Hands-On, Smartphone

Vivo S1 Hands-On: Decidedly Average

Even though we already know almost every aspect of the Vivo S1 – including its retail price – the mid-range smartphone has just been launched in Malaysia. Made for the “young and stylish” consumers, the new S series does have a slightly different design language than other Vivo smartphones.

However, retailing at RM1,099, the S1 doesn’t exactly offer the best value for money. Nonetheless, it is a solid mid-ranger, even if it is not particularly outstanding.

Since it’s meant to appeal to the younger crowd, the S1 does look pretty sleek. I dig the gradient finish on the back of the phone, and the bottom screen bezel is minimal enough to give it a modern-looking design.

That being said, I’m not really thrilled with the display notch. While it’s not a wide notch, it is more intrusive than, say, a hole-punch design. On top of that, this phone is still using a microUSB port. In a market where more and more smartphones come with USB-C connections, the S1 is lacking behind.

And then we have the S1’s build quality, which isn’t all that great. The plastic, painted frame doesn’t look or feel particularly premium, and the equally plasticky back panel gives the impression of a…cheaper smartphone. At this price point, you’d expect the phone to feel more solid.

But the S1 does have some redeeming qualities. The in-screen fingerprint sensor, for one, is surprisingly quick. I was legitimately taken aback by how fast and accurate it is. A quick, single tap is enough to unlock the device, and it really reminds me of the OnePlus 7 Pro‘s excellent in-screen sensor. That’s high praise for the S1’s fingerprint sensor.

Display quality of this phone is really good too. It has a 6.38-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen, and it looks great. Colours are vibrant, blacks are very deep, and the screen doesn’t wash out when you look at it off-angle. It’s a good display, no doubt.

Performance wise, the S1 feels relatively speedy. The MediaTek Helio P65 chipset under the hood can provide a zippy user experience, and it doesn’t feel sluggish at all in my brief time with the phone. Yes, MediaTek chipsets aren’t quite on par with Qualcomm’s offerings, but as far as I can tell, the P65 isn’t a “bad” SoC by any means.

It’s also worth noting that the Helio P65 is built on a 12nm process, so it’s quite a power-efficient chip. This, combined with the S1’s very generous 4,500mAh battery and Super AMOLED display, it should have above average battery life.

Rounding out the specifications of the S1 are 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot (with support for cards up to 256GB), a 32MP f/2.0 front-facing shooter, and Funtouch OS 9 based on Android 9.0 Pie out of the box.

When it comes to camera performance, the S1…doesn’t feel super great, even for a mid-range smartphone. The triple camera system on the back is made up of a 16MP f/1.78 primary shooter, an 8MP f/2.2 wide angle camera, and a 5MP f/2.4 depth sensor. All in all, there’s room for improvement.

For one, the camera interface doesn’t feel very responsive. That would’ve been fine (for me, anyway) if the end results actually look good. In relatively good lighting, images come out looking soft, and the detail preservation isn’t fantastic either.

Granted, I’ve only spent a short time photographing with the S1, so I can’t say with certainty yet whether or not the camera performance is bad. Personally, I’m curious to see exactly how the camera would perform in low light conditions.

Retailing at RM1,099, the Vivo S1 has some tough competition. You’ve got the Xiaomi Mi 9T, the upcoming Xiaomi Mi A3 (it’s launching in Malaysia on 31 July next week), and even the Realme 3 Pro. These devices are either sleeker, more powerful, or more affordable than the S1, which makes it tough to consider Vivo’s offering over them – it’s a decidedly average smartphone.

However, if there is any area where the S1 can excel over these alternatives, it would either be in the battery life department or the accuracy of its in-screen fingerprint sensor. Alas, only a full review of this phone can shed some light on these two aspects, especially the former.

The Vivo S1 is currently available for pre-order in Malaysia until 26 July. If you place your pre-order at a Vivo retail store, you can get a RM100 rebate for the phone. A RM50 deposit is required, of course, but you’ll also get a Vshare K1 Bluetooth speaker worth RM99 with your pre-order.

Alternatively, you can pre-order the S1 online from Shopee and Lazada. You won’t get to enjoy the RM100 rebate (though you will receive a RM50 discount instead), you will get RM150 worth of “mystery gifts.” Those who want to purchase the phone outright, on the other hand, can do so on 27 July.