Is the Vivo X21 worth getting for its In-Display Fingerprint Sensor?


Vivo wowed the world when it showcased a smartphone concept that is literally all screen during MWC 2018. They managed to achieve it by having a retractable front-facing camera, and an in-display fingerprint scanner. Fast-forwarding into the present, Vivo launched their Vivo X21 (S$799) - an actual smartphone with an in-display fingerprint sensor. With this novel feature taking the helm in the marketing of Vivo's latest flagship, we are here to answer this burning question. Is it worth buying a smartphone for this specific feature?


In-Display Fingerprint Scanner

Sick-looking animation to boot

Moving straight to the coup de grâce of the Vivo X21, the highly anticipated in-display fingerprint sensor. First off, it is actually really cool! Like a cool party trick, this new tech makes the mundane task of unlocking the smartphone become the center of attention in any room.

But like any new tech, those who owns this device are essentially early adopters that have to face the kinks that have not been ironed out. Unlocking it while the phone is asleep on the desk requires the user to use either the Always-On Display mode, or have the phone lifted up to wake up the fingerprint scanner. Not to mention, the sensor also takes about a second on average to recognize your fingerprint, which is double that of a typical fingerprint sensor. With all things said, the future is still looking bright for in-display fingerprint sensors. There might even be a fingerprint scanner that takes up the entirety or half of the display in the next Vivo flagship. 

In terms of aesthetics, the removal of any front buttons together with the top notch, allows Vivo to claim an impressive 90.3% screen-to-body ratio on its 6.28-inch AMOLED display. As immersive as the phone feels when using most apps, there are one small limitation with its software. While consuming content like videos, the full width of the display is not used. Even while watching videos with the appropriate aspect ratio (18:9), there are black bars on all sides of the content. Hopefully Vivo can improve on this with future software updates.


Slim Build

Buttons have the tactile feel, is tougher to depress

The Vivo X21 feels great to hold, with the curved edges fitting the curve of the hand naturally. However, holding it naked can be somewhat tough due to the 3D glass back. Thankfully, there is an included case that both helps improve the handling of the device as well as protects the phone from scratches.

The headphone jack is dead, long live the headphone jack

Yes, the 3.5mm headphone jack is still not officially dead. With the inclusion of this jack, any need for carrying around a dongle is utterly removed. Additionally, a built-in AK4376A audio chip for Hi-Fi audio playback is also included. It features playback of audio files of up to 384KHz / 32-bit, which is definitely more than sufficient for the majority of music lovers.

Not all is great on the audio front with the Vivo X21 only including a single mono speaker. The lack of the typical stereo output, does bring some points off in the audio category. However, it somewhat redeems itself with its speaker getting pretty loud.


For a phone that is coming out in 2018, using the venerable micro-USB cable for its charging and data transfer needs is surprising. This can be seen as a boon to some as there are still many devices that uses the micro-USB port (e.g. power banks), reducing the number of cables that is needed when on the go.


Decent Camera

Photo resolution options - 24MP and 50MP/Ultra HD (left to right)

In terms of usability for the camera, the application is of key importance. With that said, Vivo X21's default camera will be pretty familiar to those in the Apple ecosystem. Swiping at the bottom changes modes, while the settings per modes can be accessed at the top. However, there are some settings that can be tricky to access. One of them would be the resolution of the photo that is being taken. Switching from the default 12MP to 24MP is rather simple, but the 50MP (Ultra HD) setting can only be found in the "Professional" mode.

In the video side of things, the X21 takes up to 4K videos which is standard in the mid-tier range of smartphones. However, it lacks the ability to take videos at high frame rates - e.g. 1080P@60fps.


Camera performance is also what you would expect, with photos holding its own in the market. Here are photos taken with the Vivo X21.



iOS Funtouch OS 4.0

Command Center

The Vivo X21 runs on Funtouch OS 4.0, which is a iPhone-like skin over the latest version of Android (Oreo 8.1). This makes this device one of the better options for iPhone owners to jump ship onto Android. Save for the surprisingly handy and accessible Command Center, it still behaves pretty similarly to any Android smartphone. Gestures are easy to pick up, with a wide variety of capabilities provided. Multitasking on this device still falls a little short as it is unable to support some apps for its split-screen feature, with only a handful of selected apps being compatible.


In a world of ever-changing display resolutions, size does matter. The Vivo X21 sports a 6.28" 2280*1080 display that is large enough to fit a ton of content at once on its screen. However, the default DPI that is set is too small to make full use of the display size. This results in larger-than-usual fonts and layouts, with a little too much white space. DPI settings are largely preferential, and if you intend to change it, you can head over to the "Developer options" in the settings by tapping "Software version" in the "About phone" page seven times.

This brings me to my second point - enabling developer mode actually displays a "Dev mode" icon at the top right of the notch. The icon, together with an undismissable notification, affects the whole user experience for those who love to tinker. Hopefully Vivo allows the toggling of this "safety" functionality.



Worth Buying?

Back to the question at the start, is the Vivo X21 worth buying for its novel implementation of a fingerprint scanner inside the display? With Vivo trying to break into the premium smartphone arena that Singapore is known for, it's mid-tier specs does leave something to be desired for its price tag of S$799. However, the Vivo X21 is still a remarkable smartphone, and manages to stand out from its competitors with its in-display fingerprint scanner. If you do love the aesthetics of iOS and want to be ahead in smartphone tech department, the Vivo X21 is a great pickup.

It should be noted that the flaws mentioned above are mostly minor, and most users would not even be bothered by them.

For more information on the Vivo X21, please visit the http://www.vivo.com/sg/products .

The Vivo X21 will be available at M1, StarHub and authorized dealers including Challenger and Newstead Technologies. You can view a list of shops which sells the Vivo X21 here


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