Vivo X90 Pro review: major camera upgrade and a big list of “downgrades”

It’s normal to expect year-to-year evolution in the smartphone area, but every now and then we come across a model that can be considered more of a “downgrade”. The Vivo X90 Pro, the model we just tested, comes with a major hardware upgrade for the main camera, but also a long list of downgrades that made me wonder if we’re really talking a “Pro” model.

Because last year’s X80 Pro was so well-received, I expected the X90 to be even better, and even a real alternative to the flagships of the moment like the Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro Max, but the reality is that it can only partially live up to them.

The vivo X90 Pro comes with a full set of accessories

The reason wouldn’t be that this phone wouldn’t be one of the premium range, quite the contrary. The Vivo X90 Pro comes in one of the most “stylish” packages we’ve seen lately, which, while quite slim, includes everything you need, from a charger to a silicone case and a factory-applied plastic wrap over the screen. And the charger is an extremely fast one, with 120W of power, USB-C plug and Power Delivery compatibility, and can be used to power other devices at high power.

vivo X90 Pro front center

The cover seems to me to be a bit “extra” though, as the phone anyway doesn’t have a glass back that could easily break or scratch. Instead of glass, Vivo chose so-called “vegan leather”, which is a kind of plastic that mimics the look and even the texture of natural leather. While not exactly “leather” the material feels good to the touch and looks good, characteristics that encourage me to use it uncoated. However the silicone cover does not offer much protection from mechanical shock.

However, you can see that Vivo is trying to appeal to a slightly more “sophisticated” audience by also decorating the phone with a metal band on the back, which extends as a sub-frame around the back cover. What I can’t understand though is the asymmetrical positioning of the camera module. With a module so large and so much protruding, the central positioning would have been more appropriate in many ways, including aesthetically. Thus, the appearance of the camera detracts a little from the “aesthetic” qualities of the device. Photo enthusiasts will immediately have their attention caught by the ZEISS logo printed on the vegan leather, a badge that suggests top-notch photo performance, but we’ll talk more about that in the photo chapter.

vivo X90 Pro charger

Screen, weaker than on X80 Pro

The asymmetrical design might bother a small portion of this phone’s prospective customers, but the fact that the new vivo X90 Pro is also less capable than the previous model in the range in some respects can hardly be excused. And it all starts with the screen.

vivo X90 Pro screen

Even though the dimensions haven’t changed from one generation to the next, the diagonal being kept at 6.78″, the technology used for the screen is different, cheaper. The panel is still OLED and still at 120 Hz, but with a lower resolution of 2,800 x 1,260 pixels compared to QHD, and no variable refresh rate. It’s not an LTPO display, and its brightness only reaches 1,300 nits, compared to 1,500 on last year’s X80 Pro generation. Curiously, however, there is a Pro+ model of the X90 series, which offers an even better screen than the X80 Pro, but that one isn’t sold in Europe, being available only in China. I would have tolerated this downgrade better if it came with a flat screen, but Vivo has gone for curved edges, again.

MediaTek processor overheats

And the list of downgrades goes on. Instead of a Qualcomm processor, the X90 Pro in Europe gets MediaTek’s Dimensity 9200, a very capable chipset, as the test results say, but also less stable than the alternative model. As soon as the phone sustains more stress, it overheats. And high temperatures even stop access to some functions. For example, charging can be limited in power due to temperature, while a software update refused to boot up with the phone plugged in also due to high temperatures.

vivo X90 Pro back

Of course, there’s no guarantee that a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset would have solved the problem, having previously encountered something similar on the Xiaomi 13 Pro, but it would have allowed for a few more things and better photo processing. With the Dimensity 9200, 8K shooting is limited to 24 frames per second, compared to 30 on the Qualcomm. If we were to go by benchmark tests alone, the Vivo X90 Pro is one of the best performing phones on the market, but only for short periods of time.

Benchmarks

  • AnTuTu – 1.201.081
  • GeekBench 6 – Single-Core: 1,746 / Multi-Core: 4,276
  • 3DMark Wild Life Extreme – 3.672
  • 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Stress Test – Best Loop: 3.735 / Lowest Loop: 2.106 / Stability: 56.4%
  • PCMark – 11.630

Autonomy is an advantage of the vivo X90 Pro

One aspect where the Vivo X90 is not a downgrade is autonomy. This is one of the Android phones that offers very low power consumption in standby, and it doesn’t consume a lot of resources in everyday use either. Two days of use are achievable on this model, even with the screen set to 120 Hz at full resolution. It seems that vivo is also one of the manufacturers that limits the resolution from the factory, setting this model to Full HD from the factory. Given the small difference in resolution between native and Full HD, the extra consumption is negligible.

