Mobile handsets have evolved with every new cellular generation, both in terms of form factor and capabilities. From advanced photography and videography to high-speed internet connectivity and the console-like mobile gaming experience, all these capabilities are unlocked by the system on chip (SoC). Qualcomm is the leading SoC company globally and is driving these advanced technologies and smart entertainment experiences across various devices, form factors and price tiers.
In these ‘work and learn from home’ times, on-device AI enabled by the SoC is playing a crucial role. From adding background blur to photos and videos to making you look good, and canceling ambient background noise to optimizing the cellular signal strength and battery life, there are a lot many AI capabilities that SoCs deliver. As OEMs employ these intelligence and feature-packed SoCs in their devices, they strive to deliver the best and advanced experiences. Fast-growing OEMs like Xiaomi are working closely with Qualcomm to leverage AI and other features of the Snapdragon 7- and 8-series platforms and bring intelligent experiences to the end users.
In the latest episode of ‘The Counterpoint Podcast’, host Neil Shah is joined by Kedar Kondap, Vice-president of Product Management at Qualcomm, and Adam Zeng, Senior Vice-president of Xiaomi and President of Xiaomi Smartphone Department. Kedar shares some interesting insights into the AI capabilities of the latest flagship Snapdragon 888 Plus mobile platform, how Snapdragon Elite Gaming enhances mobile gaming, and the evolution of foldable form factors. Adam also talks about how Xiaomi as an OEM and a key partner, is leveraging the platform capabilities in terms of AI, 5G, camera and display R&D to bring the best experiences to its consumers.
The LG Wing 5G is an innovative dual-screen smartphone where the primary display swivels to reveal the secondary screen.
Under the hood is a 7nm Snapdragon 765G SoC with 8GB RAM and up to 256GB storage.
The smartphone supports 5G, wireless charging and a special gimbal mode camera among other features.
LG, which was once the third-largest handset manufacturer globally, has been struggling with its smartphone business over the past few years. When the smartphone era started, LG adopted Microsoft’s OS instead of Android and made a relatively late entry into the Android space. Despite the launch of some innovative devices, LG failed to captivate consumers, which also led to a change in strategy. Now, there are strong rumors that LG has finally decided to consider withdrawal of its smartphone business. While there is no word on how soon it will happen, we have the innovative LG Wing 5G smartphone that was the company’s last major launch.
The LG Wing has managed to impress me with its unique form factor and some of the interesting use cases that it brings. Its day-to-day performance has been smooth and there is nothing major to complain about here. Even the cameras are capable shooters in different lighting conditions. Overall, LG has put a lot of effort into differentiating the Wing from other smartphones in the market. We talk about all that and more in our detailed review below.
Pricing and Strategy: Continues to Innovate Despite Strong Headwinds
The LG Wing retails for $999 in the US for a 256GB storage model. In other countries, LG is offering a 128GB model for roughly the same price. In India, however, it received a price cut just a few weeks after the launch and is now available for around $825.
Commenting on LG’s strategy and positioning, Counterpoint Research Senior Analyst Sujeong Lim said, “One of the problems LG had was that the positioning of the so-called ‘affordable premium’ that it wanted to show through Velvet or Wing was ambiguous. With the G-series, they have built up an image of a specialized smartphone with good audio and camera performance. But since then, LG has lost its brand image. It was a difficult choice – whether to target consumers who want a premium smartphone, or those who want a mid-to-low end smartphone. And this issue had nothing to do with product performance and quality.”
On the rumors of LG exiting the smartphone business, Lim said, “It seems that the final decision on the direction of the LG smartphone division has not yet been made. However, it is unlikely that LG, which has a much higher proportion of mid-to-low end sales, will sell it while leaving only premium lines. We think that a full withdrawal is more likely.”
Design: Form Factors are Exciting Again
Before the smartphone era, we saw some iconic standout designs from Samsung, Nokia, LG, BlackBerry, and others. But as we transitioned to smartphones, the form factor largely remained the same – a candy bar design. Samsung, Motorola and Huawei have already debuted folding display smartphones, but there is still some time before we see an uptick in their adoption.
Coming back to LG, the company has always been ahead on the innovation front. The G5 was LG’s take on modular smartphones, but it failed to capture interest. With the V10, LG introduced a secondary display where you can see the time and notifications, and have app shortcuts and even quick settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Torch toggles. The G8X and Velvet introduced an innovative dual screen in the form of a cover accessory. You can use the secondary screen to extend the display or use it as a joystick when playing games, among other uses.
