When I worked for one of Ukrainian tech retailers, I was excited about mid range phones as much as about the latest flagships. Perhaps, I enjoyed testing them even more than the flagships. Because in a pursuit of giving users more and saving some bucks in the process, the likes of Xiaomi, Samsung, Realme and others have really made some interesting decisions. High-refresh rate screens, big batteries, fast charges, cameras with crazy megapixel counts – in the last two years these features landed into the sub-$400 segment, making it probably the one of the most interesting in the smartphone market… Why am I talking about it? Well, in many ways, Vivo V23e is different from the modern mid-range smartphone formula. And, in fact, it feels a lot like something from the past. But is it bad or good, we’ll find out in this review.
Vivo V23e specs
- Dimensions: 160.9 x 74.3 x 7.4 mm
- Weight: 172 g
- Material: Glass
- Processor: MediaTek G96
- RAM & Storage: 8 GB + 128 GB
- OS: Funtouch OS 12, based on Android 11
- Battery: 4050 mAh (TYP)
- Charging: 44W Flash Charge
- Screen: 6,44”, AMOLED, Full HD+, 60Hz
- SIM: Hybrid Dual SIM (2×Nano-SIM, or 1×Nano-SIM + MicroSD card)
- Main camera: 64 MP wide + 8 MP ultrawide + 2 MP macro
- Selfie-camera: 50 MP
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz); Bluetooth 5.2, USB Type-C + OTG, GPS (GPS, BEIDOU, GLONASS, GALILEO), NFC
What’s in the box
First thing that reminds of the smartphones of the past is an in-box set, which is way too generous by today’s standards. Just check it:
- Pre-applied screen protection film;
- Silicone case with a really precise fit (it’s too hard to take off, but let’s check it in a couple of months);
- USB Type-C to Type-A charging cable;
- 44W charger;
- USB Type-C to 3.5 mm adapter;
- 3.5 mm earphones.
I want to specifically draw your attention to the last 2 positions. First of all, Vivo decided to ditch the 3.5 mm jack on their Mid-range phone, which is obviously a downer. But hey – we’re living in a wireless world now, and Vivo has 2 pairs of TWS headphones to sell.
But what is strange is that in addition to a Type-C to 3.5 mm adapter Vivo decided to add 3.5 mm earphones. Something that I haven’t seen in a midrange smartphone box for, well, 5 years.
The quality of these earphones I can only describe as unremarkable, and the whole construct with an adapter of a mismatched shade of white looks strange. But look, now you have spare earphones to use with your laptop. The mic and the button on them worked well with my Macbook, so why don’t use them on a zoom-call, for example. Or just forget about their existence.
The looks and build
V23e has a very slim and light body, thanks, in part, to a plastic frame (let’s not forget that we’re looking at a mid-range phone). Overall phone build feels solid enough, however, I’m not encouraging you to test the limits of a thin plastic frame, like JerryRigEverything.
What is remarkable about V23e is the glass back of the phone – something that in other mid-tier phones was ditched a cheaper plastic. The version of the phone called Moon shadow – is a standard blue-ish black color that doesn’t stand out of the crowd of similar looking phones. While the Dancing wave variant is something that immediately draws attention of other phone owners. Pink and purple gradient on this phone’s back looks like a colorful mosaic. And even people with the latest iPhones were impressed by the looks.
The phone has an empty left side, right side with the volume and power buttons, a lonely microphone on top, and four elements on the bottom (from left to right): hybrid SIM-slot, another microphone, Type-C Charging port, and a speaker.
After the pretty modern back, and “timeless” sides, the front is another reminder of the phones of the past. On the top we have a teardrop notch with an earpiece grill, and on the bottom we have a pretty visible chin.
When other phone manufacturers are fighting for the smallest punch-hole for a selfie camera and even the iPhone is rumored to ditch its infamous notch for a pill cutout, it feels like Vivo reused the front of a 3-4 year old phone. Thankfully, after a couple of days of normal usage, you’ll stop noticing both the notch and the chin (especially if you have an iPhone-trained eyes like me), as all your attention will be drawn to an AMOLED-screen.
