Vivo V15 Pro review: democratising smartphone innovation for the masses

Rating: 8.1/10

Yay:

  • No notch thanks to the pop-out selfie camera!
  • Snapdragon 675 is surprisingly powerful
  • Good looking design
  • Extremely feature-packed cameras
  • Great audio performance from the 3.5mm jack

Nay:

  • Micro-USB port in 2019
  • FunTouch OS continues to be overbearing 
  • Mono speaker could’ve been louder

Introduction

From the boat notch to the water-drop notch to a completely notch-less display, 2018 is the year Vivo led the smartphone innovation engine from the front. Oh, and let’s not forget the in-display fingerprint scanner and the pop-out selfie cameras too. It is no wonder then that Vivo won the award for the best innovative smartphone in the inaugural edition of the Mr. Phone awards.

Bringing the best of all that innovation to the mid-range segment is the – Vivo V15 Pro. More people can now look forward to a futuristic all-screen display with a pop-out selfie camera! Let’s get down to the full review of the Vivo V15 Pro.

Vivo V15 Pro design: future made affordable but slightly flawed 

The V15 Pro is made entirely of polycarbonate but you can’t make that out unless you actually hold the phone in your hand. It looks a lot like glass because Vivo has gone out of the way to use a special coating on the plastic body. The phone is available in two colours – the one you see here is the Topaz Blue one. It is a head turner. Not just me, but quite a few people really like how this phone looks. 

The V15 Pro is a fairly chunky 8.1mm at the center but from the rear, the phone has a gentle slope that meets at the frame. This gives the phone an illusion of being slim in the hand. Anyway, this is a smart design tactic. You also get a new triple camera setup on the rear. This is placed on a separate module that clips on from the top like a…well…clip. It looks odd at first but you get used to it. I have a couple of concerns with this setup though. Firstly, I found it sticking out a bit too much from the rear. 

Secondly, there were times when my index finger would inadvertently obstruct the lens or come in the frame while taking a shot. This is because the clip module extends quite a bit below. And, the primary 48MP camera is the one that sits at the bottom. Therefore, your finger obstructing the view will happen often. So, be careful when shooting. 

But yes, the marquee feature of the phone is definitely the pop-out selfie camera. You can change the opening sound for this pop-out camera. Although, even if you mute it you will hear the sound of the motor in a really quiet room. You can also push the motor down with your finger but it closes the camera app immediately. 

More importantly, it is a faster spring mechanism and as a result, the motor moves the module noticeably faster than the one on the Vivo Nex. Because of this, it enables Face Unlock on the phone. And man, it is super fast. I never got bored of watching the front camera pop out from its groove every single time I wanted it to recognise my face. In fact, it works pretty well in the absolute dark as well. The V15 Pro lights up the screen to illuminate the face in order to recognise it. Honestly, I didn’t use the new 5th generation in-display fingerprint scanner very often during my review period. It is fast and pretty effective but I am a big fan of a well-implemented face unlock. I really hope Android brands find a way to make it more secure like the iPhone XS.

On the top, you get a 3.5mm jack. Hallelujah. And, at the bottom, you get a Micro-USB port. Okay, I take that back. Flanking the dratted Micro-USB port is the mono speaker on the right and the dual SIM card tray for Nano-SIM cards on the left. The right edge has the power button and the volume rocker, which are adequately tactile. And, on the left, you get a dedicated button for the Google Assistant along with a separate slot for the microSD card.

All in all, the Vivo V15 Pro is a looker that makes a few compromises to incorporate futuristic tech. 

Vivo V15 Pro display: Super AMOLED looks crisp, bright, and a little too colourful

The V15 Pro’s 6.39-inch display stares at you and you don’t have to stare back at a notch. It is a very freeing experience that truly liberates you. #SayNoToTheNotch

This Super AMOLED panel looks crisp and bright. That said, it is a little too colourful in my opinion. The oversaturated colours accentuate the reds and it is definitely tuned to wow people. But, it is not accurate. And, the in-built settings didn’t help me much either. But, the blacks are deep and inky. The viewing angles are fine, not too bad. That said there is definitely some colour shift that you will notice and which is typical for most phones with AMOLED panels. 