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Fast charging at 120W is a plus, but only if you put the phone on charge and leave it alone. If you’re running games or other demanding apps that can heat up your phone, the charging speed will be severely limited. Otherwise, when “cold”, your phone charges to 50% in less than 10 minutes and fully charged in less than half an hour. There’s also wireless charging at 50W, but you really need to buy the Vivo charger to access this charging speed. Probably very few will take advantage of this capability. On a “regular” wireless charger, the phone charges slowly, just like any other phone.

vivo X90 Pro fast charging

Funtouch OS software is “nice” in customizations, but interface should be significantly overhauled

Because I’ve tested very few vivo models over time, I’m not very familiar with the manufacturer’s Funtouch OS interface. It seems quite “nice” in customizations at first glance, but is also somewhat lacking in personality. It seems to me that vivo doesn’t do enough to justify a proprietary interface and I think they’d be better off keeping the Google interface with minor tweaks. The thing I disliked most though was the settings menu interface, which I found very hard to navigate. All the other companies use colored icons to differentiate categories, like a sun for display or a colored speaker for sound. Vivo only has blue background icons and small, white icons that are hard to differentiate at a quick glance.

I also appreciated that you have the option at first start-up to select navigation mode, with gestures or buttons. The main menu uses an app drawer by default, but this menu is also common with widgets. However, if you select the widget menu and return to the main menu, when you want to open the app drawer again, widgets remain selected by default. I haven’t seen this on any other Android phone and it’s very unintuitive.

vivo X90 Pro front apps

There’s little to complain about, bloatware-wise, as I found fewer pre-installed apps than on other models, and most were the usual ones anyway. We’re talking TikTok, Booking, Spotify, LinkedIn, Netflix and Facebook. Of course, I would have preferred them not to be pre-installed, and to download them manually when needed.

The only concern with the Vivo X90 Pro on the software front would be that you’re only guaranteed 3 years of updates, both system and security. The competition offers at least four, or even five years of security updates. I also encountered a couple of issues that I consider major in relation to connecting to a computer. I tried transferring photos to a MacBook but the phone’s storage is not accessible unless you use a transfer app. This is no longer currently compatible with the latest versions of macOS, and by default with models with Apple Silicon processors on ARM architecture. I had to upload photos and videos to OneDrive and then download them to my PC from the browser, a very slow process. This is one of the times when the lack of a microSD card is immediately felt.

vivo X90 Pro funtouch os

From other, rather secondary points of view, the X90 Pro presents itself well. It has an in-screen optical fingerprint sensor, which is very fast, even among the fastest on the market, and which didn’t miss at all, as we’ve seen recently on some models. The audio system is good, but not up to the level of the competition, with a relatively low maximum volume without much bass. It’s just OK, not an excellent one.

The vivo X90 Pro’s camera is good, but lags behind the competition, even with a 1″ sensor “on board”

In recent years, one element has made the difference between more affordable phones and 1,000+ phones: the camera. Thus, the vivo X90 Pro is presented as a “camera phone”, especially when you weigh up the partnership with German brand ZEISS. At the heart of this huge camera module sits the 1″ main sensor, which is a first for Vivo flagships. Unfortunately, this is the only “real” upgrade from last year’s Vivo X80 Pro. The ultrawide camera drops from 48 to 12 megapixels and has a smaller aperture of just 108 degrees, down from 114 degrees last year. Also, the zoom that used a periscopic lens and zoomed 5x last year has been replaced by a zoom of just 2x with a 50 megapixel sensor.

vivo X90 Pro camera

The results are… on the one hand very good, on the other disappointing from a top of the line premium phone. The main camera is definitely the highlight of the camera system on the vivo X90 Pro, and the results are very good, comparable to what the competition offers. Something I noticed on this model that I haven’t seen on any other comparable phone, however, is the very slow focus time on all cameras. In fact, the phone always tries to focus on the closest elements in the frame if there are no people in the frame. When you want to shoot a building, for example, the focus often automatically goes to a car or other items on the edge. So it’s a good idea to tap the screen again to make sure your phone focuses where it should.

