Great build, great cameras, and long battery life sum up the Vivo V9
Vivo has just launched a new smartphone in India, the V9. It’s a mid-range smartphone, according to its spec sheet, but it does perform quite well and could easily be a “high-end” flagship smartphone for most people. Coming in at around $500 USD, this is a pretty impressive device, or is it? Let’s find out if it is truly "top-notch."
The Vivo V9 sports a 19:9 display, with a resolution of 2280 x 1080. It's an LCD display with a notch, and it has a 85.2-percent screen-to-body ratio. The V9 is powered by the Snapdragon 626 processor, which is an octa-core 2.2GHz processor with eight Cortex-A53 cores. That also comes with the Adreno 506 GPU, along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Vivo does include space for a micro SD card slot, that can support up to 400GB (even though Vivo quotes 256GB cards are the largest supported here).
Vivo is using a dual-camera setup here on the V9, which consists of a 16-megapixel and a 5-megapixel camera, with f/2.0 apertures. There is also phase-detection autofocus, and dual-LED flash. Unfortunately, there's no laser autofocus available here. On the front, there is a single camera, a 24-megapixel sensor. This also has a f/2.0 aperture and is capable of doing 1080p video, while the front can do 2160p and 1080p at 30 frames per second.
Wrapping up the Vivo V9's specs, there is a 3,260mAh battery inside, which does support Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0. Additionally, there is WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, and a micro USB port for charging - which also supports USB On The Go or USB OTG. Finally, the Vivo V9 is powered by Android 8.1 Oreo and FunTouch OS 4.0 out of the box.
In The Box
Inside the box, the Vivo V9 comes with a nice clear case, a micro USB cable, wall adapter, and some paperwork, as per usual. So it’s your fairly normal unboxing experience here. Nothing too special. Although having a case included in the box is always a nice thing these days.
The build quality on the V9 isn’t too bad. It’s a metal unibody, with a slightly raised display, which does give it a bit of a “shelf”. That may look odd, but it actually helps it to stay in your hand, oddly enough. It’s available in two colors, and the model we have here is the gold one. It actually looks pretty nice. While most smartphones actually launch with a white front, when there’s a gold option, Vivo decided to keep the black bezels on the front. And that could be because this does have a notch on the front, as well as a chin.
Speaking of the notch, it actually isn’t that bothersome. It’s there, and it’s out of the way after a bit of time using the device. After using the V9 for a few days, I forgot that it even had a notch. Now unfortunately it does still have a very slight chin (the whole reason for a notch is to eliminate the chin altogether). It sports a 6.3-inch display in the body of what would normally be a 5.5-inch device. So you’re getting plenty of screen real-estate here which is nice.
The volume rocker and the power button are located on the right-hand side of the device, and are pretty clicky. They don’t feel mushy like some other smartphones with these specs and this price point might. Which is a good thing. The backside is where you’ll find the dual-camera setup as well as the fingerprint sensor. Unlike Apple, Vivo did not opt to get rid of the fingerprint sensor here, with the introduction of Face Unlock - which works really well on the V9. So you do have multiple ways of unlocking your smartphone.
In a nutshell, the V9 is a solid device, from a hardware perspective. It’s not going to win any design awards for its looks, or break any barriers with materials used, like some of Vivo's other products announced recently. But it does its job and does it well. Which is what matters anyways.
Vivo has managed to cram a 6.3-inch display here in a 5.5-inch body. Which is due to it sporting a 19:9 aspect ratio. The extra tall display is actually due to the fact that it has that notch there. So it’s actually a 18:9 display, if you leave out the notification bar. It sports full HD resolution, so it’s not a super high-resolution display, but it does get the job done. You are able to see the display, with its pretty rich colors and it also gets very bright. While using the Vivo V9 abroad during the review process, it was used outside quite a bit, in direct sunlight and it worked really well. There was no problem with viewing the Vivo V9’s display outside in direct sunlight.
Now the display itself does attract a lot of fingerprints and holds on to grease. So it can look really bad after using the phone for a few days. While wiping down the display on a flagship device would negate those issues, it doesn’t really make this display look brand new, like you just took it out of the box. Now that’s not the end of the world, but it does make the display look slightly less beautiful.
Inside is a Snapdragon 626 processor, which is not a high-end offering, but it is in the range of what Qualcomm calls “premium mid-range.” It’s a fairly decent processor, with the emphasis being on battery life. Performance on the Snapdragon 626 does look really good though. It was able to crunch through daily tasks like replying to emails, checking Twitter, Instagram and such, and even a bit of gameplay. It’s not going to give you some insane benchmarks numbers like the Snapdragon 835 or 845 will, but it does its job, which is what matters here.