The LG Wing brings a unique swivel screen that rotates horizontally to reveal a second 3.9-inch OLED screen at the bottom. In the open position, the Wing forms a T-Shape. From the design point of view, the Wing is an engineering marvel, especially if you look at how the mechanism works. But this is not LG’s first smartphone with a swivel mechanism. If you remember the U960 and KU950 feature phones that were launched in 2007, both had a similar design. The swivel screen revealed the T9 keyboard back then, whereas the Wing reveals a second screen.
But a lot has changed in the past 13 years. The Wing now comes with an MIL-STD-810G rating for durability, which means it can survive temperature variations, and “some” accidental falls. There is an IP54 rating for dust and water resistance too, but with a design like that, it would be better to keep it away from water. Overall, the swivel mechanism is smooth and snappy. You also get a satisfying click when the display opens up.
LG has done a commendable job with the Wing’s form factor, showing us different possibilities.
The Wing also offers a full-screen display, with curved edges. There is no notch or hole-punch cutout either. This is made possible thanks to the pop-up front camera. But the screen and form factors make it thick and bulky at 260 gm. You can instantly feel how heavy it is when you hold it in your hands. At the same time, this is the case with almost all 5G smartphones today – the Wing has to accommodate the antennas for both mmWave and Sub-6GHz.
However, all this innovation that LG has put in the Wing raises a few questions. Are there some interesting use cases for this form factor or is it just another gimmick?
Second Screen Use Cases: Better Gaming, Navigation and Multimedia Experience
Talking about specifications, the primary screen features a 6.8-inch P-OLED panel running at full HD+ resolution (1080x2460pixels). The secondary screen is a 3.9-inch OLED which runs at a resolution of 1080x1240pixels. Both screens offer ample brightness, good viewing angles and deep blacks. Colors look vivid, without feeling too oversaturated. The main screen also carries WideVine L1 certification, allowing you to stream HD content on OTT platforms.
So how does the LG Wing take advantage of the dual screen? The best use case comes when playing certain games such as Asphalt 9: Legends, or when watching videos, as it benefits from the horizontal screen. When playing Asphalt, the main screen gives you the controls for braking and nitro, whereas the second screen shows the map. It works both ways – with the screen upwards or downwards. But this feature is limited to Asphalt, probably because of LG’s partnership with Gameloft. I was hoping for something similar when playing games like Call of Duty: Mobile or PUBG Mobile but that does not work.
Games like ‘Asphalt 9: Legends’ make the best use of the secondary display while gaming.
The next use case is when you are watching YouTube. You can enjoy a full-screen viewing experience on the main screen, whereas the bottom screen gets Play/Pause/Skip, volume and brightness controls. You can also use the bottom screen to text via SMS or WhatsApp, check emails, scroll through your Twitter timeline, and more.
One use case I find interesting is where I like to live-tweet when watching EPL or Champions League football matches. And this is where I constantly keep minimizing the screen, open another app, tweet, and repeat. But the Wing solves this problem. I can continue streaming the match on the main screen while I tweet from the bottom screen or visit the EPL app and read live commentary and reactions.
Sports enthusiasts will appreciate the use case where they can watch a match and tweet about it without closing the streaming screen.
Other than that, you can use multiple apps in combination with the second screen. Like in the example above, we have Google Maps running on the main screen, and the Photo Gallery app on the secondary screen. You can even play games on the main screen while texting with your friends on WhatsApp or Messenger on the second screen. So, there are some valid use cases that the new form factor brings, and these will be helpful for those who multitask.
Cameras: Good Still Photography and Smooth Video Recording with Gimbal Mode
The LG Wing comes with triple cameras at the back with a 64MP primary sensor, f/1.8 aperture, and support for Phase Detection Auto-Focus (PDAF) and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Then we have a 13MP sensor with an ultra-wide-angle lens having an aperture of f/1.9 and field of view (fov) of 117 degrees. It is used for still photography when the screen is in a folded position.
The cameras can click good photos in daylight conditions. The photos are detailed with a good dynamic range, and colors look natural too. No immediate color shift is noticeable when switching from wide to ultra-wide lens, which is good. But some barrel distortion is noticeable around the edges. While there is no telephoto lens, the camera does offer 2X zoom where it uses the high-resolution sensor to crop in the image to offer lossless digital zoom. The zoom shots look good too while preserving details. Below are some ultra-wide, wide, and 2X zoom shots.
Close-up shots taken from the camera also offer good details while retaining accurate colors. In the examples below, you can see the flowers and the details on the leaves. Even the colors on the plant leaves look punchy without looking too gaudy.