Vivo V23e has a 6.44 inch AMOLED screen with FullHD+ resolution – something that by today’s standards is considered as a “small” screen. For a person who daily drives a 5.7-inch phone it is still too big – I wasn’t able to use it properly with one hand, but given the phone’s slim profile majority of the potential buyers will find it pretty comfortable to use.
It also has an in-screen optical fingerprint reader, which, thanks to its position in the lower part of the screen, is pretty comfortable to use single handedly. Although I’d still prefer a side mounted fingerprint sensor to this one. The speed and accuracy of Vivo’s optical sensor is definitely a point of improvement. Thankfully, there’s also a less safe but faster way to unlock the phone – via Face Unlock.
Unlocking the phone reveals an incredible screen. Colors are bright and vivid, viewing angles are great, and Vivo engineers even provide you with a wide range of color profiles to choose from and to adjust at your preference. Side-by-side comparison with my daily-driven iPhone 11 Pro revealed that in many cases Vivo’s screen looks way better.
Overall I consider Vivo’s screen good enough for content consumption: either for reviewing your photos, watching YouTube videos, or enjoying some movies on Netflix – for anything that has a frame rate of 60 FPS and below. But if you were hoping to see butter-smooth scrolling of your social media feed – I have bad news for you.
While many competitors in this price segment opted out for high refresh rate screens, Vivo V23e sticks with 60 Hz. It’s not an entirely bad experience: Vivo’s Funtouch OS has smooth animations and lacks the occasional interface stutters that many mid-tier phones still suffer from. But once you open a Twitter feed it becomes clear that additional Hz’s would be much welcomed here. It’s not even an iPhone-like experience which manages smooth scrolling even on a 60 Hz screen.
Apart from this day-to-day experience with the screen was pretty good: I was never annoyed by incorrect auto brightness or a failing proximity sensor – something that other Android manufacturers should learn from Vivo (Xiaomi, I’m pointing at you).
Another notable thing is Always-on Display, which has tons of customizations and does not turn off after some period of time (yes, I’m pointing at Xiaomi, again). There are some limitations, though: you can’t set your own picture as an Always-on Display, and there’s a strange limit of 4 apps you can receive notifications from.
Considering my remarks about Always-on Display, software experience in general was better than I expected. I’ve been thinking of the Funtouch OS as another heavily modified Android experience from China, which looks nothing like a stock Android…
And, I was wrong. Vivo’s Android experience is much closer to “pure” Android in comparison to MIUI or One UI. I’ve noticed only a handful of Vivo’s own apps, all of which you can ignore (except for the gallery and camera, for obvious reasons) and no ads in places where they should not be.
You should, however, keep in mind that the phone still runs on Android 11. It’s hard to say whether it’s good or bad, given the rocky launch of Android 12. But with Android 13 right around the corner, and with Google cracking up on Android and Play Store security, it’s in Vivo’s best interests to update its phone to the latest version of Android.
- Motorola Moto Edge 30 Pro review: is it really a flagship?
- vivo V21e smartphone review: More colors!
But to Vivo’s credit, I’ve enjoyed some software tweaks that they’ve done. Ability to use some apps side-by-side or in pop-up windows is great, Vivo nailed the “long screenshots” experience, and Ultra Game Mode was useful to make screenshots and screen recordings while I was trying to play (more on that later).
What I disliked the most were Widgets. I’m not a big fan of cluttering my homescreen, with only clock/weather widgets and a handful of the apps on the main screen, but the clock weather widgets were absolutely broken for me: if you’ll try to set 3rd party picture as a wallpaper, phone might decide that the white clock widget is what you need on a bright background, and there’s no way to change it. Fortunately, there are tons of clock widgets available for Android, so you can find an alternative pretty quickly.
