For the past few years, it seemed as if Chinese phone maker Vivo was rolling out similar phones off a conveyor belt. A tweak here, a new spec there, and that was it—a new phone, apparently. The X21 (priced at 35,990) though, is refreshing.

Looks: The Vivo X21 has a restrained design and the dimensions make it great to hold and use. Around the large 6.28-inch display are slim bezels. The glass back has a glossy black finish, but does not catch fingerprints easily.

Display: The notch is in vogue these days. Never does it get in the way while using any apps, watching a video or playing a game. The screen itself is quite rich and bright. Colours look great, even more so because the black colour reproduction is pure.

Security: This feature had been a long time coming, and Vivo has stolen a march over its rivals by integrating the fingerprint sensor underneath the display. The Vivo X21 is the first commercially available smartphone to offer it. On the X21, you press down on the fingerprint sensor illumination on the display itself, to unlock. Initially, the finger detection required a slightly firmer press, which was a bit disconcerting. A subsequent software update improved responsiveness.

Performance: While its main rival, the OnePlus 6 runs the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, the X21 makes do with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor, with 6GB RAM. While the Snapdragon 660 isn’t a slouch, this chip will have a lower performance ceiling for multitasking and newer games. The 3,200mAh battery lasts a day of fairly heavy usage. The X21 has a micro-USB port, when phones have shifted to USB Type-C —Vivo’s decision feels a bit out of place.

Photography: The dual cameras (12-megapixel and 5-megapixel) does well with photographs that you click in good indoor and outdoor lighting. The details are crisp and colours are distinguished. In inconsistent lighting, exposure and contrast tend to falter.

While it may be just another Android phone at first glance, the Vivo X21 is a refreshing proposition, especially because of the in-display fingerprint sensor. The software wrapped around Android could do with a bit more customization and polish, but it ticks the usability boxes. It will be tough to recommend this over the OnePlus 6, but if a top-notch processor isn’t your sole criteria, this is worth a second look.

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