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Review: Vivo X51 – A future success for Vivo

Review: Vivo X51 delivers a top-notch gimbal stabilization system for a smartphone, along with a decent overall camera setup.
4.3/5 - (51 votes)
The Vivo X51 – which was called the X50 Pro before its oriental launch – is a big deal for a number of reasons. First, it is the first Vivo phone to be launched across much of the world – expanding the company’s horizons with great intentions. Second, it has a gimbal stabilization system built into the main camera system – which is perhaps more accomplished than any other system you’ll find in a phone. Although it may be your first time seeing a Vivo phone – and it looks nice too, don’t you think? – the company is far from new to the game. We’ve been following the brand’s technology efforts – 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 it provides; and the nearly bezel-less NEX 3 flagship – showing just how much development power there is behind the scenes. While we’ve regretted the company’s software in the past – in all fairness it hasn’t been designed for international markets so far – the X51 is one step ahead of that as it’s the first time that Vivo has fully committed to Google Services . After the initial review of the X50 Pro – the very same phone as this one – in July, how much more advanced is the X51’s software installation just four months later?

Design

Vivo calls the X51’s finish Alpha Gray, but it doesn’t look nearly as dull as gray would make you think – there’s a silvery-blue sheen on the back, which never picks up the light in mono and thus a dynamic look too. It’s also a soft finish, which makes it quite good at resisting excessive fingerprint smudges. It’s not far from the look of the Huawei P40 Pro . We love it.  

Vivo says its phones should be thin. The Vivo X51 isn’t extra slim compared to the current flagships out there, but the subtle curves to the sides of the screen and rounded corners mean it feels comfortable in the hand. The thickness has been increased in part thanks to the two-layer camera protrusion on the back – an unavoidable design feature given the gimbal system and optical zoom used here too.

The design also encloses the screen quite subtly; there’s very little side panel thanks to the way the screen rotates – but it doesn’t come at the expense of the controls (as in the company’s NEX 3) as the side buttons are in a notch to keep them from sticking out, while still keeping them are easy to locate.

Vivo X51 – Screen

There’s also little top and bottom to worry about, making for a near-full screen display across the OLED panel’s 6.56-inch diagonal. The perforated camera in the top corner is one of the smaller cutouts we’ve seen, which doesn’t distract it at all.

Having a small bezel isn’t a problem for logging in either, as the on-screen fingerprint scanner is very responsive – and it comes with some of our favorite dynamic animation options too – or there’s facial recognition if you prefer. The latter does cause an animation around the edge of the forward-facing lens, which is quite quirky.

In terms of raw specs, you could look at the numbers and think “oh, it’s not a flagship display for a professional phone.” But we think the X51 is perfect in most ways: it’s really clear when you need it, auto-brightness doesn’t take over like on other handsets, the 90Hz refresh rate is all you need for smooth playback (120Hz and 144Hz, most people will struggle to see any difference), and there’s plenty of resolution too.

Since it’s OLED instead of LCD – meaning individual pixels light up on their own – it means you can have an always-on lockscreen display for notifications, illuminating only the precise areas needed. It also helps in media playback to give a true dynamic range from true black to peak white.

While there was a rather annoying problem with the X50 Pro’s screen – its ability to scale smoothly and it showed irregularities on some diagonals in the way the phone handled graphics – this has been resolved in the X51. Yes.

Vivo X51 – Hardware spec

The specification is another area where you might think “why is it called the Pro?”. Well, maybe if it was still called the X50 Pro, right? If only the X51’s name update wasn’t so uninspired – it reads like a German marketing department added a “1” and stamped it quickly without thinking – then we think the Vivo would be attractive for several reasons.

But just because it’s not top-notch across the board doesn’t really matter. Using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765 processor – not the top-of-the-line 865, as found in the X50 Pro Plus model – is a step back, but it’s really not a big step back for what most people 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 many more. In all those cases – just like we’ve found here with the Vivo X51 – there’s more than enough power to keep things running smoothly.

So whether you’re using the Vivo X51 for minor tasks, for gaming, for calls, for taking photos, it can switch between apps easily and with little delay.

And we have no real problems with the global software situation. Vivo Funtouch OS can be found on Google’s Android operating system – in this guise it is the “10 Global” version; in the X50 Pro, we rated it as version 10.5 at the time of review – it generally matches what you’ll find on many other Android phones. That’s a great and fairly surprising twist – based on Vivos China-based software, with different iPhone-like controls and multiple up / down swipe areas, we expected about the same here, but that’s not the case.

In the global version, there is also no clash between app stores. It is Google Play Store only. Vivos V app store is not pre-installed. That means no duplication of different system apps and updated, as we found in the X50 Pro. Reports also seem consistent. It’s a smart move on behalf of Vivo.

Vivo X51

However, there is still a lot of battery limitation for many apps, so you have to dig deep and undo several settings to get the functionality as you expect (to stop Strava GPS timeouts, for example).

Part of that limitation is supposedly to increase battery life. Because the X51 lasts long enough to last a day. It’s by no means best in class battery life, though, so it could be closer to the last 15 percent than we’d like. There is also fast charging for quick reloads – although not the very first Vivo offers .

Vivo X51 – Cameras

  • Configuration of four rear cameras
    • Main: 48 megapixels, f / 1.6 aperture, gimbal camera system
    • Wide angle (and macro): 8 MP, 120 degree field of view
    • Portrait: 13 MP, f / 2.48
    • Zoom: 8 MP, 5x optical
  • Front: 32 MP

So far so solid: the X51 performs well and has enough power for its overall setup. But the biggest sale of this phone is the camera setup – because it’s the first phone camera to have a gimbal stabilization system.