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Otherwise, focus is very good, accurate and there’s even a mode where you can track the subject with two taps on the screen. So whether you’re talking photo or video mode, the subject stays in focus at all times. So we have very good accuracy, but it needs some extra work to refine the software. Just like on the Xiaomi 13 Pro, which had a comparable 1″ sensor, in some situations, the dynamic range is not very wide, the shadows seeming too dark, especially during the day. I’m beginning to think it’s the sensor rather than the software to blame for the lack of HDR.

Daytime photo

I can say that I like the colours on the Vivo, which are quite warm, although sometimes they can go to extremes with downright yellow images. I’ve also noticed that vivo has paid a lot of attention to balancing the colors to be as close as possible between the three cameras, something other manufacturers kind of ignore.

The ultrawide camera, however, was an unpleasant surprise. At 12 megapixels, it has as good a resolution as Apple or Samsung, but the results are more mid-range camera, with poor daytime detail and very high image noise at night. The only saving grace of this camera is the macro mode, which produces very good, even impressive results at times.

When we talk about zoom cameras, we expect to see at least 3x magnification of the subject. If not 5x, something we saw on the Vivo X80 Pro, but not on the new X90 Pro. The 2x camera looks more like a portrait camera, rather than one useful for shooting items from a distance. The irony is that also on the main camera, with 1″ sensor portraits come out better, but both can be selected from the dedicated portrait mode. Vivo has integrated a long list of portrait modes, most of them inspired by ZEISS’ famous lens series, which have various levels of blur, or can change the shape of bright elements in the background. There are also a few creative modes that add lens flare or overlay lights on top, but mainly these are functions to have fun with a few times, not something you’ll use every day.

Photo Night

In some situations though, portrait mode does crop incorrectly, something we haven’t seen in a long time on premium phones, while when you want to use portrait mode for objects, the focus system has a hard time understanding what you actually want to shoot. I did, however, manage to capture one of the best flower shots I’ve ever taken with a phone, using portrait mode on the main camera. However, I had to struggle quite a bit with focus and portrait mode to get this result. There’s still room for improvement here, too. Still, most of the images with portrait mode are very good.

Returning to the night mode, it’s very good on the main camera, with fairly short exposure times and good results that keep the atmosphere real without turning night into day. The zoom camera also does well at night, including for night portraits, as there’s a setting that does long exposure with blur effect. I just wish it had a higher zoom, given the quality of these shots.

vivo X90 Pro Zeiss

In the shooting department, the vivo X90 Pro does a few things I didn’t expect, but it’s still not a recommended phone for shooting in general. Basic stabilisation only works in 4K at 30 frames per second, and the results are good in daylight, but the video file quality isn’t quite in tune with what other manufacturers offer. Incidentally, even the resolution for advanced stabilisation is only limited to Full HD, when Apple and Samsung have already gone up to QHD and above. Vivo does, however, have something no other smartphone manufacturer has: horizon stabilization.

This means you can rotate the phone 360 degrees around the horizontal axis, and the image will remain stable, as if the phone hasn’t moved at all. So far we’ve only seen this on high-end action cameras, but the vivo X90 Pro can do this on a phone. The limitation is that it does this in 1080p at 30 frames per second, not 4K. Shooting on this phone goes up to 8K at 24 frames per second, but probably no one will shoot at that resolution because of the very large files.

Shooting on night mode is hardly recommended though, the stabilisation system tries to compensate for the low framerate at night and camera shake, and the results are very unpleasant. On auto mode, on the other hand, the framerate is extremely low due to the very high exposure time. Again, there’s room for improvement in the software, but as it stands, the vivo X90 Pro is more of a photography phone than a shooting phone, with the caveat that even on photography it takes a little effort to get the shots in focus correctly.

Conclusions

If the Vivo X90 Pro was last year’s flagship from the Chinese company, it would have been received with a bit more enthusiasm. Sure, it has a great main camera, but a screen below what other brands offer, it has top-notch battery life and very fast charging, but a bloated processor and shorter software support.

In 2023, after several year-to-year downgrades and very strong market competition in the premium phone segment, this model is hard to recommend at today’s price of 5,500 lei, but it might be a good choice if it were rather put in competition with other models under 1,000 euros at a similar price.

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