As for the haptic feedback, you do get a vibration motor behind the display but it is not very precise. But I still find it pretty decent primarily because it is soft feedback that doesn’t break the experience. So, I kept it on during my usage. 

Vivo V15 Pro multimedia: this display deserved some more love

The V15 Pro’s multimedia performance is largely defined by its large notch-less display. It is a clean, uninterrupted experience that can easily hide the flaws in the colour accuracy because it looks stunning, to begin with. I was compelled to watch more videos on the phone just because of the way it draws you in. 

But yeah, the V15 Pro doesn’t offer Widevine L1 certification, which allows for streaming on Netflix and Prime in HD quality. This is a letdown if you consume a bulk of your video content through these services. And, also because the Nokia 8.1 offers Widevine L1 certification along with support for HDR10. That said, if you watch only YouTube videos then the V15 Pro should work well for you. 

As for the audio, the mono speaker at the bottom doesn’t get too loud but it is fairly crisp. The audio performance, true to Vivo’s legacy, is really, really good. This is one reason that the V15 Pro really outshines the competition in this price range. The same can be said for the performance of the wireless audio too. 

Vivo V15 Pro software: FunTouch OS is far removed from Android

The Vivo V15 Pro, like all other Vivo phones in the past, uses FunTouch OS as a skin on top of Android 9.0. There is really not much different this time around. It is almost the same experience that we had on the Vivo V11 Pro or the Nex. Let me break down my views into a few points that I liked and didn’t:

Stuff I liked:

  1. A universal search like iOS is a great feature. I think all Android phones should have it like this. 
  2. I really like the message screen splitting that shows a floating bubble of any message you receive through an app like WhatsApp. You can immediately split the screen by hitting the floating icon. 
  3. The app clone option for multiple messaging apps is a helpful feature for a lot of folks.
  4. A dedicated Motorbike mode for motorcyclists can help riders ride safely. 

 

Stuff I don’t like:

  1. Too many unwanted third-party apps that are pre-installed. For example, Newspoint and UC Browser. Thankfully, they can be deleted. 
  2. Custom icons for notifications are still beyond my understanding. It doesn’t feel very familiar and feels like a disjointed experience. 
  3. I still don’t see the need for a dedicated Jovi feature. It is yet another disjointed experience that doesn’t include the voice assistant which is available in the Chinese markets. 

 

Overall, FunTouch OS really needs a little developer love and a fresh coat of paint maybe. Thankfully, it is extremely well-optimized for mid-range chipsets and feels nimble too. It is almost as fast as Stock Android and that makes using the V15 Pro worthwhile. 

Vivo V15 Pro camera: the jack of all trades

(Note: all the images have been resized for web)

Yes, let’s talk about the one thing that all of you have been waiting for – the V15 Pro’s cameras. On the rear, you get a triple camera setup: a 48MP primary Samsung ISOCELL GM1 sensor with an f/1.8 aperture lens, an 8MP wide-angle camera with an f/2.0 aperture, and a 5MP depth sensor. Moving to the front, you have a pop-out camera, which uses a 32MP Samsung ISOCELL GD1 sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. 

So, the two new Samsung ISOCELL sensors are 1/2-inch sensors with a 0.8-micron pixel size at native resolution. Now, Samsung uses its own variation of Pixel Binning called Tetracell technology, where four pixels are merged to work as one to increase light sensitivity. Therefore, you get a crisper 1.6-micron pixel size on both the sensors but the resolution drops to an effective 8MP on the front camera and 12MP on the rear one. 

 

Before I talk about the picture quality, a little bit about the camera app first. It is a fairly well-laid out the app with all the modes at the bottom part that works as a carousel. There is a new dedicated night mode as well. Then, of course, there are the AR stickers for some fun images and videos. As for the AI features, you get an AI scene detection mode for the rear camera. And, there is the AI Beauty mode for the front camera. 

 

Moving on, the 32MP front camera takes crisp 8MP selfies in regular mode. The AI Beauty mode has a ton of options that can make you look like a model but I prefer natural looking selfies. In daylight and in low light, the selfies look great. And thanks to the new Samsung sensor, you also get HDR on the front which ensures that you don’t get a blown out background. I also tried a few selfies in the native 32MP resolution and it is definitely softer because of the smaller pixel size. I’d suggest you shoot in the 8MP mode for more detailed selfies. 

