PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds or PUBG has become such a phenomenon – in India - that smartphones are now being judged solely basis of how well they can play it. This is especially true for budget and mid-range devices, because well, more expensive flagship devices are expected to play it well from the get-go anyways. The rising popularity of e-sports in India means there’s a burgeoning market for gaming devices - especially smartphones - which is why we’re seeing more and more brands – Asus, Nubia, Xiaomi-backed Blackshark et al – launching high-end gaming smartphones in the country now more than ever.
But there’s also a portion – which is relatively larger - of enthusiasts that would like a gaming smartphone in their hands, but without burning a hole in their pocket. Vivo believes its newly launched Z1 Pro can help ‘democratize’ gaming in India. This starts with the phone’s pricing. Vivo has launched the Z1 Pro in India at a starting price of Rs 14,990 for the base variant with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage while the top-end version of the phone with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage will be available for Rs 17,990. There’s also a 6GB RAM and 64GB storage option that will sell for Rs 16,990.
With that kind of low pricing, you’d usually expect a catch or two, and most definitely the Z1 Pro has its weak points – but, as an entry-level gaming smartphone, the Z1 Pro makes a lot of sense. This is because Vivo has somehow been able to check all the boxes or pre-requisites you’d expect from a phone of its class.
No one might have specifically asked for an all-screen and no-bezel phone, but all smartphone brands believe that that’s the future. And the race to build the perfect all-screen and no-bezel phone is seeing these brands toying with all sorts of display cut-outs or notches. While none of these solutions are ‘it’, a punch-hole design is perhaps the most bearable. It is somehow easier to have a dot punched into the display sort of melt into the background, while watching content, rather than having all the other possible permutations and combinations. Of course, the mileage may vary from user to user – it's all subjective.
Problem is, punch-hole display smartphones are few, and far more expensive than their dew-drop (and likewise) counterparts - so much so that Samsung’s recently launched Galaxy M40 was a welcome change to the proceedings. But even Samsung’s Galaxy M40 costs almost Rs 20,000.
Vivo’s Z1 Pro is now the most affordable phone that you can buy in India with a punch-hole display – taking the said crown from Samsung’s Galaxy M40.
More specifically, the Z1 Pro has a 6.53-inch IPS LCD display with a 1080p+ resolution – and that punch-hole allows Vivo to offer nearly 90.77 per cent of screen-to-body-ratio on the phone. As for the display quality itself, it is pretty good by LCD standards. The screen of the Z1 Pro can get pleasantly bright with minimum colour shifting at angles. Colours look rich and vibrant by default and there’s also an option to tweak settings as per your liking including an eye protection mode designed for reducing eye fatigue from long usage.
There’s one nit-pick that I must point out though – this is because the Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro retails for around the same price and there’s Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection on that – which is the lack of any protective covering on the screen. Vivo does ship the Z1 Pro with a screen-guard but you know how good pre-installed screen protectors are, so! If that wasn’t enough, the screen of the Z1 Pro also lacks any oleophobic coating – it’s a fingerprint magnet, this one.
Vivo was apparently so confident about the Z1 Pro’s gaming prowess, it made it the “official smartphone for PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019.” The Z1 Pro has capable hardware – for its price – after all. Also, latest hardware – which is always good for bragging rights. The Z1 Pro is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 712 processor paired with up to 6GB RAM and up to 128GB storage (which is expandable via a dedicated micro-SD card slot).
Even though the Snapdragon 712 is technically next-gen hardware, it’s not very different from last year’s Snapdragon 710 – the same processor that powers the Realme 3 Pro. The Snapdragon 712 is based on the same 10nm manufacturing process and 8x Qualcomm Kryo 360 CPU cores – it has the same Adreno 616 GPU as well. The only difference worth talking about really is the Snapdragon 712’s slightly higher clock speed (2.3GHz over 2.2GHz in the Snapdragon 710).
Technicalities aside, here’s what’s important though – Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 712 is 10 per cent faster that the Snapdragon 710 and it is better suited for mobile gaming.
And it does as advertised inside the Vivo Z1 Pro. The phone can handle almost every GPU-intensive game (including PUBG at high settings) you throw at it and it does this without breaking a sweat – also, it runs cool as a cucumber while at it, which is a big plus. This is because it ensures longer no-throttling gaming sessions on the Z1 Pro. The Z1 Pro also has a thing called game cube, that helps allocate resources on a per game basis.
Another thing that ensures the Z1 Pro is designed for long gaming sessions is its massive 5,000mAh battery. Just to cut short the chase here, the Z1 Pro is easily a one to one-and-a-half-day smartphone, for even the most demanding users. You could even get two days out of it, if you tone things down. The Z1 Pro also supports 18W fast charging and ships with a dedicated fast charger in the box.
But it’s not perfect, the Vivo Z1 Pro
-- At a time when Xiaomi is making a 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor mainstream, Vivo’s triple rear camera setup feels lacking in all-round quality. The Z1 Pro has the specs (a 16MP main camera with f/1.78 aperture, an 8MP wide-angle camera with f/2.2 aperture and another 2MP sensor for depth sensing aka portrait photography) but it fails to leave a long-lasting impression on you in actual usage – particularly in tricky and low light (and even in indoor artificial lighting). If it’s any consolation, the Z1 Pro’s 32MP front camera can capture some good-looking selfies with good detail in all kinds of lighting conditions.
-- The Z1 Pro runs Android Pie-based Funtouch OS 9 and even though I like that it has a system-wide dark mode, I am not a fan of Vivo’s iOS-inspired UI choices. Plus, there’s the whole bloatware thing that’s nothing short of a nuisance. Vivo’s push for both uneccesary features and unwanted apps make the Z1 Pro feel slower than phones like the Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro in day to day usage – even though the phone’s backed by powerful hardware.
-- The Z1 Pro is made entirely out of plastic, but as is the new industry norm, Vivo is using a glossy gradient finish on this one – so it would be hard to tell you’re dealing with plastic, and more like glass. But plastic is plastic, and when you have fancier phones like the Redmi Note 7 Pro, comparisons are bound to happen. The Z1 Pro is also on the heavier side of things – seemingly justifying its big battery credentials, but there are now phones with big batteries with slimmer chassis, so that’s that.
The Z1 Pro is a budget gaming phone at heart – a product category that’s new but growing now. And the Z1 Pro does well as a gaming phone which clearly deserves an applause – not many phones out there can practice what they preach. Incidentally, all the qualities that make a good gaming phone apply to normal life scenarios as well. Everyone appreciates a big screen, good hardware, and a battery that refuses to die. If you are someone who appreciates those things, the Vivo Z1 Pro is a no-brainer.
If, however, you’re someone who likes to take many photos, the Z1 Pro may not necessarily impress you. Which is where phones like the Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro step in and spoil its party. Also, both these phones have good displays, good all-round performance, and good battery life – plus better software – which makes them better value over the Z1 Pro.
That said, its punch-hole display is its biggest USP and if you’re someone who likes to stand out from the crowd, the Vivo Z1 Pro can lend you a good hand.
Photos by Saurabh Singh