In the next photos, the camera manages to focus on the cupid and Buddha statue while offering a nice background blur that looks natural. If you zoom in on the photo, you will be able to see the details more clearly.
Moving on, the camera also offers portrait mode where the subject is in focus and the background is blurred. Edge detection works well in separating the background from the subject. LG has also added a bunch of fun and exciting modes that let you play around with the portrait mode while adding a nice touch to your photos. For instance, you can keep the subject in color while keeping the background in black and white. You can also add zoom blur effects. There is also a portrait lighting effect with mono and color modes. They all work well, allowing you to share fun and interesting photos on social media.
Low-light photography on the smartphone is a little weak. In the night mode, you only get to adjust the exposure control, but it would have been better if LG also allowed to control the shutter. By default, it clicks shots at multiple exposure levels in just one second, and so there is no visible difference in the photos shot with default and night modes. Only when there is pitch darkness, the shutter is open for about five seconds, but that does not result in a bright photo most times. Below are sample shots in the default and night modes.
For selfies and video calling, LG has added a 32MP high-resolution motorized pop-up front camera. With an aperture of f/1.9, the camera clicks detailed photos while retaining accurate skin tone.
The portrait mode also works well, and the edge detection is good too, without making the background too aggressive.
Now coming to the third camera, LG has added a 12MP sensor, which also features an ultra-wide-angle lens. It has an aperture of f/2.2 and an fov of 120 degrees. This camera activates only when you open the primary screen and turn on the camera. You get a gimbal mode to record smooth cinematic footage with the camera. LG is using a special “hexa motion” sensor for stabilization.
The gimbal mode is a neat software trick that works well in capturing stabilized videos in good lighting conditions.
One of the notable camera features is where LG takes advantage of the Wing’s “T” shape design. The main display works as a viewfinder to show the footage, whereas the bottom panel works as a grip. It features gimbal controls such as Pan Mode, Follow Mode, and a joystick to mimic a real gimbal. But it is a software implementation, where unlike the gimbal, the camera does not rotate on the axis. Instead, LG is cleverly doing digital cropping using the ultra-wide field of view, to offer wide footage.
Performance: Smooth Day-to-Day Usage, Balanced Battery Life
At the heart of the LG Wing runs a 7nm Snapdragon 765G SoC. It features one prime Cortex-A76 core at 2.3GHz, one performance core at 2.2GHz, and six Cortex-A55 efficiency cores at 1.8GHz. The chipset is paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB/256GB UFS 2.1 storage. It is not the fastest one around but offers good read-write speeds. Apps open quickly, multi-tasking is a breeze, and there is no noticeable lag. Though the UI feels a little slow, that is mostly because of the lack of high-refresh-rate display.
A high-refresh-rate display, slightly bigger battery and faster charging capabilities could have been good additions.
Otherwise, I have no complaints about day-to-day usage. My usage includes a bit of gaming and scrolling through social media – Instagram, Twitter and Facebook timelines. I also use Feedly a lot to keep track of the daily news cycle. With all this usage, the performance was smooth, and the battery easily lasted a working day with a screen-on time of around five hours and 30 minutes. When using both the screens, the screen time would drop to four hours and 40 minutes or so.
On the software side, the LG Wing comes with Android 10 OS with LG UX on top. The custom skin has quite matured over the years and includes some interesting features like Smart Doctor that lets you optimize your phone by clearing temporary files, cache and RAM. It also lets you test different hardware functions such as the proximity sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope. LG has also included context awareness to automatically activate profiles based on whether you are at home, at work, away from home, and more. It is mid-February but the smartphone is running on the January security patch. Given LG’s uncertainty around its mobile business, it will be interesting to see how the company supports users on the software front.
Conclusion: Interesting Concept with Fewer Use Cases
The LG Wing is undoubtedly one of the best-looking smartphones in the market that will make heads turn. Besides the interesting form factor, the swivel mechanism is an engineering marvel. With the Wing, LG has tried to showcase its innovative side, but like its previous attempts, the company has not been able to highlight and market its strengths.
There are a few barriers with the Wing though. Firstly, the fingerprint sensor is out of reach to unlock when you flip out the screen from sleep mode. Essentially, one must first unlock the phone and then open the screen. A rear or side-mounted fingerprint reader could have solved this problem.
Moving on, though the concept of the “T” shape dual-screen sounds interesting, the use cases are extremely limited. LG could have partnered with more app and game developers to take full advantage of this concept. The main screen with a 90Hz refresh rate and above could have made it a better proposition. Lastly, the low-light camera performance can be improved further with updates. Even a fix for barrel distortion on ultra-wide-angle shots could offer a better photography experience.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on Latest Smartphones
The vivo V20 Pro 5G features one of the slimmest designs at 7.49 mm.
