Vivo X80 Pro Review: The best camera on a smartphone, once again
When it comes to Chinese phone brands’ reputation on an international stage, Vivo probably isn’t as well known as Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO, or OnePlus. But those of us who follow the smartphone scene closely know Vivo has been making really good phones for a couple of years now, and last fall’s Vivo X70 Pro Plus was, in my opinion, the best smartphone camera for still photos. This wasn’t just some half-baked opinion — I pitted the X70 Pro Plus against every top contender in a series of camera shootouts and Vivo won all the key categories like nighttime and ultra-wide photography.
After heavily testing the Vivo X80 Pro for the past 11 days, I can say, yes, the cameras are still awesome — and it completely mops the floor with the iPhone 13 Pro in key categories like low light photos — but I’m not sure the Vivo X80 Pro’s cameras are that much better than the X70 Pro Plus. In fact, there’s one camera decision I don’t agree with.
Vivo X80 series: Specifications
|Specification||Vivo X80 Pro||Vivo X80|
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About this review: XDA’s Editor-in-chief Aamir Siddiqui and I each tested our own unit of the Vivo X80 Pro for over a week, and this review combines both our thoughts. Both review units were provided by Vivo. Vivo India additionally took Aamir and other Indian media persons and YouTubers to Dubai for an immersion session centered around the phone. Vivo did not have any input in this review. Vivo is also running a campaign on XDA around this phone, but that is handled by the sponsorship team independent from the editorial team.
Vivo X80 Pro: Design and Hardware
- Typical, but premium glass-and-aluminum construction, with an eye-catching large camera module
- One of the first wide-release flagships to use Qualcomm’s awesome 3D Sonic Max scanner
- The screen looks very good, but brightness lags behind some rivals
The Vivo X80 Pro continues the design language set by the Vivo X70 series, which introduced the giant reflective camera island and frosted glass coating. In terms of overall shape and dimensions, it feels identical to the Vivo X70 Pro Plus. In China, the Vivo X80 Pro also comes in an orange leatherback but for the global market, there is only the black glass version.
The X80 Pro is a typical Android glass-and-metal slab, so there’s a 6.8-inch, 3200 x 1440 OLED panel with a variable refresh rate of up to 120Hz. It’s a beautiful panel — as is the case with every flagship Android phone these days — but if I must nitpick, I notice that it doesn’t get as bright as the Galaxy S22 Ultra or OPPO Find X5 Pro’s panels. On really sunny days, you will have to crank the brightness to maximum.
Here’s a tangible example of the difference in brightness levels: for the below photo, I had to set all three phone screens to roughly the same brightness levels for the camera, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra is at roughly 35% brightness compared to the Vivo X80 Pro and X70 Pro Plus’ 55% brightness.
The X80 Pro is well-built, with clicky, tactile buttons that are located in easy-to-reach places, and a relatively (by 2022 flagship standards) lightweight of 219g. It’s neither too wide like an iPhone 13 Pro nor has pointy corners like the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It should fit in the palm nicely for most people. One nitpick: the phone’s aluminum top has the words “professional photography” printed, which feels tacky. Yes, there’s a Zeiss logo and camera lens spec marked on the camera module too, but those are acceptable in my opinion as that’s what camera lenses have done for years. More on the cameras later. Also, note that the top of the device also houses the IR blaster — you see this only on rare phones outside of Xiaomi.
Inside the phone is a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 with 12GB of RAM and a 4,700 mAh battery. Pretty standard stuff. What’s noteworthy is the in-display fingerprint reader: it’s not just another optical scanner that we’ve seen dozens of times in Chinese Android phones. Instead, the X80 Pro uses Qualcomm’s 3D Sonic Max scanner, which has a much larger scanning area than not just optical scanners, but also the older ultrasonic Qualcomm scanner used in the Galaxy S22 Ultra. The scanning area is so large, in fact, that the phone gives you an option to shrink the scanning area, or use the edges of it to quick-launch an app of your choosing. Simply press your registered finger on that part of the scanner with the app icon, and the phone unlocks and jumps directly to the app. You can even have the phone accept two fingerprints simultaneously.
Two subjective points of note: I really like the new circular camera module design and think it’s an aesthetic improvement over last year’s odd-looking module, though that off-centered periscope lens may throw some people off. Beyond that, I personally am not a fan of the frosted coated back; there’s micro-texture on it (you can see in the photo below) which makes the phone feels slippery and silky. I like the feeling of silk in clothing or bed sheets, but for a phone, I much prefer the dense feel of a ceramic back (like in some OPPO or Xiaomi phones) or grippy matte glass like the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
But that’s just me, and I have heard other reviewers (including Aamir) say they love the feel of this texture. The good news for me is Vivo includes a faux-leather case that is much nicer than typical jelly freebie cases you get in other Chinese phones. The case protects the corner of the phone, doesn’t get in the way of the camera module, and more grippy leather-like texture.
All the other high-end flagship flourishes are here: Gorilla Glass Victus protection for both front and back, wireless charging at up to 50W speeds if you use Vivo’s proprietary charger, and wired charging up to 80W speeds with Vivo’s charging brick that’s included with the phone in the box.
