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With their latest smartphones, vivo is looking to expand their growing presence within China to other parts of the world. The vivo V3Max claims to offer much of what many want from a flagship device, in a less expensive, mid-range package.
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But the question remains: how does vivo’s V3Max compare to similarly priced “super mid-range” smartphones? Let’s find out with our full review of the vivo V3Max!
It goes without saying that the vivo V3Max bears quite a bit of resemblance to the iPhone, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite its mid-range status, the V3Max encompasses an unmistakably premium design with notably solid build quality. The V3Max’s carefully crafted curves and physically soft metallic shell are particularly remarkable, and although the phone can be a bit slippery, it feels excellent in the hand.
The V3Max's carefully crafted curves and physically soft metallic shell are particularly remarkable
While some may find its gold and rose gold color options to be a bit gaudy in press renders, it is worth noting that the color is much lighter in person to the point where one could easily mistake the gold for silver in some environments. I was slightly disappointed with the phone’s vibration motor, as it did seem a tad rattly and weak during my testing, which was noticeable primarily when typing. I do not consider this to be a major issue, but it is something to keep in mind, especially if you are coming from a higher-end smartphone.
Unfortunately, the three capacitive keys on the front of the V3Max are not illuminated, and the choice to use the first button for the general menu instead of the multitasking menu did seem odd, initially. It was not until I learned that vivo’s FunTouch OS integrates multitasking into its control center, which can be accessed with a simple swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
I do think that this implementation could be improved, however, with a single physical home button that would double as a back button, in which the user would tap to go back and press to go home. Meizu has followed this design for a while now, and it does seem more appropriate in this case as the general menu is oftentimes no longer accessed via a capacitive key.
The V3Max is sporting a 5.5″ 1080P display, which looks pretty good with a good amount of saturation and great viewing angles. It does seem a tad lacking in contrast, however, and sunlight readability leaves something to be desired. I found it to be very challenging to view the V3Max’s display in direct sunlight, which could be incredibly problematic, depending on how you intend to use the device.
Overall, the display on the V3Max is simply not as good as displays found on similar smartphones like the Xiaomi Mi 5 or much cheaper Meizu M2 Note. I was also fairly surprised to find that the display’s material feels more like plastic than glass, which made it much more susceptible to fingerprints and scratches in my testing. Since the material is not as smooth as the glass used on many other competing smartphones, the display can be fairly resistant to simple gestures like swiping.
It's evident that vivo has focused on delivering a speedy experience with the V3Max
Despite its seemingly mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor, the V3Max is a great performer. With 4 GB of RAM and the “faster than faster” advertising slogan, it’s evident that vivo has focused on delivering a speedy experience with the V3Max. Fortunately, it delivers in that regard.
I also had no trouble playing higher-end games like Asphalt 8, thanks to the phone’s modern Adreno 510 GPU.
As is the case for many other smartphones intended for sale outside of the United States, the vivo V3Max does not support U.S. 4G LTE networks, and you’ll be limited to HSPA+ on AT&T in all areas and HSPA+ on T-Mobile in some areas.
FDD-LTE B2, B3, B5, B8 TD-LTE B40 WCDMA B2, B3, B5, B8 GSM B2, B3, B5, B8
With that said, the phone does support AT&T’s legacy band 5 for LTE, which I was able to utilize only in a rural area. Do keep in mind, however, that this frequency has been mostly phased out, hence its legacy status.
Call quality was pretty good, and many consumers will be happy to know that the device is both unlocked and supports dual-SIM cards. If you’re willing to give up one of V3 Max’s SIM card slots, you can take advantage of expandable storage with a microSD card, up to 128GB.
I found the V3Max’s rear-facing fingerprint reader to be incredibly fast and very accurate, easily beating out the Huawei Nexus 6P and Xiaomi Mi 5 in virtually every test. Combined with its great overall performance, the V3Max is one of the few mid-range smartphones to keep up when wanting to quickly check content-heavy apps like Twitter or YouTube.