Under the hood is a 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G SoC with Sub-6GHz 5G support.
The smartphone comes with 33W fast-charging support.
After the success of the vivo V19, the company launched its successor, the V20, towards the end of 2020. But this time around, vivo launched three models in the series, a strategy similar to what Apple and Samsung have been doing with their premium lineups. So, you have the mid-tier V20 SE, and the V20, followed by the affordable premium V20 Pro 5G that we are reviewing today. These three vivo smartphones are quite identical, with some differences in their design and hardware. The vivo V20 Pro 5G builds on the foundation of the vivo V19 while bringing key upgrades to take on the competition.
I have been using the vivo V20 Pro 5G for over three weeks now. It has impressed me in three key areas. The smartphone comes with a sleek form factor with a beautiful gradient back. The performance is more refined than its predecessor and, lastly, the camera experience is much improved too. I will talk about these points in detail in the review below.
Pricing and Strategy: vivo goes Apple, Samsung way
As mentioned above, there are three devices in the series. The V20 SE is priced around $290, the V20 around $350 and the V20 Pro 5G around $410. At this price point, the major competitors for the V20 Pro 5G are the Google Pixel 4a and OnePlus Nord. While the Nord and V20 Pro are powered by the same chipset and include 5G connectivity, the Pixel 4a comes with a stunning still camera, even if it does not feature 5G and a better chipset.
Talking about the company’s strategy, Senior Analyst Prachir Singh said, “vivo has been a dominant smartphone player in many emerging markets. It consistently holds top three positions in key Asian markets, such as China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. One of the key factors in its success is the V-series smartphones. The new Vivo V20 series sports a super-sleek form factor, a beautiful design and impressive camera specifications. Vivo V20’s predecessor, V19, witnessed strong demand in India, Indonesia, Thailand and other SEA markets. The vivo V20 Pro 5G is the cheapest 5G offering from an offline-centric brand in India. Also, with the V20 and V20 SE models, vivo is offering the same design and key features at different price points to expand its market share in different price bands.”
In October 2020, vivo marked its official entry into the European market. The new V20 series may offer a unique proposition to the European consumers in the sub-$400 segment, helping the brand accelerate its adoption in the continent’s market.
Design: Striking Gradients and Matte Finish Translate into Premium Look and Feel
The V20 Pro 5G is undoubtedly one of the best-looking smartphones in the segment. It is sleek with a thickness of just 7.49 mm. The smartphone is also lightweight at just 170 gm, thanks to its plastic frame. It features a Corning Gorilla Glass 5 cover at the back with a smooth matte finish. This helps in offering a good grip while ensuring it does not attract fingerprints.
But the most eye-catching detail of the smartphone is its gradient back panel which looks quite flashy, especially the Sunset Melody color variant. Depending on the angle from which you look at, it throws different hues of violet, blue, pink and purple.
The rectangular camera module is on the top left corner. It features a triple camera setup and a dual-LED flash. It does have a small camera bump, but it is not as much as seen on most phones. In the lower half, below the camera module, there is vivo branding along with a 5G logo.
There are other subtle details of the smartphone design that are worth mentioning. The rounded edges ensure you get a better grip when holding the phone, whereas the curved corners ensure it does not look too boxy. vivo has also paid attention to finer details, like the power button, which comes with a textured finish to distinguish it from the volume rocker.
The Sunrise Melody color variant simply looks stunning.
Performance: Snappy and Reliable
Talking about performance, there are three things I would like to highlight – display, smooth functioning and battery life. Starting with the display, vivo has gone with a 6.44-inch E1 Pro AMOLED full HD+ display with a resolution of 2,400×1,080 pixels, 408ppi. There is a small notch on the top that houses the dual cameras, and while it does not bother you, a hole-punch cutout like the V19 could have been a better option.
Now, while the trend of smartphones with a 90Hz and above refresh rate is rising, sadly, the V20 Pro runs on a 60Hz refresh rate. Not that it is bad, but once you have used a phone with a high refresh rate, it becomes difficult to go back to 60Hz, as you feel like the UI is lagging.
But otherwise, the display is sharp and bright. Viewing the screen from different angles is no problem either. Whether you are scrolling through your timeline or binge-watching your favorite TV show, the screen will not disappoint you.
The AMOLED display offers deep blacks and vivid color reproduction but misses out on a higher refresh rate.
