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48 hours with the Vivo Y91C, its first budget smartphone in South Africa

Vivo Y91C

Vivo is finally, officially, in South Africa. It was big news at the end of last year, for the country as well as one of the biggest smartphone sellers globally.

That said, the firm decided to make a smaller splash in the market than we’d initially had hoped for.

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Instead of attacking the premium or upper-mid range markets, Vivo has gone for the sub-R3000 bracket, one of the country’s most competitive smartphone segments.

Perhaps that says something of its confidence, or perhaps a sign of naivety. Nevertheless, the Vivo Y91C is currently on my desk, and I’ve been using it for the past 48 hours.

These are my initial snapshot impressions.

Vivo Y91C initial impressions

The good

  • A headphone jack at the base of the phone is always a welcome sight.
  • The Vivo Y91C is not the ugliest phone by any stretch, and if you love blue gradients, you’ll love its rear panel.
  • Vivo includes a rather tough clear case to protect the Y91 from drops and bumps, and a grommet even covers the microUSB port when not in use. Nice touch.
  • The lip of the case also stands out a few millimetres out from the screen, which means placing the Vivo Y91C face down shouldn’t harm the display.
  • Without its case on, the phone feels incredibly sturdy and more premium than its price tag. There’s a nice “clink” to its backplate when tapping it with a fingernail.
  • This is probably the only phone I’ve ever used that has a “Motorbike Mode”. Perfect for Uber Eats and Mr D riders then?
  • Vivo’s default Messages app lets you blacklist numbers, allowing the user to kill that increasingly annoying SMS spam.
  • Google Services and the Play Store are installed and accessible.
  • The 6.22-inch display is large enough without being unwieldy.
  • The 13MP rear camera isn’t incredible, but there are few better snappers in its price range.
  • It’s priced extremely competitively at R1899.

The ordinary

  • I don’t want to call the Vivo Y91C’s design cookie-cutter, but it really is.
  • Put this phone alongside any other mid-range or budget phone from 2019, and you won’t be able to tell them apart.
  • The Mediatek Helio P22 chipset may have eight cores, but I found it to be slow when transitioning between apps or simply scrolling web pages.
  • I love the “Shake to turn on flashlight” feature, but it was so unreliable and slow to activate that I barely used it during load shedding.
  • A 4030mAh battery is a good if not expected addition for a R2000 phone in 2020.

The bad

  • The lack of a physical fingerprint sensor in this price range is idiotic. Face unlock is nice, but you can’t use it at night. Give me practical solutions rather than next-year’s technology.
  • There’s no fingerprint unlock tech at all, mind, only face unlock or PIN/Password/Pattern.
  • FunTouch OS — Vivo’s UI that sits on top of Android — is so different from any other Android skin. This isn’t a positive. I found myself looking for menus that I’d have no problem finding on other devices.
  • You can’t access the Settings menu by sliding down the window shade on the home page. You know, the traditional way on Android? Instead, you have to swipe up from the home button at the bottom of the screen. Apple much?
  • The Settings menu also has no search bar at the top of the page. You’ll have to manually trawl through it to find what you’re looking for.
  • It’s 2020, and this phone is launching new with Android 8.1 Oreo.
  • TouchPal — a keyboard app whose developer was temporarily banned from the Play Store in 2019 — is the default keyboard.
  • The phone literally wouldn’t let me use the Albums app until I granted it location access. Why does the Albums app need access to location? Why can’t it just let me view my images?
  • You need to grant the Themes app access to your contacts and “to make and manage calls”. WHY? Why does this app need these permissions just to set a wallpaper?
  • Bloatware is minimal on the Vivo Y91C, but is present. Facebook’s installed by default, as well as a slew of Vivo apps.

We’ve also the Vivo Y11 Pro, a slightly higher priced phone in for review too. So stay tuned for a first impressions and possible deeper review later this month.

Feature image: Andy Walker/Memeburn

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