Vivo S1 Review: Made For Design and Selfies

Vivo S1 is the newest selfie-centric smartphone in the market that also has an intelligent design. Is that enough to compete with Xiaomi and Realme?

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Vivo S1 Review: Made For Design and Selfies

' Jump To '

Vivo S1: Design

Vivo S1: Display
Vivo S1: Camera
Vivo S1: Hardware
Vivo S1: Performance
Vivo S1: Battery Life
Vivo S1: Software
Should you buy?

Vivo shipped a record 5.8 million smartphones in India during the second quarter of 2019. The Chinese smartphone maker increased its market share from 11 percent to 18 percent a year ago. 

As Canalis observes, its "growth is commendable". The important fact is that this growth has come at a time when Realme is growing rapidly and Xiaomi is handling the fort as the market leader. 

It has also achieved this growth with less well-known Y series models such as the Vivo Y17 and Vivo Y91 and not the popular V series.

The product portfolio of Vivo, like its rivals, includes a wide range of products. While its popular product is the V-series, the company is now expanding to other segments as well. 

The Vivo Y series has become popular in the sub-Rs 15,000 price segment. The newly introduced Vivo Z series is aimed at gamers in the budget. Now, the company is adding a new series with Vivo S1 that is aimed at those seeking style, substance and best selfie experience.

Ahead of the launch, Vivo shared a review unit of Vivo S1 with ReviewTechie. Here is my review, after using it for well over a week. Can style dictate success in the age of hardware specifications? Let’s find out.

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Vivo S1 Review: Made For Design and Selfies

Vivo S1: Design

“Design is intelligence made visible,” author Alina Wheeler, said. I want to say that intelligent design is very much visible on the Vivo S1. Smartphones have evolved significantly over the years where good smartphones have become inexpensive. 

While the design was generic for this segment, specifications made us look the other way. Now, design just cannot be an afterthought. Vivo S1 is among the most well-designed smartphones to launch this year.

It all starts with a dual-tone finish intended to mimic the gradient finish seen on premium flagship devices. The smartphone features a metal frame with sides divided between green-blue and purple-blue. 

While we have seen smartphone manufacturers try such strange patterns on the back of the device, the sides look exceptional. Unlike automakers, smartphone manufacturers have little room to experiment with design. 

Vivo has used all the space at its disposal to create well-designed devices. The real kicker is behind the device. Our review unit has come in diamond black, which is better than the blue color of the horizon.

It reflects a combination of colors ranging from black to blue to green depending on the light reflecting from the surface. One might argue that they have seen a similar design on competing devices. 

However, Vivo’s designers had ideas to take this design a step further. Almost more than half of the back is home to a diamond lattice structure. Depending on how you hold the device, it reflects diamond patterns that vary in size and dimension. 

It can be described as building a Zenga structure with diamond pieces but in a horizontal layout. The most common response to this design was “WOW” and I really appreciate that design is evolving in such an intelligent manner.

Much of the action lags behind the Vivo S1. The rear features a triple rear camera setup and LED flash that are attached together using a golden enclosure. The camera module is with the "AI Triple Camera" branding. 

Finally, the gold color has a large Vivo branding accent. At the same time, the front has a 6.38-inch display and a 32-megapixel selfie camera. On the right is the home of the volume rocker and power button. 

On the left side, there is a SIM card tray and Google Assistant button. The top is cleaner than any port, while the bottom hosts a micro-USB port, audio jack, and speaker cutout.

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Vivo S1 Review: Made For Design and Selfies

Vivo S1: Display

The Vivo S1 features a 6.38-inch display and uses a Super AMOLED panel with U-shaped notch. The panel supports Full HD+ resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels and 19.5:9 aspect ratio. 

Vivo is using the AMOLED panel mainly to enable the in-screen fingerprint sensor. The display is a marked improvement from the LCD panel seen in this price segment. With AMOLED panel, you get better colors, sharper details, deeper blacks and an always-on display that does not strain your eyes. 

The S1’s display, in my opinion, can get really bright, which makes it great for viewing that darkest episode of Game of Thrones.

Vivo S1: Camera(s)

The Vivo S1 is definitely a good looking smartphone but one more special thing is its 32-megapixel selfie camera. It is the cheapest smartphone in the country to offer a 32-megapixel camera for selfie. 

The sensor is mounted behind the lens with an aperture of f / 2.0 and uses screen flash in low light scenarios. I am no selfie expert, but images taken from the Vivo S1 are looking very soft. 

Some selfies were also described as funny by my family members. I'm not saying it's bad, it's just that the algorithm accelerates the image a little aggressively. Some people may like this result that makes you look younger but I'm not a fan.

In retrospect, the story is completely different. The primary is a 16-megapixel camera with wide f / 1.8 aperture. It is paired with an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera and a 2-megapixel camera for depth. 
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Vivo S1 Review: Made For Design and Selfies

Of the three, the primary camera is the most versatile here. It not only captures great details for wider apertures, but it also ends up being the sharpest. 

The pictures provide great detail in the highlighted area but the shadow may look a bit squeamish. The main camera also maintains the character of the scene better than the ultraviolet angle camera.

