Beijing, Hong Kong, New Delhi, London, Seoul, Buenos Aires, San Diego – December 23, 2020
On December 17, vivo announced that it had entered a strategic partnership with German optical expert Carl Zeiss. The move is expected to significantly enhance vivo’s camera capabilities. The upcoming vivo X60 series will be the first vivo flagship to leverage the vivo-Zeiss imaging technology. The two partners will also establish a vivo ZEISS Imaging Lab at the vivo headquarters in Dongguan, with vivo focusing on AI algorithm and Carl Zeiss on lens design.
This is not the first time that vivo has taken initiatives in mobile photography. In June this year, it launched the vivo X50 Pro, which brought us an innovative micro-gimbal stabilizing system. Compared to the traditional optical image stabilization (OIS) system, the micro-gimbal system can move the entire camera module rather than just a lens and allows the module to pivot the image sensor by +/- 3°, three times the angle of a regular OIS system. Therefore, it can greatly reduce shakiness in photos and videos while in motion and offer a super-smooth shooting experience. In addition, the micro-gimbal system helps improve the low light performance.
Due to the improvement in mobile photography, the vivo X50 Pro has been widely welcomed by the market, selling about 760,000 units globally during the first five months after its launch, a significant increase of 129% from the 330,000 units that its predecessor, the vivo X30 Pro, sold for the same period.
vivo X50 Pro vs vivo X30 Pro: Monthly Global Sell-through for First Five Months After Launch
Source: Counterpoint’s Market Pulse Flagship Model Sales
At its imaging and media conference on September 7, vivo announced an innovative new red, green, blue, white (RGBW) color array, which will be used in its 2021 models to increase light sensitivity by 160% over the regular sensors.
All these efforts by vivo to improve the mobile photography experience will definitely increase the competitiveness of its premium smartphones.
Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in technology products in the TMT industry. It services major technology and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects, and detailed analysis of the mobile and technology markets. Its key analysts are experts in the industry with an average tenure of 13 years in the high-tech industry.
The Vivo X50 Pro comes with a unique camera gimbal stabilization mechanism.
Under the hood is a Snapdragon 765G 5G SoC with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage.
The phone has a dual-curved screen with a 90Hz refresh rate.
Smartphone photography has come a long way over the last decade. And while most smartphones can capture great still photos, they are not that good when it comes to videos. Despite having electronic and optical image stabilization features, you may still need a gimbal to capture smooth, cinematic footage. The recently launched Vivo X50 Pro tries to address the issue with the world’s first and unique camera gimbal stabilization. With quad rear cameras, Vivo also wants to offer a complete smartphone camera experience in a small package. But does it succeed? Well, I have been putting the smartphone through its paces for the past couple of weeks, and here is what I think.
Vivo tested the waters with V19 in the premium segment, and has seen some success. With the X50 Pro, Vivo has entered the ultra-premium segment (around $600). The smartphone features a curved screen with high refresh rate, sub-6GHz 5G connectivity, a fast-charging battery, and much more. Priced around $670, it will compete with the likes of OnePlus 8, Xiaomi Mi 10, Oppo Find X2. Each of these smartphones has different positioning and unique selling points. All competition devices come with the flagship Snapdragon 865 SoC, and feature 5G connectivity as well. OnePlus 8 also has a special UW (Ultra Wideband) variant for Verizon in the US which offers mmWave connectivity. But in most markets, the company is selling the Sub-6GHz variant.
The OnePlus smartphone offers a 90Hz screen refresh rate, premium design and triple rear cameras at the back. The company has worked with Pixelworks to offer better viewing experience in the form of HDR10+ support, better color preproduction and more. The Mi 10’s USP is the 108MP primary camera developed with Samsung. It also features a too of the line hardware, and comes with 30W wired, 30W wireless and 10W wireless reverse charging support.
The Oppo Find X2 offers a 120Hz screen refresh rate, Snapdragon 865 SoC with 5G and 65W fast charging. Unlike the competition smartphones that feature a glass back, the Oppo smartphone comes with a ceramic back. Besides, the smartphone also offers a versatile triple camera setup at the back.
Lastly, the Android ultra-premium segment cannot be complete without a Samsung smartphone. The South Korean smartphone giant has the flagship Galaxy S20 which comes with a Snapdragon 865 or Exynos 990 SoC, which is region dependent. The smartphone also comes with 5G connectivity in markets where the next-gen connectivity, and in markets like India, you get 4G LTE model. It features wireless charging, 120Hz screen refresh rate and more.
Now, coming back to the Vivo X50 Pro, there is a lot to talk about, right from the design to the display, performance, and cameras. But with photography being the highlight, I will start with that.
Vivo X50 Pro Cameras: A Setup with Multiple Possibilities
Smooth and Stabilized Videos With a Catch
The X50 Pro comes with a quad-camera system at the back. The primary camera has a custom Sony IMX598 with f/1.6 aperture and a gimbal camera mechanism. Vivo says, “It uses double-ball suspension mount and mechanical movement to achieve flexible 3D stabilization and can cover angles 300% larger than traditional OIS.” It compensates for the jerks when you are moving to deliver smooth and fluid footage. While that is mostly beneficial when recording videos, the gimbal also comes handy when clicking still photos, especially the handheld long exposure night shots.