 

As for the rear cameras, you get detailed images from the primary sensor when shooting in 12MP. Thanks to the f/1.8 aperture you also get a decent depth by default. The colours are bright and colourful in daylight. And, most people will find it attractive to look at. Vivo is really not going for accuracy here but I think that is okay because the pictures look pleasing to the eye. Evidently, the details are very soft when you shoot at full 48MP res but the 12MP shots look great. The V15 Pro has a great aperture mode that lets you change the f-stop on the fly or after you’ve taken the picture. The bokeh looks very believable and the edge detection is great too. I am surprised at the quality of the image, honestly. Looks like the 5MP depth camera is really getting the job done. 

 

The 8MP wide-angle camera takes a really wide field of view with autofocusing capabilities. The pictures look great for a dedicated wide-angle sensor, albeit with a bit of barrel distortion. I am sure a lot of folks can use the wide-angle camera creatively for a different perspective every time.

In low light, Vivo doesn’t do much in terms of noise control without Night Mode on. With Night Mode, it is a different story altogether. It brings in a lot of light for sure but it smoothens out the details. The final image looks soft on closer inspection. 

The Vivo V15 Pro’s rear camera can also shoot 4K video at a variable frame-rate of 24-30fps but with no stabilisation. It keeps hunting for focus and the stereo sound recording has no noise cancellation at any recording quality. At 1080p 30fps, you definitely get a well-stabilised footage that is slightly cropped, though. You can also shoot 1080p footage using the front camera and the details are just stunning. It also shoots a wider image than most phones in this price range making it a great option for vlogging. The sound recording is great too. The only thing missing is image stabilisation. 

 

Vivo V15 Pro performance: SD675 is an excellent mid-range chip

Another feather in V15 Pro’s cap is the obviously the new SD675 chip that powers the phone. This is yet another mid-range chip in Qualcomm’s incredibly dense mid-range portfolio. Obviously, I was excited to test it out. Anyway, our variant of the V15 Pro has 6 gigs of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, with an expandable storage option as well. 

In daily use, the SD675 flies. Quite literally. I got buttery smooth performance and the V15 Pro has decent RAM performance too. It killed a graphically intensive game like Asphalt 9 after 30 minutes of keeping it in memory so as to make way for the smaller apps. I ran our regular suite of benchmarks too. The AnTuTu benchmark returned a score of 1,75,863 which is higher than what I achieved with the Nokia 8.1. So, the SD675’s 8-core architecture which includes – two 2.0GHz Kryo 460 cores (based on Cortex A76) and six 1.7GHz Kryo 460 cores (based on Cortex A55) – is evidently the reason for such high scores. In our Geekbench test, the phone returned scores of 2357 in the single-core test and 6241 in the multi-core test. That is just excellent and it shows in the daily performance too. 

 

The SD675 uses an Adreno 612 graphics chip for gaming. This is slightly underpowered when compared to the Adreno 616 used by the SD710. That said, the gaming performance was not too bad really. I played PUBG and Asphalt 9, two of the most graphically intensive games on Android today, and they ran absolutely fine. PUBG ran on HD settings and high frame rate by default, so that’s great. Unfortunately, Gamebench refused to work on the V15 Pro and therefore I couldn’t test the fps. Also, after a proper 30-minute session, the battery temperature rose from 27.5 to 34.9 and it stayed stable for around 15 mins after that. This is pretty decent heat management. 

 

I also ran the Androbench test to check for storage performance and the V15 Pro’s eMMC 5.1 storage had one of the highest scores. I got a read score of 312.34 MB/s and write score of 196.78 MB/s.

Overall, the SD675 is an excellent mid-range chip that needs to be available on many more phones. 

Vivo V15 Pro radio and network performance: stable and dependable

I used the V15 Pro with an Airtel and Jio SIM for the duration of my review in Coimbatore, Salem, and Gurgaon. In TN, both the Airtel and Jio SIMs had below average data speeds for some reason. But the moment I moved to Gurgaon, the situation changed. I got very good data speeds and the Wi-Fi performance was great too. 