Moving on, the V20 Pro runs on the latest Android 11 with Funtouch OS 11 skin on top. It offers all the Android 11 goodies, along with vivo’s additions such as Jovi personal assistant, which works like Google Now feed. There is also the Ultra Game Mode with 4D game vibrations on supported games, eagle eye enhancement to make your games look better with color enhancements, tone mapping and detail sharpening. It also includes the high-performance eSports mode and do-not-disturb mode to keep those annoying notifications, calls and messages away when you are focusing on the game.
Under the hood is a 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G SoC with integrated Snapdragon X52 5G modem with support for the Sub-6GHz frequency band and Wi-Fi 6. There is an 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage. While it is not the fastest memory and storage around, it is good for its price point. The UFS 2.1 storage offers good read and write speeds while 8GB of RAM is more than enough to ensure smooth functioning.
During my usage, the phone ran smoothly without any issues. Even playing heavy-duty game titles like Call of Duty: Mobile or having multiple apps and Chrome windows open in the background, the phone did not show any signs of lag.
The hardware along with the software is well-optimized to offer smooth performance.
Lastly, we come to battery life. The 4,000mAh battery lasts more than a day with moderate usage. With heavier usage, the phone will still last a full working day before requiring a charge. The 33W flash charge feature charges up to 60% battery in about 30 minutes. A full charge takes about 75 minutes, which is not bad at all. My usage included one hour of gaming daily and about three hours of social media including Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter. Net surfing and watching videos on YouTube for about 40 minutes was also a part of the routine. With all this usage, I got close to six hours of screen time quite often. But the battery life is very subjective and will differ from person to person, based on individual usage.
The vivo V20 Pro 5G offered a good screen time of around six hours on a single charge.
Cameras: Capable Shooters in Every Lighting Condition
With its range of smartphones, vivo has focused on the front camera, and the V20 Pro 5G continues to do so with an improved sensor and AI enhancements that let you click even better selfies. There is a dual-camera setup on the front, featuring a 44MP main sensor of f/2.0 aperture, paired with an 8MP secondary sensor of f/2.28 aperture with an ultrawide lens. For better focus, the company is using Eye Auto Focus to track and focus on your eyes, rather than the face. This helps in clicking clear selfies, despite the lack of auto-focus.
The Eye Auto Focus feature is quick and accurate in locking focus.
In terms of quality, the main sensor captures some good-looking detailed selfies. With AI optimizations and beauty mode turned off, the camera retains the skin tone. But if you want to hide those blemishes, turning on the beauty mode is an option. But, while this mode adds skin smoothening, the result looks too artificial at times.
What is impressive here is the backlit compensation for underexposed images, especially the ones shot against the sun. This is where most cameras fail and result in clicking dark images. But vivo has fine-tuned the algorithms to click better images in challenging situations like these. Below are some camera samples in default and portrait modes, shot against the harsh sun just before setting. It is also worth mentioning that the edge detection in portrait mode works well, without making it look too artificial. Though, the portrait mode does make the skin look a little brighter.
The 44MP front camera clicks detailed selfies with realistic skin tones, even when shot against the sun.
vivo has also included a night mode where a burst of photos is captured at different exposures in three seconds to stitch them into a brighter, clearer image. But it depends on the lighting conditions. If you are in an ambient light environment, such as a restaurant or a pub, you will be in a better position to click good photos than in a darker environment. But these photos are passable on social platforms.
The secondary ultrawide-angle camera is a hit and miss. While it lets you capture more from the scene, the drop in resolution is noticeable. Still, the photos are decent enough to share on social media.
Moving on to rear cameras, the smartphone comes with three sensors. The primary one is a 64MP Samsung GW1 sensor with an f/1.89 aperture. The other two sensors are 8MP with an ultrawide lens and a 2MP mono lens which gets activated when you enable the Graded B/W filter in the camera app. While the idea of having a dedicated mono sensor is good, a higher resolution could have been better.
The Samsung sensor can click good photos in daylight conditions with ample details and a good dynamic range. Just like the front camera, the rear camera also captures bright photos even when shooting against the sun. As the phone does not have a dedicated telephoto lens, vivo is using the main sensor to click a high-res image and then crop it to offer up to 2X digital zoom. It works well and offers a lossless zoom. The 8MP sensor with an ultrawide lens is also well-tuned, and you will not see any disjoint in the color science when clicking ultrawide, wide and zoom shots. Below are a few samples.
The 64MP main camera and the 8MP ultrawide camera click good, detailed photos in good lighting conditions.