Talking about the quality, the video footage I recorded was smooth. But it worked well at FHD and HD resolutions with 30fps. As it is mechanical stabilization, it should even work when you are recording 4K videos at 60fps. But the footage was not as smooth as you would get with Full HD or HD resolution. Vivo has also included an ultra-steady mode which uses software-based processing algorithms to deliver even smoother footage, and it worked well. The audio quality is also good and clear. There is an Art Portrait mode for videos that has two features — one that adds bokeh effects to your videos, and the other that keeps subject in color and the background in black-and-white. These are fun modes to try.
Video stabilization with the ultra-steady mode is much better than typical OIS.
But there are two small problems that I would like to highlight here. When you have the phone attached to the gimbal, panning along the X-axis is smooth as the motor makes the gimbal move along your movement. But the same is not easily possible with the Vivo X50 Pro, and jerks and jitteriness are visible while panning and with movements if they too sudden. Secondly, the auto-white balance goes for a toss most times, something that Vivo needs to fine tune. Below is a sample footage.
Still Photography: Worth A Shot
Wide, Ultra-Wide and Periscope
The 48MP primary camera sensor uses a 4×1 pixel binning technique to click 12MP default photos. These are about 4MB in size. There is also a separate option to click full 48MP photos, and they are about 10-12MB in size. Talking about the quality, the camera performs surprisingly well. In daylight, it captures great details and the dynamic range is good too. The AI makes the colors look vibrant, but a bit of purple fringing is noticeable, especially if you look at the clouds in the sample shots. This is likely because the AI is going a little aggressive, but that should not be a big deal-breaker.
The primary lens is paired with an 8MP (f/2.2) super-wide-angle lens with 120-degrees FoV, and an 8MP (f/3.4) periscope telephoto lens (135mm). The setup lets you click photos from 0.6x to 60x zoom levels. Photos captured from the ultra-wide lens look good, which is unlike most smartphones where ultra-wide photos show a big drop in quality compared to the primary sensor. Moving on, the 8MP telephoto lens lets you capture photos with 2X and 5X optical zoom, 10X, and going up to 60X digital zoom. Photos with 2X, 5X and 10X zoom look sharp and detailed. While the camera does support 60x digital zoom, I would not recommend that as details are completely lost, even when clicked from a tripod. Below are some camera samples from the three lenses.
Zoom shots up to 10x hybrid zoom offer good details.
Super Night Mode Captures Bright Photos in Low Light
Vivo has also included a Super Night mode that captures a burst of photos at different exposure levels and combines to offer bright photos even in very dim light. I clicked a few sample shots and was impressed with the quality. Though they have less noise, at times, the colors look a bit oversaturated and unnatural. A few tweaks and optimizations to the algorithms could likely improve the quality.
Vivo has also included four different styles for the night mode, which highlights specific colors in the scene. For instance, Black and Gold give prominence to the blacks and lights in the photo. Similarly, with the Green and Orange mode, these colors get more prominence. There are Blue Ice and Cyberpunk color options too. These are some filters that you would find on apps like Instagram or in photo editing tools like Adobe Photoshop Express. They add a nice touch and feel to your photos before you share on social networks.
The night mode also lets you capture the moon. While it has been cloudy in Mumbai, my colleague who is based out of Jammu was able to capture a moon shot, and it looks good.
Low-light photos are good but can be better with software optimizations.
Portrait Mode: Better than a DSLR?
The first-ever smartphone with a dual-camera system (HTC One M8) introduced a depth sensor to add DSLR-like bokeh effects to your photos. And since then, portrait mode has been available on single-camera setups (using AI) and on smartphones with multiple camera setups. The X50 Pro comes with a dedicated 13MP (f/2.46) portrait lens (50mm equivalent). Vivo has also included Bokeh 2.0 mode, which lets you adjust the aperture between f/0.95 and f/16 for background blur. But is the quality better than a DSLR?
I shot two photos, one on the X50 Pro and the other on an entry-level DSLR (Canon EOS 700D), with a prime lens. Of course, the DSLR wins in getting the skin tones right, whereas the X50 Pro (with AI on) smoothens the skin and makes the tone brighter. But the overall quality is not that bad, and the edge detection is good too. There is still sometime before we could completely replace our DSLRs with smartphones, but we are getting closer.
The portrait mode works well to keep the subject in focus while keeping the background blur.
Macros offer Good Details
The 8MP super-wide-angle lens also doubles as a macro camera to let you capture close-up shots. And I like the details it captures. In the two-sample shots, I clicked photos of a fly, where you can see good details of its eyes, wings, and even the hair. In the second picture, I tried to capture a moth, and yet again, the details are quite sharp and clear.
Macro shots are detailed and vibrant.
