We tried the Vivo X Fold, the foldable smartphone that almost makes Samsung old-fashioned

The Vivo X Fold, marketed only in China, has the distinction of having a much more modern design than Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3. It is also the first folding smartphone with under-display fingerprint sensors.

For a tiring time, Chinese brands have gradually started folding smartphones. Having left Samsung almost alone in the market (Huawei was also among the first, but its ambitions were hampered by US sanctions), Oppo, Xiaomi, Motorola, Honor and Vivo are gradually embarking on this adventure, which aims to create a new category in a somewhat dormant market. We recently tried the Oppo Find N at Numerama, a miniature version of Samsung’s strangely successful proposition.

On July 26, Vivo France offered us to play with the Vivo X Fold, a folding smartphone reserved for China. We were afraid to see only a simple copy of the Samsung model, we finally came across a very promising proposal.

A slightly less experimental design

Why is the Vivo X Fold so compelling? Its first quality is that it does not look like a foldable smartphone. Forget the massive left edge of Samsung’s smartphone, the Vivo X Fold, when in smartphone mode, looks like a regular phone. Of course, its thickness (1.46 cm) and its weight (311 g) reveal its true nature, but the screen is perfectly symmetrical. This is enough to remove the “prototype” aspect of other folding mobiles, which is necessarily pleasant to use.

In smartphone mode, the Vivo X Fold has a large 6.53-inch display. It is thick but its screen looks normal. // Source: Numerama

Vivo, like Oppo, has also chosen to use a somewhat special hinge, with a fold in two places instead of just one. This allows for a perfectly flat device when closed, while Samsung’s Fold is >, with one side thicker than the other. Again, this reinforces the impression of using a better finished product.

Unfolded, the Vivo X Fold becomes a small 8.03-inch tablet, with an ultra-thin glass screen, like Samsung’s. The folds are invisible when the screen is in front of the eyes, but are all the same still too much as soon as the brightness is a little low. In any case, we do not change our minds about the contributions from such a format. A small tablet of this size is super handy for watching videos or reading an article. Vivo may not have invented anything compared to the competition in this aspect, but it manages to align perfectly with its best rivals. It must be said that its supplier is Samsung Display, which is therefore completely logical.

Vivo unfolded
The folds in the middle of the screen are clearly visible when the screen is off, fortunately we forget about them when it is on. // Source: Numerama

Finally, since the Chinese markets love to make boxes, Vivo had the good idea to get its smartphone approved by the Guinness Book of Records. For 11 days, a machine folded and unfolded it until it reached 300,000 openings. This makes it the toughest folding device in the world, designed to last for 10 years based on 80 openings per day. We’re always wary of this kind of data, but it has the benefit of making people smile.

Two ultrasonic screen sensors, the nice surprise

Further proof that the Vivo X Fold is a slightly more sophisticated version of what the competition is doing, it’s the first folding smartphone with under-display fingerprint sensors. All its rivals hide one in their side button due to technical concerns (it’s hard to place a sensor under a screen like the one on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold, which is protected by thin layers of metal), Vivo is the first manufacturer to find one solution.

How does he accomplish this? It simply uses a slightly different technology: ultrasound, while most brands use optics (the screen lights up brightly, allowing a small camera to see through). Only Samsung uses ultrasound with its high-end Galaxy S today, Vivo is the second manufacturer to try it.

There are two ultrasonic fingerprint sensors on the Vivo X Fold (one on the small screen, one on the big one). They unlock the device with a light touch, no matter how you use it. Ultrasound has another advantage: it works with wet fingers. Of course, it also costs more. That’s because Vivo won’t produce as many X Folds as it can afford.

Vivo X Fold sensor
The Vivo X Fold has an under-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, which is a first for a device of its kind. // Source: Numerama

Advanced cameras

Still in the “Vivo makes no sacrifices” category, the camera module on the back of the X Fold is unprecedented for a folding smartphone. Forget the sensors of previous generations, chosen to save as much space as possible, Vivo makes no concessions. There are four cameras on the back of his smartphone, a main sensor of 50 Mpix, an ultra-wide angle, an optical zoom x2 and a periscopic zoom x5. A score worthy of the ultra high-end that no folding screen has ever had.

Vivo X Fold camera
Vivo X Fold’s camera module is not discreet, but ticks all the boxes. // Source: Numerama

Admittedly, the back of the Vivo X Fold is not very discreet. But for the absolute geek who wants a folding smartphone and doesn’t want to make concessions, only Vivo ticks all the boxes (or almost, certain features like the gimbal on its other smartphones aren’t there).

The software, the only weak point

You got it, on the hardware level, the Vivo X Fold crushes everyone. Despite its relatively compact price of 8,999 yuan (or 1,300 euros, but taxes must be added), the Chinese brand’s folding smartphone has arguably the most complete technical data sheet on the market. This makes us even more eager to check out Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 4, which will be announced on August 10. Will the Korean let himself be eaten by the Chinese when he is their supplier?

On a software level, however, it is clear that Samsung is still far ahead of the competition today. If Vivo France makes the argument that the device uses a Chinese version of the operating system, we found no settings dedicated to the folding screen of the device, while Samsung offers plenty of experimental features to make the experience better (for example, only place an application on half of screen, to use your Z Fold as a small laptop).

Only a few built-in apps, like the camera, make smart use of the folding aspect of the Vivo X Fold. // Source: Numerama

Without these features, the Vivo X Fold is just a large smartphone (or small tablet, a matter of perspective), not a new category in itself. This is undoubtedly what justifies its international unavailability at the moment. Only Samsung knows how to make practical foldable smartphones for everyday use.

In any case, it seems obvious to us that 2023 will be a decisive year for this category, with the launch of several products, this time internationally. Let’s hope prices come down, which is a bad start considering inflation. Next meeting on August 10 with the 2022 generation of Samsung’s Galaxy Z.

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