Vivo's V15 Pro packs in a gorgeous design, solid build quality, and impressive features, so it's a shame you probably can't get it.
Vivo is a Chinese brand that may seem like it has a lot to prove where it is less well-known in the west but which already has a very loyal following. It's Vivo V15 Pro, for all intents and purposes, seems to have been built with precisely that realization in mind.
Summarily speaking, Vivo's V15 Pro is a mid-range handset in price at right around $408 that delivers premium features across its camera, design language, software, and even many of its specs. That's not necessarily surprising since the gap between 'premium' Android devices and less expensive smartphones is shrinking.
There are several aspects of the V15 Pro that could be compared directly to Apple's iOS gadgets and that's not going to be ideal for every user. However, delving into the individual aspects of Vivo's latest creation — boldly launched the same day as Samsung's new Galaxy S10 lineup in the lead-up to MWC 2019 — proves why this is one Android device everybody should be interested in.
In terms of specifications, the only area Vivo seems to have held back at all with its Vivo V15 Pro is with regard to the processor. The handset features a more-than-generous 6GB RAM and 128GB of storage. A 3700mAh "Dual-Engine Fast Charging" battery drives the experience, charged via an old school USB 2.0 micro port.
That's all backing up an octa-core Snapdragon 675AIE SoC with two Kryo 460 Gold cores clocked at 2.0 GHz and six Kryo 460 Silver cores clocked at 1.7 GHz. An Adreno 612 GPU processes the UI and key graphical elements. So, even scaled back on the processor, this device is packing a punch.
Android 9 Pie, with a fresh coat Funtouch OS 9 paint is delivered to the user via a 6.39-inch Super AMOLED display panel set to an FHD+ resolution of 2340 x 1080. The glass used in that panel's construction is of the 2.5D variety and a fingerprint scanner is embedded underneath.
Just above the multi-touch screen and fitted into the top edge due to the use of a display that's both hole-free and notch-free is a mechanically-extended and lowered 32-megapixel selfie snapper. At the back, an AI-empowered 48-megapixel, quad pixel three sensor array is embedded, comprised of 12-megapixel, 8-megapixel, and 5-megapixel cameras. An LED flash sits between the main sensor and secondary sensors.
GPS, GLONASS, and Beidou fulfill location tracking purposes while Bluetooth 5.0, and Wi-Fi take care of remaining connectivity features.
All of that is embedded in a metal frame sandwiched between glass in either a Topaz Blue or Ruby Red color configuration. A dual SIM/micro SD slot, headphone jack, are included at the edges alongside a dedicated, remappable Google Assistant key. The entire package measures 157.25 x 74.71 x 8.21mm. Weight comes in at a middling 185g.
In The Box
The OEM hasn't skimped on the in-box inclusions either. The Vivo V15 Pro ships with a pre-installed screen protector and a protective clear case that both looks nice and seems to be great quality. A pair of high-quality wired earbuds are included too, as are the standard USB to micro USB OTG cable, power adapter for the standards of the given sales region, and a SIM ejector.
Interestingly, Vivo also doesn't pre-install any identifying stickers on its V15 Pro either. So there's not going to be any unwanted adhesive film left on the body after unboxing the smartphone. The appropriate numbers are included as separate stickers in the box itself. Documentation for the gadget rounds out the box contents.
Hardware and Design
The design language used for the new Vivo V15 Pro is going to be one of a few areas where subjectivity enters the mix. Most manufacturers outside of China have remained relatively fixed on more standardized color configurations such as shades and gradients of black, white, or gray — or the occasional yellow or deep, almost-black blue thrown into the mix. Vivo is only offering two different schemes here and neither fits neatly into those categories.
While gradients are not uncommon amongst devices coming from Chinese manufacturers, both of the new Vivo handsets follow that scheme while being different in their own right. It is sold in either a wave-like Topaz Blue gradient such as our test unit or a Ruby Red gradient that's got a similar color shift but with a diamond-hatched pattern. Neither fits neatly into what users might be used to or is subtle. So whether those look great or not will vary from user to user.
Other aspects of the design, such as the inclusion of an almost imperceptibly-thin earpiece or a smooth edge curve at the back will be more widely appreciated. The front panel is also chamfered, giving the Vivo V15 Pro an elegant in-hand feel.
The second feature which will certainly go amiss despite being found in a huge number of competing devices, particularly in the premium segment, is ruggedization. There simply is no IP standard rating provided here. That doesn't mean the device won't survive quite a lot of abuse or splashes and it does at least feel very sturdy. That just isn't guaranteed outside of the pop-up camera.
The camera mechanism and the associated micro-stepping motor is designed with the expectation and tested to survive a tensile force of around 120 kg and will slide in and out of the frame at least 300,000 times without a hitch.