The call quality despite the slim speaker slit was excellent with no call drops even. All in all, I am satisfied with the call and radio performance. 

Vivo V15 Pro battery life: can easily squeeze a day out of the 3700mAh battery

Powering all the internal components on the V15 Pro is a 3700mAh battery. And, this battery comes with Vivo’s dual engine quick charging technology. I tested the charging speeds on a couple of occasions and I got a charging time of 1 hour and 40 minutes from both the test runs. This is only slightly slower than Dash Charge but it is still pretty fast. 

As for the battery performance, it is still a pity that Vivo doesn’t give details like the screen-on-time in FunTouch OS. This makes it difficult to assess the battery performance. But, here’s what I noticed. I got 12 hours of continuous extremely heavy usage on a single charge on two different runs. On both the occasions, I watched a total of a 1 hour of video, constant social media of at least 2 hours in total, an hour of music listening, capturing close to 100 pictures, 30 minutes of PUBG and 30 minutes of Asphalt 9, and around 20 minutes of calls. This is pretty decent battery life and I am certain that you can easily eke out a day’s worth of moderate usage from a single charge. 

Should you buy the Vivo V15 Pro?

With the V15 Pro, Vivo has established that it is the only company that is willing to maximise the screen estate for the general audience without including a blip that is the notch. That is some persistence and commitment to delivering an uninterrupted smartphone experience. Only if the company had pushed that viewing experience to its limits, it would have been an even better achievement. Like, for starters, a Widevine L1 certification — if not an HDR-ready display — is a must on any phone that costs upwards of Rs 20,000 in my opinion. 

But this is only for those folks who watch Netflix, Prime, and other such streaming services on a regular basis. And, I don’t think a large chunk of the audience that buys phones offline cares about this certification. Vivo knows where to cut costs for sure.  

Having said that, the full-screen experience is a sight to behold when playing games or watching YouTube. And, this I know is going to be the most common use case for a lot of folks. And for them, the V15 Pro with its futuristic tech and fairly capable specs is almost a no-brainer. Finally, I really want Vivo to work hard on making FunTouch a more “fun” experience in the next outing. 

Let’s see how the V15 Pro stacks up against its competition:

Poco F1

This is the one phone that everyone goes back to when looking at anything around and above the Rs 20,000 price range. It is a great phone, no doubt but like the V15 Pro, it has a few shortcomings too. The lack of Widevine L1 certification for one. Secondly, the Poco F1 will not be as widely available offline as Vivo V15 Pro. So, if you are going to buy a phone from the market anyway the V15 Pro is going to be a great option.

Also read: Poco F1 by Xiaomi review: don’t think it, just buy it

Vivo V11 Pro Vs POCO F1 Vs Asus Zenfone 5z

ASUS ZenFone 5Z

Yet another great phone in this price range with great specs. I’d quite liked the 5Z when it launched but the Poco stole its thunder later. Now, the Poco almost always becomes the de facto recommendation over the ZenFone 5Z unfortunately. And the ZenFone 5Z is again an online-only phone. So, if you want to buy it offline then you are looking at V15 Pro as the option. 

Also read: ASUS ZenFone 5Z review: criminally underpriced for a great flagship experience

ZenFone 5Z 1

Nokia 8.1

Nokia 8.1 is one of my favourite phones that launched late last year. It has a great metal and glass body; a good set of cameras; and, an HDR10-enabled display with Widevine L1 certification. But, the in-built DAC is not great for audio and that’s where the V15 Pro has an edge. Also, the futuristic no-notch look will attract a lot of folks. Stock Android on the Nokia 8.1 is definitely going to be another factor for purists, which is a niche by the way. However, a lot of the common audience prefers more features in the operating system. And that’s where the V15 Pro could have an edge. 

Also read: Nokia 8.1 review: oozing with class, style, and substance

To sum it up, I think the V15 Pro is a phone that tries to be different. And, it succeeds to a large extent in this attempt at innovation. Only if Vivo would rethink FunTouch OS from the ground up…

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?