Vivo V23 & V23 Pro Hands-On: Color-changing back and 50MP selfie camera helps these phones stand out
Vivo’s V series is known mostly for a couple of things: its prolific, twice-a-year release schedule, and selfie camera-centric hardware. This is a line that was pumping out 20-megapixel front-facing cameras when everyone else was on 8MP; and 32MP and 44MP selfie shooters when other selfie cameras were shooting with 12MP.
The latest update, the V23 series, ups the numbers game again, with both the V23 Pro and V23 standard model packing a dual-selfie camera system headlined by a 50MP, f/2.0 selfie camera plus an 8MP ultra-wide selfie lens. This time out, there’s one more selling point to differentiate the new devices from the sea of mid-tier smartphones: a color-changing back.
Vivo V23 series Specifications: Click to expand
Vivo V23 series: Specifications
|Specification||Vivo V23 Pro||Vivo V23|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||In-display fingerprint scanner||In-display fingerprint scanner|
About this hands-on: Vivo sent me both the V23 and V23 Pro for testing. Vivo did not have any input in this article.
Vivo V23 series: Hardware and Design
The Vivo V23 and V23 Pro are mid-tier phones that have gone on sale first in India for ₹29,990 and ₹38,990 respectively, these prices convert to about $403 and $524 respectively. Vivo has already confirmed the devices will hit other parts of Asia including Malaysia, Thailand, and Europe “soon.”
As mentioned, both phones have the same front-facing camera system, as well as identical 8MP ultra-wide and 2MP macro sensors on the backside. They also run on the same software and have the same color-changing back technology.
Let’s talk about this back first. This is no mere gradient-colored glass coating that reflects light differently depending on the angle. Instead, this tech uses a new type of glass (Fluorite AG glass), which, when hit by ultraviolet rays goes through a chemical process that results in color change. By default, this color is orange, but when it absorbs enough UV light it transforms into this blue-ish green.
Because the glass plate is really undergoing pigment changes from absorbing light, this means you can play with the change by covering parts of the glass, giving the phone tanlines, so to speak. I was able to get an X on the phone by covering it with a piece of paper.
If you’re more creative, you can get more intricate patterns on the phone like this promotional image provided by Vivo.
If the color changing back is not your cup of tea, the V23 series also comes in a second color, a more subtle standard black that just stays black.
Display, processors, and main cameras
The major differentiating factor between the two phones comes in chassis design: the V23 Pro has a typical (in the Android space) curved display that blends into a narrow frame. The standard V23, meanwhile, has a boxy design with a flat front, back, and sides — yes, it’s the iPhone 12/13 design.
I generally like curved screens — I find them to offer a better in-hand feel and a more immersive screen — but I must say, the boxy design of the V23 is a breath of fresh air, mainly because I have handled at least 100 devices in the past few years with the V23 Pro’s body type.
And unlike Apple, which keeps the sides entirely flat with hard corners, Vivo gave the V23’s corners a subtle chamfered edge, which combined with the V23’s narrower width, makes for a more comfortable in-hand feel than the iPhone 13 Pro.
The Vivo V23 Pro has a slightly larger 6.56-inch screen than the V23’s 6.44-inch, but because the Pro curves at the sides, the phone’s screen size feels identical. Both panels are OLED and refresh at 90Hz. They look vibrant enough, with a 1080 x 2400 resolution, but neither get as bright as what we’ve come to expect from flagship Android phones. And yes, the presence of a notch in 2022 is very unsightly, but Vivo has indeed put a lot of hardware into the front-facing system. This is a notch with an actually useful function.
The Pro model is powered by a MediaTek Dimensity 1200 SoC while the standard model gets a Dimensity 920. Both of these chips are more than powerful for day-to-day casual smartphone usage, though they’re clearly not on par with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, let alone the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 that will begin populating the Android flagship space soon.
The V23 Pro’s main back camera also gets a bump over the standard V23: a 108MP, f/1.9 shooter versus the 64MP, f/1.9 sensor on the standard V23. For the most part, both main cameras are solid shooters at their price range, but the Pro’s sensor grabs better dynamic range if shooting under more challenging lighting conditions.
The star of the show, ultimately, is the front-facing camera system. When I tested the last two V devices (V20 and V21), I found their selfie cameras did, indeed, produce more vibrant, better-lit, and balanced selfies than top-tier Apple and Samsung phones, particularly when shooting under challenging conditions like directly against harsh sunlight.
I am, unfortunately, stuck in quarantine right now so I only have limited scenes and lighting conditions under which to test the cameras, but once again we can see that the Vivo V23 series’ selfie camera does a better job than the iPhone when it comes to finding proper exposure and balance. This shot was challenging, I am shooting with harsh backlight coming in from half of the frame behind my head, while the other half is darker, covered by a curtain. So the selfie camera has to find exposure for not just my face, but the window, and also the computer screens. The iPhone 13 Pro blew out the light from the window completely.
In dark conditions, the Vivo V23 selfie cameras also pulls in slightly more light thanks to pixel binning.
The ultra-wide selfie camera gets the job done in getting more into the frame, but details are noticeably softer compared to the 50MP main camera.
There are a lot of extra selfie camera features, like a dual front-facing flash that can serve as fill lights, a myriad of portrait styles and beautification filters, and the ability to record 4K/30 selfie videos. It’s a bit much for someone like me, to be honest, and I have never been a fan of the heavy beautification filters that can whiten my skin, make my nose slimmer, smooth my skin, etc. However, there’s no denying there’s a major chunk of the population that is into these things: just scroll through TikTok or Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) for a few minutes and you’ll come across dozens of videos of people clearly using heavy filters. There’s a market and Vivo is catering to it.
Vivo V23 series: Software
Both the V23 and V23 Pro run Android 12 with the company’s own FunTouch 12 software skin on top. The software experience is fine. FunTouch 12 has improved by leaps and bounds compared to years past, fixing a lot of weird quirks (remember when Vivo’s software used to separate the notification panel from the toggle buttons?). Some of Android 12’s visual traits, like the rounded corners of notification cards are here, as well as crucial improvements like status bar alerts whenever an app is accessing the phone’s cameras or microphone.
All the extra customization options that BKK phones have offered for years are still here, such as screen-off shortcut gestures to launch apps, three-finger swipe down to grab screenshots, and three-finger swipe up to launch split-screen mode.
Overall the phone behaves the same as previous Vivo phones, which means the software is responsive and zippy. Android purists will probably still dislike the aesthetics.
Vivo V23 series: Early Impressions
Vivo’s V series has always been slightly overpriced for what they are — for around the same price $400-$500 price range you can get a Qualcomm 800 series SoC in some rival devices, and the existence of the notch is an eyesore for me.
But the fact that Vivo keeps pumping out these V phones every half a year means there’s clearly an audience for these phones that place selfie camera performance and shiny looks above everything else. And in today’s increasingly selfie-obsessed social media culture, a phone that packs all the bells and whistles into a front-facing system should have appeal with the younger crowd.
I do think maybe it’s time for Vivo to consider slowing down its V series release cycle. My first time testing a Vivo V phone was in February of 2017, with the V5. So in not even four full years yet the series has jumped to number 23! At this rate, we’ll be on the Vivo V100 in a couple of years. In the last calendar year alone, I have tested the Vivo V20, V21, and V23 and each one only brings iterative upgrades over the previous model. Vivo’s doing some very exciting things on the flagship front — the Vivo X70 Pro Plus is in my opinion the best camera phone of 2021 — it’s time for the V series to take a break until more major innovations come along.