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Vivo V15 Pro review: Closing in on greatness

By Luke Tan - 1 Sep 2019
Launch SRP: S$699

Imaging & final thoughts

Camera & imaging

The V15 Pro's tri-camera setup is par for the mid-range course: a 48MP main sensor, an 8MP sensor for telephoto shots, and a 5MP depth sensor.

The 48MP unit comprises 0.8um pixels that can be "binned" in low light, effectively becoming 1.6um "super-pixels", at the cost of a drop to 12MP in output resolution. The sensor sits behind an f/1.8 lens.

In daylight, the V15 Pro turned in a brilliant performance. With bags of detail, excellent dynamic range, and faithful color reproduction, there was little to complain about.

Click to see full-size original image.

Click to see full-size original image.

Click to see full-size original image.

There’s more of the same when the sun goes down with decent night shots, though not the most detailed in the business.

Click to see full-size original image.

If you want to impress someone with a 48MP photo, the V15 Pro provides this option but it simply outputs the full sensor resolution without processing, which causes detail to drop off severely, no thanks to the noise from those 0.8um pixels. Honor/Huawei's AI Ultra Clarity mode is still the only processing we've seen that actually works for 48MP shots.

The 8MP ultra-wide makes do with an f2.2 aperture - and correspondingly, as with most of these types of camera, the output is great as long as there’s a lot of light.

Click to see full-size original image.

The pop-up selfie camera is a 32-megapixel unit with an f/2 aperture, also featuring pixel binning. Not that 32 megapixels of detail are available since Vivo's Asian-friendly beauty processing will gladly blur any of your perceived facial imperfections.

Click to see full-size original image.

Video recording on the V15 Pro is hardly worth mentioning for a phone of this class - 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30 or 60fps, both with ho-hum colors, detail levels, and sound quality. It’s worth noting that while 1080p video clearly had electronic image stabilization applied to it, 4K video did not appear to be stabilized.

 

Going up against the Pixel 3A

The Vivo V15 Pro is easily compared against the Google Pixel 3A XL because of their similar price points, so we've taken the liberty of shooting a couple of comparisons in different situations.

In good light, both cameras are capable of producing very detailed images with low noise. However, low-light situations unsurprisingly see the Pixel 3A XL pulling ahead of the V15 Pro thanks to Google’s awesome Night Sight processing.

(Note: We’ve captioned each image, but for ease of reference, the Vivo shot will always be shown before that from the Pixel.)

 

Scene 1

Blue, blue skies and whiter whites can be expected from the Vivo V15 Pro. (Click for full-size original image)

The Pixel produces a rendition that’s more faithful to the original scene. Note the moire on the bridge in the mid-ground — both images are rich in detail. (Click for full-size original image)

 

Scene 2

When it comes to sunsets, the Vivo’s penchant for vibrant colors and a blue bias makes for an inaccurate, but more appealing shot... (Click for full-size original image)

...although you, the photographer, know that the Pixel 3A XL is somewhat closer to the truth. (In this case, neither phone actually rendered the original scene accurately.) (Click for full-size original image)

 

Scene 3

Here’s one for the pixel-peepers. This scene was shot on both phones (this shot is the Vivo version) and cropped in to the flats under construction… (Click for full-size original image)

...revealing that the V15 Pro needs to employ heavier noise reduction, and consequently resorts to artificial sharpening to try to hold its own against its Google rival... (Click for full-size original image)

...but the Pixel 3A XL’s rendition still packs more detail - look at the scaffolding, especially where it meets the green netting at the upper center of the frame. (Click for full-size original image)

 

Scene 4

It’s the same story even with food. The V15 Pro tends to push up the highlights and mid-tones for a crisper look... (Click for full-size original image)

...while the Pixel’s rendition is always more restrained in terms of exposure and saturation. (Click for full-size original image)

 

Scene 5

The V15 Pro’s night mode does produce images with low noise and decent detail, but the colors are flat and somewhat less than satisfying... (Click for full-size original image)

...and you realise what truly can be done with computational photography when you look at the Pixel 3A XL’s rendition. Thanks to properly-exposed and correctly saturated highlights and mid-tones that tend towards the warm side, the whole scene looks more lively, and the cityscape takes on a glow. (Click for full-size original image)

To me, the difference between the Pixel 3A XL and the V15 Pro’s cameras is an indication of cultural trends in photography, rather than technological progress. Google has chosen to stick with natural-looking images, but the V15 Pro’s output would do better on social media. You’ll have to decide whether you’re a photographer for photography’s sake, or if you live and shoot for the ‘gram. Either way, you won’t go wrong.

 

Final thoughts

All things considered, the Vivo V15 Pro is a competent mid-range phone.

The V15 Pro reflects the unstinting progress of Chinese engineering and, in particular, that of parent company BBK, also the owner of the Oppo and OnePlus brands. For S$699, it ticks all the boxes for what we've come to expect from mid-range Chinese smartphones: a gorgeous, notch-free AMOLED display, a fluid user experience, a powerful camera, and decent battery life.

Really, it's only its software that keeps the V15 Pro from true greatness. Funtouch OS needs a complete rethink. Samsung’s new One UI is clean and elegant, MIUI and Huawei’s EMUI have both gained more coherent design over the years, and even Oppo's own ColorOS now looks less cluttered. The V15 Pro is much better armed than its predecessors on the hardware front, but when it comes to software, we shouldn't have to endure something like Funtouch OS on upper mid-range devices in 2019 - and especially not when an increasing number of more polished Android skins are holding their own against the iPhone.

Finally, we have a Vivo I like and would give a nod to. But consider this: Android One on the V15 Pro could be a beautiful thing.

Think about it, Vivo. For the last time, I hope.

7.5
  • Design 7.5
  • Features 7.5
  • User-Friendliness 7
  • Performance 7
  • Value 7
The Good
Gorgeous notchless AMOLED display
Great cameras
Smooth performance
Decent battery life
Still has a headphone jack
The Bad
Funtouch OS design needs work
microUSB charging/data port
Plasticky build
Mediocre speaker