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[Update 04/25/2019 – Since it’s launch in March 2018, the price of the vivo V9 has dropped significantly in India from 23,990 rupees (~$342) to 15,550 rupees (~$220).]
vivo may not be as popular or well-known outside of China, but given its penchant for pushing boundaries, this is a company worth paying attention to. vivo is advertising the vivo V9 as a phone with the perfect shot and the perfect view, due to its 24-megapixel front-facing selfie camera and large, nearly bezel-less display.
Does the vivo V9 live up to those bold claims? How does it fair as a smartphone in daily use? Find out in our vivo V9 review.
In an era where the majority of our smartphones are giant slabs of glass and metal, the vivo V9 decides to go a different route.
The vivo V9 has a few attention-grabbing aspects, but from the outside, there isn’t much to get excited about. Instead of the usual slab of glass surrounded by metal, The V9’s body is mostly made of polycarbonate coated in a glossy finish that makes it tough to keep clean of fingerprints. This makes the phone extremely light, at only 150 grams. It feels very sturdy, despite the plastic build. The vivo V9 also has a curved back and rounded corners, which make the phone comfortable to hold.
There’s no denying the vivo V9’s similarities to Apple’s iPhone X, but that’s quite common with Chinese OEMs. The rear cameras are laid out in a vertical orientation. The display has an impressive 90 percent screen-to-body ratio, but features a notch. The notch is smaller than the iPhone X, as it only houses the front-facing camera, earpiece, and the standard proximity and ambient light sensors.
The vivo V9 includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, a feature that is becoming increasingly more rare in smartphones.
As modern as the design of the V9 is, it uses the outdated MicroUSB port instead of USB-C, which feels like a very odd decision for a phone trying to keep up with current smartphone trends. Flanking the MicroUSB port is a single speaker, which provides adequate audio in terms of loudness and clarity but is an average speaker experience at best. On a more positive note, the vivo V9 includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is becoming increasingly rare.
Face unlock is available as a secondary method of unlocking and works equally as fast, provided you're in adequate lighting.
The V9 maintains its bezel-less appearance by moving its fingerprint sensor to the back. The sensor is centered nicely, making it easy and comfortable to reach with an index finger. It’s also one of the fastest fingerprint sensors I’ve had the pleasure of using. The phone unlocks the second my finger touches the fingerprint sensor — it feels almost instantaneous. Face unlock is available as a secondary method of unlocking and works equally as fast if you’re in adequate lighting. vivo says the face unlocking uses “AI attention sensing” to check if you’re looking at the display before it unlocks. This is a great security measure to prevent unwanted face unlocks. In practice, it works, but I’d hardly consider it AI.
Whether we like it or not, it looks like the notch is here to stay. That doesn’t take away from how gorgeous the vivo V9’s display looks. The screen is a massive 6.3-inch LCD panel with a resolution of 2,280 x 1080 and an aspect ratio of 19:9. The 19:9 aspect ratio means the screen is slightly taller than what we’re used to seeing, but aside from the extra pixels it isn’t a noticeable difference. The screen is an absolute joy to use — being surrounded by thin bezels allows it to truly be the center of attention. It looks incredible, with vibrant colors, great viewing angles, and plenty of sharpness (even if it is 1080p).
While the notch cuts into the display, it does not negatively affect how the screen displays apps, nor does it change any interaction with the notification shade. Applications on the vivo V9 appear as they normally would on any other Android smartphone, though the notification bar matches the color of whatever app is open to create the illusion of the app running underneath the notch.
Videos and games haven’t played well with the new aspect ratios we’re seeing on our smartphones, and the V9 brings a significant amount of pillar boxing. Like Samsung and LG, vivo has baked in software to adjust the aspect ratio for third-party apps that don’t natively fill up the entire display. This means you can get a fullscreen experience with videos and games, though the trick crops some of the content.
The vivo V9 is considered one of vivo’s 2018 flagship smartphones, but the specs put this phone squarely in the midrange category. Inside the V9 is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 626 processor and 4GB of RAM. For storage, the V9 comes with 64GB of internal storage and supports microSD expansion up to an additional 256GB. It’s not the most exciting spec sheet, but should be more than powerful enough for most tasks. In my week of usage, the phone was fast and responsive with ordinary tasks like navigating through the UI and launching applications. The 4GB of RAM was plenty for a smooth multitasking experience. Games also ran well, with smooth frame rates. Very rarely did the vivo V9 ever feel laggy or slow.
