(Pocket-lint) - The Vivo X51 - which was called the X50 Pro for its Eastern launch - is a big deal for a number of reasons. One, it's the first Vivo phone to launch across much of the globe - expanding the company's horizons with significant intent. Two, it's got a gimbal stabilisation system built into its main camera system - which is perhaps more accomplished than any other system you'll find in a phone.
Although it might be the first time you've set eyes on a Vivo phone - and lovely looking it is too, don't you think? - the company is far from new to the game. We've been following the brand's technological endeavours - from the first pop-up selfie camera phone, the NEX S; to its Dual Display phone (which actually launched in China); to the port-free concept future it foresees; and the nearly bezel-free NEX 3 flagship - which shows how much developmental power there is behind the scenes.
While we've lamented the company's software in the past - in fairness it hasn't been designed for international markets before now - the X51 is a step change for that, as it's the first time Vivo has dabbled in full-on Google Services. Having first reviewed the X50 Pro - the very same phone as this - back in July, how much more advanced is the X51's software setup just four months on?
- Dimensions: 158.5 x 72.8 x 8mm / Weight: 182g
- In-display fingerprint scanner
- Finish: Alpha Grey
Vivo calls the X51's finish Alpha Grey, but it isn't nearly as drab looking as "grey" might make you think - there's a silver-blue sheen to the rear, which never catches the light in a mono way and so has a dynamic look. It's also a soft-touch kind of finish, making it rather good at resisting excessive fingerprint smears. It's not far off the Huawei P40 Pro's look. We love it.
Vivo says its phones have to be thin. The X51 isn't extra slim compared to the current crop of flagships out there, but the subtle curves to the side edges of the screen and rounded corners make it comfortable to hold. Its thickness is extended in part due to the two-layer camera protrusion on the rear - an inevitable design feature given the gimbal system and optical zoom lens that's also deployed here.
The design encases the screen rather delicately too; there's very little side bezel thanks to the way the screen curves around - but it's not to the detriment of controls (like it is in the company's NEX 3) because the side buttons are contained within an indent to stop them protruding, while still being easy to locate.
- Curved edge 6.56-inch Super AMOLED panel
- 1080 x 2376 resolution, 90Hz refresh rate
There's little top and bottom bezel to worry about either, making for an almost full-screen display across the OLED panel's 6.56-inch diagonal. The punch-hole camera to the upper corner is among the smaller cut-outs that we've seen, ensuring it's of little distraction at all.
Having little bezel is no bother for sign-in either, as the in-screen fingerprint scanner is highly responsive - and it comes with some of our favourite dynamic animation options too - or there's facial recognition if you prefer. The latter does cause an animation around the edge of the front-facing lens, which is rather quirky.
In terms of raw spec you might look at the numbers and think "oh, it's not a flagship screen for a 'pro' phone". But we think the X51 is spot on in most regards: it's really bright when it needs to be, auto-brightness doesn't take over like it does on other handsets, the 90Hz refresh rate is everything that you'll need for fluid playback (120Hz and 144Hz most people will struggle to see any difference at all), and there's ample resolution too.
As it's OLED rather than LCD - meaning individual pixels self-illuminate - it means you can have an always-on lockscreen display for notifications, lighting up only the precise areas as it needs. It also aids with media playback to give real dynamic range definition from true black to peak white.
While there was a rather irritating problem with the X50 Pro's screen - its ability to scale smoothly saw it exhibit jaggies on some diagonals in the way the phone treated graphical elements - this has been fixed in the X51's more refined software experience. Yay.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, 8GB RAM
- 4,315mAh battery, 33W fast-charging
- Funtouch OS over Google Android
- 5G connectivity
The specification is another area where you might think "why's it called the Pro?". Well, you might have if it was still called the X50 Pro, eh? If only the X51 name update wasn't so uninspiring - it reads like a German marketing department added a "1" and quickly rubber-stamped it without thought - then we think the Vivo would appeal for a variety of reasons.
But just because it's not top-end spec across the board doesn't actually matter. The use of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765 processor - not the top-end 865, as found in the X50 Pro Plus model - is a step down, but it's really not a big step down for what most people will need from a phone.
Indeed, we suspect that the 765 platform will become the norm for many affordable flagship devices - it's the same you'll find in the OnePlus Nord, Moto Edge, LG Velvet, Xiaomi Mi 10 Lite, and plenty more besides. In all those cases - just as we've found here with the X51 - there's more than enough power to keep things running snappily.
So whether you're using the X51 for menial tasks, for gaming, for calls, for taking pictures, it can leap between its apps with ease and with little let up in wait time.
And we don't have any real qualms with the global software situation. Vivo's Funtouch OS can be found over the top of Google's Android operating system - in this guise, it's the "10 Global" version; in the X50 Pro we reviewed it as version 10.5 at the time of review - it is generally consistent with what you'll find in many other Android phones. That's a great and fairly surprising turn - based on Vivo's China-based software, with various iPhone-like controls and multiple swipe up/down areas, we'd expected much the same here, but that's not the case.
In the global version there's no clash of app stores either. It's Google Play Store only. Vivo's V-appstore doesn't come pre-installed. That means no duplication of various system apps and updated, as we had found in the X50 Pro. Notifications seem consistent too. It's a smart move on Vivo's behalf.
There is still a lot of battery throttling for many apps by default though - so you'll need to dig deep and unpick various settings to get functionality as you expect (to stop Strava GPS time-outs, for example).
Some of that throttling is presumably to extend battery life. Because the X51 lasts long enough to last you through a day. However, it's not class-leading battery life by any means, so it might be closer to the final 15 per cent than we'd like. There is fast-charging for quick top-ups too - although not the very fastest that Vivo offers.