Paired with the Snapdragon 626, Vivo has included 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Which helps make this a pretty good phone, performance-wise. With 4GB of RAM included, there’s plenty of space for keeping plenty of apps in the memory, and not needing to clear your recents at all really. And with 64GB of storage, there’s plenty of room for taking advantage of the dual-camera on the back of the phone here, as well as storing plenty of music offline. Overall, performance is definitely not an issue on the Vivo V9.
Normally, we would use this section to talk about the fingerprint sensor, but since more and more devices are using facial recognition, we've changed it to security. The Vivo V9 does allow you to use your fingerprint to unlock the device, or your face, with face unlock. Both options are super quick, although the fingerprint sensor is definitely more secure, since face unlock is simply using the front-facing camera to identify your face and unlock the phone. Both options do allow you to unlock your phone, but also lock and unlock apps and other information on your phone. This means you could lock up apps that you don't want your kids to get into when they are playing with your phone. A nifty feature that isn't really new, but still nice to see here.
Vivo is using a single speaker here on the V9, which is at the bottom of the phone. Unfortunately, Vivo did not opt to use the earpiece as a speaker as well. Which isn't a bad thing, as the speaker is still quite good, but it can get covered pretty easily, particularly when holding it in landscape and playing games. The speaker does get to a decent level, though there were a few times where we wished that it did get just a tad bit louder. The quality here, on the other hand, could use some improvement. Now this isn't a flagship from Vivo, so we're not expecting something with incredible audio quality like a Dolby Atmos-compatible smartphone, but it could still use some work. The mids and highs aren't quite as clear as we'd like, and the bass is barely present. This is something that could likely be taken care of with a software update, though.
Phone Calls & Network
The Vivo V9 is made for the Indian market, which means it does not have support for U.S. bands or those used in many other markets. At least our model doesn't, though Vivo may decide to bring it to other markets later on. But it did work for us in China, on China Unicom, and it made phone calls just fine. There were no issues here with making and receiving calls. Calls did not drop at all, and other users said we sounded fine on the other end. Now when it comes to data, in the US, you're going to get EDGE speeds. But it does support 4G LTE in Asian markets - again, you'll want to check the bands it supports. We did use this on China Unicom's 4G LTE network and got some pretty good speeds as well. Although, we weren't able to compare those speeds to another device on the same network in the same location, but there shouldn't be any issues with the V9's wireless connectivity here.
On the Vivo V9, we ran three benchmarks: 3D Mark, AnTuTu and GeekBench 4. On 3D Mark, it scored 474 in the Sling Shot Extreme - OpenGL ES 3.1 test. On Sling Shot Extreme - Vulkan, it scored 420. On AnTuTu, it picked up a score of 89,491. Now that does put it outside of the top 50 smartphones, however, remember that the majority of those in the top 50 do sport higher-end specs like the Snapdragon 800-series processors. So this should be expected. Finally, on GeekBench 4, it picked up a single-core score of 944 and a multi-core score of 4636. You can see the full results in the gallery below.
On the Vivo V9, battery life is pretty solid. The 3,260mAh cell does a pretty good job at keeping the device running all day long. However, it's hard to see how much the phone was used in a particular cycle, since Vivo does not use the traditional battery stats that you'd find in stock Android. So there's no way to see screen-on time and stuff like that. But we did use the Vivo V9 during our recent trip to Shanghai and it performed very well. Despite being used a lot more than normal, and on 4G LTE networks for the majority of the day, with a VPN running, it still managed to last the entire day. Which is pretty impressive and something that many other phones wouldn't be able to do.
Since there is a Snapdragon 626 processor inside the Vivo V9, that means it should support Quick Charge 3.0, and it does. What this means is that you are able to quickly charge up the Vivo V9 and get it running again. We were able to fully charge the V9 in a little over an hour. Which is right on par with what you'd expect from other smartphones with a battery of this size. Of course, this does use a micro USB port, so many of you likely have a slew of those cables laying around your house, but it would have been nice to see it using a USB-C port - the port of the future.
All in all, one of the strengths of the Vivo V9 is definitely the battery life. While it doesn't sport a huge battery capacity, it does sport a relatively decent size battery. And the rest is obviously software optimization. Of course, the Snapdragon 600-series is pretty well known for offering some great battery life, no matter the battery capacity. So that is also likely another factor in the great battery life on the V9.
The Vivo V9 is running on Android 8.1 Oreo, with its Funtouch OS v4.0 on board. It also has the February 1, 2018 security patch here. During the review period, we received three different OTA's for the V9. So it's safe to say that Vivo is constantly updating this phone, which is definitely a good thing. Especially since smartphones in this price range don't usually get updates that often - or at all.
The Vivo V9 sports a pretty heavy skin in Funtouch OS - which is on all of Vivo's smartphones. It is actually fairly similar to the skin that OPPO uses, which isn't a surprise given the fact that Vivo and OPPO are sister companies. Funtouch OS was very much a skin developed for those in the East, primarily China. And that is because it emulates iOS quite a bit. Including the non-existent app drawer, and the swipe up from the bottom for quick settings and screen brightness. However, that doesn't make the software bad, in any stretch. It's actually pretty good.