Overall the phone felt snappy and smooth (as smooth as possible on a 60Hz screen) and all the apps I’ve used ran without any problems or “hiccups”. No apps were suddenly closed and no notifications were missed, something that is crucial if the phone for you is a business tool.
Hardware and performance
Vivo V23e uses Mediatek Helio G96 as its core. While lacking 5G support on paper it’s a pretty capable chipset that supports pretty powerful cameras and smooth daily operation. Paired with 8 GB of RAM, the phone is able to smoothly switch between apps and keep many of them in the background, so I’ve never experienced long loading times.
CPU Throttling test demonstrates that it manages to sustain peak power for longer periods. And I’ve never managed to get it uncomfortably hot to hold. Even after the 10 minutes of throttling test the phone was just slightly warm.
But don’t get me wrong, we’re still talking about a mid-tier phone, and its performance is definitely not stellar. Antutu and Geekbench scores are good indicators for this: Vivo V23e did not make it to Top 100 phones, with Flagships of the past and competitors of the present being well ahead of it.
Benchmarks aside, I’ve decided to run some games on Vivo V23e. I’m a huge racing fan, so Asphalt 9 and Gear Club were my games of choice.
Both games are playable, although the graphics settings in both cases are on the lower side and the framerate is around 30 FPS, with frame drops in the most intense moments. Ultra Game Booster did not help with the game optimizations, but, as I’ve said before – it’s a pretty useful interface for screenshots and screen recordings.
So, if you’re looking for a performance monster, you should look somewhere else.
Vivo V23e Camera
But gaming aside there’s one more scenario where you can notice a lack of horsepower under the Vivo V23e’s hood – that’s when you’re using it as a portable camera. I’ve tested the phone by simply taking it for a walk in the park with my dog, and by photographing everything around me. You can check the full-resolution results of my photo-walk via the link.
When the weather is good and sunny the phone can take really good shots, especially when AI optimization and HDR is turned on.
Even the ultrawide camera, which is traditionally less capable than the main one, managed to take some really decent photos.
When in the park, where the sun is partially blocked by the trees, the main camera was able to capture really good photos.
However, lack of telephoto lenses is visible in the 2x photos.
As for the Ultrawide camera – it struggled in the bad lighting conditions, where greenery closer to the edges of the photo turned into a colourful noise.
That’s also when you start noticing a striking difference in the color reproduction by main and ultrawide cameras – but that’s a common thing for many mid-tier phones.
There’s also no fancy Auto HDR mode: while the phone can detect the scenario where HDR is needed – it still requires a time to process the photo.
And while with HDR it is more than expected, Vivo’s struggle to preview blurred background in the Portrait mode was a bad surprise for me. While in the controlled and steady situation you can more or less understand where the blur will be applied, like in the photo with the toy horse. With the objects that can’t be steady for a long time, like my dog, portrait mode is hit or miss. At times it produces shockingly awesome photos, but a second later it completely misses the object. There’s also a noticeable shutter lag – when you press the button at one moment but the resulting photo shows a moment later.
Another hit or miss situation is night photos: in some situations it blows away my iPhone 11 Pro and takes bright images, where iPhone’s night mode photos are dark. But when it comes to the details, like a cat fur or fluff on the bedspread – Apple’s Deep Fusion shows its muscles.
I also wasn’t impressed by selfie photos, while the phone packs a massive 50 MP front camera, it can produce great photos only on bright and sunny days outside. At home HDR takes too long to process the photo, resulting in blurred photos.
And here come the clear misses. Like the macro camera which is just a placeholder and produces terrible 2MP shots, that is a pain to view even from an artistic perspective.
Video is also a mess: despite many claims that the phone is able to shoot 4K video – there’s no such option in the camera menu. The best video possible is 1080P 60 FPS and it looks horrible.
An enthusiast probably could find a solution to this problem, by leveraging Camera 2 API or installing modified Google camera, but for an average user the camera is simply unimpressive.