Vivo X51

Like almost every other phone released today, it doesn’t just settle on one lens. No, the X51 has four rear optics: a main (27mm; with four-in-one pixel binning for oversampled and higher quality); a wide-angle lens (16 mm; which crops for macro mode); a portrait lens with 2x zoom (50 mm); and a 5x optical zoom (135mm; periscope zoom construction).

We’re really happy to see that Vivo isn’t playing the game of throwing rear cameras just to add to the numbers. Each optic here has a specific purpose and capability that adds to the overall versatility of the system. And it’s really pretty good.

Gimbal stabilization

The gimbal is the star of the show. A big problem with zooming is that optical image stabilization (OIS) – while it definitely helps stabilize an image to make taking a shot easier and the results sharper – can only do so much. This gimbal system makes it like the sensor is floating, so it can compensate in three dimensions to keep everything extra stable and smooth.

Vivo X51

It’s great for composition – especially when zooming – but also a brilliant video assistant for counteracting steps while walking, for example. That’s also very useful in Night mode, because the camera can lock onto a subject even if your hands move just a little bit, and still get sharp results.

Vivo X51 Main camera

The main sensor of Vivo X51 is a 48-megapixel sensor, which uses four pixels by default and merges them into one to produce 12-megapixel results. That’s still about as much resolution as a 4K TV and a half tied together, so it’s in no way short of resolution. The results are generally pleasant too, with an artificial intelligence (AI) system kicking in for scene recognition, autofocus and color palette adjustment to keep everything under control.

Vivo X51

There’s also HDR (high dynamic range) to help with tricky shooting situations, such as when a subject is backlit, or the sky would otherwise blow out the highlights. Vivo goes a bit over the top with the HDR though – it looks great on the phone’s screen, but closer inspection reveals a halo on the edges of subjects (look at the two pigeons in a tree photo, for example) which It has to be perfected to do well (right, better than two silhouettes, huh?).

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 really expect. You’re not going to get the same degree of biting detail with the main camera by any means, but to get that ultra-wide perspective of the world it will show its value at different points in time.

Perhaps most interestingly, this camera doubles as a macro – which is used for close-ups. When we’ve seen phones with dedicated macro cameras in the past, they were almost always really bad 2 megapixel sensors with very vague results.

However, the X5qs fares slightly better than that, using a crop of the wide-angle sensor and bringing up close-up shots. You can still expect grain in photos when you look in detail – but you’ll have to pinch to zoom – but it’s not a write-off in any way. This mode adds a little extra fun to the functionality.

5x periscope zoom

The 5x optical zoom is housed on the bottom of the two-layer camera unit and is a big part of the reason it has to protrude from the camera’s flat back. However, it’s worth the design compromise as this 5x zoom lens is very useful.

Sure, it’s only 8 megapixels, but that’s still about the same as 4K TV resolution, so plenty. Being able to move subjects further away to appear closer to the frame is very useful – and we’ve probably used this optic more than any other for its capabilities.

Vivo X51

Shots are also well resolved. It’s not the kind of higher-resolution rivalry you’ll find in the Huawei P40 Pro , but it’s certainly not to sniff at.

Vivo is overly excited to say that 60x zoom is available, but this is all digital, so it effectively extends resolution beyond its capabilities. We don’t know why manufacturers feel the need to do this. The 5x is great, a little digital zoom – maybe 10x – would be acceptable. Only 60x? It’s just not that convenient.

2x portrait lens

We have not used these very often, with social detachment and hardly see other people in the current climate. But the idea is solid: a 2x zoom is used for zooming only or portraits – the latter being when the software-derived bokeh (background blur) comes into play.

Vivo X51

You can actually choose between the extra lens functionality – Super Wide Angle, Bokeh, Super Macro (as they are called) – from the main camera app, which automatically puts the use case scenario into action. It’s a nice way to quickly access a camera function as it will reset all other options from AI to zoom and take you straight to that preset.

Cameras conclusion

That’s a lot of cameras and a lot of technology. There is still room for improvement – for example, higher quality sensors for the zoom optics – but first, the Vivo X51 / X50 Pro lives up to its professional promise by offering a good variety. However, it is the gimbal stabilization that is the star of the show.

Vivo X51 – Conclusion

As a first push into wider markets, we think the Vivo X51 is a revelation. Achieved more than many competitors have been at the same stage, it delivers a top-notch gimbal stabilization system for a smartphone, along with a decent overall camera setup.

However, we just can’t understand 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 doesn’t matter as a phone name you’ll be proud to own. Which is a shame as it is an experienced phone that should not be overlooked.

We suspect you might see Vivo a lot more in the future – and not just on the front of footie players’ shirts in 2022 (Vivo is the official FIFA World Cup sponsor, which, aside, should give you some understanding. giving only how serious this company’s financial impact is) – as the concept phones of the recent past become a future reality. The X51 is a very strong start indeed.

In favor of buying Vivo X51

  • Gimbal system ensures super stable recordings
  • 5x optical and wide angle are a big advantage
  • Nicely thought-out design
  • All the power you really need – helps keep the price sensible

Against buying Vivo X51

  • Battery life not best in class
  • The European name is uninspiring
  • Permission / notification actions seem inconsistent
  • Some over-the-top HDR
  • Software Duplication – Google Play and V appstore can collide
 

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