The Vivo 21 5G is a mid-range smartphone whose main feature is its equipment for selfies that will delight all those who publish their photos and videos on TikTok and Instagram. But is this smartphone just for that? Answer in this comprehensive test.
Vivo is one of the top five smartphone brands in the world. Behind Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi and Oppo. But in France, Vivo is an outsider. Official arrival in France in 2020, in the midst of a global epidemic (hard to make more difficult), the brand first presented the Vivo X51, with its famous gimbal, and a few models from the Y range (rather affordable smartphones). In 2021, Vivo puts the cover again with the X60 Pro, already tested in our columns, as well as the Y52 and Y72.
Read also – Test of the Asus ZenFone 8 Flip: a smartphone that knows how to turn its head
But, in China, the Vivo catalog also includes the V series, mid-range selfie-oriented smartphones. The V19, presented a year ago, integrated two sensors on the front to create portraits with bokeh. The V20, launched last September, featured a selfie sensor with improved definition. And in spring 2021, Vivo formalized the V21, still benefiting from the sensor of the V20 and first of the series to arrive in France. The opportunity for us to discover Vivo’s mid-range proposition. And to test it, of course.
|Vivo V21 5G|
2400 x 1080 pixels (Full HD +)
|BONE||Android 11 + Funtouch 11.1|
|Main sensor||64MP f / 1.8 PDAF OIS
8 MP f / 2.2 120 °
2 MP f / 2.4
4K @ 30 fps video
|Selfie sensor||44 MP f / 2.0 AF OIS
Dual LED flash
No 3.5mm jack port (adapter included)
|Biometrics||Footprint scanner under the screen|
Our video test
Price and launch date
The recommended retail price of the Vivo V21 is 419 euros (only one version with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage). This is a price that positions the V21 against many competitors. Among them are the Sony Xperia 10 III, the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite 5G, the OnePlus Nord CE, the Oppo A94 5G and the Google Pixel 4a.
We would even be tempted to include in this list the Realme GT, excellent flagship killer of the alternative brand from Oppo, as well as the Find X3 Lite. Both are offered at 449 euros excluding promotion. We have deliberately ruled out all smartphones sold below the 350 euros mark and above the 450 euros mark.
As of this writing, virtually all brands offer the V21 slightly less than its suggested retail price. You can thus spend below 400 euros. The Vivo V21 has been on the market since June 18, 2021. The launch of the V21 has been the subject of a week of pre-order.
In the box you will find a flexible plastic shell, a Flash Charger 2.0, a USB type-A to type-C cable, a pair of 3.5 mm mini jack wired headphones and a 3.5 mm mini jack adapter to USB type-C.
The design of the V21 is naturally based on that of the top-of-the-range Vivo models. But there are obviously some tweaks to suit the price segment. The most important of these is the adoption of a material that is a little less noble, even if aesthetically, it remains quite close. The mineral glass of the hull at the rear and the aluminum of the edges are replaced by plastic.
On the edges, this change can be seen (and felt to the touch) very quickly. On the other hand, on the back, Vivo has opted for a very elegant “polished glass” effect. This choice also has two other advantages. First of all, it’s soft on the fingers. Which is very nice. Then it does not retain fingerprints. On the other hand, it slips just as much. So be careful if you have wet hands.
Let’s continue to look at the back of the phone. And more precisely the photo module. It takes the rectangular shape of the X60 Pro module, with two stair treads. A first metallic step with the flash. A second step in mineral glass for the three photo sensors. We will detail the configuration of these sensors in the photo part of this test.
Besides the change of material, the organization of the slices does not change. Right, power button and volume control. Bottom, speaker, main microphone, USB type-C port and SIM drawer. At the top, secondary microphone for active noise reduction.
On the front, you find a large touch screen. Note the selfie sensor, stored in a notch for a “retro” effect. A surprising choice, since no 2021 smartphone positioned around 400 euros uses a notch. Last note: despite the width of the telephone receiver, it does not accommodate a secondary speaker.
Let’s take advantage of the front of the smartphone to study the screen more precisely. This is a slab that measures 6.44 inches. The screen format is 20: 9. Its definition is Full HD + (1080 pixels in width and 2400 pixels in height). The resolution reaches 409 pixels per inch, which is more than enough for all usual uses.
The refresh rate is 90 Hz. We have seen better, especially with the Galaxy A52 5G which goes up to 120 Hz. But many of the competitors remain at 60 Hz. This rate is therefore quite good. Note that you can of course choose to stay at 60 Hz if you feel like it, to optimize battery life. The sample rate of 180 Hz (twice the refresh rate).