In low-light conditions, the camera does a good job, especially in the night mode. Below are a couple of shots I clicked in default and night modes. As you can see, the default picture looks dull, and the fan grill is also not clearly visible. With the night mode on, the photo looks crisp and detailed. Some purple fringing is noticeable, but that is the result of the bright red light from the opposite building.
The ultrawide lens also doubles as a macro lens when clicking close-up photos. vivo is also using this lens to add DSLR-like bokeh effects to portrait photos. The edge detection is good as well.
With the increasing number of people getting into vlogging, and more using short-video apps like Instagram Reels and TikTok, videos have become more important today. In the V20 Pro 5G, both front and rear cameras allow you to record 4K videos at 60fps, and the quality is quite good. There is also a mode that allows you to record videos with both front and rear cameras simultaneously. But, while this mode is fun to use, the resolution is restricted to 1080p at 30fps.
Conclusion: The One That Ticks Most Boxes
vivo has done a good job with the V20 Pro 5G in terms of design, fast-charging battery, and offering the latest Android OS. The smartphone is also 5G ready, which adds to future-proofing for buyers in the emerging markets, and could prove to be an entry point for vivo in existing 5G markets like Europe where there is a Huawei gap left to be filled.
Both front and rear cameras are capable of clicking good photos, especially in backlit conditions where the camera is facing against the sun. The smartphone maker has also added some fun modes such as dual recording, portrait lighting effects and dual aperture to add a little dash to your photos and videos.
However, low-light quality can be improved. Using a telephoto lens instead of a mono lens could have been a better idea. The other option could have been to go with a higher resolution mono lens to click brighter photos with low noise, just like what Huawei did in some of its P and Mate series smartphones. The other complaint is not having a high-refresh-rate display, which could have made the vivo V20 Pro an even more attractive option in the segment.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones
The OnePlus Nord sports a 6.44-inch FHD+ display with 90Hz refresh rate.
It is powered by a Snapdragon 765G SoC with up to 12GB RAM, 256GB storage.
To keep things ticking is a 4,115mAh battery with 30W Warp Charging.
Chinese smartphone company OnePlus makes some of the most value-for-money smartphones with a self-proclaimed tagline “Flagship Killer”. The smartphones offer the right balance between performance and features, and cost significantly less than the Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxies and Huawei smartphones. In fact, over the years, OnePlus smartphones have matured from “flagship killers to flagships”. In India, OnePlus leads the premium segment, followed by Samsung and Apple. But, in this whole process, a gap got left behind, that too in the segment where OnePlus started its journey. The latest OnePlus Nord is the company’s attempt at “going back to its roots” and competing in the hotly contested mid-premium segment.
With prices starting at around $400, the OnePlus Nord does bring a set of tradeoffs. There is no wireless charging, no IPXX rating, no stereo speakers, and no flagship chipset. But the OnePlus Nord does come with 5G connectivity. It also brings all the OnePlus goodness such as clean and customizable OxygenOS UI and Warp Charging technology. From the 90Hz screen refresh rate to 48MP quad rear cameras with OIS and dual front cameras, there is a lot to like about the Nord. OnePlus is also promising two years of Android OS upgrades and three years of security updates.
But what makes the OnePlus Nord special in its segment? Well, after using the smartphone for over two weeks, I can say that a lot is working in its favor. But before I get to the design and performance part, let me first talk about why OnePlus “Nord” exists.
What does Nord mean?
When I first heard the product name, I had two thoughts in my mind. It either had to do something with the Nordic countries or something with the Nord VPN. Maybe a phone with a built-in VPN for better privacy. But ahead of the launch, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei revealed the reason behind the product naming.
“Nord name comes from the concept of true north. We each have this inner compass that guides us. This product line reminds us to always search for our true north, and we hope it will keep reminding you of yours,” Carl Pei tweeted. So, can the Nord guide OnePlus to success? Let’s find out.
Design: Realme X50 Pro Lite in the Making
It is no secret that OnePlus and Realme share parts of the supply chain, design, and the manufacturing line with Oppo. Despite the various prototypes that OnePlus experimented with the Nord, it finally went with a design that closely resembles the Realme X50 Pro and Realme X3 SuperZoom. I do not have much to complain, except that nothing is refreshing considering the new product line and the company’s ambitions.