The vivo V9’s battery is a respectable 3,260mAh cell, though my usage was purely on Wi-Fi. I was unable to receive carrier data despite trying multiple SIM cards, rebooting the device, and double checking the APN settings. That being said, the vivo V9 got me comfortably through a full day even with heavy amounts of video watching and gaming. I would imagine, the V9 should still perform well on LTE data as the battery is reasonably large and the Snapdragon 626 is very battery efficient.
The front-facing camera is backed by an AI-powered beauty mode that is suppose to detect your age, sex, skin tone and texture to give you the best possible selfie.
vivo equipped the V9 with a 24MP front-facing camera that will give you some of the highest-resolution selfies on any smartphone. The front-facing camera is backed by an AI-powered beauty mode that is supposed to detect your age, sex, and skin tone and texture to give you the best possible selfie. This sounds great on paper but I didn’t notice much of a difference in quality from an AI beauty selfie and a standard selfie photo other than how the AI selfie softened my face and made details less prominent. In general, the quality of the front-facing camera is very good. It provides plenty of sharpness, detail, and natural skin tones.
The primary camera on the rear is a 16MP f/2.0 lens, backed by a 5MP depth sensor for portrait-style photos. Unlike portrait modes found on other smartphones, the V9’s camera lets you simulate an aperture ranging from f/0.95 to f/16 and readjust the point of focus after the fact. This means you’re never stuck with the initial results and the images can be tweaked to create a different look. Portrait mode is also available on the front-facing camera, but does not allow for any adjustments to the background blur due to the lack of a depth sensor.
The 16MP camera performs well in most well-lit situations, with crisp detail, sharpness, and adequate color reproduction. The camera struggles to find the proper exposure in high contrast settings, with photos either coming out too dark or too bright. Low light photos typically resulted in muddy details, washed out colors, and overexposed highlights. Considering the lack of optical image stabilization this wasn’t too surprising and the f/2.0 aperture while respectable isn’t the brightest on the market.
Like many other aspects of the V9, Funtouch OS is very heavily inspired by Apple.
The vivo V9 is running vivo’s own custom software called Funtouch OS on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. Like many other aspects of the V9, Funtouch OS is heavily inspired by Apple. The V9 does not have an app drawer and many of its icons look almost identical to iOS. Swiping down on the home screen reveals a spotlight-esque search function. Swiping up from the bottom opens a control-center style interface for accessing Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, and other system functions. The vivo V9 even includes an option for replacing the default Android soft keys with iPhone X-style navigation gestures. This lets you swipe up for home, swipe up and hold to open the app switcher, and swipe left or right along the bottom to cycle between recently opened applications.
As much as Funtouch OS tries to emulate iOS there are some features that I did appreciate. If you’re a mobile gamer like myself, the game mode is handy for auto-rejecting phone calls and using chat applications without exiting the game. vivo also puts an emphasis on smartphone safety with its Motorbike mode, which can be set to automatically reject phone calls, mute notifications, or only allow you to answer phone calls when the motorbike has stopped.
There are many other great features including a one-handed mode for easy one-handed operation and the ability to clone applications which can be very useful for apps that don’t support multiple account logins. Although I’m not a fan of how much vivo attempts to copy iOS, the software is easy to use and many of the features are more useful than gimmicky.
2,280 x 1,080 resolution
Qualcomm Snapdragon 626
Expandable up to 256GB via microSD
Rear: 16MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture, PDAF + 5MP with f/2.0 aperture
Front: 24MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
3.5mm headphone jack
Android 8.1 Oreo
Pricing & final thoughts
The vivo V9 is currently only available in India for 15,550 rupees (~$220) and it’s available on Amazon U.S. for $350. Despite the iPhone’s influence, it’s a very good midrange smartphone with some great qualities, but it’s also tough to recommend to U.S. buyers. Comparable alternatives like the HONOR 7X are cheaper. If you’re able to easily get your hands on a vivo V9, it isn’t a bad choice. vivo has more exciting smartphone releases coming up for everyone else.
What do you think of vivo V9? Let us know down in the comments below.