A major feature of the phone is the 48MP gimbal-mounted main camera, which allows for greater image stabilisation. Photo: Brendon Petersen
A major feature of the phone is the 48MP gimbal-mounted main camera, which allows for greater image stabilisation. Photo: Brendon Petersen

Vivo X50 Pro: Viva la gimbal and other features

By Sam Spiller Time of article published Oct 21, 2020

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Making and selling a phone is tough. Making and selling a flagship phone is tougher. That’s what Vivo set out to do, with interesting success, to say the least.

The Chinese brand of smartphone has flown relatively under the radar since it first launched in South Africa in December last year (despite being the sixth-largest smartphone brand in the world), offering lower-to-mid-range devices such as the Y91C and Y11.

It also faces an uphill battle distinguishing itself from the onslaught of other Chinese brands descending on our country such as Oppo (both brands are owned by electronics company, BBK), and going up against the troubled behemoth that is Huawei.

Rocketing past their current budget offerings, Vivo has launched the flagship X50 series of smartphones, comprising two models, the X50 and X50 Pro. Priced to compete with the Huawei P40 Pro and the recently-launched Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition, the X50 has its work cut out to not only make a name for itself (doing so by including a unique feature in the camera), but also entice customers willing to spend upwards of R15 000 on a phone, which is not that many. After spending a few weeks with the X50 Pro, here’s what you need to know.

Starting with the physical device, the X50 Pro is a handsome, though deceptive phone. Measuring 158.46mm in height and 72.8mm in width, the weight of 181.5g makes it an extremely light device when it’s in one’s grasp, that can be a bit disorientating. But don’t mistake that weight for cost-cutting construction: the phone still has a quality feel to it with an AG matte glass (sidenote, the phone’s also only available in Alpha Grey) back with a satin finish that looks and feels great. The camera hump is definitely noticeable for good reason (more on that later), and the camera system itself is neatly laid out, resulting in a clean design aesthetic. There’s no headphone jack here, but that can be expected for this segment nowadays.

Out on the front, the phone presents a 6.56-inch Curved Ultra display with a 90Hz refresh rate and full HD+ resolution. This is a great display. The wraparound affect combined with a minimal 3.96mm hole-punch selfie camera in the corner makes it look big for a device this size. It could be a bit brighter for when you’re in harsh, sunny environments, but the colours are vibrant and texts are clear to read, and a 90Hz refresh rate is something users get used to and eventually become unable to move away from. Hidden underneath the display you have the fingerprint display which, in this reviewer’s opinion, remains the coolest method of offering this method biometric security.

The X50 Pro’s performance comes from a Snapdragon 765G chipset backed by 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and powered by a 4.315mAh battery. This is a 5G chipset so good on Vivo for including that, and the 765G is a reputable processor for getting daily jobs done swiftly.

What holds it back slightly is the user interface. Using Vivo’s version of Android 10 takes some getting used to and it could be slicker in terms of app accessibility and option navigation. Something I’m noticing more and more is phone manufacturers’ insistence on filling their devices with ‘bloatware’, or apps that you end up uninstalling the moment you boot it up. There’s a lot on the Vivo you don’t need.

Meanwhile, there’s a major omission from this phone’s battery: wireless charging. Yes, the battery itself combined with a 33MW FlashCharge function is very capable and general usage was possible over a 36-hour period. But an omission like that is glaring.

Let’s talk about the Pro’s standout feature: the camera. Holding up the phone to your ear and shaking it, you will hear the slight rattle of the 48MP main camera mounted on a 5-axis gimbal system, allowing for improved image stabilisation. Most phones come equipped with a digital stabilisation process, but Vivo went the physical route. That main camera is accompanied by an 8MP super-wide lens, a 13MP Portrait, and an 8MP telephoto lens with 5x optical zoom. Back on the front, The Selfie is a perfectly-adequate-for-Zoom-conferences 32MP lens. Photo composition wise, the camera gives a good result in both detail and colour, striking a very good balance in focused objects.

Taking pictures, you can see the gimbal at work, with the display hovering before settling, and you taking the shot. It’s great to see design choices like this have a viewable outcome.

The effect of the gimbal is less noticeable when it comes to recording, especially if you’re trying to run with the phone in hand. But another advantage of the gimbal comes with the phone having Super Night modes for low-light and evening shots. Having to stand for up to five seconds to capture a photograph can be tricky, but the gimbal makes life much easier.

The night shots themselves are also well composed with the use of colour, and for those who really like taking pictures of the sky, the phone has dedicated Supermoon and Astro modes.

All in all, the system makes a good case for itself for certain modes of photography. All of this said, however, this remains just a 48MP camera with limited usable zoom functionality (going further in than 30x, you start running into the larger pixels and the gimbal won’t save you from them).

And it’s difficult to declare whether the gimbal system is enough to warrant a purchase of the basis of the camera, as some competitors do take this whole system package to task.

Verdict

Vivo may have missed in shooting for the stars, but they definitely broke out of the atmosphere with their new flagship. The X50 Pro does have its shortcomings in the form of a less-than-ideal user experience, lack of wireless charging, and a price of R19 999, that puts it on the backfoot with other devices for not offering an overall even package.

But it has things about it that are very likeable, such as build quality, the display and the gimbal-mounted camera.

Weekend Argus

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