Vivo V23 5G Review: Color-Changing Style On A Mid-Range Smartphone

EDITORS' RATING: 7/10
Pros
  • Nifty UV reactive color trick
  • Decent performance
  • Aluminum mid-frame
  • Great selfie features
  • Accessible price tag
Cons
  • No IP rating
  • Wide notch looks dated
  • Not so impressive camera output
  • No SD card or headphone jack

It's not easy to walk in Samsung's shadow, especially when you know that the world's biggest smartphone maker will be launching its biggest bet in just a few weeks. Vivo, however, has never been one to cower from giants, and it has made a gamble right at the start of the year, kicking off 2022 with a bang. Though the non-Pro Vivo V23 is a mid-range model, the handset looked interesting on paper, and so we gave it a well-deserved shot at proving itself in practice.

Design

Almost all smartphone makers these days resort to a few gimmicks to get noticed, whether it's the shape of the camera bump or the phone itself. The Vivo V23 5G is no different, but it thankfully doesn't resort to something garish and outlandish that would scare off buyers. In fact, its party trick is almost too slow and too unpredictable to be a selling point.

The back panel uses Flourite AG glass that gives it more of a textured feel, but its defining feature is the UV reactive color that Vivo uses on the Sunshine Gold variant. In a nutshell, this golden blue color changes to different shades of blue and other hues in between when exposed to UV light. The gradation isn't uniform, turning the back of the Vivo V23 into something like an abstract art painting, but the transition is also slow and gradual enough to make it a live art show. Unfortunately, this feature isn't available on the Stardust Black model, making that version comparatively boring and forgettable.

Moving to the side edges, the Vivo V23 adopts an almost flat-edge form that's coming back into fashion, in no small thanks to Apple, of course. It is completely flat, though with a bit of curve where the display and the back glass meet the mid-frame. That frame is made from "aerospace aluminum," which gives the phone a luxurious luster, an ironic difference from its Pro sibling's polycarbonate material. That does mean, however, the phone's sides are more susceptible to scuffs and marks if left bare.

The choice of metal may have also made the Vivo V23 5G thicker and heavier than the Vivo V23 Pro, but that doesn't make it uncomfortable to hold. In fact, the flat edges now seem to be more favored as far as ergonomics and comfort go, giving your palm a hand when it comes to grip. Unfortunately, while the phone does feel solid, it doesn't have a proper IP rating, nor does Vivo even mention water resistance.

Display and Audio

Vivo's indirect nod to the iPhone continues with the front of the phone, where the 6.44-inch display is also nearly flat. Most users may fail to notice this element because they'll be distracted by the notch on the phone's forehead, a design that feels old by today's standards. Despite its presence, though, the screen still has rather noticeable bezels, perhaps as a compromise to subtly differentiate it from an iPhone.

As for the quality of the display itself, the Vivo V23 offers a usable AMOLED screen, but it doesn't leave a memorable impression. Its maximum brightness is good enough for outside use but falters under direct sunlight. This also affects its HDR performance, which isn't as great as we would have hoped, though it is still usable. On that front, the phone supports HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG formats but leaves out Dolby Vision.

The screen maxes out at a 90Hz refresh rate, which is almost the standard by now, though it seems Vivo's FuntouchOS has trouble applying the correct refresh rate at the right time or with the right app.

Just like its display, the Vivo V23 5G's audio output is decent but unimpressive. Part of that blame lies on the single down-firing speaker and the lack of a stereo setup. There is no headphone jack to be seen, but Vivo is kind enough to throw in a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter for users who need it.

Performance and Battery

It's a bit difficult to brand the Vivo V23 as a mid-range phone, especially when you consider all the features it offers, including 12GB of RAM in its highest configuration. The distinction, however, all boils down to the Dimensity 920 chipset, one of MediaTek's newer 5G processors that slots just under its premium Dimensity 1200 option. As with most things about the phone, this silicon's performance is "good enough," but not exactly stellar.

As far as synthetic benchmarks go, it unsurprisingly drops way below high-end flagships running on the latest Snapdragon 888 or even the MediaTek Dimensity 1200, which powers the Vivo V23 Pro. In practice, however, the Vivo V23 still works like a charm, and it's even able to handle most games without missing a beat or a frame. Its thermal management is actually quite impressive, and the phone doesn't get too hot to handle after long periods of gaming.

Despite its heft, the phone only has a 4,200mAh battery. It's not exactly the largest nor the smallest, so you will still be able to get by with a day's worth of mixed use. The company does make up for this capacity by including 44W fast charging, which juices up the pack from zero to full in a little over an hour.

Cameras

Like any other phone, the Vivo V23 puts heavy emphasis on its cameras, but not in the way you'd presume. The phone's main cameras are serviceable, but their output is what you would expect from something labeled as a mid-ranger. That they're housed inside an excessively large camera bump doesn't help matters.

The main 64MP sensor, for example, only has basic PDAF and lacks optical image stabilization. By default, the main camera uses a Quad-Bayer filter to pixel-bin the image down to 16MP, but the quality suffers a bit, especially in making colors look soft and wide swaths of the same hue look almost noisy. You might get better results using the full 64MP resolution, though in both cases, colors appear more muted than they are in real life. Ironically, this goes against the common practice of Chinese brands, which tend to oversaturate colors.

The main camera is joined by an 8MP ultra-wide shooter and a 2MP macro camera. Both do a good enough job, but again, nothing spectacular or noteworthy. There is no dedicated telephoto lens, but you can go up to 2x zoom with the main 64MP camera, and the loss in detail clearly shows.

Performance in low light is surprisingly decent, though you might notice a bit of overprocessing to compensate for the lack of light data. The night mode, unfortunately, feels like a hit or miss, but the ones that are processed properly do end up looking quite good.

Where the Vivo V23 shines the brightest, however, is the selfie camera, at least the main 50MP sensor. There's also an 8MP ultra-wide front camera, but like the one on the back, it only does the bare minimum. Megapixel counts, however, aren't the only thing that matters, and Vivo's trick is two LED lights hidden in opposite corners of the display, flanking the notch. This "Dual-Tone Spotlight" delivers that much-needed flash lighting, and you can even configure its tones in the camera app to match your setting.

Software

The Vivo V23, fortunately, runs a version of Funtouch OS that's now based on Android 12. This means new owners of the phone won't have to wait to get updated to the latest Android release. It also means some of the built-in Android 12 features are already present, particularly some privacy-related ones like notifications whenever the camera or microphone is being used.

Funtouch OS 12, however, also ditches the nearly vanilla look it tried to match in past releases. Now the experience looks more customized than ever and diverges significantly from what is considered to be stock Android. One example is the Quick Toggle icons that are fixed with a square shape and can't be changed regardless of theme.

Vivo's Android skin is naturally filled with custom features, including the customary "Ultra Game Mode." In addition to reducing unnecessary distractions, it also comes with a unique feature that keeps the game running even when the screen is off. Of course, this will be a huge battery drain, but it might be desirable for some games that don't require your active attention all the time.

Final Take

The Vivo V23 5G is a handsome smartphone with a nifty party trick that might actually clue you in on how much UV light you're being exposed to. Inside, it is a mid-range phone through and through, offering decent performance while cutting a few corners. The phone might sound unimpressive if it ended there, but that isn't the complete picture.

The model aims for a price tag of around $400, which puts all those features in a more positive light. The combination of an attractive design, adequate performance, and an affordable price point make the Vivo V23 5G an appealing alternative to its Pro counterpart. More importantly, people who are deep into selfies and vlogging will appreciate how the company went the extra mile to deliver a solid tool that could give them a leg up over the competition.