In a news cycle dominated by Samsung, Apple and the occasional Xiaomi, Vivo’s flagship X series has carved a niche for itself for going the extra mile when it comes to camera performance, whether it was the unique micro-gimbal stabilization technology that stabilized the most jittery of hands or the deep partnership with photography brand Zeiss.
This year’s defining feature is the move to the 1-inch-type Sony IMX989 sensor which, coupled with Zeiss optics, aims to place the Vivo X90 Pro (Rs. 84,999) up alongside the best smartphone cameras for 2023.
To put it in context, the single variant 12GB/256GB X90 Pro sits in the middle of the X90 lineup, with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, longer-range zoom X90 Pro Plus remaining a China exclusive. The X90, which launches alongside the X90 Pro in India, shares the same flagship MediaTek Dimensity 9200 chipset and the Vivo-proprietary V2 chip for boosting low-light performance and is available in 8GB/256GB (Rs. 59,999) and 12GB/256GB (Rs. 63,999) variants.
Unboxing the Vivo X90 Pro is a bit of a ceremony, as there are some box contents to unbox with this flagship (I’m looking at you, Samsung and Apple!). The large, flat box includes a 120W charger and a USB-C-to-C cable, along with a transparent silicone case to slap onto your new device the moment it’s out of the box, if you’re the paranoid sort.
Personally, I’d skip the case - I’m a big fan of the vegan leather back. Not only does it make for an extremely grippy surface crucial for a phone this size, but it also imparts a distinctive air of sophistication that sets it apart among the sea of glass slabs. Oh, and no fingerprints either! The infrared blaster on the top edge is a nice touch, to control your home appliances with the Smart Remote app.
For a phone weighing nearly 215 grams and standing taller than the Samsung S23 Ultra or the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max (at 164.1mm), the X90 Pro’s narrower dimensions and curved real panels make it easier to hold, almost deceptively so. Then there’s the absolutely massive camera module that juts out from the rear and houses the three cameras – the fourth hole in the setup is where the X90 Pro Plus houses its 90mm periscope camera.
The durability check boxes are ticked too – there’s IP68 dust/water resistance, as well as Schott Sensation Alpha protection on the display and Corning Gorilla glass on the camera module. What one didn’t quite take to was the ‘Xtreme Imagination’ etched in the thin metal band on the rear, or the “Professional Photography” inscribed on the top edge – sometimes less is just more. All this text feels like the brand is trying too hard to drive home a point it just doesn’t need to. A dash of color, a brighter color option perhaps, may have been a good alternative to the all-black design as well.
Flip it around, and the display is one of the few areas where Vivo hasn’t gone all out – the large 6.78-inch AMOLED curved-edge panel runs at a resolution of 2800x1260 pixels, which is a small step down from the QHD+ resolution of its predecessor and many of its rivals today. You get the modern flagship conveniences of a 120Hz refresh rate (in fixed steps of 60Hz, 90Hz, and 120Hz) with HDR10+ certification, but Vivo has skipped on the latest LTPO display tech which allows refresh rates to dynamically adjust between 1-120 Hz, saving battery when needed. The 1300 nits peak brightness is par for the course, but not class leading.
There’s no support for Dolby Vision, either – that said, the screen is still excellent for most content – it’s bright, punchy and attractive - and you’ll only ever notice the difference with the best screens in the business if you set them side-by-side. The speakers are impressive as well, with good stereo separation and low-end thump.
Vivo made an unusual choice with the X90 series, leveraging the du jour flagship favorite Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for the X90 Pro Plus, while kitting the X90 Pro and the X90 with the MediaTek’s top chipset for 2023, the Dimensity 9200. This is a chipset that trails the Qualcomm chip on processor-intensive benchmarks, but in real world use, the X90 Pro is exceptionally fast and fluid, and it’s only at the highest end of the gaming spectrum and sustained performance that anyone would notice. Games like Genshin Impact or Asphalt 9 ran smoothly, but longer 45 minute sessions on Apex Legends started showing the occasional hiccup.
The phone runs FunTouch OS 13, based on Android 13, which sees a fair reduction of bloatware but there’s some way to go in that department. Vivo also has some work to do towards long-term support, as the 3 years of Android updates and 3 years of security updates falls behind its own group brands (Oppo and OnePlus), leave alone Samsung.
The sizeable 4,870mAh battery does a decent job as well, yielding about seven hours of screen-on time or about a full day of use. Plug a drained out X90 Pro into the proprietary 120W fast wired charger, and it’ll top up in under 30 minutes, or you could up to 50W wireless charging speeds with a Vivo wireless charger.
Let’s face it – all of what we’ve seen so far with the X90 Pro arehygiene elements, and this phone was always going to come down to its camera, particularly after how well the Vivo X80 Pro did last year.
Let’s get the facts out there first – there is no periscope zoom here, nor is there any gimbal stabilization – the former is exclusive to the China-exclusive Pro Plus model and the latter makes way for regular OIS on the star of the show - the 50-megapixel 1-inch-type IMX989 sensor, seen recently on the Xiaomi 13 Pro.
The primary shooter captures daytime shots with good levels of detail and dynamic range without going over the top with color saturation, particularly if you opt for the Zeiss Natural Color Profile when shooting. The ‘zero shutter lag’ feature is particularly impressive, as it captures the exact moment you hit the shutter button and suffers from none of that shutter lag that the S23 Ultra did. The other big differentiator is the Zeiss T* coating on the lens, as it actively combats ghosting and glare from harsh light sources.
While the giant sensor delivers plenty of natural bokeh effects (which can be a double-edged sword when shooting up close), it comes into its own with low-light photography. Coupled with the V2 imaging chip, the X90 Pro is blazing fast when it comes to capturing the faintest of light in dark scenes, and you can boost your results with the dedicated night mode and the night sports mode – the latter aiding in grabbing blur-free shots of moving objects in dimly lit conditions. Handheld astrophotography was another interesting feature that is much touted on the X90 Pro, but between the light pollution and cloudy skies across New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, one could only get so far with this mode. Hands down, this is arguably the best camera phone for shooting in low-light conditions.
While one had the most fun with the primary shooter, there are two more cameras which can easily be overshadowed by the imaging prowess of the main sensor – a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera and a 50-megapixel 2x portrait camera. While the ultrawide doubles up for macro duties and maintains color parity with the primary camera, it stumbles in terms of detail. The portrait camera is competent, both in terms of edge detection and details, as is the 32MP selfie shooter (just as long as you turn off the excessive beautification).
Finally, video performance is notable, both in daylight and nighttime, and you can shoot 8K 24 frames per second or 4K 60 frames per second video and the camera impressively stabilizes the footage. Oddly though, the front camera is restricted to 1080p 60 frames per second video.
As a successor to one of the best Android phones last year, the X90 Pro carries the burden of expectations, and mostly delivers. The primary camera is a boatload of fun to shoot with, and you can spend hours playing around with the various creative modes. Performance is good for all but the most demanding of gamers. Battery life and fast charging are good, and the design doesn’t disappoint either. Yet, this is a phone that operates in a very unforgiving territory, where there’s no place to hide your flaws behind ‘budget pricing’.
In some departments, it has regressed from the X80 Pro – the display is a downgrade, as is the ultrawide camera, not to mention the case of the missing periscope camera. If you have quite a bit more money, the S23 Ultra is still the most versatile shooter out there this year, and the Xiaomi 13 Pro lands a 1-2-3 punch of performance, display and excellent camera performance while costing a bit less.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.