Vivo X51 5G Review: A Bold Entrance

A new flagship has entered the market. Vivo has moved West and entered the European market with the Vivo X51 5G. This is their top-tier handset and delivers the same chip as found in the Pixel 5, whilst beefing up the storage, delivering more cameras and upping the resolution of them. On paper, it is a beast of a smartphone. Like many things in 2020, will it flatter to deceive when we put it to the test?

Vivo X51 5G
+ FOR
  • Versatile optical package
  • Gorgeous design
  • Stock software feel
- AGAINST
  • Only Mono speaker
  • Expensive compared to similar hardware from more 'known' brands
  • No IP rating

Visit Vivo Mobile – £749

Disclaimer

The Vivo X51 5G was provided on loan from Vivo’s PR company in exchange for a full and fair review. Vivo nor their PR partner received draft visibility of the review copy, and nor did they have any editorial input into the final, published article. The review was completed after a 2-week review period with the device.

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Vivo X51 5G boxed

Overview & Unboxing – Vivo X51 5G

There have been two main areas you’re guaranteed to have heard about when it comes to smartphone technology in 2020. First up is 5G. It’s everywhere! Secondly, and lagging not far behind, is the term “mid-tier”. In this instance, it’s used to highlight that the processor that powers the Vivo X51 5G is not a high end, power-hungry monster. As the Google Pixel 5 has shown, you don’t need the absolute fastest chips to power Android devices now. Consequently, Vivo opted for the same processes as in the Pixel 5 for their own device.

Vivo isn’t a newcomer to the smartphone market. They’ve dropped hundreds of devices over the years, but we in the West have had to wait until not, and the Vivo X51 5G, to see any in the flesh. The X51 is a re-imagining of the Vivo X50, previously released in India and China. They share a common design with subtle changes such as the Snapdragon 730 making way for the 765G, and the macro lens on the quad-camera setup making way for a telephoto on the X51 5G.

The Back Is So Smooth!

That device is a 6.56-inch slab of glass. Certainly not original but the Alpha Grey colour is more inspiring in the flesh than on paper. It gives the Vivo X51 5G a premium look with a smooth frosted matte finish. Use the included clear case to keep the aesthetics in tow but your 1080 x 2376 resolution display, intact! Vivo opted for Schott glass protection rather than Gorilla Glass. It should protect just as well, but without a case on, you might well be testing it more often than you’d like.

There’s a volume rocker with a power button on the right-hand edge, with a speaker grille alongside the Type-C charging port, a pinhole microphone and the dual Nano- SIM card tray, on the bottom edge. With nothing on the left edge, the top of the device is home only to another pinhole microphone.

Interesting Camera Hump

Around the back is where the magic happens. The included optics here are split across four cameras. The main camera is a 48MP wide-angle lens delivers what Vivo is calling ‘gimbal OIS’. The camera gimbal system is in place to provide superior optical stabilisation to the main camera to assist in low light stills and stabilised video. We’ll get to how it performs later. Suffice to say it’s in there for a reason. The camera bump on the back doesn’t stick out like an Iceberg either. It is as flat as it could be and looks premium so it gets a pass, but your device will still rock on the desk.

There are three additional cameras in the array that delivers 8MP telephoto with 5x optical zoom, 13MP portrait with 2x optical zoom, and 8MP ultrawide options. Video recording from the rear array has a maximum resolution of 4K 60fps. Upfront, there is a single 32MP wide-angle lens for selfies, capable of 1080p 30fps recording.

Further specs are below.

Spec Sheet

  • Display – 6.56 inches, 1080 x 2376 AMOLED 90Hz HDR10+
  • Processor – Snapdragon 765G
  • RAM – 8GB
  • Storage – 256GB
  • Rear Cameras – up to 4K 60fps video recording
    • 48 MP, f/1.6, (wide), PDAF, Laser AF, gimbal OIS
    • 8 MP, f/3.4, 135mm (periscope telephoto), 1/4.0″, PDAF, OIS, 5x optical zoom
    • 13 MP, f/2.5, 50mm (portrait), 1/2.8″, 0.8µm, PDAF, 2x optical zoom
    • 8 MP, f/2.2, 120˚, 16mm (ultrawide), 1/4.0″, 1.12µm
  • Front Facing Cameras – up to 1080p 30fps video recording
    • 32 MP, f/2.5, 26mm (wide), 1/2.8″, 0.8µm
  • Battery – 4315 mAh
  • GPS, Bluetooth 5.1, dual-band Wi-Fi, under-display optical fingerprint scanner, face recognition, USB Type-C 2.0,

In The Box

  • Vivo X51 5G smartphone
  • XE710 (3.5mm jack) + Type-C adapter
  • Documentation
  • Type-C to USB Cable
  • USB Power Adapter
  • SIM Ejector
  • Protective Case
  • Protective Film (applied)

Vivo X51 5G

Performance & Use

This feels just such a sleek phone and that is really the only place to start. The back feels unlike any device I’ve held before. It’s a strange combination of Nexus 4 slippery, and Huawei colour gradients, but with a matte finish. Absolutely stunning to look at but a little bit of an anxiety-creator to hold. Use the included silicone case or get yourself another one. I’m serious when I say as good as the back looks, nobody can ensure a continued grip. Form won over function here for sure, but as they include a case, I’ll let them off. This is perhaps my favourite feel to the back of any phone I’ve touched, save the Motorola Droid Turbo.

