Chances are, if you reside in the Americas or much of Europe, you haven’t heard of Vivo. However, the manufacturer, one of BBK Electronics’ 3 smartphone brands (the other being Oppo and OnePlus, which itself is owned by Oppo) has a signficant presence in the Asian markets, being part of the top 5 list of smartphone manufacturers in terms of market share at one point in 2016. The company specializes in budget to mid-tier smartphones, with Hi-Fi audio being their main selling points at one point, currently shifted to high-megapixel front-facing cameras.
The phone we’re reviewing today is not one of those phones. Instead, it sits at the bottom pile of the range as the budget offering, called the Y55. Is this a worthy phone to consider if you’re penny pinching or should you spend a little extra and get a Nokia 5, Moto G5 or even the newer Y55s instead? Read on to find out more.
The Vivo Y55 here used is an unlocked v1603 model obtained from a carrier at a little more than $4 with a 2 year contract. The phone has been used on a 4G LTE network as a backup and daily driver for 3 months as of the time of writing.
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 430, 28nm LP|
|CPU||Octa-core ARM Cortex-A53, clockspeed ranging from 960MHz to 1.4GHz per core|
|GPU||Qualcomm Adreno 505 clocked at 450MHz|
|Storage||16GB of eMMC 5.1, microSDXC card slot up to 128GB++|
|Display||5.2” (diagonal) IPS LCD with a resolution of 720×1280, 282PPI, screen film preapplied.|
|Rear camera||8MP 4:3 aspect-ratio (3264×2448) unknown rear sensor with f/2.0 aperture, HDR, up to 1080p30 video recording and 480p120 slow-motion and manual ISO, shutter speed, focus and white balance controls plus single LED flash|
|Front camera||5MP (2592×1944) unknown sensor with f/2.2 aperture and up to 1080p30 video, screen flash|
|Location||A-GPS/GPS/GLONASS/Beidou (depending on region)|
|Speaker||Single front-mounted earpiece, single mono bottom-mounted main loudspeaker, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Software||Android 6.0.1 “Marshmallow” with FunTouch OS 2.6, Google Play Services preloaded on international models|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Gyroscope, compass, proximity, ambient light sensor and pedometer|
|Power||2730mAh Li-ion battery (non-removable). 30h of mixed usage with 6 hours of on-screen time (early tests), 5V/2A charging over microUSB|
|Features||Dual SIM (without taking up an SD slot), raise to wake, themes, multi-window, one-handed mode, gestures.|
If you can probably tell from a distance, the Vivo Y55 has a familiar design with a certain other phone. This isn’t a new thing with many of BBK’s newer phones as they do share a similar design language not only with each other but also to that certain other phone.
The back of the phone seems the most familiar to that other phone, and it looks mostly clean with a camera and flash array on the top left, a Vivo logo, some manufacturing info and antenna bands.
Vivo claims that the phone has a unibody design. However, despite the presence of antenna lines and the metallic finish, the device seems to be made out of hard plastic with a metallic finish as it lacks the supremely-cold feel of metal, does not attract heat as easily as metal and has a different sound when lightly scraped with a key.
The top of the phone features a 3.5mm headphone jack (yay!), along with a microSD card slot capable of accepting microSDXC cards, which means in theory, it can support up to 2TB cards (the maximum storage supported by the standard). The bottom features a microphone, microUSB port and a mono bottom-firing speaker which is par for the course for those type of speakers; that is to say, they’re loud but nothing exciting.
The left of the phone features a SIM tray that can carry a nanoSIM primary and a microSIM secondary, and the right features a power button and a volume rocker which surprisingly provide excellent feedback and has a great clicky, tactile feel, reminiscent of current Samsung phones alongside the HTC 10, which makes the phone feel much more expensive than it really is, which is a nice plus.
The front is less so, with a front camera, earpiece and sensor package on the top of the device and a set of capacitive buttons on the bottom, with the usual home, back and weirdly, a menu button, a button that has not been present in most Androids since 2011 (more on that on software).
The front is dominated by a 5.2-inch 720p LCD IPS display, with a maximum pixel density of 282PPI. That display is more than functional, with solid viewing angles, solid outdoor visibility and healthy amounts of saturation, although it isn’t the most contrasty panel out there. Overall, this is a solid display relative to its positioning, which is well preferred over budget phones of past.
The Vivo Y55 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 SoC, a 28nm LP chipset which consists of 8 ARM Cortex A53 CPUs clocked at 1.4GHz arranged in an octa-core array and is paired with an Adreno 505 GPU clocked at 450MHz. The processing package is supplemented by 2GB of LPDDR3 memory and 16GB of internal NAND storage with an eMMC 5.1 storage controller.
Performance in synthetic benchmarks put it in around the same ballpark as a Snapdragon 600 to 617 overall, which is expected as it is similar in-terms of CPU specs to a 615, albeit slightly slower.