- Rear quad cameras setup
- Main: 48-megapixel, f/1.6 aperture, gimbal camera system
- Wide (and Macro): 8MP, 120-degrees field-of-view
- Portrait: 13MP, f/2.48
- Zoom: 8MP, 5x optical
- Front: 32MP
So far, so solid: the X51 performs well and has ample power for its overall setup. But the biggest sell of this phone is its camera setup - because it's the first phone camera to include a gimbal stabilisation system.
Like almost every other phone released these days, it doesn't just settle on the one lens. Nope, the X51 has four optics to the rear: a main (27mm; with four-in-one pixel binning for oversampled and higher quality); a wide-angle (16mm; which crops for the Macro mode); a 2x zoom (50mm) portrait lens; and a 5x optical zoom (135mm; periscope zoom construction).
We're really pleased to see that Vivo isn't playing the game of chucking cameras onto the rear just to add to the numbers. Each optic here has a distinct purpose and capability that adds to the overall versatility of the system. And it's really rather good.
The gimbal is the star of the show. A big problem with zoom is that optical image stabilisation (OIS) - while it absolutely works in helping to stabilise an image to make taking an image easier and the results sharper - can only do so much. This gimbal system here makes it as if the sensor is 'floating', so it can compensate in three dimensions to help keep everything extra stable and smooth.
It's great for composition - especially when zooming - but also a brilliant video assist, to counteract, say, steps when walking. That's also particularly useful for Night mode, because the camera can lock onto a subject even if your hands are moving a tiny bit, and still deliver sharp results.
The main sensor is a 48-megapixel one, which by default uses four pixels and condenses them into one to make 12-megapixel results. That's still about as much resolution as one and a half 4K TVs strapped together, so it's not short of resolution by any means. The results are generally pleasing too, with an artificial intelligence (AI) system kicking in for scene recognition, autofocus, and colour palette adjustment to keep everything in check.
There's also HDR (high dynamic range) to help in trickier shooting situations, such as when a subject is backlit, or skies would otherwise blow out the highlights. Vivo does go a little over the top with the HDR though - it looks great on the phone's screen, but closer inspection reveals haloing to the edges of subjects (look at the two pigeons in a tree photo, for example) that needs some perfecting to get right (still, better that than two silhouettes, eh?).
Wide-angle / macro camera
The wide-angle camera has become a staple of many phones these days - and Vivo's offering is on par with what you'd expect really. You won't get the same degree of biting detail as you will from the main camera by any means, but for the sake of getting that ultra-wide perspective on the world it'll show its worth at different points in time.
Most interesting, perhaps, is that this camera doubles-up as a macro - which is used for close-up shooting. Whenever we've seen phones with dedicated macro cameras in the past they've almost always been really poor 2-megapixel sensors with very sketchy results.
The X5q's, however, does a little better than those, using a crop of the wide-angle sensor and bringing close-up shooting to the fore. You can still expect grain to shots when you look in detail - but you'll need to pinch to zoom in for that - but it's not a write-off by any means. This mode adds a little extra fun to the functionality.
5x periscope zoom
The 5x optical zoom lens is housed to the bottom of the two-layered camera unit, and is a big part of the reason it has to protrude from the camera's flat rear. It's worth that design compromise though, as this 5x zoom is really useful.
Sure, it's only 8-megapixels, but that's still roughly the same as a 4K TV resolution, so is plenty. Being able to bring farther away subjects to appear closer in the frame is really useful - and we probably used this optic more than any other for its enabling qualities.
Shots are well resolved, too. It's not the kind of higher-resolution rivalling that you'll find in the Huawei P40 Pro, but it's certainly not to be sniffed at.
Vivo does get overexcited by saying that 60x zoom is available, but this is all digital, so is effectively stretching the resolution beyond its means. Why manufacturers feel the need to do this we don't know. The 5x is great, a little digital zoom - maybe 10x - would be acceptable. But 60x? It's just not that useful.
2x portrait lens
This one we didn't use so much, what with social distancing and barely seeing other people in the current climate. But the idea is solid: there's a 2x zoom used for either just zooming or for portraits - the latter being when the software-derived bokeh (background blur) kicks into play.
You can actually select between the additional lens functionality - Super Wide-angle, Bokeh, Super macro (as they're named) - from within the main camera app, which will kick the use case scenario into action automatically. It's a nice way to quick-access a camera feature, as it'll reset any other options, from AI to zoom, and put you straight into that preset.
That's a whole lot of cameras and a whole lot of tech. There's still room for improvement - higher quality sensors for the zoom optics, for example - but as a first, the Vivo X51 / X50 Pro delivers on its pro promise by offering a good variety. It's the gimbal stabilisation that's the star of the show though.
As a first push into wider markets, we think the Vivo X51 is a revelation. It's more accomplished than many competitors have been at that same stage, delivers a first-of-its-kind gimbal stabilisation system for a smartphone, along with a decent overall camera setup.
However, we just really can't fathom why Vivo thought X51 was an appealing name. It sounds robotic. We know it's like adding a "1" to the X50 Pro - the original name of the same phone in China - but it just has no impact as a phone name that you want to proudly own. Which is a shame, as it's an accomplished phone that shouldn't be overlooked.
We suspect you might be seeing Vivo a lot more in the future - and not just on the front of footie players' shirts come 2022 (Vivo is the official FIFA World Cup sponsor, which, as an aside, should give you some understanding of just how serious this company's financial clout is) - as its concept phones of recent past become a future reality. The X51 is a very strong start indeed.
It's quite hard to compare the Vivo to anything else directly, but Moto's curved screen device, which also has a decent main camera, comes in at a little less money for a similar hardware loadout. You'll have to forego the gimbal experience though.