Selfies are Good, But Can Improve
The smartphone also features a 32MP (f/2.45) front camera in a punch hole setup. It clicks photos in full resolution and the quality is good. It is just that by default, the AI goes aggressive with skin tone softening and smoothening. But not many complaints there as people like to share such photos on social media.
I wish Vivo had given one-click toggle to turn the AI on and off. Right now, you need to manually reduce the level of buffing, skin tone, whitening, and more. There are portrait mode and art portrait effects, like the video mode, and they work well. Below are some sample shots.
Gorgeous Design and Sleek Profile
Smartphone makers are increasingly focusing on the design and build aspect. As glass backs are fingerprint magnets and turn out to be slippery, smartphone makers are trying out different things. I have said this before, and would like to say again, that the frosted glass back looks classy. Even the colors used are refreshing. Vivo had sent me the Alpha Grey color variant.
Design-wise, you get a metal frame sandwiched between front and back glass. What is interesting here is despite being a 5G-ready smartphone, its overall profile is sleek and slim. The glass is curved on the edges, both at the front and back, offering a good grip.
The Vivo X50 Pro offers a luxurious look and feel and is probably one of the slimmest 5G phones.
Performance: It is not the Hardware, But the Software That Matters
The Vivo X50 Pro is a flagship smartphone, and with that tag, expectations rise too. For some, the design and camera feature stand out, but they are disappointed with not having a flagship tier chipset. But I have mentioned this in my Vivo V19 review, and I will say here too. It is not just about having the flagship hardware, but OEMs must optimize the software for a smooth performance. And I think Vivo has cracked that well.
The X50 Pro comes with a 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G octa-core SoC, paired with 8GB (LPDDR4x) of RAM and 256GB (UFS 2.1) storage. On the software front, you get Android 10 with July 2020 Android Security Patch FuntouchOS custom skin on top. With the specifications out of the way, let us talk about performance. I have been using it for about three weeks now, and so far, the experience has been good.
During my usage, I tried to push it through the limits – right from clicking multiple photos and recording videos, to connecting with friends on social media and even gaming for long hours. And I must say, the smartphone runs smoothly. The 7m process node for the SoC offers the right mix of power and efficiency, paired with an optimized OS. The custom skin is vastly improved over the previous iterations as well.
Even gaming performance was smooth with PUBG Mobile offering added features like 4D vibrations and optimized graphics. Other games like Marvel’s Contest of Champions and Asphalt 9: Legends run smoothly too. Even after continuously gaming for an hour and a half, the smartphone remains very cool, and the battery drain is just about 22% during the same length of time.
Gaming performance on the Vivo X50 Pro is super smooth. Thermal management is great too.
Vibrant Display, Good Battery Life
Another interesting thing about the X50 Pro is its display. You get a 6.56-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED (Samsung panel) with dual-edge curves. The screen has a refresh rate of 90Hz and a touch response rate of 180Hz. High refresh rate makes system navigation and scrolling a smooth experience.
The screen is also HDR10+ compliant, which gives better display viewing experience when watching content from video-streaming services.
The screen offers good viewing angles, with punchy color reproduction. Sunlight legibility is also good, and I had no issues viewing the screen content under sunlight. It can hit a peak brightness of 1300 nits, but I never had to stretch that far, considering the weather has been cloudy for the past few weeks.
Binge-watching content on the X50 Pro was a pleasure.
Coming to battery life, the smartphone is armed with a 4,315mAh battery, with support for 33W fast-charging. The battery charges from empty to 40% in 15 minutes and close to 60% in 30 minutes. Full charging takes about 75 minutes. However, the software is well optimized for efficiency. During my usage, I constantly got around six hours of screen time. And even with heavy usage, I would get a minimum of four hours and thirty minutes of screen time. With typical usage, the phone easily offers an all-day battery — my testing included one hour of gaming, two hours of maps navigation and clicking some photos. After all this usage, I still had a 22% battery left by the end of the day.
Conclusion: An All-Rounder Smartphone for the Photography and Videography Enthusiast in You
Half of the year 2020 is already over and having tested multiple devices in these seven months, I am surprised how good smartphones have become. It is good to see that the smartphone makers are focusing on different aspects of user needs with their portfolio. The Vivo X50 Pro offers a refreshing design and good camera experience along with smooth overall performance. It also comes with reliable battery life. Support for 5G also makes it future proof in countries like India. In regions like China and Europe, where 5G is already present, it makes a good value proposition.
As an overall package, it is easily the most refined smartphone Vivo has shipped so far. Though I have not tried the X50 Pro Plus, the X50 Pro has a lot to offer to photography enthusiasts. It will also likely appeal to the vloggers who shoot most of their video footage on the phone. So, whether you are a travel or food vlogger/blogger, you would not get any better still and video camera experience at this price point.
That said, the camera is still not as great as an iPhone or Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S/Note. Vivo needs to fine-tune the algorithms to improve quality. Also, while the gimbal stabilization is steady, it just comes close to using an actual gimbal, but not better yet. But it does well for a first attempt, and what Vivo has managed to achieve here is commendable.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones
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