There is no denying that some smartphone manufacturers like to take inspiration from Apple’s designs. In the past, we have seen dozens of phones designed to look like the iPhone. Now that Apple has made a big design change with the iPhone X (Review), it was only a matter of time before other manufacturers followed suit. Asus was the first one to showcase the Zenfone 5 (2018) and Zenfone 5Z with a design heavily inspired by the iPhone X. Vivo has also taken the same approach with the Vivo V9, and since Asus hasn't launched its offerings in India yet, Vivo V9 has become the first Android smartphone in the country to launch with a notch.
The Vivo V9 is making headlines thanks to its thin screen bezel and the notch that sits right at the top. While the device looks pretty interesting, does it have the hardware to justify its Rs. 22,990 price tag? We put it to the test.
Looking at the tall and narrow display on the Vivo V9, you might assume that its aspect ratio is 18:9 like many others. However, power it on, and the notch at the top is revealed. The notch is a lot smaller (in width) than the one on the iPhone X, and houses an earpiece, a selfie camera, and the proximity and ambient light sensors. It also houses a tiny notification light in the centre, just above the earpiece.
The notch is enveloped by the display on either side, which allows Vivo to claim that the screen measures 6.3 inches. The screen-to-body ratio is also said to be 90 percent. Pick the phone up and you will notice that it is quite light, weighing just 150g, primarily thanks to the use of plastic in its construction.
While it doesn’t feel as premium as the similarly priced Moto X4 (Review), it doesn’t feel cheap either. The glossy rear panel is made of high-quality plastic and isn’t slippery. However, it picks up fingerprints quite easily and you will need to keep cleaning it to preserve the glossy finish. Vivo has provided a clear case in the box, which you can use to avoid this issue completely.
Vivo has placed the power and the volume buttons on the right, while the SIM tray sits on the left. The Vivo V9 has a Micro-USB port at the bottom along with the loudspeaker, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microphone. The top is completely blank. Considering the price of the V9, we would have preferred a USB Type-C port, which is now quite common even on lower-priced phones such as the Xiaomi Mi A1 (Review).
Turn the phone around and you will see that it has two cameras positioned vertically, along with a single LED flash. The dual-camera module protrudes slightly but has a metal rim around it which keeps the lenses from getting scratched. Towards the centre of the phone's rear is a fingerprint reader, and a Vivo logo below it. We found that the fingerprint reader was placed a little to high for our liking. Other than that, the phone is comfortable to use, thanks to its rounded corners which don’t dig into your palms when holding it.
While the Vivo V9 looks like a high-end smartphone, the internals powering it are modest. Vivo has gone with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 SoC which is an octa-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz. The phone has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. It is a dual-SIM device and has two Nano-SIM slots. Storage on the phone is expandable upto 256GB thanks to the dedicated microSD card slot.
The Vivo V9 sports a 6.3-inch IPS screen with a resolution of 1080x2280 pixels with a 9:19 aspect ratio. It has decent viewing angles but we found that our unit's display had a reddish tinge. Sadly this phone doesn't have options to tweak the display output, and as a result, you will have to settle with what you see.
There is no mention of any type of toughened glass, but Vivo does ship a pre-applied screen protector with the V9. In terms of connectivity, there is support for Bluetooth 4.2, dual-band WiFi, GPS, USB-OTG, and FM Radio. There is support for 4G and VoLTE, but only one SIM can access a 4G network at a time, while the other is restricted to 3G connectivity.
Vivo V9 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo and its custom Funtouch OS 4.0 UI on top. It comes with the February Android security patch, which is fairly recent. Funtouch doesn't implement Notification Dots or Smart Text Selection, but you do get the useful Picture in Picture mode. The company has used the display area around the notch quite well with the right side displaying the battery percentage and other system status icons such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and VoLTE. The area to the left of the notch shows the signal strength and the icons of apps with pending notifications. Since the notch is relatively less wide, more information can be displayed than on the iPhone X.
Just like older versions of Funtouch OS, this one also looks similar to iOS. As a result, you have a Control Center when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, and notifications are accessible when sliding down from the top. The on-screen navigation buttons at the bottom of the display can be customised.
Vivo has also gone a step further and enabled gesture-based navigation, à la the iPhone X. You can swipe up from the centre of the bottom to jump to the home screen, or swipe up and hold to show the app switcher. Vivo also gives you the option to hide the navigation buttons, truly mimicking the navigation style of the new iPhone. During our review period, we found that this device could execute these gestures without any hint of lag. Apart from this, Vivo has also rearranged the Settings app, and as a result, we had to spend some time looking for the settings we wanted. You can use the global search feature to find settings but a search function within the Settings app.
Other features of the Vivo V9 include Face Unlock which uses the front-facing camera positioned in the notch to unlock the phone after a successful scan. You also have the option to unlock apps using face recognition or a fingerprint. There is a gaming mode which disables heads-up previews and rejects calls automatically, except those from whitelisted contacts which are answered automatically in hands-free mode while gaming. Vivo has also thrown in a Picture in Picture mode for gaming, which lets you run messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Line, and Facebook Messenger - among others - in a floating window.
