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Think logging into your smartphone with your face is the future? Hold your horses – Vivo is here with the X21 to show us that that’s not necessarily true.

The just-released X21 is a smartphone with a particularly memorable keynote feature: Vivo’s under-display fingerprint scanner. As a matter of fact, the X21 is the very first smartphone to be launched with such a feature.

And we’ve got it here today for testing! Won’t you join us as we lift the hood to see what the Vivo X21 is like?

First up, that sensor

We’re sure you’re super excited to hear about the sensor and how it does its thing, so why don’t we start there?

First and foremost, if you recall, under-display sensors used to be something of a Holy Grail of smartphone tech. Then as now, everyone was racing to maximize the size of the screen, and that meant deleting as many of the physical elements on the front of the phone as possible. But the physical home button persisted, not least because Apple and many other manufacturers built their fingerprint scanners into said home buttons.

Of course, as of this moment everyone seems to be shifting towards the optical solution; phones like Apple’s iPhone X have it as a main feature. But Vivo’s saying, hold on, the fingerprint sensor can still offer value. (Take note that you do have the option to unlock the X21 with your face as well thanks to the X21’s own front-facing camera and sensors!)

So what did Vivo do? In a nutshell, the company attached its fingerprint sensor to the rear of the X21’s display, so when said sensor isn’t needed, it won’t take up any of the phone’s precious screen space. Yes, we’re aware that Huawei’s also managed to achieve the same feat with its Mate RS, but the X21 did manage to beat it to market, if only just.

The biggest impact is of course in terms of how the phone looks – very clean and simple, quite sophisticated and good-looking now that Vivo’s dispensed with the home button.

And how does the scanner itself function? We found Vivo’s sensor to work pretty well most of the time. For the most part it’s as snappy as a regular fingerprint sensor in, say, an Apple iPhone 8 or something. But there are certain instances when it took us a few extra seconds to unlock our test X21 with our fingers. And there were other instances when we couldn’t get in at all and had to enter our PINs.

We suppose what this says is that the scanner itself isn’t perfect, that it still needs some development before it can work as well as dedicated scanners built into home buttons. But that said, we feel certain that Vivo is off to quite a good start with its under-display scanner.

And the rest of the phone?

The long and the short of it is that the X21 isn’t a top of the line unit, but it’s more than good enough for most of what today’s tech buyer wants from a modern smartphone.

The X21’s rear is cleanly styled and eschews the rear fingerprint sensor that’s a feature of so many Android phones nowadays. It’s a tad slippery, so it’s probably best placed in a case of some sort. (By the way, the phone appears to be available only in matte black.)

Another key selling point aside from the fingerprint sensor is the X21’s dedicated HiFi audio chip, which purports to offer “ultra-clear, true-to-life sound quality” – it did sound pretty impressive during our test. Audiophiles may want to take a closer look at the X21 for this reason. And artificial intelligence is built into this phone and powers such features as AI Game Mode, which minimizes distractions when you’re deep into a game.

The X21 has a nice and bright 6.28-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED screen – which as we’ve mentioned is all the better for not having to share front-of-phone space with a home button. It’s a pretty bright unit that’s great to look at and doesn’t wash out too much in the sun.

The X21’s one of those phones with a notch – but in all fairness we’re not turned off by it. Even the avowed notch-haters among us think this one isn’t too obtrusive as far as smartphone notches go these days. Besides, that underscreen fingerprint sensor really makes all the difference.

Interestingly, when the screen is off and the phone nonfunctional, the X21’s screen always shows a fingerprint icon on the spot where the sensor is located. Sure, doing so boosts ease of use, but doesn’t this risk burn-in? Of course we haven’t had our test unit long enough to find out for ourselves. The icon also puts in an appearance whenever an app that requires password sign-in is active. (Might we add that we find it a bit strange that you can apparently only view missed call and message notifications when the screen is powered down – not emails or the like.)

The X21 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor and comes with 6GB of RAM. It has 128GB of internal storage, which is relatively decent and can be expanded via its microSD slot. Vivo’s Funtouch OS 4.0 is standard out of the box. And this phone is a dual-SIM affair for those of you who want or need to juggle two phone lines.

Camera-wise, the X21 isn’t one of your juggernauts, what with its 12MP and 5MP dual cameras out back and 12MP selfie shooter up front. Our tests proved that this phone takes decent shots but can’t really go head to head with the best in class. But features like Dual Pixel Sensors and AI Face Beauty can really go a long way towards helping this phone’s users take better shots.

The X21 makes use of a 3,200mAh battery, which held up reasonably well in our tests. On moderate or light usage days, we didn’t have to charge our test unit until late afternoon, whereas on busy days we found ourselves needing to plug in to the mains by the middle of the day.

The verdict

The Vivo X21 might be best known for its nifty fingerprint sensor, but don’t let that define the phone for you. This is a pretty good all-rounder smartphone that you could very easily come to love for its many strong points, from the screen to the overall look and feel.




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