The ultrawide cameras have become new eye-candy for smartphone imaging experience. On the Vivo S1, it is not the best experience I have seen on mobile devices. The images are wide but look muted for the most part. 

At f/2.2 aperture, the camera struggles to capture a lot of details. For instance, at a pub, it did not retain much detail in the shadow and highlights. As a result, the final image looks fudgy and underexposed. 

The depth sensor does the trick of adding adjustable bokeh to images but you need to position yourself well to get the best result.

Most people would be shooting with the primary camera if they buy the Vivo S1. This main camera does not disappoint and that’s really good news. Vivo has shown that it has the camera software chops to enhance the experience with the Vivo V15 Pro

I expect Vivo to gather feedback and issue updates to make the other cameras perform well. For now, I would stick with the 16-megapixel main camera for my imaging needs.

Vivo S1: Hardware

The Vivo S1 is the first smartphone with MediaTek Helio P65 to debut in India. It is an octa-core processor with two performance Cortex A75 cores clocked at 2.0GHz. The chipset is aided by six efficiency Cortex A55 cores clocked at 1.7GHz. 

These cores are placed in a single, octa-core configuration along with ARM Mali-G52 graphics processor. The smartphone is offered in three different storage variants. 

Our review unit is the top of the line model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB internal storage. It also has a dedicated microSD card slot that supports cards up to 256GB.

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Vivo S1 Review: Made For Design and Selfies

Vivo S1: Performance

The Vivo S1 works well when your use cases are limited to basic applications. It is a smooth operator when you do things like phone calls, text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. It also handles video streaming applications like Hotstar, YouTube and Netflix without any sweat. 

As far as gaming is concerned, it was a mixed bag experience for me. I had zero issues playing Asphalt 9 on the smartphone. Whether drifting or competing for special events, the game worked really well. 

Even the graphics seemed very good on the native display. However, with PUBG Mobile, things started to take a different turn.

The device started heating up quickly and the graphics switched to lower settings. In higher graphics settings, the drop in frame rate was evident. MediaTek's mid-range chipsets are not really known for performance gaming and are better for casual gaming instead. 

PUBG Mobile can play in an even lower setting, but this would mean compromising some amount. Vivo has also added a dedicated gaming mode called Ultra Game Mode. 

This allows you to block notifications while playing the game and disable the automatic WiFi connection. The software can also be configured to prevent accidental touch and reject incoming calls. It is a very useful device available on rival devices as the game Turbo.


Vivo S1: Battery Life

If there is one area where Vivo S1 really shines then it has to be battery life. The large 4,500mAh battery paired with a low-power MediaTek Helio P65 SoC results in great endurance. I have been going for two full days without having to charge the device. 

My usage has been the usual mix of social media applications, a little bit of slack, news on Chrome and Twitter, video streaming and gaming for at least half an hour every day. For instance, I charged Vivo S1 to 100 percent yesterday and I am left with 75 percent battery right now. 

If you are backpacking for a couple of days and want to leave the charger behind then Vivo S1 has great chances of surviving. However, I would not recommend leaving the charger behind since it uses older micro-USB and not USB Type-C for charging.

Vivo S1: Software

On the software front, the Vivo S1 runs Funtouch OS 9 based on Android 9 Pie with May security patch. The operating system looks identical to Apple’s iOS and has the widget interface straight from Apple. 

It also integrates a gesture navigation system that works better than Google’s half-baked interface on Android Q beta. Sliding down reveals the notification while sliding up from the left corner reveals quick settings. 

Sliding up from right takes you back to the home screen. Vivo should probably tweak the gesture system to enable back by swiping from either side of the screen.

As someone who briefly owned the Vivo V3, I want to say that the Funtouch OS 9 is a lot better than its predecessors. It's not all-consuming, but it does have some apps that many consider as duplicate apps. 

For example, the Google Play Store and Vivo have their own App Store for downloading applications and games. It comes pre-loaded with a set of applications that are easily available for the Play Store. With software becoming a defining factor, Vivo should follow Mary Kondo and clean up its user interface with the release of Funtouch OS 10.

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Vivo S1 Review: Made For Design and Selfies

Verdict: Should you buy?

Since I started using the Vivo S1, I am reminded of Lenovo Vibe S1 from 2017. It also arrived with the same ambitions of offering a stylish device with best-in-class selfie experience. Like Lenovo, Vivo has also succeeded in that effort. 

It not only looks great but also feels great to hold and use thanks to the 2.5D design. It is not free from poor design choices. For example, the dedicated Google Assistant does not serve any purpose. The double click for Jovi image recognition is so bad that you would rather not have it.

Vivo S1 delivers on premium design at an accessible price point and superior selfie experience. Price in India starts at Rs 17,990 and goes up to Rs 19,990. However, it belongs to a price segment where every other device is good in its own merit. 

Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 7 Pro offers value, performance, and experience in an incredible package. Realme 3 Pro, on the other hand, offers good performance and imaging experience. 

Then there is Vivo Z1 Pro, which sets the bar high for performance devices. If your priority is absolutely best in selfie experience then pick Vivo S1 else its rivals look better.

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