Finally, the slightly-raised 'U'-shaped camera housing at the back is likely to be a point of contention or praise depending on who one asks but it is, at very least unique. That's a word that can be used to describe the entire design language but that isn't necessarily a bad thing since the Vivo V15 Pro won't look out of place either among the most stunning gadgets available.
With regard to the hardware itself, as mentioned above, that all seems sturdy enough. The pop-up camera makes some noises that are disconcerting at first but it turns out that audio is adjustable and it doesn't budge at all under pressure.
Both the micro USB and 3.5mm headphone jack are rock solid, with a satisfyingly snug fit.
The subtly-textured power button and volume rocker on the right-hand edge feel smooth to the touch and click through without any indication they'll wear out any time soon. Likewise, the dedicated secondary button on the left-hand edge — assigned to Google Assistant by default — feels well-made.
Among the most noteworthy features found on the Vivo V15 Pro is its display panel. That's a Super AMOLED screen and there is a fingerprint scanner underneath but those aren't necessarily distinguishing aspects at this juncture. Combined with the fact that it takes up almost the entire front of the device, the display does stand out.
There are no holes to be found here with camera lenses getting in the way of the view and there's no notch making the entire handset seem asymmetrical. The 1.75mm bezel is just about as close to exactly proportioned as possible because Vivo has placed its selfie-camera in a pop-up in the top edge.
With Vivo's latest premium mid-ranger, users have the entire 6.39-inch 2340 x 1080 display — a 91.64-percent screen-to-body ratio — at their disposal.
Looking beyond the appealing aesthetic and convenience those aspects represent, every millimeter of that is super responsive and the in-display fingerprint sensor doesn't show through at all except via the purpose-driven animation. There's simply nothing to dislike about the panel at all, with its bright accurate colors or pitch blacks. Topping that off, Vivo says the panel covers 100% of the P3 color gamut and has a contrast ratio of 10,000,000:1.
Performance and Battery Life
Try though we did, we could not find a single point of lag with the Vivo V15 Pro. That's despite opening up dozens of applications, swapping between them repeatedly, and running some of the Google Play Store's most intensive games.
Remarkably, that performance extends to every aspect of system level performance from the camera to the UI and fingerprint scanner as well. The latter of those software implementations fires up the device in well under a second. Turning on or off the gadget is smooth and quick too — on par or ahead of its competition in the top-end price bracket, even.
There are, of course, undoubtedly circumstances where some slowdown is bound to occur at some point for some users. There is, after all, no such thing as a perfect phone. But the performance of the Vivo V15 Pro is a testament to its Qualcomm-built AI chipset, Vivo's chosen secondary components, and the optimizations put in place by the OEM.
The battery life we experienced fell into a similar category thanks to the AI-enabled chipset and optimizations. Now, battery life is highly subjective and results are going to vary for any user with any smartphone. Regardless, with no power savings turned on and moderate usage, getting more than a full day's use from a single charge is no problem at all.
This handset easily achieves six to seven hours of screen-on time, under normal usage.
Charging is equally impressive despite the use of standard micro USB. Vivo's claimed "24% power in just 15 minutes" is right on the money, and a full charge takes well under two hours despite that charging slows as the battery fills up.
The one area where great battery life simply isn't going to apply regardless of how the V15 Pro is used is when the handset is used for gaming, in particular with the game boosting features active. Those are claimed to reduce frame-rate drops by 300-percent but will certainly drop the battery faster. In fact, battery drop can increase significantly at that point, draining the battery in just a few short hours.
Because charging is so rapid and that first 15-minutes of charging goes quite a long way, that isn't necessarily going to become a problem for the average user.
Connectivity and Audio
Audio with Vivo's new premium-built device is not mind-blowingly good but, compared to other handsets available across the entirety of the Android spectrum, it doesn't disappoint either. As is and will almost certainly always be the case with the tiny speakers found inside smartphones, the Vivo V15 Pro emits something that really wouldn't be acceptable in a dedicated music-listening device.
At the same time, the range of tones that usher forth from the bottom firing speaker is actually very good. Sounds that aren't in the lower registers are clean and balanced. Low tones are present but have almost no power. Higher frequencies tend to be just the slightest bit too tinny.
Audio through the included hard-tipped headphones, on the other hand, exceeds expectations and should ensure that those who buy this handset won't need to go spend extra cash on another pair.
All of that means that, with headphones on, this handset is going to tick all the right boxes for all kinds of media even for audiophiles — who will probably have their own headphones ready to go already anyway. Bluetooth will provide a similar experience since Bluetooth 5.0 is in play here. Without headphones or a secondary speaker, the Vivo V15 Pro will be more than workable for basic media playback or notifications and even better than most smartphones in its price range. But users shouldn't expect too much either.