Battery & Charging
Where the Vivo V23e really shines is with its battery and charging. While 4050 mAh is not an impressive capacity by modern standards, I’ve managed to squeeze 2 working days out of it. Picking the phone up at 9 AM on day 1, heavily using messaging apps and camera, I put it on charge at 8 PM on day 2, with 10% of battery remaining.
And while I was drinking tea and taking shower, 44W Flash Charge managed to top it up to 100%, which is impressive. But there’s one small downside: you have to use an in-box charger and cable to have such an impressive charging speed. My 60W PD brick from Baseus has failed to charge it rapidly, regardless of the charging port and cable that you use. So keep in mind if you want to have a spare charger or a cable.
Vivo V23e is pretty good at doing its core functions… You know, making phone calls and receiving messages. Signal strength was good enough and people could hear me loud and clear during the phone calls. I also didn’t have any problems hearing others during phone calls.
You surely won’t miss a call with Vivo V23e: the single speaker is loud and clear. But competitors in this price category already have stereo speakers, and perform better as a compact jukebox. But hey, you can listen to music in earphones, and for the calls – it is vibration only mode 80% of the time anyways.
On the vibration motor, though. It is just a standard buzzer: no fancy z-axis linear motors or advanced haptics – it vibrates, you will be able to feel it, nothing more.
Wireless modules worked great. I had no problems connecting to both 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks, with speeds on par with other devices that I use at home. I also had no problems using my Airpods Pro with the phone – they paired easily, and there were no hiccups or delays with the sound.
Contactless payments were smooth, with no additional hussle or deep dive into the settings needed: just add your card and use it. NFC fans can sigh with relief.
Competitors & Summary
But how does Vivo V23e compare with the rest of the market? Let’s check out which phones are in the same price category as the Vivo’s entry:
The latest entry in the super popular series shares some similarities with Vivo V23e: it also has 8 GB of RAM, Helio G96 at its core, and horrible video recording quality. But similarities end here. Redmi has 120Hz screen, 108 MP main camera and heftier 5000 mAh battery, supported by 67W charger. It also has a much better looking punch hole selfie camera cutout and a slimmer chin. If you’re more about the looks.
With its series of racing-inspired smartphones, Realme made a lot of noise recently. And GT Master Edition is worth the noise. With a 120Hz screen, and Snapdragon 778G chipset at its core it should be a lot snappier than Vivo’s entry, despite having 2 GB less RAM. It also has a slightly larger battery at 4300 mAh and faster 65W charging. And again we have a punch hole selfie camera cutout. By the way, you can read Dmytro Koval’s review of this smartphone.
M52 5G offers almost the same features as Realme GT Master Edition (120 Hz screen, Snapdragon 778G, 6GB of RAM) but with 5000 mAh battery and slower 25W charger. It also has slightly better cameras on paper, and a Samsung logo on the back, which might still mean something to you.
If you’re looking for raw power, F3 outperforms almost all of the competitors here with its Snapdragon 870 chipset. While it packs only 6 GB of RAM and technically worse 48 MP shooter, it still has hefty 4520 mAh battery and relatively fast 33W charger, so you can play longer and with better graphics settings
As you can see, in comparison with the competition, Vivo V23e is a strange device. While it technically ticks all the boxes of a modern phone, it fails to be outstanding in any of its aspects. It looks interesting on the back, but dated on the front. Phone has an AMOLED screen, but it clocks at 60 Hz. Vivo packs 8 GB of RAM, (I’m not even counting 4 GB of SWAP) but with a mid-tier processor there’s virtually no use for them. On paper, it has good cameras, but fails to constantly deliver good photos and videos. In general V23e feels like a trusted formula of the mid-tier smartphone of yesteryear: it has everything, but nothing outstanding. This formula might have worked in the past. But when competitors are working hard to blur the line between mid and top-tier smartphones (yes, with some tricks and with mixed results), Vivo’s approach is questionable, at best.
- Realme GT Neo 2 review: Almost a flagship killer
- Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G review: New design, 5G, fast charging