There’s no point spending much time on the day to day performance here; it tears through general applications without a worry. Demanding 3D games run just fine also, however they aren’t going to beat top-tier flagships for pure framerates. Any hardcore mobile gamers out there might want to make the most of the included 90Hz refresh mode. These users might be better placed looking at a device with a higher-end Snapdragon 865 chip in. I did notice a little Android jank moving in and out of some applications but I’m more than happy to put that down to the applications that exhibited it, namely Facebook and Messenger. Everything else worked flawlessly.

Does 90Hz Make a Difference?

That adaptive refresh display does make a difference to animations on the Vivo X51 5G. I chose to largely allow the display to switch the refresh from 60Hz to 90Hz as required. Not only does this assist with battery longevity but the X51 did a good job of turning it on when needed. I honestly didn’t notice too much of a difference between the two in daily tasks unless I went hunting for it. Scrolling in websites or gaming really showed the difference though, especially in fast-paced driving/action games.

Staying with the display for a second, the 6.56-inch AMOLED display is bright, large, and colourful. The curved edges that seem to be dying off are on show here and they aid ergonomics whilst adding to the aesthetic and overall design. Temperature can be adjusted in software and for some who are used to a more vibrant display out of the box, that will be their first port of call. I found it acceptable enough, colour-wise, myself. As it’s an AMOLED display, you can take full advantage of the Always-On display features, and we’ll get to that in the Software section more. Suffice to say this is one of my most used, if often under-appreciated, features in a smartphone.

Vivo opted for an under-display optical fingerprint scanner here and it works 90% of the time fine. As with similar deployments on other devices, cold or wet hands fool the scanner too often for my liking. If fingerprint scanning isn’t your pace, of perhaps you’re coming from an iPhone, then face recognition is here and I’ve had nothing but a good experience with it. In fact, it’s so fast it’s rather pointless having an always-on display option as, as soon as I lift it up to read notifications, the X51 unlocks!

5G – Still Not For The Masses 

One of the headlines of the Vivo X51 5G though is in its name; 5G. Well, this is a 1st generation 5G chipset, and it does show. In my area there 5G is sparse but where I did find it, I found that my speeds were all over the place, and regularly jumped back and forth between it and 4G. Also, battery life was affected heavily during those periods too. Something to note, and something I believe is hitting all 5G devices currently. Early adopter tax anyone?

Making calls on the Vivo X51 5G as on par with any 2019+ device. The loudspeaker provided enough grunt to hold down a call in a non-crowded room, whilst recipients said I sounded absolutely clear. The speaker is mono only though which is a little disappointing and is definitely noticeable as soon as you switch from work to play.

The is one niggle I came across on day-to-day use. If you, like me, use your ample storage on your smartphone to store a lot of files and regularly transfer to/from a work machine, take heed. The included Type-C USB port is USB 2.0 only, and not 3.x like almost every other Type-C-enabled device of the last 18-months. Surely this cannot be a cost-cutting exercise given the price point, so I’ll have to put this down to a pure afterthought.

Finally, to battery life. The included 4315 mAh battery is far from small. an iPhone 12 Pro, by contrast, has only 65% of that capacity to get it through the day. We know Android is less optimised than the closed iOS ecosystem, but the Vivo X51 5G does well enough getting me through a busy day with still around 30% remaining. There’s no Qi wireless charging so I can’t trickle charge this during the day on my desk, but I can plug in the included 33W fast charger. That delivers more than 50% battery charge (from 0%) in 30 minutes. Does anybody need any faster?

Camera & Samples

Vivo X51 5G cameraGreat Possibilities Whatever The Situation

I’m torn when it comes to the optical prowess. Starting with still images, I’ve found that it is equally easy to get a great point-and-shoot shot, as it is to end up with something with a lot of noise, presumably due to the immature software post-processing and the aggressive scene recognition pre-sets. The colour reproduction between the quad-camera setup is smaller than on other devices though, which is great. Some may still yearn for the Samsung-effect.

Grass and sky tones are very true to life from all cameras, however, as with many devices, reds are often exaggerated.

Gimbal OIS for Vivo X51 5G

In low-light shots, the X51’s gimbal OIS really comes into play. The large aperture, coupled with the gimbal mount, means than long exposure shots are no longer reserved for the tripod. it’s absolutely possible to get comparable night shots to that of top-tier flagships such as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, with a little effort.

The other cameras in deliver telephoto, portrait and ultrawide options for photography, with the latter cropping in to allow a macro mode. Many devices, still in 2020, ship with a low-resolution macro camera, usually 2MP. The Vivo X51 5G, I’m pleased to say, utilises the 8MP ultrawide instead. Don’t expect miracles, but do expect better than average smartphone macro output.

