Vivo launched a pair of new smartphones — one slab, one foldable — last week that are so far exclusive only to the mainland China market. While everyone’s attention has been drawn to the foldable device, the more conventional slab, named the Vivo X Note, has a couple of interesting features that set it apart from the sea of slab phones on the market.
The first is its size: with a 7-inch display, the Vivo X Note is the first phone from a major brand to break that six-point-something-inch barrier in over three years. The last phone I can think of that went this big was 2018’s Huawei Mate 20X. The second interesting factor is that the X Note runs on OriginOS, Vivo’s China-only software that, while still an Android skin, looks drastically different from most other versions of Android. It makes Vivo’s global software, FunTouchOS, look understated and plain.
While the X Note is not on sale in Hong Kong where I am based, I was able to borrow a unit from importer Trinity Electronics. My early impressions? Vivo’s hot streak in making beautiful hardware continues, but OriginOS is just a bit too funky for me, and I’m guessing most readers.
Vivo X Note: Specifications
|Specification||Vivo X Note|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Qualcomm 3D Sonic Max in-display fingerprint sensor|
|Front Camera(s)||16MP, f/2.5 selfie camera|
|Audio||Dual Stereo Speakers|
|Software||OriginOS over Android 12|
|Other Features||Alert slider toggle|
About this hands-on: This article was written after testing a Vivo X Note on loan from Trinity Electronics, a third-party importer in Hong Kong not affiliated with Vivo. Neither Vivo nor Trinity Electronics had any input in this article.
Vivo X Note: Hardware and Design
The first thing to note about the Vivo X Note is that it is a big phone, but it also isn’t really that big. What I mean is that, if you’re one of those people who find even standard non-Ultra Android flagships like a OnePlus 9 or Galaxy S22 Plus too big, then the X Note will feel absurdly gigantic to you. But I am someone who has been used to Ultra and Pro Max phones, and my first reaction when I grabbed hold of the Vivo X Note was “Oh, that’s it? This doesn’t feel that big.”
Sure, the X Note is noticeably taller and very slightly wider (by 2-3mm) than the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Galaxy S22 Ultra, but the X Note is a bit lighter and doesn’t have the iPhone’s sharp sides or the pointy corners of the Galaxy. I find the Vivo X Note to feel more comfortable in the hand than either of those devices.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (left); Vivo X Note (middle); Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (right).
Other than the size, the Vivo X Note is a very standard Android flagship phone, and if you’ve seen Vivo’s previous devices the craftsmanship will feel familiar. The X Note comes with either a black frosted glass back (the model I tested) or vegan leather back in blue or grey. What I find odd was that even my glass back model has texture on the left and right side that resembles stitchings you’d find on leather goods. It’s subtle; I don’t mind.
I am a fan of the new circular camera module, as I’ve always liked how circular modules look (I think the OnePlus 7T looked better than most OnePlus devices, and the Huawei Mate 30 Pro gets my vote for all-time best looking back). The camera hardware is almost identical to the system seen in the Vivo X70 Pro Plus, which is very good news in my opinion because the X70 Pro Plus’s camera system is really, really good. There are, as far as I can tell, only two noticeable differences in the cameras: the X Note’s 2x telephoto zoom lens has a smaller image sensor than the X70 Pro Plus’ counterpart, and the X Note’s ultra-wide lens does not get that miniature gimbal stabilization system. Every other feature, from the Zeiss T-coating lenses to the V1 imaging chip handling image processing, is still here in the X Note.
There are four more hardware upgrades over the X70 Pro Plus.
- The X Note gets the expected processor bump to Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.
- The in-display fingerprint scanner uses Qualcomm’s awesome 3D Ultrasonic Max solution that has a larger scanning area and scans much faster than not just optical scanners, but even quicker than the older Qualcomm solution used in Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra.
- Battery size has been increased to 5,000 mAh.
- There is a new OnePlus style alert slider for setting the phone to vibrant, silent, or normal.
Other than that, everything is identical to the Vivo X70 Pro Plus — so you get haptics that are pretty good but a step below what OPPO/Xiaomi/Samsung/Google offer in their flagships; the WQHD+ OLED display is sharp and vibrant, but it’s still only an LTPO 1.0 panel. There’s IP68 water and dust resistance, and wireless charging up to 50W. An 80W charging brick comes with the package.
Vivo X Note: Software — OriginOS
Remember years ago when Android skins, particularly those from Asian brands, had wildly different looks and feature sets that deviated significantly from stock Android? Those days were, in my opinion, both fun and frustrating. I remember every phone having a different navigation system (LG used on-screen buttons, Samsung used physical capacitive buttons but with the back button in the wrong place, Meizu had a quite clever all-in-one button that was both home and back, etc); I remember Vivo putting the shortcut toggle page in a swipe-up menu that sprouted from the bottom of the display; and I remember Samsung’s TouchWiz icons looking very garish. In the last couple of years, perhaps due to western consumers/reviewers’ critiques and demands, every Android skin began behaving similarly and closer to how Google envisioned things. This made for much better Android skins — I no longer care about using a third-party launcher when it was a must download for me back in 2016 — but it has also brought about a uniformity that feels a bit boring.
