Vivo V9 first impressions: iPhone X lookalike is comfortable and sleek without the high-end specs

Vivo, either China’s second or third-largest phonemaker by market share depending on the month (the order shuffles every quarter), has announced a new mid-tier device to target the Southeast Asia market. The V9 is not going on sale – officially, anyway – in China and Hong Kong, and instead will hit countries such as Thailand first.

There’s no getting around the elephant in the room: the V9, from the display notch, to the vertically aligned dual-camera layout, to even the choice of wallpaper used on the phone’s promotional product shots, is reminiscent of the iPhone X.

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But after testing the phone for two days ahead of the launch, I’m happy to report that the V9 is a very impressive piece of Android hardware – provided you’re OK with the lack of originality.

The most impressive aspect of the V9 is the display. At 6.3 inches (16cm) with an 19:9 aspect ratio, it spans almost edge to edge, save for a small bezel measuring about 6.8mm, just a hair thinner than the already tiny chin on the Samsung Galaxy S9+.

Just by virtue of being bigger, content on the Vivo V9 feels more immersive and in-your-face than the iPhone X. It is, however, an LCD panel on the V9, so colours, especially black, won’t be as snappy as on the iPhone X. And yes, the notch on the V9 cuts into full-screen videos just like the iPhone X.

Vivo’s FunTouch Android skin is a bit clunky – there’s no search option in settings, for example, so even something as simple as looking for battery management could require a minute of digging through the maze of a menu.

But Vivo adds a new swipe-based system for navigation within Android that is responsive and feels more up to date than pressing buttons like on other Android phones.

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If readers think this is yet another copy of the iPhone X, let it be known that Vivo actually introduced swipe-based gestures last year, a few months before the iPhone X’s launch.

But Vivo did borrow a couple of useful iPhone X swiping moves such as, swiping left or right at the bottom of the screen to jump between apps.

Much like previous Vivo phones, the V9 has a 24-megapixel selfie camera, too many megapixels for all but the most vain.

The rear camera is solid for a mid-tier device – there is no price yet for this phone, but with a Snapdragon 626 chip set and 4GB of RAM, these are obviously not 2018 premium flagship level specs. The camera does an admirable job in low light, and dynamic range is above average even when shooting under gloomy overcast skies.

Vivo is advertising a lot of “AI” features with the V9, but most of it is marketing brouhaha. The phone’s beauty mode, for example, can scan a user’s age, sex, and skin texture and produce a “superior” beautified shot (with larger eyes, clearer skin and so on).

The effect is good, but beautifying modes work well on LG, Samsung, Xiaomi, and Huawei phones too. So what did the machine learning do? I’m not quite sure.

Performance and battery life has been fine. I’ve encountered no issues after two days of heavy use. But ultimately, it’s this phone’s screen-to-body ratio that impresses.

I like being able to use a phone with a 6.3-inch display with one hand without needing to stretch my fingers or contort my grip to access certain parts of the screen.

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To give you an idea of just how compact Vivo has made this phone: the V9 is about the same size as the LG V30, Huawei Mate 10 Pro and OnePlus 5T, but it has more screen than all those phones. Put the V9 next to an iPhone 8, and it’s plain to see which phone looks more hi-tech.

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