The earpiece functions very well and is both well-balanced and plenty loud. The microphone, tested in a Wi-Fi call, performed admirably, with no complaints at all from the receiving party.
The one major caveat for those who are interested in picking up the Vivo V15 Pro is going to be its connectivity options. Although Bluetooth 5.0 and the built-in Wi-Fi each work very well, mobile network support is not going to be universal. We tested out the handset via a T-Mobile backed MVNO and quickly realized there was no way we were going to get the smartphone connected.
No NFC is included either, but Vivo does offer a 'data-free' cross-platform file sharing app called EasyShare for that side of close-quarters communication. The only drawback is that doesn't support tap-to-pay functionality.
Two nano SIM slots are part of the package, in a dual SIM dual standby configuration. One of the two slots in the drawer pulls double duty and can be used for micro SD storage expansion instead for cards up to 256GB.
If the signal strength and solidity of other connectivity methods are anything to go by — or any number of other aspects of this device — there won't be any problems on that front at all for most users. Having said that, potential buyers are definitely going to want to check and double-check first to ensure their network bands work with this smartphone.
2G: GSM Bands 2, 3, 5, and 8
3G: WCDMA Bands 1, 5, and 8
4G FDD-LTE: Bands 1, 3, 5, and 8
4G TDD-LTE: Bands 38, 40, and 41
Those who are familiar with Vivo's software overlay won't notice a lot of changes with the latest handset from the manufacturer and those accustomed to iOS will find a nicely situated middle-ground between that OS and Android. For those who aren't used to either, there is going to be a bit of a learning curve.
An Android 9 Pie-based variant of Funtouch OS is installed on the Vivo V15 Pro that, as can be guessed from the paragraph above, resembles something between the world's two most popular mobile operating systems.
Funtouch OS 9 leans heavily towards Android in terms of customizability and overall features but there is no app drawer to be found. Users can create folders to save space and place apps on the second home screen rather than filling up every screen but that may take some getting used to for some.
That quirkiness also extends to the use of a swipe up on the home screen to pull forward the standard quick settings menu. Usually, that's found just beneath the notifications in the notification shade. Notifications, the date, time, and power levels are all that's left in the upper notification shade.
Our test unit received no fewer than four updates in the time since it was received, including both features, system, and security. So users should expect updates to arrive in a more timely fashion compared to other major OEMs. The Android security patch level was set to January 1, 2019 — as of this writing.
With regard to extras, Vivo includes all of the features users would expect in a 2019 flagship-like mid-ranger.
There are customization options for the under-display fingerprint scanner animation and other UI elements, AI-powered camera and system-level features geared towards increasing performance and battery efficiency, a dedicated game-optimization tool, and more.
Vivo also includes several Samsung-like tools such as motion and gesture controls, intelligent screen splitting or casting, a one-handed mode, dual-account sign in for some applications, and extensive screenshot tools. The option is also available to customize what the volume down button is used for when the screen is off and it's long-pressed. An on-screen floating button feature called 'Easy Touch' can be turned on and assigned to quickly launch apps or features too, similar to how edge panels work with Samsung devices.
The software experience, meanwhile, is buttery smooth. We didn't notice any latency in use or glitches in the system-level operation of the handset. None of the pre-installed apps failed to work at any point. The fingerprint scanner is as quick as any capacitive scanner found on the back or edge of other handsets that have been tested and responds in well under a second.
Pre-installed apps are not kept to a minimum here, with Facebook, WhatsApp, Google apps, Amazon, a dedicated news app, secondary browser, office suite, and Vivo store are all included out of the box. There are quite a few extras installed by default too, including a couple of useful tools such as a voice recorder and compass. Nearly all of those can be uninstalled relatively easily — including Facebook, which may as well be a mobile first.
Vivo's latest camera software follows neatly along with every other aspect of the OS overlay at work here. Summarily, it isn't completely unlike the stock AOSP software found in other smartphones but it also is not at all the same. Along the bottom of the UI, there's a carousel with modes for snapping images of documents, a panorama, nighttime captures, standard photo shooting, video, and even shots with AR Stickers.
Additionally, there's a dedicated "AI Beauty" mode for AI-enhanced blemish remove and beautification, as well as a pro mode. Each of the modes performs very well and has an array of options to choose from as well as being exceptionally snappy.
More generally speaking, the camera on this particular handset definitely performs on par with any number of top-end flagships. Setting aside the selfie camera, which utilizes nearly all of the same tools and enhancements of the rear shooter to great effect and with stunning detail at 32-megapixels, the camera array at the back is arguably going to be among the best on the market.