As we mentioned already, quick settings are accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, which did take some getting used too. At the bottom, you'll find the quick settings, which includes things like WiFi, Bluetooth, etc. Above that, you'll find the volume and brightness sliders and then above that is a list of recent apps. That is actually a pretty useful feature, as it saves you needing to hit the recents button, if you are already in the quick settings pane. It's nothing too special there, but the quick settings are editable which is nice to see.
With the notch, Vivo has done a decent job at using software to make it disappear, almost. Now, Vivo doesn't have an option in settings to make the status bar black - like the Huawei P20 does - but it doesn't really get in the way. On the right side of the notch is the time, and status icons. While the left side has the notifications. Now if you have a lot of notifications, then you'll only see a couple of icons. It would be nice to see Vivo add some software tweaks to the notch to change things up a bit and make it almost invisible, though.
Vivo also has a number of other features included here that really make the V9 a joy to use. There are a number of gestures you can use with the phone, found under the "Smart Motion" settings. This includes sliding downward on the screen to take a photo, draw a "c" to launch the dialer and more. These aren't really new features, as they have been seen on many other smartphones, but nice to have here. Vivo also allows you to do picture-in-picture for more apps than Oreo allows you to do, and you can select which ones are able to do PiP in the settings as well. Not something that most people will mess with, most likely, but again it's nice to have the option. Of course, the other feature that is very popular on phones out of China is, App Clone. This allows you to clone an app like WeChat and essentially have two instances running on a device. This is popular for those that have multiple accounts, and need to be logged into both at the same time. And many apps like Snapchat, Facebook and WeChat won't allow you to be logged into more than one account at a time.
This is really just scratching the surface of the features available on the software side of the Vivo V9 as there's quite a lot of them here. Some of which users may use and some of which they may not use. But Vivo has done a good job of adding plenty of features for everyone, without using a ton of storage space, out of the box. The software experience is much different from what you'd get here in the US, or in other Western markets, but it's not a bad experience. Software is still quite fluid and fast here on the V9, which is important, as well as its usability.
The camera on the V9 is actually really good. We didn't have high hopes for the camera here, as smartphones in this price range are usually pretty mediocre. But we were pleasantly surprised. The dual-camera setup on the back - which is a 16-megapixel and a 5-megapixel setup - actually performed pretty well.
Vivo touts portrait mode on both the front and rear cameras, and it looks really good on both sides of the phone. It's not quite as good as what the Pixel 2 XL can do, but it is better than some other smartphones that are nearly $700. Which is definitely impressive. We took some images in portrait mode, which you can see in the gallery below. On the front-facing camera, it worked really well, and images were pretty clear, of course, having a 24-megapixel front-facing camera will do that for you. Which means that the V9 is going to be great for taking selfies. Vivo does allow you to change the lighting, after you've taken the picture as well, so you can go with natural light, studio light, stereo lights and monochrome. The monochrome option is one of my favorite. As it can really make your selfie stand out, since you are in color, and your background is monochrome. Blur can also be adjusted after the picture is taken, but it's not as good as on other smartphones. What we mean is that it doesn't blur just the background but also the foreground.
The camera UI - likely to little surprise - is very, very similar to the iPhone's interface. But it is full of different modes for you to use, including professional, panorama, Face Beauty, Photo, Video, and AR Stickers. It's really good to see a professional or manual mode here, allowing you to adjust things like the shutter and ISO to get the perfect shot. While the "auto" mode here is actually really good (and the majority of the images here were taken in "auto"), having a professional mode is still nice.
These days, the camera experience is a very important part of any smartphone. Especially since many people are opting to leave their camera at home in favor of a handset for taking photos. And the Vivo V9 is a smartphone that can replace your DSLR in many cases. Now it may not provide you with some of the more fancy features that something like a Pixel 2 XL can offer, but it's still really good.
Large display in a small footprint
Micro USB connector
Cannot disable many system apps (including Gmail)
The Vivo V9 is priced at Rs. 22,990 in India (the only market where it has so far been announced), which is equal to about $353 USD. That's a great price for a smartphone like this. It competes with the Moto G5S Plus, and if you had the choice between the Moto G5S Plus and the Vivo V9, the Vivo V9 would be the better option. There's a lot going on for the Vivo V9 here, and it's not just the camera, but that's a big part of it. Getting a large display like this in such a small footprint is also nice. This is the body of a 5.5-inch 16:9 device, but you get a 6.3-inch display here. The only real downside that might be a deal-breaker for many is the micro USB port at the bottom; it's really time for Vivo to fully transition to USB Type-C.
Should I Buy the Vivo V9?
Yes, you definitely should buy the Vivo V9. It's just a shame that it is only available in India right now, as this is a device that Vivo could use to gain market share in other countries as well.