The Nord features a front and back glass design protected with Corning Gorilla Glass 5. But unlike other OnePlus smartphones that feature a metal frame, the Nord comes with a hard plastic frame with a shiny metal finish. It does not bother much to me as it makes the phone a little lighter to hold compared to other 5G phones, like the Realme X50 Pro. The front is dominated by a 6.44-inch screen, but more on that later. It also comes with a dual hole-punch selfie camera cutout on the top left. There are rounded corners on all four sides, with very thin bezels. Despite having a taller screen, the Nord feels compact and comfortable to hold.
The placement of buttons is also good enough for easy accessibility, and they offer good tactile feedback too. The volume rocker is on the left, whereas the power/sleep button is on the right. Just above the power button is the alert slider to quickly switch between volume profiles (ring, vibrate and silence).
Along the back is a vertical, pill-shaped quad-camera module and LED flash on the top left. The rest of the back is clean with the OnePlus logo in the center and branding at the bottom. OnePlus sent me the Blue Marble color unit for review, and it looks refreshing. There is also a Grey Onyx color.
The Blue Marble color gives the OnePlus Nord a distinct look and feel.
Display: 90Hz Screen Refresh Rate and More
The display runs at Full HD+ resolution, 1080×2400 pixels, and a tall 20:9 aspect ratio. The screen has a refresh rate of 90Hz, and it supports HDR10+ as well. It offers good viewing angles, vibrant color reproduction, and legibility is no issue either. The high refresh rate makes animations, web scrolling and UI navigation quite smooth.
OnePlus lets you choose between Vivid, Natural and Advanced screen profiles depending on your needs. There is also a “Reading Mode” which turns the screen into a greyscale mode. If you are reading e-books or a long article on some site, activating the reading mode will ensure less strain on your eyes.
Software: OxygenOS with Promised Software Updates and Upgrades
The Android OS is used by hundreds of OEMs, but only a handful of them offer timely software updates. Besides Nokia HMD, OnePlus is also known to offer timely OS upgrades and monthly security patches to its smartphones. The Nord runs on Android 10 with a July security patch. And despite offering a lot of customization options, the OxygenOS 10.5 also offers close to stock Android experience with just a couple of pre-installed apps.
The UI feels super smooth, thanks to the hardware and software optimization. A lot of credit also goes to the 90Hz screen refresh rate which makes the whole experience better. The interface is smooth, and scrolling through web pages is fluid too. Another thing I like about OxygenOS is how easy it is to customize different aspects, right from accent color to the tone, system icons and fonts among others.
Then there are some interesting additions in the form of Game Space, which optimizes the CPU, GPU and RAM for a lag-free performance. There is also a Fnatic mode that supercharges the smartphone with network enhancements while activating the DND mode for a distraction-free gaming experience.
Another thing I like is the Zen Mode. In the current COVID-19 times, we spend more time on our phones, and it is important to get some digital detox. The Zen Mode does exactly that – it locks you out of your smartphone for 20-60 minutes, depending on what you choose. Once activated, you will only be able to make and receive emergency calls, and all apps except the camera will be temporarily locked.
The OxygenOS skin offers the best of near-stock Android experience with a dash of customization.
Performance: So Much More For Less
The Nord is the first OnePlus smartphone that does not sport a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800-series chipset. It draws its power from a 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G SoC, which is paired with up to 12GB of LPDDR4X RAM and up to 256GB UFS 2.1 storage. Coming to performance, the OnePlus Nord may not be the fastest, but it does show what the 765G SoC is capable of. It can be comparable to the Snapdragon 845 SoC, but with a 7nm process node, the 765G is a bit more efficient too. We have already seen how smoothly the chipset performs in our Vivo X50 Pro review, and the experience is the same on the Nord too.
Right from daily tasks like surfing the internet to social media or multitasking, the Nord handles things well. The gaming experience on the smartphone is also smooth. I had no issues running games such as PUBG Mobile, Alto’s Odessey and Hill Climb 2 among others. One of the things I like here is how well optimized the battery management and thermals are on the smartphone.
The Snapdragon 765G SoC offers a good mix of performance and efficiency, along with 5G connectivity.
I played PUBG Mobile at a stretch for two hours with graphics at HD and frame rate at high. Even with this usage, the phone barely got warm, and the battery drain was just 36%. This was with the standard gaming mode. However, occasional frame lags were noticeable. OnePlus has also included the Fnatic mode, which supercharges the phone in terms of allocating more resources for gaming. It also blocks unwanted calls and other notifications for a distraction-free gaming experience. The Fnatic mode did make things smoother.