Day-to-day performance has mostly been solid, with general use of web surfing, texting and video streaming being handled quite well, although there were some stutters and hitches and even the occasional lag when even doing something as simple as pulling down the notification tray. It doesn’t happen often and software updates have mostly cleared that up, but it’s something worth mentioning.
Gaming performance depends on what games you’re playing. Basic games like Dots work just fine, while slightly heavier titles like Temple Run 2 will run well on lower settings. Much more strenuous games may require significantly lowered graphics settings for solid gameplay performance, however. While this phone is never going to be a solid gaming machine, it handles some basic games just fine, which makes it a solid performer if you’re in the subway and need a few rounds of running through temples or connecting dots to pass the time.
Overall, the Vivo Y55 performs well for a budget-tiered device, and sometimes performs much like an actual midranger. For daily tasks and the sort, you won’t have much issue with the processing package, although if you regularly tax your phone hard, you may notice some inconsistencies.
Unlike other cameras in its price range, which tend to pack camera of 13-megapixels in resolution with reasonably wide f/2.0 apertures on a 1/3″ sensor that features advanced phase-detection + contrast-detection hybrid autofocus, the Y55 features an 8-megapixel sensor with only contrast-detection sitting behind an f/2.0 aperture. Vivo did not disclose what camera sensor it is using, so other specs such as sensor and pixel size aren’t able to come by, unfortunately.
As for the rear camera, performance is adequate and sometimes good in daylight, as is the case with most smartphone cameras, with good color accuracy, healthy amounts of detail and solid amounts of dynamic range (I was able to recover a shadow in one photo without causing it to be too noisy), although highlights can blow out easily at times, as the camera tends to overexpose, sometimes significantly more than necessary, although this has been calmed a little in recent updates.
When it comes to indoor and low-light, the device struggles. The sensor doesn’t seem to be particularly large, and despite the f/2 aperture, the sensor doesn’t seem to be capable of capturing passable lowlight shots at times. Noise reduction also seems overly aggressive, turning many photos into something mimicking a watercolor painting, even with the device’s dedicated Night mode. With some light, you can definitely coax some acceptable results, but overall, this is just mediocre performance, even for a budget phone, especially since the slightly more expensive Moto G5+ delivers better performance and even some of its similarly priced-rivals, mainly owing to better post-processing and better hardware to a degree.
The camera does surprisingly well in macro photography, being able to go pretty darn close to a subject and capturing some fine detail, especially in the “Ultra HD” mode.
Speaking of that mode, the Ultra HD mode basically takes 8 shots and combines them together to create a larger 32MP image that retains more detail and reduces noise to a certain degree. It’s actually nice to have, due to the increased detail and reduced noise, meaning more data saved, but don’t count on this for all shots as movement can cause the image to blur.
My intial HDR experience on the Y55 was supremely disappointing as the phone seemed to do nothing but make stuff brighter, which totally makes the point of HDR photography moot as the point of HDR is to boost shadows while also reining in highlights to squeeze some more detail out. After a few software updates, the HDR processing did seem to improve, as the effect seems to come in a manner that I find acceptable, with shadows properly boosted and highlights toned down at times. Despite that, however, it still tends to go way too bright than when it needs to, but overall, this is a solid improvement.
I don’t take selfies, but the front camera is actually pretty good, with decent amounts of detail and dynamic range in good light and a pretty nice screen-flash at low-light.
The camera app does also include a full-featured manual mode that allows you to adjust ISO, shutter speed, white balance presets and focal point, although it does not seem to be using Android’s Camera2 API. Despite that this is a nice thing to have on a sub-$200 phone.
Video is 1080p at 30FPS, but this is ideally best used for sharing quick snippets as the video output is rather shaky and the microphones are good but nothing special.
Overall, the Y55 has a decent-but-unremarkable set of cameras, even for a budget device. The device seems to be more focused on fun additions like filters and stickers plus a timelapse and slow-mo (that I wouldn’t recommend due to the pretty low quality) than the actual optical prowess. That may appeal to its target audience, but rivals are packing more capable cameras for the same price or even just a touch more. It’s not a bad camera, especially in UHD mode, but it is somewhat lacking compared to others in its class. That said, if you spend some time tweaking and putting filters while uploading them to a place like Instagram, I don’t think many folks would notice right off the bat, unless it’s in low-light, where it’s sorta obvious that this is a lower-end phone.
SOFTWARE AND EXPERIENCE
The Vivo Y55L runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, with FunTouch OS 2.6 running atop it. If you’ve used a Huawei, Xiaomi or a lot of phones designed for the Chinese market, FunTouch OS is very familiar, especially in its iOS-esque nature. There are heavy inspirations from Apple’s iOS platform, ranging from the quick-settings being at the bottom (which I actually like), a translucent notification panel, the overall design and even some sounds.