Gesture recognition lets you launch apps by drawing alphabets when the screen is off. Vivo has clubbed some of the other gesture features under a separate Settings tab called Smart Motion. Air Operation uses the proximity sensor to wake the phone up when you wave your hand over the display. If you haven’t set a screen lock, you can also wake the phone from standby using this Air Unlock method. Other gestures include double-tap to wake/ turn off the display, raise to wake, and Smart Stay to keep the display on when you are looking at it.
The Smart Call features let you answer a call by holding the phone close to your ear, or answer directly in hands-free mode by waving a hand over the phone. It also allows calls to be switched to hands-free mode when you move the phone away from your ear. Smart Low Volume automatically lowers the volume of an incoming call when the phone detects a face looking at the screen. One-handed mode shrinks the display, making it easy to use the phone with one hand. App Clone, a feature that lets you run two instances of the same app, is also available. Smart Click lets you toggle the flashlight by long-pressing the volume down button, when the screen is off. This option can be customised so you can set the button to launch any app.
This phone is packed with features but that hasn't stopped Vivo when it comes to throwing in pre-installed apps as well. The Vivo V9 comes with Flipkart, Prime Video, UC Browser, Amazon, NewsPoint, WhatsApp, Facebook, and WPS Office preinstalled. Thankfully, you can uninstall all of them to reclaim storage, if you need to.
The Vivo V9 runs without any lag or stutter. The UI isn’t very heavy, and with 4GB of RAM, the phone can handle multitasking easily. We put the V9 through our tests where it managed 90,565 in Antutu while scoring 930 and 4546 in Geekbench 4’s single- and multi-core tests respectively. Graphics performance is decent and the phone managed 21fps in GFXBench T-Rex and 6.1fps in GFXBench Manhattan 3.1.
Vivo’s Face Unlock feature worked decently in well-lit conditions. However, in low light, the device would fail to recognise a face and ask for the PIN to unlock. Using the fingerprint sensor was quicker in such situations.
Not many apps are optimised for the V9’s 19:9 aspect ratio. As a result, we found that the Vivo V9 runs apps letterboxed at either 18:9 or 16:9 based on what the app supports.
The 3260mAh battery offers average battery life and we found that the phone needed to be plugged in by late evening. Our usage included WhatsApp, watching a couple of videos on YouTube, and playing PUBG Mobile as well as Space Frontier. If your usage is less demainding, then you might be able to stretch it until the end of the day. You can also enable power saving modes to help you sail through. In our HD video loop test, the Vivo V9 could only manage 8 hours and 49 minutes of continuous playback which is a lot lower than average.
The dual camera module on the Vivo V9 consists of a 16-megapixel primary sensor and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. Vivo hasn’t made significant changes to the camera app compared to its previous phones but has added AR stickers to keep up with the times. The V9 has an AI-powered beautify mode which Vivo claims can detect age, gender, texture, skin tone, and lighting conditions, and use that information to enhance the output. This functionality is also available for video calls when using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and a few other apps.
The default photo includes toggles for portrait mode and live photo mode. You can switch to panorama mode or a professional mode that lets you control the exposure, ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and autofocus. Vivo has also added a shot refocus feature that lets you shift focus after taking a shot.
Photos taken with the Vivo V9 were a mixed bag. We found that the phone could deliver decent output in good light but the quality would suffer when conditions weren’t favourable. In daylight, the V9 was quick to focus and got the exposure right most of the time. However, the output was slightly grainy and landscape shots lacked detail. Macros turned out better as the phone could distinguish between the subject and the background. Low light is where the camera quality dropped. It took longer to lock focus and save images, resulting in blurry shots on a few occasions. If a scene has decent lighting, you might be able to get a clear image, but in low light, the Vivo V9 camera fails to capture details accurately.
The Vivo V9 sports a 24-megapixel selfie camera with an AI-assisted beautify mode. It does enhance shots automatically but you also have the option to manually set the level of beautification. Selfies have good amounts of detail and are good enough to go on social media sites. Video recording on the V9 maxes out at 4K and you can also record in 1080p and 720p resolutions. However, this phone lacks OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) and EIS (Electronic Image Stabilisation), causing footage to be shaky.
With the V9, Vivo has managed to ship the first Android phone with a notch in India - for whatever that's worth. It has decent hardware, and the software has lots of customisations. The display helps it stand out from the rest, and those wanting to show off a phone with a notch now have this option at a price that's certainly a lot more affordable than the iPhone X.
Face recognition works most of the time but the usage experience isn't as smooth as the rest of this phone's UI. At Rs 22,990, the Vivo V9 misses out on things like a USB Type-C port which has now become common. Battery life is weak, and if you are a heavy user, you will need to find a power outlet by the evening. Camera performance is decent in daylight but suffers in low light.
If you are looking for an Android smartphone with a notch, the V9 only has the newly launched Oppo F7 as competition at the moment, but the category is expected to see a lot more launches. As for the V9, its big display, thin borders and small notch help it grab attention. However, if you aren’t interested in looks but are looking for more bang for the buck, the 6GB RAM variant of the Moto X4 might suit you better, or you can look at other top-rated phones in this price bracket.
Do Oppo F7 and Vivo V9 show what to expect from OnePlus 6? We discussed that on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.