Cameras: Surprisingly Good, Especially Low-Light
Though the Nord is not a flagship smartphone, OnePlus is offering a flagship camera experience. It comes with a quad-camera set-up at the back and dual cameras on the front. The Nord is also one of the first smartphones in its segment to come with optical image stabilization (OIS) to let you capture blur-free photos and smooth videos. The primary camera is a Sony IMX586 sensor (f/1.8), which is also present on OnePlus 8. It is a 48MP sensor that captures 4×1 binned shots in 12MP resolution by default. But there is also an option to capture full-res photos that take three times more space than standard 12MP shots.
In terms of quality, photos captured from the primary camera offer good details. As it is monsoon, I did not get to test the camera to see how it performs in harsh sunlight. But with the cloudy weather and all, the camera was able to capture the greenery pretty well. Though there is no telephoto lens, the Nord does let you capture 2X digital zoom shots, and they look good. It uses the 48MP sensor to capture full-res images and the crop. Below are some camera samples.
The primary camera performs well in low-light conditions. But to get better shots, you will need to use the nightscape mode. From the photos I captured, the nightscape mode photos are sharper, brighter and look vibrant too. Though the photos look a little oversaturated, I like how OnePlus has fine-tuned the algorithms. The overall quality looks sharp and better.
“The primary camera offers good overall performance in daylight and low light.”
The other three cameras include an 8MP sensor, an ultra-wide lens, a 5MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens. Photos shot from the ultra-wide lens are decent in daylight, but they suffer in dim lighting conditions. The depth sensor works well in adding background defocus to your photos. Edge detection is good too, and there are no complaints there.
Portrait mode photos offer a shallow depth of field, though having an option to adjust the blur intensity would have been better.
Lastly, while most OEMs use the ultra-wide camera for capturing macro photos, OnePlus has added a dedicated 2MP macro lens. But as it is a low-resolution sensor, the photos are not that sharp and vibrant. The photo quality is just passable.
Smooth Videos, But Not The Best
Now, having OIS makes recording smooth videos easier, even with 4K 60fps. Though it does not match the smoothness offered by a gimbal, the video quality is decent for handheld videos. But for better footage, 1080p at 30fps works well.
OnePlus has also included a super stable mode that uses a combination of OIS and EIS (electronic image stabilization). Though videos are slightly smoother, they are not sharp and a lot of graininess is visible too.
Good Selfies and Videos From Front Cameras
Upfront, the Nord comes with two cameras in a hole-punch set-up. The primary camera is a 32MP sensor, and it is paired with an 8MP ultra-wide sensor. Selfies look good, but the AI is a little aggressive in making the skin tone a little brighter. But it does work well in hiding the dark spots and blemishes to an extent.
The ultra-wide-angle camera is also good in retaining quality even with the drop in resolution. Below are some sample shots.
One of the interesting things about the front camera is that you can also record 4K 60fps videos. One small caveat is that you can only use the main camera for video recording, not the ultra-wide one. But that is not a problem as such, and the video recording and audio quality is surprisingly good.
4K 60fps videos from the front camera are good enough for vlogging newbies.
Battery: One Full Day, and Some More
Talking about the battery life, the OnePlus Nord is equipped with a 4,115mAh unit. It also supports 30W fast charging tech which the company claims goes from 0 to 70% in just 30 minutes. In my test, the battery rose from 2% to 64% in just about 32 minutes. Full charging took about one hour and eight minutes, which is not bad at all.
The battery life on OnePlus Nord is pretty solid.
With a mixed usage that includes heavy gaming for two hours, social media, and web surfing, the Nord easily lasts a day with about 28% battery to spare at night. Without gaming, the Nord with me lasted for a day and a half over the weekend. In terms of screen time, I constantly got around six-and-a-half hours of usage, and sometimes some more.
Conclusion: Good Things Come in Small, Affordable Package
Apple reworked its iPhone strategy to capture the lower-tier market with a value-for-money proposition with the iPhone SE. OnePlus is trying to create the same magic in the Android world. The OnePlus Nord has all the required ammunition in its arsenal to succeed. Available in the emerging markets like India, and other markets such as Spain, France and the UK, it will largely miss the North American market. But given the markets OnePlus is targeting, the Nord has better chances to emerge as a winner.
That said, the Nord is not perfect. The cameras could have been a bit better. Instead of going for a quad-rear camera set-up, OnePlus should have gone with a triple camera set-up like the OnePlus 8, while using the ultra-wide sensor as a macro lens. Having an IPXX rating for splash resistance could have been welcome. OnePlus should also work towards fine-tuning the video camera algorithms, especially with the super stable mode. A stereo speaker set-up would have been a better addition as well for a better multimedia experience. But beyond these, there is nothing much to complain at this price point.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones
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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