GB) and enough storage (256GB) leaving enough headroom for future. The X60 Pro is also the first phone – that I can think of – that supports virtual RAM, a concept that PC users will be familiar with. Software inside is Android 11-based Funtouch OS 11.1. Think of it as stock Android on steroids with way too many options to customize. Whether or not that’s useful, is subjective. The bloatware situation has hit the ceiling, and the fact that you can’t uninstall many pre-installed apps is just, not cool Vivo.
The phone’s weakest link is its average battery life. The 4,200mAh battery inside the X60 Pro just doesn’t suffice for a full day’s worth of usage. Remember, all that camera wizardry chugs a lot of juice. And you would most definitely want to game a lot on this phone too. Fast charging is capped at 33W and while it is fast, it is surely not best-in-class.
One more thing:
For a phone at its price point, the X60 Pro is lacking on some basics – those that we often take for granted. There is no official IP rating here and unlike OnePlus (from the past), Vivo does not openly claim its phone can survive accidental splashes or rain. The screen is curvy but it does not get the best protection. The selfie camera, while it is good, for some odd reason can’t shoot 4K videos. There are no stereo speakers and the mono speaker here is tinny and just doesn’t justify the price. There is no headphone jack (and only the Pro Plus gets you a DAC). The haptics aren’t that great either.
Should you buy the Vivo X60 Pro?
The X50 Pro was perhaps one of the most underrated phones of 2020. Some of the things that it could do back then, are still unheard of even today. But while the X50 Pro had the element of surprise (backed by a surprisingly good product) attached to it, the X60 Pro delves deeper into refining some of its marquee features which is a good thing really. In the process, Vivo has made some other improvement too, but there are also areas where it has taken a few steps back – and these are the kind of things that separate a great product from a good product. The X60 Pro is a good product – but it could have been great.
So, what does this mean?
Well, for starters, it is high time that Vivo phones are given more credit because some of the things that the brand has done over the last few years – think the NEX product line – have been simply, very original and very exciting. It has been laying a lot of groundwork in areas like photography too and the X60 series is easily the pinnacle of its research and engineering. We talk a lot about the Samsung Galaxy and iPhone, even the Google Pixel, when we talk about smartphone cameras, but here’s a brand that’s doing things its own way and doing those things quite right I daresay. And with every launch, Vivo is only raising the bar.
As for the X60 Pro, it is at the middle of all this action and while it isn’t the greatest phone that Vivo makes today, it is certainly the most bang for your buck despite some of its gruelling shortcomings. If this doesn’t convince you to take Vivo seriously, well, nothing will.
Pros: Premium look and design, Beautiful display, Fast performance, Excellent cameras
Cons: No IP rating, No stereo speakers, Average battery life
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