The nature of the panel is AMOLED, a promise of deep contrast ratio and shimmering colors. Note that the panel is HDR10 + compatible. As with the X60 Pro, the V21 takes advantage of three color display modes: standard, professional and bright. There is also a slider that allows you to increase or decrease the overall color temperature.
It’s time to ask our probe if this tile respects colors. And, in truth, that’s not quite the case. As always, the professional mode, which respects the sRGB color sample, is the most respectful. Delta E here reaches 3.4. Which is correct, but nothing more. And the average temperature is 6400. Which is almost perfect. Green and brown are the least well interpreted colors.
In standard mode and in light mode, the results are less good. The Delta E exceeds 4. The average temperature reaches or exceeds 7500 °. A few colors are extremely well reproduced, but they are rare. The Delta E of purple and light green is around 8.
Finally, let’s finish this analysis of the screen with the brightness. Vivo announces a maximum brightness of 500 nits, which is in the good market average. And we actually get a close value with our probe. Depending on the display mode, this varies between approximately 480 nits and 520 nits. Note that if you opt for adaptive brightness, this value can go much higher in the middle of the day, under the sun.
Once the smartphone is on, you arrive at Funtouch, here in version 11.1, based on Android 11. This is the same version as the one we tested with the X60 Pro. This is a ROM adapted to the habits of European consumers. Indeed, just like OnePlus with OxygenOS, Vivo maintains two versions of Funtouch: one for China and one for the West.
Funtouch has all the features of a classic Android ROM. Two home screens. The bundle of preinstalled Google apps. A “Discovery” screen to discover information. A notification area and quick settings. An app drawer enabled by default. You won’t be lost adopting this smartphone, whether you are from Oppo, OnePlus, Samsung or Xiaomi.
As before, you will find some preinstalled applications. Some are developed by Vivo, such as iManager, a toolbox for managing the smartphone (with an integrated antivirus engine signed by Avast) or Easyshare. You will also find a link to the Vivo.com site and another to a comments form to report a problem.
Easyshare is an application that relies on file sharing technology developed by Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi. It offers many tools to send and receive files at short distance, without using a mobile connection. You can share a document, video, photo, or even an app.
To connect one phone to another, both mobiles must be equipped with Easyshare. Then, one just needs to scan a QR Code generated by the other. If a connection had already been established, the contact appears in the list of recipients. Easyshare can also be used to transfer data from your old smartphone to the new one. It’s very useful.
If you go to the Settings menu, you will find all the functions seen previously, such as the Game Assistant, one-handed mode, Quick Action, Touch Key, or even the split screen. This last function is useful for displaying two applications side by side (horizontally, otherwise one below the other). Note that this works with almost all applications … even games! Side business partners, you find the same as on the X60 Pro: Booking.com, Netflix, Facebook, TikTok.
The Funtouch interface is very smooth. This is thanks to the optimizations carried out by the brand, on the one hand, but also thanks to a well-integrated platform, which offers good responsiveness for all so-called everyday uses. We’re talking about messaging, social media, surfing the internet, streaming audio or video, and even a little bit of casual gaming.
The V21 works with the MediaTek 800, the best feature of which is to offer an affordable solution for accessing 5G. You find it for example in the Redmi Note 9T, tested last January in our columns. It is accompanied here by 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. It’s far from the best performing platform … even at this price point. But, you already know, it’s another area that the V21 excels in. We will come back to that.
How does the V21 perform? They are obviously average, but not that low. Barely 390,000 points on AnTuTu v9. Just over 6600 points on PCMark. 607 small points on Geekbench in single-core and 1800 points in multi-core. These figures are fairly close to smartphones running Snapdragon 750G, such as the OnePlus Nord CE tested recently. But these are figures below those of phones sold around 500 euros (like the OnePlus Nord 2, tested recently). It’s such a shame. Find more results in the screenshots opposite.
It is in particular the graphic scores that we point the finger at. In this area, the characteristics of the Dimensity 800U are too fair for gamers. An undeniable proof can be found in Genshin Impact: the game automatically positions itself on the lowest graphics quality, while the game usually opts for the medium quality. If you like to play with your smartphone, we recommend that you take a look at the Realme GT, for example, which sells for the same price.
There are, however, three advantages that should not be overlooked. The first is the stability of the platform. It offers a relatively low power, but this power does not weaken over the length. We have measured near-perfect stability, between 99.5% and 99.9%. Second advantage, the temperature. It remains measured. Of course, a Dimensity doesn’t overheat, because it can’t afford it. But this is an asset compared to all of its flagships, which are having difficulty controlling their ardor.