Cat photo taken on the Vivo X51 5G

Portrait modes continue to be the downfall of mid-tier devices, and the Vivo X51 5G follows suit. You’ll notice from the shot of the cat above, that there is some motion blur on the edges. That is caused by the fact that “Socks” is far from a static subject. What is interesting is that even with a bit of movement the 13MP  portrait camera has done an acceptable job of capturing her edges. The possible exception here is the fur near her ears. They get completely softened. Equally, due to the large aperture, only her face is in focus. The portrait camera is the equivalent of a 50mm prime lens, and it is possible to get equivalent shots, but they require a slightly more static subject!

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Video Recording

Video is just downright impressive. The colours might seem muted but I can tell you they were very similar to what my naked eye was seeing. Stabilisation due to the gimbal mount means that standard video recording can deal with some bounces with ease. It’s when you turn on the “super anti-shake” things start to get really interesting. You’re locked to 1080p 60fps if you enable this, but the results are excellent.

The video below is at 4K 60fps using the main camera.

The selfie camera gives excellent detail too, thanks to the 32MP. You’re limited to 1080p video recording but in the sample, it seems acceptable. The stills are good too and portrait is, again, adequate here. It’s a wide-angle too which helps for all those social-distanced shots!

Software

This is normally the part of the conversation with new devices where things get sketchy. Thankfully Vivo identified that their software, with their Funtouch OS skin, was aimed more at non-Western markets, and reached out to Google to work closer together. This results in a more stock-Android experience, with a smattering of value adds. Some remnants remain with the likes of “iManager” which is a memory management program. It’s largely free of bloat though.

Instead of a plethora of bloat, there are only a few examples of such applications, and even then, they are largely unobtrusive or add value. There’s the already mentioned iManager to maintain performance, Albums, which is a gallery app for your photos, and Vivo. Vivo is simply a storefront for the Vivo mobile website. There really is nothing of note to worry about.

Game Mode is the biggest addition to the app line up and includes a few interesting settings. Game Mode attempts to make your gaming experience better by optimising (read prioritising) performance for the game in question. In addition, Game Mode allows brightness lock, notification blocking so you’re not interrupted, as well as a little sidebar that you can toggle these modes on/off during the session. Eagle eye view looks to enhance the sharpening and the detail of the game in question, whilst Esports Mode provides a higher level of tuning in certain titles to give gamers an edge. Those titles are limited but PUBG and similar titles are supported.

I rarely used Game Mode, and I didn’t find any real-world evidence of performance increase, but the ability to have a game mode that blocks notifications and keeps the brightness static (if the Developer of the game hasn’t already) is nice enough to merit its inclusion.

AMOLED Used Well

There are some nice additions here too such as the Always On Display animations for notifications, fingerprint scanning, facial recognition and screen on and off. These are all little animations that add to the experience, which is largely a good one, and based on the fact Vivo is looking to expand into Europe beyond this one set of devices I have confidence that updates will continue to improve the UI. Currently, Funtouch OS is based on Android 10, so time will tell if Vivo updates to Android 11 promptly.

Funtouch OS Is Largely Stock

There are some niggles. There’s no ringer toggle within the quick tiles on the notification shade. Instead, the only way to mute or move into vibrate-only mode is via clicking the volume rocker and using the pop-up on-screen display. From the lock screen, there are no quick actions to fire up the torch or a calculator, something I’ve become used to on Huawei devices. There is room for improvement though.

I fully expected to be disappointed with the software experience on the Vivo X51 5G, especially with a skin named “Funtouch OS”. Thankfully Vivo has done the smart thing, the thing very few do and have learned from those who have come before. Software experiences in the East and West differ tremendously. Whilst there are some exceptions, seldom do that transfer well without being touched up, or in this case, completely sanitised. That’s a good thing!

Final Thoughts

This is an incredible first foray into the European market for Vivo. We must also remember that they aren’t new to the smartphone game which gives me hope that any improvements that can be made in software and performance, will be. This is an impressive debut for Vivo in the West.

The camera isn’t class-leading but it’s not far behind. There are some very interesting options for creative types and the gimbal OIS certainly helps with video recording. The CPU choice is a great option for this device as the Google Pixel 5 has outlined. It is more than capable of dealing with day to day tasks and gaming. Whilst there were a few janky bits, I’m putting that down to the applications I found it on, not the device itself. The device flew through everything else thrown at it. Furthermore, it’s a looker! The finish is completely new to me with, but to preserve that finish you will have to use a case to avoid drops.

The Vivo X51 5G shares the same silicon as the Google Pixel 5, but that’s as far as the comparisons should go. The X51 comes with more storage than the Pixel 5, but there’s a significant increase in price by contrast. The Pixel 5 can be purchased for £599, and the Vivo X51 5G can be purchased for around £749. That makes it a little more difficult to recommend over the Pixel in a head-to-head. The Vivo X51 5G lacks Qi charging, the heralded Pixel-optics and any IP rating for water or dust ingress.

As a standalone device though, the Vivo X51 5G is a really compelling offering and manages to cram in a lot. It’s worth a look, especially if you can pick it up in Black Friday or popup sales!

About Craig Bradshaw

Tech enthusiast and Editor-in-Chief of MobileTechTalk

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