Vivo’s OriginOS sort of brings those wild days back. It is an Android skin with app icons of varying shapes and sizes (that look similar to iOS 15), interactive widgets directly on the homescreen, a cacophony mishmash of colors, and dragged-out animations. As I said, the software is perhaps a bit too unpredictable for me to use as a daily driver, but it’s eye-catching, ingenious in parts, and definitely a breath of fresh air.
The above pictures show what the OriginOS homescreen looks like. There is no app tray — all apps sit on the homescreen. A swipe up from the dock brings up a list of “Nano Kits,” (in the second screenshot below) which is what Vivo calls interactive widgets.
These interactive widgets are mostly for Vivo’s own native apps, but some of them, like the interactive music player widget, work for Spotify. I am a fan of how some of these interactive widgets work. For example, the weather widget (in the third screenshot above) is scrollable — I can swipe horizontally to check the weather later in the day. The recorder widget (in the second screenshot below) can begin recording audio with just a tap of the record button on the homescreen. You don’t have to jump into the recorder app itself to begin recording (though this makes me wonder if accidental recordings will be quite common). Every widget, even some app icons, has subtle animations that move on the homescreen independently. The clock widget, for example, has moving clock hands. The calendar app will change the day and date at midnight.
The lockscreen (first screenshot above) looks really different from any Android phone I’ve seen, with the fingerprint scanner icon in a colorful circle, surrounded by apps that you can quickly launch by dragging into the fingerprint scanner. So if I drag the step counter widget into the fingerprint scanner, the phone will unlock and launch directly to the Vivo Health app that’s been tracking my steps.
The notification shade is still triggered by a swipe down and behaves mostly the same, but the shortcut toggles have been moved to an iOS Control Center-like pane that requires a swipe from the upper right corner (fourth screenshot above).
There’s a persistent icon in the homescreen named “Mood Cube” (first three screenshots below) that allows quick change of homescreen aesthetics, from color scheme to size and shape of icons.
The translator widget is particularly impressive. If I grab a screenshot with text that’s not in the phone’s default language and then tap on the translator widget, the translator will automatically scan that screenshot and convert the text to the phone’s default language. Below, you can see it translated XDA to Chinese (the translation is mostly correct too). Right now, the translator supports English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, French, and Italian.
You can also customize one side swipe to launch an app or a widget (with the other side-swipe remaining as a “back” gesture). For example, you can set it so a right swipe from the side of the display opens AliPay or WeChat Pay (two ubiquitous payment apps everyone in China use).
And for those wondering: the Vivo X Note does not ship with Google apps but they can be installed from Vivo’s app store or a trusted source like APK Mirror. The Google Mobile Services framework is already part of the software.
OriginOS is very unique and can be useful for those who love having shortcut gestures. But ultimately, I prefer having an app tray and a homescreen that’s slightly less cluttered.
Vivo X Note: Cameras
As I said, the Vivo X Note’s camera hardware is mostly identical to the Vivo X70 Pro Plus, so it’s a very strong camera system with excellent HDR. However, I am noticing some color inconsistency when comparing shots across all four of the X Note’s cameras. Perhaps Vivo hasn’t had time to fine-tune the cameras here for OriginOS as well as it has for my global version of X70 Pro Plus (running FunTouchOS).
Still, the X Note’s HDR is awesome and consistently appears better balanced than something out of an iPhone 13 Pro Max.
The change in color temperature between the main and ultra-wide camera is a problem right now, but I’m confident Vivo can fix this seeing as how these are the same camera hardware as the Vivo X70 Pro Plus, and that phone had no such problems.
Vivo X Note: Initial Impressions
Since the Vivo X Note isn’t on sale outside of China, this article is more about checking a different type of phone out of curiosity’s sake than an actual buyer’s guide. While the Vivo X Note is relatively affordable at 5,999 yuan (~$942) in China, the price will certainly be marked up to well over four digits for those who want to import.
If you really want a large screen phone, or if you’ve been a fan of Vivo’s cameras as of late, the Vivo X Note may be worth considering an import, but I think OriginOS will be too quirky for most western user’s taste. Perhaps wait for the Vivo X80 series, which will release internationally and thus run on FunTouchOS. I will say this: I don’t mind if the next Ultra/Max phones get up to 7-inch in screen size too, as apps like TikTok and Instagram look ever so slightly better on a larger canvas, but Samsung and Apple will have to shave those sharp edges and hard corners to make their phones easier to hold.
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