Vivo S1 review: Stylish & balanced midrange smartphone marred by sub-par UX

Smartphone brand Vivo, a subsidiary of Chinese electronics manufacturer BKK Electronics, recently launched the Vivo S1 in India. The first product in the company’s style-centric S-series smartphones, the phone boasts an AMOLED screen with a waterdrop-shaped notch on the front, reflective glass-like design and triple camera set-up on the back, a big-capacity battery with fast-charge support, and in-display fingerprint sensor. Based on specifications and features, the phone seems to be a balanced mix of style and substance in its segment. But how does it fare in terms of user experience? Let’s find out:


The reflective gradient design has become a norm among smartphones these days, and the Vivo S1 seems to be following in the footsteps of peers in this respect. It has a curved glass-like cover on the back with a gradient finish, reflecting different colour hues when looked at from an angle. The Blue colour variant that we have reviewed looks dazzling with its bluish-white tone which also reflects a shade of purple. The phone has a triple-camera module on the back, stacked vertically on the top-left side. It bulges out from the body, making the phone unstable when kept on flat surfaces like a table top. The phone’s chassis is made of polycarbonate, which goes well with the phone’s overall design but is not very sturdy.


The phone sports a 6.38-inch AMOLED display of a fullHD+ resolution (2340 x 1080 pixels), stretched in a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio. The screen has negligible bezels on three sides, but a thick one at the bottom – a usual blot on most current-generation smartphones. Being an AMOLED panel, the display has deep blacks that result in an improved contrast ratio. It looks vivid and has ample brightness to stay legible under direct sunlight. The screen also has an in-display fingerprint sensor for phone unlock; it works as smoothly as capacitive fingerprint sensors.

Unfortunately, the phone does not come with Widevine L1 certification confirming the ability to stream multimedia content in high definition from over-the-top (OTT) platforms. However, the company has promised to issue an update by the end of August to address this issue. The phone’s screen is responsive and registers touch inputs correctly.


The Vivo S1 has a triple-camera set-up on the back, featuring a 16-megapixel primary sensor of an f/1.78 aperture, an 8MP ultra wide-angle lens of an f/2.2 aperture and a 2MP depth sensor. Though the rear camera configuration seems to be identical to the one found in the Vivo Z1Pro (review), it seems to deliver a slightly improved output. The camera’s primary sensor locks autofocus quickly and takes detailed shots in most conditions. But the camera lacks a dedicated night mode and that hampers its performance in lowlight conditions, where it struggles to fix focus and capture details.

On the front, the phone has a 32MP sensor that is also a good one for selfies. But the UI is not optimised for the front camera, so it shows all available modes, causing some confusion, as the camera keeps shifting to the rear module; most modes work only for the rear module.

As for the camera user interface, it is loaded with multiple modes – HDR, Live Photo, Portrait, Pro, Doc, etc. It also has an artificial intelligence (AI) beauty mode and portrait lighting mode, both of which work well and change the output in a good way. 


Powering the phone is a MediaTek Helio P65 system-on-chip (SoC), mated with up to 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage – expandable though a dedicated microSD card. The phone boots the Funtouch 9 user interface, based on the Android Pie operating system. It is a heavily customised skin layered above the default operating system. The phone is loaded with lots of bloatware, so the overall user interface is not very user-friendly.

The Vivo S1 default UI has no app drawer, so all the apps (and bloatware) take space on multiple home screens. A swipe-down gesture from top opens the notification area, which lacks the quick settings menu. The quick settings menu pops up on swipe-up from the bottom. This is similar to Apple’s iOS operating system, but the Vivo iteration is all style and little substance. It is rather confusing and difficult to operate. Even the settings menu is jumbled and it sometimes becomes difficult to find a particular setting option.

Except for the user experience, the phone’s performance is balanced and it handles day-to-day operation without any hiccups. It feels smooth all across, and handles graphic-intensive games with ease. It does heat up sometimes, but so much that it should become uncomfortable to hold and operate.


Powering the phone is a 4,500 mAh battery, which is good for an on-battery time of more than a day. The battery supports 18W fast charging through the supplied charger. It replenishes the battery from zero to 100 per cent in less than two hours. Surprisingly, the phone has cut corners on the charging port and given only a dated microUSB port for charging and data transfer. Not many would appreciate this, considering the phone’s midrange pricing.


Priced at Rs 19,990 (for 6GB RAM and 128GB storage), the Vivo S1 is a balanced midrange phone marred by Vivo’s unoptimised user interface, which hampers the user experience. Consider this phone for its design, display, performance, optics and battery life. If user experience is what you desire, you might want to give this one a miss.

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