Of course, this is not necessarily a jab, as there are folks out there who like Apple’s aesthetics. Though to me, they do feel a bit too heavily inspired by Apple. However, my biggest issue with FunTouch isn’t the heavy iOS-inspiration, or the frankly silly name. It’s how it changes so much to the point where even basic Android stuff doesn’t work properly. Here are a few examples;
- On most Androids, when changing the volume, there is a way to change the volume for the ringer and alarms in the slider that appears when pressing the volume buttons. However, FunTouch doesn’t do that, with a giant volume adjustment panel that only allows you to change the volume for the ringer or media playback, with no obvious way to change the other on the same panel.
- On most Android devices, some pre-installed apps can be disabled, and notifications can be hidden or muted. On FunTouch, however, there is no obvious option. There’s no way to disable any of the pre-installed apps even in the settings menu or the iManager app, and you can’t even mute the notifications from them, the option being grayed out.
- The Google Assistant and Now on Tap do not work at all.
- The device also tends to be way too aggressive when dealing with resources. More than a few times, my navigation app was killed while I was actively using it, presumably for the purpose of saving energy, but this is just really poor design, especially when the user is actively using the app.
These flaws are an absolute shame because there’s stuff in FunTouch that I actually like, such as opening a split-window when I get a message notification, so I’m not interrupted while watching video, and having the screen turn on when pulled out of a pocket. But these flaws are just glaringly obvious over time, and they seemed like such a basic error, especially killing an app that a user is actively using in the interest of power-saving, which is just very silly.
That said, the overly aggressive resource management did seem to help in battery life. On my first day, I got 6+ hours of screen on time over a period of nearly 30 hours. With cellular network enabled, it dropped a little but otherwise managed to stay alive for a full day even with very heavy use. Despite the small-ish battery for its size and 28nm processor, the lower-power hardware and resource management seemed to help with battery life.
And although the phone is unlikely to receive a Nougat update, it does receive security patches more often that I’d have expected, currently running on the June 2017 security patch, and it has usually received them at a regular pace. That said, it would’ve been nice to get Android Nougat, even on a budget-class device.
Other points of note;
- GPS on this unit seems to be unreliable. It would often refuse to find satellites until you reboot the device.
- Call quality was acceptable, although it was hard to hear the recipient at times, even on full volume and in an area with good cellular coverage.
- The quick shortcuts are useful in practice, but they’re often unreliable, requiring me to press the power button to get them to work.
- It’s weird to have a phone in 2017 that uses a menu button instead of a recent apps one.
- Having a phone like this as a secondary to a flagship is actually quite refreshing, especially in terms of power consumption.
The Vivo Y55 is a phone that I have mixed feelings for, and it’s not because it looks like a lost child of an iPhone 6s.
On one hand, this is very solid hardware, with a solid (if a little plasticky) build, a solid screen with good amounts of saturation and contrast, excellent battery life, performance that isn’t a real issue until heavily taxed and a camera that, while not optically on-par with some of its competition, does have fun tricks and features to make it fun to use.
On the other hand, the software is a mess. Not because it has heavy inspirations from iOS, but because stuff on it just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Not all Chinese skins need to be like this, as Huawei’s EMUI has shown in recent times, so Vivo really needs to retune their skin heavily so that basic Android functionality isn’t broken or compromised. No ability to mute Hangouts on the Vivo specifically was a real downer.
For $179, the Vivo Y55 isn’t a bad deal by any means, but the broken software is making it a hard recommendation, especially when options like Motorola’s Moto G5 and HMD’s Nokia 5 deliver identical specs but with much less broken software exist. Or spend a little more to get the Moto G5+, which features more power, a significant camera upgrade and again, less broken software. While MIUI isn’t my favorite, Xiaomi’s Redmi 4X has better battery life and more storage and RAM for a little less or the same price depending on config and region, or even Samsung’s recent Galaxy J5, of which Samsung’s new UX is much more tolerable than its garish past, or the Honor 6X, especially when you can find a good deal on one.
The Y55 is by no means a bad phone. Many of its software gremlins can be worked around or ignored if you don’t care for Hangouts or Assistant. However, these issues just seem like basic errors in software, and when you can get offerings that offer similar power but with better honed software at the same or lower price, or spend a little more and get a phone that punches way above its price tag, there’s honestly little reason for me to recommend the Y55 unless you really want something you can tinker to make it work better. I can live with these gremlins as I tweak settings for a living, but for regular folks, you would honestly be better off with the aforementioned devices.
In short, this phone is solid, but the software needs a lot of work.
|THE GOOD||THE NOT-SO-GOOD|
|· Display is solid in its relative class
· Performance is surprisingly solid
· Fun camera tricks out-of-the-box
· Very solid battery life
· Some software additions are genuinely useful
· Actually receives security patches
|· FunTouch OS is a mess, especially in its inconsistent experience and broken features.
· Design can be polarizing
· Inconsistent HDR processing
· Unlikely to receive an OS upgrade