The V3Max offers a superior audio experience relative to competing mid-range smartphones
With its AKM AK4375 Hi-Fi audio chip, the V3Max offers a superior audio experience relative to competing mid-range smartphones. However, it’s difficult to notice anything beyond a minor difference day-to-day unless audio is streamed at a higher bitrate or listened to through higher-quality headphones.
The phone’s external side-firing speaker, however, exceeded my expectations with its loud volume and low distortion. Although it is not a front-facing speaker, it is one of the highest quality speakers on a mid-range device that we’ve seen.
Battery life on the V3Max was also impressive, and I had no trouble reaching six hours of screen on time with variable usage, in addition to long standby times, sometimes even more than twenty-four hours. Although the battery capacity is a somewhat small 3000mAh, vivo appears to have made significant efficiency gains with software optimization. And if you do need the V3Max to last just a bit longer, there are several power consumption profiles available for use within the iManager app.
The V3Max’s 13 MP rear camera with phase detection autofocus produced very nice looking images in good lighting conditions. Most images appear to be sharp and detailed with good color reproduction and a great amount of dynamic range. While I did notice that the built-in camera app tended to underexpose, especially when shooting outdoors, the compensation slider proved to be a godsend.
The camera struggles to provide satisfactory results in low-light environments
Unfortunately, this performance is not met when shooting photos in low-light. Put simply, the camera struggles to provide satisfactory results in low-light environments, as photos appear noisy and distorted. While it is certainly possible to capture a good image in near-dark conditions, the camera here would definitely not be my first choice, even if I was limited to mid-range devices.
It is also important to note that the V3Max does not support 4K video recording, which was disappointing considering similarly priced smartphones like the Xiaomi Mi 5 do. Its 8 MP front-facing camera did perform well in my quick testing, however, and should be more than suitable in most environments. Although vivo has included a camera app which can be easily likened to Apple’s camera app, it is fairly easy to use while still remaining functional.
There are many different modes as well, all of which are easily accessible and include first time use explanations. There’s even a “PPT mode,” which automatically crops and scales an image shown on a projector or screen, which could be very handy for those wishing to capture important details from a slideshow.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the V3Max is its custom software. It’s running vivo’s FunTouch OS 2.5 on top of Android 5.1 Lollipop. The latter is disappointing enough, considering the latest version of Android, Android 6.0 Marshmallow, has been out for eight-months now. Sadly, this means that certain features like Google Now On Tap and fingerprint reader access for third party apps are not available with the vivo V3Max.
It's fairly easy to see how the V3Max's software could be a deal breaker
Even if you come to accept the older version of Android, vivo’s custom skin is sure to seem jarring at first, especially for those coming from stock or lightly skinned versions of Android. iOS-inspired changes like a control center and app names like iManager, iMusic, and iTheme are oftentimes simply not appealing to Westerns, and it’s fairly easy to see how the V3Max’s software could be a deal breaker.
Despite the strong departure from what we have come to expect from Android, there are many great features that FunTouch brings to the table. Features like S Capture, which give you a multitude of different options when wanting to share your screen, and wakeup gestures are commendable additions.
Vivo has released the V3Max globally in gold and rose gold variants, each with 32 GB of internal storage. If you’re in India, you can pick up the V3Max for Rs. 23,980, or about $355.
The vivo V3Max gets a lot of things right. It has a nice design, offers fast performance, Hi-Fi audio, and excellent battery life. However, its flaws cannot be ignored. The lack of U.S. availability and U.S. 4G LTE support, poor image quality in low-light, and likely jarring iOS-like software experience are enough to be deal breakers for some.
Quite frankly, it is difficult to recommend the V3Max over phones like the Xiaomi Mi 5, which is simply a more well-rounded option for about the same price. Unless you need the even better battery life, better speaker, or prefer the V3Max’s design, you may find the Mi 5 to be a much better option. With that said, vivo’s efforts are not to be diluted, and we must note that this is still a great mid-range smartphone, but with today’s highly competitive market, great only goes so far.
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So, what do you think of the vivo V3Max? Would you buy it over other mid-range smartphones? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!