Vivo V21 5G phone review: Viable for the best looking phone award
Overview, Design & Handling, Display & Audio, User Interface
The Vivo V21 5G is the 2021 update to its V series phones, taking over the Vivo V19 introduced locally last year, which previously set a high bar for phones of this price point.
While this S$599 phone's mainstream-friendly design and mid-range categorisation haven’t shifted, the Vivo V21 5G underwent some major under-the-hood changes. The phone is now 5G-capable while the V19 isn’t, making it more future-ready as our local telcos already have 5G networks for our phone users.
Another major change is the choice of processors. Previously, V19 used an entry-level Qualcomm chipset, while the V21 5G now uses a MediaTek Dimensity 800U processor that first hit the market in Q3 2020. It’s also a mid-range chipset (Dimensity has 700, 800, 900, 1000, 1100, and 1200 series chipsets in circulation as of writing), albeit a MediaTek one, so we’d like to check if there are performance gains between this model and the older V19.
While its unique selling point is an Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) for its 44MP front-facing selfie camera, Vivo didn’t forget to change up the rear setup too. The triple rear configuration now consists of a 64MP main camera with OIS and AutoFocus, an 8MP wide-angle camera, and a 2MP macro shooter. Coming from a V19, it loses a 2MP bokeh camera on the rear and an 8MP wide-angle camera on the front, but we believe those were traded away to improve the main cameras on both sides.
Not everything looks rosy though, as the V21 5G comes with a smaller 4,000mAh battery. The upside of having 500mAh less battery capacity helped Vivo to slim the phone down from its 8.5mm predecessor to its current 7.39mm (Sunset Dazzle variant) body.
Some aspects of the phone have stayed the same. It still has an in-display fingerprint sensor despite its price category. It also still has no NFC, no wireless charging, although 33W fast-charging technology is still available. Like the V19, the V21 5G also lacks IP-rated water resistance.
Are these features (or the lack thereof) enough to justify the phone’s refresh at the same price? Would the performance still hold up despite the change in chipset brands? Let’s find out.
|Vivo V21 5G|
Design & Handling
The Vivo V21 5G (in Sunset Dazzle) is sleek and pretty, with a premium feel in-hand.
It’s easy to bandy about these adjectives for phones when they pack aesthetic appeal into their hardware, but the V21 5G is cleverly designed in certain ways. Take, for instance, the rear camera housing bump. It’s easily one of the slimmest we’ve seen on a phone despite the multiple cameras.
Not impressive enough for you? The V21 5G itself measures just 7.39mm thin. Logically, having a thicker body would accommodate having a slimmer rear camera housing, but Vivo defies even that with its phone. For some reason, the Dusk Blue colour variant of the phone is slimmer yet at just 7.29mm!
Other mind-bending design choices are its complete lack of visible antenna bands and carefully frosted AG glass rear. Further to its clean rims are slim volume rockers and a power/lock button - they aren’t that prominent on sight, yet they are easy to locate by touch.
The Vivo V21 5G only has to stop here if phones could sell based on looks alone.
V21’s design would’ve been excellent if not for its disproportionate bezels. Viewable display areas at the sides are fully maximised and uniform, but its top and bottom bezels are oddly cut off just before the display ends. The bottom bezel also appears to be a hair thicker than the top one (only after measuring did we realise it was a difference of 0.5mm).
We won’t penalise the Vivo V21 5G for this, since non-flagship devices don’t often get this much treatment to their finish. Also, the uneven bezels aren’t as visible if you don’t go hunting for them (or are a normal, healthy person with better things to do).
If we had to gripe, we’d choose to harp on the jelly phone case provided in the box. Its USB port comes with a tiny rubber plug. If you’ve tried a phone case like that, you would know that it comes off after much wear and tear. A naked gap would’ve been just fine, Vivo - don’t overthink it.
All in all, V21 5G has a build quality befitting mid-range phones, or better. It’s a near-perfect slate with minimal bumps, conventional and sensible button placement, and it’s free from superfluous markings or warning labels. While phone aesthetics are subjective, we also think it looks more appealing than some flagship-tier handsets, like OnePlus’ devices.
Display & Audio
Vivo V21 5G has a 6.44-inch FHD+ (2,404 x 1,080 pixels resolution) E3 AMOLED FullView display. Its official spec sheet doesn’t list its refresh rate, but the phone’s Settings app will tell you it can go up to 90Hz (60Hz is the default). It also has a Smart Switch feature that gives adaptive refresh rates based on the content displayed.
Besides blue light protection, you’ll find that the V21 5G doesn’t have many astounding display features seen on higher-end handsets. That said, the AMOLED panel still ensures that video and images are clear and vibrant. But, note that high or max brightness throws off the display’s white balance, more so than other mid-range or high-end phones.
We’ve also noticed how V21 5G handles landscape (horizontal) content. Videos, websites, images etc. cut off just before the front camera’s tear-shaped notch when viewed in landscape mode. We’re not against black bars framing our content. But, we did hope that there were consistent black bars on both sides, which wasn’t the case. This only added to our uneven bezel gripe from our Design section of the review. Unlike the uneven bezels, the black bar in landscape mode is obvious even during routine use.
While its single bottom-firing speaker provides serviceable audio, we felt that not using the call speaker (at the opposite end) is a missed opportunity for Vivo to create a semblance of stereo sound on a mid-range product. The audio quality itself is balanced, although bloated.
UI & Features
Vivo V21’s Android 11 operating system comes cloaked under its FunTouch OS UI. We’ve already gone through how FunTouch was in our Vivo X60 Pro review, so we’ll spare the details. In a nutshell, the same pros and cons are on the V21 5G - decent looking interface with a few disjointed design choices. While the phone still comes with preinstalled apps that aren’t by Vivo or Google/Android, they’ve gotten rid of the repulsive Likee app (yay).
We’ve also covered some of its UI flaws in the Design and Display sections of the article. But, of course, getting your bezels and black bars right is key to an excellent interface, so we already know V21 5G doesn’t have the chops in these areas.
The in-display fingerprint sensor is blazingly fast and responsive, and so are the other personal security features like PIN and face recognition.
As mentioned, the Vivo V21 5G has no NFC connectivity - it says so in its spec sheet, at its launch, on Singtel’s sales page, and after confirmation with Vivo’s spokespeople here. In the Settings, however, we still found NFC options in its Settings, so for good measure, we tried ‘using’ NFC by sharing content with other NFC-capable Android phones on hand - no dice. This is yet another interface oversight (again, with Vivo), leading to a confusing experience for less-informed users.
Besides lacking stereo speakers and NFC, the V21 5G also lacks IP-rated water resistance. Not that we're complaining, but we didn't expect this many items missing as mid-range phones are getting to be increasingly capable devices as seen in our Realme 7 Pro review. Also, going slimmer took away yet another feature that the V19 had and this is the 3.5mm audio port.