Although some graininess does appear In low-light circumstances, the primary shooter captures images with exceptional detail and clarity — even in near-complete darkness. That's thanks largely to how the device's camera works, described by Vivo as snapping 12-megapixel captures utilizing a 1/2.25-inch sensor with an f/1.8 aperture across three sensors. Those include an 8-megapixel ultra-wide and 5-megapixel "bokeh" camera.
Driven by AI, the camera takes the 48 million 0.8μm pixels captured and effectively combines pixels into larger 1.6μm pixels. In effect, it takes a 48-megapixel capture and intelligently wraps the data into stunning, high-detail 12-megapixel snaps.
Technical jargon aside, the result is photo captures that are highly accurate in terms of color and bright without washing out too much under bright lighting. Low-light shooting is comparably brilliant, as noted above. The shutter speed and processing on photos is also quite fast, even among its more premium-priced flagship peers.
There are some select circumstances where bright lighting does result in a substantial amount of glare in images but those proved difficult to pin down and recreate. Similarly, pictures taken in extremely low lighting aren't going to look quite as clean as the Google Pixel's night sight and under the worst circumstance,s details do get lost.
Even bearing its very minor caveats in mind, however, this camera will perform under almost any circumstances, going far above and beyond most devices in its price bracket.Vivo V15 Pro Camera Samples - Flickr
Software included for the cameras is far too extensive for one review and would require its own review to cover completely. Regardless, it's also completely intuitive, giving users control over the flash, live photo tracking, HDR mode, portrait lighting effects, a timer, filters, wide-angle shots, and more. Aspect ratio and other fine-tuning can be accomplished in between shots too via the settings menu and every last aspect of the UI is quick to use. In short, it is just about as complete a software suite as could even be expected and it works very well.
Pro mode in the software allows granular control over all of the aspects of a shot that would be expected with a professional-grade DSLR and the UI is intuitively set on smoothly animated spinnable wheels. Modes such as Pro mode and Pano mode, where a user might expect to find guides do include guides to make snapping a shot easier. Guides can be turned on in other modes in the settings menu.
Additionally, photos can be snapped in RAW format and Vivo has incorporated two other tools not found in the typical smartphone. Namely, users can turn on touch, voice, or palm camera activation to make snapping a photo a bit more fun and interactive. There's also an AI tool called Jovi that can sense objects the camera is aimed at, identify them à la Google Lens, and load up shopping options where appropriate. That's completely separate from the AI that helps users set up a shot's settings in the automatic modes.
For the selfie camera, Vivo incorporates the mechanical gadgetry into the security of its handset. When used in conjunction with the fingerprint scanner, the pop-up device slips out to the nearly silent sound of gears, peeking at the user just long enough to verify that it was indeed them who unlocked the phone. In complete honesty, it has all of the cuteness of a micro robot while doing so — for those that care about that sort of thing.
In the Camera application, the camera has a set of options to customize the noise, masking the whir completely. While not every mode works with the single-sensor forward-facing snapper, the options for modes that do work remain intact. Final shots captured in selfie mode are almost indistinguishable from the rear-snapper with regard to detail except under extreme low-lighting, bearing testament to how much work has gone into this array.
Frequent updates to security with feature improvements — so far
Night mode takes comparatively excellent photos in low-light settings
Great primary and selfie cameras with great features and intuitive interface
Great in-hand feel
Performance that brings out the very best in optimizations for the internal components
Battery life that isn't great but should last most all day with quick charging
An aesthetic to match the in-hand feel
Audio is beyond acceptable for a modern smartphone
Bottom firing speaker is somewhat high-tuned and tinny
Camera suffered one or two visual distortions that couldn't easily be recreated and don't happen consistently
UI is definitely going to take some getting used to for most users
Front camera noise is quite but may worry/annoy some users
There are very few noteworthy exceptions for the brilliant overall design, features, and functionality that are going to make Vivo's V15 Pro one of a very select few devices to beat this year. Most of those, such as its UI residing just a bit too close to iOS for what the more hardcore fans of Android are likely willing to accept, are very minor grievances that will ultimately boil down to personal tastes.
Other minor issues listed just above, including its slightly too high speaker, are simply part and partial to owning a smartphone, to begin with — or are those like the minor, not-re-creatable camera issues, could be solved in the future with an update. If NFC is an absolute requirement, this is absolutely not the phone to buy either.
In every other regard, Vivo's V15 Pro stands apart as a device that not only looks good on the outside but which packs in premium hardware nearly across the board and shows off the well-optimized performance to prove it.
Its battery is going to be just large enough to last at least a full day between charges without worry for the overwhelming majority of users and the cameras, software, and screen work like a charm. Vivo has very obviously put a lot of thoughtful hours and work into ensuring this handset delivers the powerful experience it does at a cost that puts its more expensive counterparts to shame at around $408.