Vivo X80 Pro: Cameras
- Main camera uses a new Samsung GNV sensor that was “custom-built” for the Vivo X80 Pro
- The X80 Pro packs an upgraded V1+ imaging chip self-designed by Vivo
- The X80 Pro is a master at HDR shots, very rarely blowing out lights the way other phones do
The camera system of the Vivo X80 Pro is very similar to the one seen in the X70 Pro Plus — you still have four lenses covering the ultra-wide, wide, telephoto (2x zoom), and 5x zoom focal lengths, backed by Vivo’s self-developed imaging chip, and the cameras are all covered by Zeiss’ T-Coating (which reduces lens flare). The 50MP main camera (wide lens) got a sensor upgrade to Samsung’s GNV (not to be confused with the GN5 sensor used in other recent Vivo phones). The GNV, however, is not an entirely new sensor, but an upgraded version of the GN1 sensor Vivo’s been using for two years.
The 48MP ultra-wide, 12MP 2x telephoto (which Vivo calls “portrait lens”), and 8MP 5x Periscope zoom lens all use identical hardware as the X70 Pro Plus. But the brain processing the hardware got an upgrade: the X80 Pro houses a dedicated imaging chip named V1 Plus, which as the name implies is an iterative update on the V1 chip that made its debut in the X70 Pro Plus.
One last change: the gimbal stabilization system that supported the ultra-wide lenses before has been moved to support the 2x portrait lens, because that lens got some new nifty tricks.
First, let’s look at all four lenses’ shots together as one set. We can see the X80 Pro has good optical focal length versatility, from a 114-degree ultra-wide (focal length equivalent of around 16mm) all the way to 5x optical zoom (125mm equivalent), but it falls short of the superior range of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, whose optical zoom reaches up to 10x. We can also see the X80 Pro doesn’t keep color temperature as consistent across all four lenses the way iPhones or OPPO’s Find X5 Pro do.
That’s about it as far as nitpicking shortcomings. In everything else, the X80 Pro’s cameras knock it out of the park.
Main camera, good lighting
The Vivo X80 Pro’s main camera captures pixel-binned 12.5MP shots that are richly detailed. The large 1/1.31-inch sensor size pulls in a lot of light and produces a clear separation between subject and background in shots. Colors are livened up a bit but are not too exaggerated. While Vivo’s cameras will brighten up dark scenes quite a bit when we move to low light shooting conditions, during the day, the camera is smart enough to leave shadowed areas somewhat darker for contrast.
The shutter speed is responsive and the focus is fast — just an excellent main camera to shoot with.
Main camera, low or challenging light conditions
Now we move to challenging lighting conditions — whether it be low light, against backlight, or high contrast scenes — and this is where Vivo’s digital imaging superiority starts showing itself. Like the Vivo X70 Pro Plus, the X80 Pro is uncanny at producing HDR shots and almost never blows out bright light sources. Just look at all the shots below: every single one is perfectly balanced. Each wave of the flame that’s bursting into the hot air balloon is visible. Every strand of light in the neon skyscrapers of Hong Kong are depicted in accurate colors. Whether it’s an exaggerated half-moon over the skies of Dubai or a dark street corner, every light source is well illuminated, you can see the details.
The degree to which the Vivo X80 Pro can properly expose contrasty scenes is more apparent when you see the same photos taken by other phones. Look at the below shots, look at how the X80 Pro managed to expose highlights without blowing them out, while still keeping shadows intact. Now, look at the iPhone 13 Pro shots, which are quite frankly, a mess. Every light is blown out, and the shadows are gone because the overall shot had to be brightened. Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra did a pretty good job but still blows out some lights.
Here’s another side-by-side, captured one after the other. It’s not even close how much better the X80 Pro shot is over the iPhone 13 Pro’s.
And spoiler: the gap in HDR capabilities between the X80 Pro and Apple and Samsung’s phones will widen when we move to the ultra-wide camera. But first, more low-light photo samples captured by the main camera of the X80 Pro.
One nitpick we could have is that Vivo’s shots are so perfectly balanced that they look slightly unnatural, almost like they’ve been edited in Photoshop (they have not — these are all straight out of the camera). I can see how that’s a fair argument, that our eyes don’t see every light source perfectly too. But even going by the “natural” argument, I’d pick the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s shot over the iPhone 13 Pro’s completely blown-out look.
Ultra-wide, good lighting
With a combination of pixel-binning, fast f/2.2 aperture and decent half-inch image sensor, the X80 Pro’s ultra-wide camera packs a lot of details and pulls in more light than the ultra-wide lenses used by the Galaxy S22 Ultra or iPhone 13 Pro. There’s not much to report for ultra-wide shots in ideal lighting conditions: shots look great, with no serious detail dropoff at the edges.
Ultra-wide, low or challenging light conditions
This is where Vivo’s camera really shows its superiority over rivals. Most smartphone’s ultra-wide sensors do fine under great lighting, it’s shooting at night when things fall apart — images get noisier, details are much softer, etc. Vivo’s X80 Pro ultra-wide mostly avoids this fate.
The second shot in the above set was shot in a dimly lit street, and it’s a much better ultra-wide shot than what most other phones could muster. The difference is jarring when you see the samples side-by-side and zoomed in 100%.
As mentioned, Vivo’s ultra-wide handles HDR significantly better than Samsung and Apple’s best phones do too. Look at the lights in Vivo’s shots, then look at them in the Galaxy S22 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro’s shots.
Here are more samples of the X80 Pro’s ultra-wide taking easy wins against the same captured by an iPhone 13 Pro.
In this category, I won’t bother separating photos into good and low light because smartphone zoom lenses, no matter how great, all suffer in low light situations. We can just examine samples as a whole. The Vivo X80 Pro packs a 2x telephoto zoom that Vivo dubs as a portrait camera, and a 5x Periscope zoom. The 2x telephoto is pretty good, but the 5x Periscope zoom lens is a noticeably weaker Periscope than Samsung’s 10x Periscope. Let’s look at 2x zoom first.