The third significant advantage of this less exuberant platform: autonomy. Of course, you could say that it’s easy to get good battery life with a smartphone that isn’t adequate for the most power-hungry uses. And you would be right. But, we pushed the error to perform the same tests with the V21 as with the X60 Pro and all the gaming phones (ROG Phone, Legion Duel, Realme GT, etc.).
Before revealing our measurements, let’s remind you that the V21 is equipped with a 4000 mAh battery. This is “within the good market average”. It’s not great, but it allows for a battery life of between a day and a day and a half, depending on the intensity of the loads (and the number of applications running in the background). Of course, you save a bit of power by turning off 90Hz refresh and back to 60Hz.
Small battery, therefore, but low power consumption during video games. Stress tests performed show that battery life can vary considerably depending on the game. From 2 hours for the most demanding games to 8 hours for the less energy consuming 3D games. A few sessions of Genshin Impact confirm this: 6 hours of battery life with the default graphics (therefore very low) and 4 hours with maximum graphics. It’s a very good performance, although the title suffered a few slowdowns.
Once the battery is completely discharged, it is time to recharge it. The Vivo V21 is obviously compatible with fast charging. The maximum power it accepts is 33 watts. It’s not a lot, of course. But that’s already good. To recharge the 4000 mAh battery, you will need to immobilize the phone for 1 hour and 3 minutes (to within a few seconds). The smartphone was switched off for the duration of the charge.
This is a bit longer than with the X60 Pro which, with the same power, recharges a more generous battery just as quickly. The OnePlus Nord CE, one of its competitors, takes a quarter of an hour longer. But its battery is larger than 500 mAh. Note that you recharge the battery to 60% in half an hour. It’s already good.
In audio, the V21 is relatively ordinary. There is nothing wrong. But there is nothing out of the ordinary either. We will note among the positive points in audio the presence of a USB type-C to 3.5 mm mini jack adapter in order to take advantage of the pair of wired headphones supplied with the product.
A replacement for the headphones previously supplied with iPhones, this accessory offers very decent sound quality, but it does not isolate at all from external elements, unlike the headphones supplied with the X60 Pro which benefited from passive isolation. The shell here is entirely made of plastic. Some will have difficulty wearing them for a long time. Others will appreciate their good hold.
As we saw in the design part of this test, there is only one speaker in the smartphone. The sound it produces is quite powerful and does not sizzle quite a bit (unless you turn up the volume too much). It is located on the bottom edge. A location that is less than ideal, since it is likely to be obstructed by one of your fingers when you hold the phone horizontally while watching a movie or playing a game.
Last point on the audio, which is more of a regret: Vivo has not integrated a microphone in the photo module of the V21. On other products, we don’t mind. On a smartphone that wants to be a companion for influencers on Instagram, YouTube and others, sound quality is important. Vivo has taken care of the photo sensors, as we will see in a few lines, but we think that the manufacturer did not go to the end of the concept on the photo part by forgetting this detail (or by deliberately omitting it for a question of cost).
Photo – presentation of the equipment
We come to the last part of this test. A part which partly justifies certain missteps in the previous parts. This is the photo, the highlight of the V21. And doubly even. First, because its stabilized main sensor is pretty good. Then because its selfie sensor is much better than those of sometimes much more expensive phones. We will of course see this in detail.
Let’s do the introductions first. At the back we find three sensors. The most important is the 64 megapixel sensor with lens opening at f / 1.8. Quad-Pixel technology to combine four adjacent pixels to form one big 1.6 microns per side (for 16-megapixel shots by default). Phase detection autofocus. And optical stabilizer, please. Second 8 megapixel sensor with 120 ° wide-angle lens opening at f / 2.2. And last 2 megapixel sensor with lens opening at f / 2.4. It is dedicated to macros. A flash accompanies the set.
Up front, we find a webcam of … 44 megapixels! It is a sensor that we encounter very rarely. Vivo was already using it last year in the V20s. Oppo sometimes uses it in some Renos. And Motorola has integrated it into the Lenovo Legion Duel 2. No smartphone in France benefits from a higher definition (there are some in China).
This sensor has other peculiarities. It incorporates an autofocus, which is quite rare. Its lens, which opens at f / 2.0 (that’s big enough for a selfie sensor), is stabilized. Again, this is not unique, but neither is it common. And it comes with two small LED flashes hidden in the top border, above the screen. Vivo practically took more care in making this selfie sensor than the phone’s main sensor.
Photo – results of our tests
So what does that sound like in real life? Let’s start with the main 64 megapixel sensor. By day, when the light conditions are good, this sensor takes excellent photos. Lots of contrast. Beautiful colors. Pique. A nice automatic background blur effect. Many details. These are really beautiful shots. And this even in backlight, quite difficult exercise. When the light is lacking, a light dull veil obscures the results, reducing the contrasts.
