That’s how I concluded the first impressions of Vivo’s new V9 a week ago. And since then, I have been putting the phone through its paces. The screen is still top-notch and the design, while smeared with fingerprints, still stands out. But the rest of the equation? Well, let’s just say it couldn’t yield quite the X factor Vivo was hoping for. Alright, let me explain.

The Vivo V9 is undoubtedly one of the prettiest phones you can buy in this range. It’s made out of plastic but has a shiny sheen on the rear which looks great from afar. Especially, when there’s light around, the V9’s reflective surface is one of those phones which will urge people sitting beside you to pop the “hey, which phone is that?!” question. I say afar because, on close inspection, you will find the V9’s back, as I mentioned earlier, smeared with fingerprints which yield an unpleasant greasy finish to it. Thankfully, Vivo does bundle a silicon protective case in the box. The curved rear, though, does help with the grip and in my week’s time with it, not once did I felt I was using a 6.3-inch screen.

Great Display, Not-so-Great Accommodations

Speaking of the screen, it’s one of the highlights of the Vivo V9. Apart from the tiny piece of bezel on top, the V9 largely has an edge-to-edge display which looks glorious. It’s sharp, vibrant, and bright enough to be visible outdoors. The resolution is Full HD+ but there’s no Gorilla Glass protection which may or may not be a deal breaker for you. The good thing is that the V9 comes already applied with a screen protector. Although you should probably buy a more high-quality one if you want to experience the display all in its glory.

The display does suffer from one software snag, though. Since Android is not yet compatible with 19:9 aspect ratios, you will always have to deal with two black or white bars on the top and bottom while watching videos or even inside apps. The one pet peeve I have with the V9’s build is the MicroUSB slot. It’s rather disappointing to see even higher mid-range phones still shipping with the outdated port. The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, on the other hand, functions well but you don’t necessarily have to employ that since the V9 is also compatible with face unlock.

While that as well works quickly enough, the lack of any special sensors means anyone can pick up the phone, point it at your face no matter what you’re doing, and unlock it. I would, therefore, suggest disabling it. There’s also a camera bug which, at times, doesn’t let you use face unlock by throwing a “Camera is in use” error. The only way to fix that is to unlock the phone, launch the camera, and close it.

A Tale of Three Stumbling Blocks

Under the hood, the V9 draws power from a year and a half old Snapdragon 626 processor. There’s 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage which can be expanded through a dedicated MicroSD card slot, and a 3260 mAh battery which does not support quick charging. The Vivo V9’s three most critical drawbacks reside in that last paragraph itself. One, it is not as snappy as you’d normally expect from a mid-range phone. Even everyday tasks like browsing the web or launching apps or publishing a story on Instagram tend to lag and stutter. And forget about playing resource-intensive games like the new PUBG. Two, the battery. On a single charge, the V9 lasts less than a day and you’ll have to reach out to the power socket by 6-7PM on moderate use. Lastly, the absence of quick charging means the V9 takes more than two hours to juice up entirely from 15% which is almost a sin by today’s standard.

iOS, Minus the Sophistication

Another letdown of the Vivo V9 is the software. It’s running on the company’s custom FunTouch OS skin on top of Android 8.1. It features a myriad of tools and gestures including navigation gestures which let you completely ditch the onscreen buttons and navigate around the software through just a bunch of gestures. Calling that skin inspired by iOS would be an understatement, I feel. That’s primarily because it doesn’t just look like iOS aesthetically, it even functions like one. Let’s discuss the former part, first. The Vivo V9’s software is a shameless ripoff of Apple’s iOS from the control center to the notification design to the inbuilt keyboard. Depending on your taste, you might love it or entirely despise it. There’s no middle ground here. But more infuriating is the fact that Vivo has tweaked a few core Android features to match iOS. So, for instance, Truecaller’s live caller ID doesn’t work here, at least I couldn’t get it to. In addition to that, the notification center is still consuming the entire screen here.

These would have been fine as well. However, the issue is Vivo has added a bunch of impractical tidbits of its own such as you can not hide the notification content on the lock screen or you can not control music from the lock screen either. Furthermore, there’s no way to search a particular setting and the software often kills an app if it’s inactive for a couple of minutes, hence when you open them again through the multitasking menu, it takes nearly 5-6 seconds because it’s basically launching again. So yes, the software isn’t V9’s strong suit either.

Lastly, there’s the camera which does bring a sliver to hope to the V9’s otherwise weak case especially if you’re a selfie fanatic. The 24-megapixel front-facing camera is capable of producing detailed and rich selfies in most lighting conditions. Of course, the camera app also lets you do all sorts of AI stuff like applying artificial makeup, filters, and masks. The V9 even comes with the ability to enable the beautify feature during video calls on apps like WhatsApp.

On the rear, you’ll find two snappers — one 16-megapixel and another 5-megapixel for enabling depth of field effects. In daylight conditions, the V9 can capture impressive shots with accurate contrasts and colors. Switch off the lights and the V9’s drawbacks begin to appear. Under dimly lit scenarios, the V9 struggles to focus and the pictures shot on it turn out grainy.

The bokeh mode is a hit or miss like every other implementation in this price range. More often than not, it fails to figure out the borders fabricating just average outcomes. If the subject is evenly lit and not that complicated to click, it is possible to get precise results. The 4K videos are average as well and the lack of any sort of stabilization means you will end up shaky footage a lot.

I hope it’s clear why I earlier mentioned the V9 fails to yield that X factor the company was hoping it would. That being said, the two features Vivo is primarily boasting about — the screen and the selfie camera do work as advertised. But the rest, unfortunately, falters. The rear camera is inconsistent, the software is in a desperate need of an overhaul, the performance is middling… you get the idea. At Rs 22,999, I certainly can not recommend the Vivo V9 to everyone but if you’re someone who strictly prioritizes selfies and a unique design, you can consider it. Although I would suggest taking a look at Motorola’s Moto X4 or even the Xiaomi Redmi 5 Pro, both of which are significantly more well-balanced phones.