At night, the main sensor also offers good results, but with a small downside: focusing is slower. However, the results are balanced, with beautiful colors here too. On the other hand, we are seeing the details deteriorate rapidly. The dedicated night mode illuminates the scene and reveals details and colors, while bringing control to the level of light sources.
Two remarks on the night photos. First, the automatic mode also recognizes that it is dark and automatically activates an alternative night mode. However, we greatly prefer the true night mode, which is more qualitative. Next, we’re surprised (not in a good way, unfortunately) by the influence of the optical stabilizer: unsightly blur appears at night, when it shouldn’t, in automatic mode. Fortunately, it is much less noticeable with night mode.
If you activate the 64 megapixel format, you gain considerably in detail, but you also lose control over brightness. The photo also takes longer to register. So that, if you want to take one back afterwards, you have to wait until the smartphone is ready to do so, at the risk of missing your opportunity. At night, we observe the same observation.
The main sensor has the difficult task of making up for the lack of optical zoom. The V21 therefore offers a digital zoom. A button to the 2x report is present in the interface. But you can go up to 10x. But we do not recommend doing this (unless you are aware of the visual risk): at 10x the noise is considerable and the details too degraded. During the day, we do not recommend going beyond 5x (or 6x for the more adventurous).
At night, the finding is even harder: the 2x zoom is of poor quality, but remains acceptable, despite the perceptible noise. Beyond this point, it becomes complicated. And this, despite the night mode and the optical stabilizer. Also note a poorer mastery of light in this exercise, whether day or night.
All-round, the main sensor is also in charge of portraits. This is an exercise that suits him much better. Beautiful bokehs. A very nice contrast between the subject and the background. Clean clipping (but still extremely precise, even on simple objects). And always these beautiful colors and these beautiful details. At night this is also fine, but portrait mode is not compatible with night mode. Hence poorer light.
Let’s move on to the wide-angle sensor. The most interesting with this model is the viewing angle: 120 °. And it shows right away, when you compare with other models. Here, the photos are correct, but not striking. The colors are faithful, but a little dull. The brightness is good, but the balance is not always very well respected. Correcting distortions in the corners is good, but the algorithm degrades the details there, which are already not great in the rest of the photo. At night, the sensor is, let’s be honest, not very good. Even night mode shows its limits here. Difficult to work miracles with 8 megapixels.
Let’s move on to the macro sensor. We were very surprised by some pictures that this sensor is able to take. Unfortunately, these “traits” of genius are quite rare. Depending on the light conditions, the same flower can have orange or yellow petals and purple or blue discs. With 2 megapixels, details are often degraded. Fortunately, thanks to the proximity, you feel it less than with the wide-angle sensor. At night, the sensor is not subject to this problem. But you will have a problem with the light, as it is not compatible with night mode.
Finally, let’s finish with the bulk of the subject: the selfie sensor. It is a sensor that offers almost as good results as the main sensor. The stabilizer is a huge addition here: you spend your time taking pictures of yourself at arm’s length, vertically or horizontally. And no unsightly vagueness appears. That’s really nice.
Technically, the shots are well balanced (with overall brightness slightly too pronounced). Lots of pique. Good colors. Many details. And above all, a smoothing of the face which is disabled by default. Selfies look like you! Of course, in portrait mode you will find a wide range of filters which, for the most part, use a rather feminine language. Experts will find their happiness there. Be careful with the portrait mode cropping which is sometimes a bit messy between the subject and the background.
At night, the pictures are a little less contrasted, which is normal. The selfie sensor is obviously compatible with night mode. When this is activated, you have a choice of three lighting solutions: nothing, screen flash (with your face entering the screen in a halo of light) and dual front flash. Be careful with the eyes (literally and figuratively). This flash can change the colorimetry of your shot completely. To be consumed with caution (and by experimenting before a big night out).
Vivo’s V21 is a pleasant smartphone. Good construction. Good proposal. It will not suit everyone, especially gamers. It is not for everyone either, although it may be suitable for many. It is pleasant to use and to touch, despite the use of plastic. Its photographic equipment, the main sensor and the selfie sensor, is its main asset, but it can also count on an energy-efficient platform, for an autonomy in the very good average.
It is not without small flaws of course. We saw it with the screen, with the audio and even at the photo level, when it should have been flawless there. But its mission, which is to address the needs of influencers on social media, is successful: good photos and good selfies. Could we expect the same from another smartphone for less than 450 euros? In this area, we do not think. But this tendency to overweight one area to the detriment of others is a double-edged sword. We’re not sure she won’t be more frustrating than she is happy.