2020 is the year of Chinese phones taking Europe by storm. Oppo launched earlier this year, while Huawei, Xiaomi and OnePlus who finally seems to finally have mainstream ambitions, have been here for years.
Does Europe need another Chinese smartphone company? Vivo thinks so.
Vivo has been making consumer gadgets since 2009 and is massive in Asia. They’re also known for pushing new innovations into smartphones. They were the first to launch with the under screen fingerprint sensor. They are also consistently in the first wave of smartphones with new features like the under display camera.
In Asia, Vivo is a heavy hitter; they just took the number 1 spot away from Samsung in Thailand. Vivo has held the number 5 spot in terms of global smartphone shipments until Oppo took it back this quarter. Not bad for a smartphone maker that has yet to target western markets.
Why Leave Asia?
Chinese manufactures have to look outside their boards for a few reasons. First, the planned 5G rollout around Europe gives Chinese manufacturers an advantage where they could leverage experiences in their home market. Second, Huawei has become more aggressive in China making up for lost global sales thanks Google services being removed from their latest devices. Huawei now has 44% of the Chinese market.
With the launch of the Vivo X51 in Europe, the team was clear that the move to Europe was about sustained long term growth. Not a reaction to other markets but a meaningful expansion that they are not rushing into lightly. Corona slowed Vivo’s as they cancelled the launch of the Vivo Apex 2020 and released it in other markets skipping Europe.
They’re not in a rush to come to market, like we’ve seen with OPPO who also launched into Europe in 2020. At MWC, when the Apex was meant to launch, OPPO launched the Find X2 Pro, which personally I thought was a great phone, even though it was dramatically over priced, that it has since heavily discounted. OPPO made a few mistakes that it seems Vivo may be avoiding.
You get one chance to make a first impression.
Launching in a pandemic has changed all the rules. We can’t have product launches the way we used to and people’s spending habits have changed along with the market landscape.
It is true that the smartphone market globally is bound to take a huge hit. According to International Data Cooperation, an analytics firm, the global smartphone market will contract by 2.3 percent over 2020. Q1 2020 when Vivo originally would have launched, was the hardest hit quarter of 2020 contracting by 13.3%. Having said that, it’s not as if Q4 of 2020 isn’t going to be a challenging quarter with the second wave looming.
Many Europeans are facing pay cuts or unemployment. This will be reflected in the smartphone market. Though sales won’t grind to a haul, the interval in which old phones are exchanged with new ones, will be postponed.
The European smartphone market, while being the fastest growing in 2019, is much less dynamic than its Chinese or Indian counterpart and dominated by the established giants Samsung, Apple and Huawei. This will be a challenge for the smaller Chinese firms like Vivo, as their reach as new players is naturally limited.
What is Vivo’s Strategy?
Vivo has a history of leading the market in bringing new features to smartphones. They want to keep this history of innovation and including features that genuinely add value. With the launch of the Vivo X51 it’s clear that Vivo wants to be seen as an innovator. With the Vivo X51, they’re stacking the deck with meaningful iterations and useful innovations.
What does this mean?
Let’s take a look at the Vivo X51
There is a lot to like about this phone, I’ve only had it for a few days, but in my short time it’s easy to see that many of the features they’ve included are competitive or category leading.
- The display is beautiful, the X51 has a 90Hz panel that’s directly from Samsung, it’s gorgeous to look at and could be on any flagship phone on the market.
- The Camera is packed with features, like an assistant to help you pose for photos. Not all the features will be useful for everyone, but there are a few that stood out.
- Gimbal-Stabilization is not just a gimmick. It really works which gives you benefits:
- Stable footage in full quality, even with 4K 60 fps, where stabilization on most phones is deactivated. Every video looks good, so taking video is fun.
- Night Mode needs less software correction as small stutters during long exposures don´t affect the image quality.
- You can set up eye-autofocus on the left and right eye, Body autofocus and object tracking so the camera knows automatically, what it has to focus on.
- 60x Zoom and wide angle. Why should you choose?
- Night Backlight Portrait Mode actually takes good low light portraits
- When recording audio or taking calls, it is smart and recognizes directions and amplifies your voice. Generally the mic quality and volume is really good. For example: On the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra the audio is very low and had background noise when pushing the volume up, making it bad for direct uploads. With the Vivo direct uploads are not a problem.
- Really good HiFi chip, great for the audiofile who doesn’t want to connect via USB C.
- No fingerprints on the back, super slim, one of the thinnest camera bumps even with a periscope zoom
- Really good quality 90 hz display from Samsung. Could be straight out of a samsung flagship.
- Funtouch OS: Super fluent, feels great and familiar being like stock but offering better experience and more comfort features than a Pixel. Very focused OS. Surprisingly nice.
Performance – So far no complaints, nice and efficient. Editing 4K 60 may be a bit difficult, even though you can record it, but pretty much anything else works, like if you wanted to game. The liquid Cooling technology keeps the device cool, and it seems to work.
But the question is: Can Innovation win over the European Market?
There is no doubt that the camera is solid, the display beautiful, the design stunning with great in hand feel. But as we’ve seen 2020 hasn’t been a brutal year and I agree that launching at the start of the pandemic would have been a mistake, Vivo is launching at a time when there is a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.
It’s smart for Vivo not to engage in a battle to the bottom, we’ve seen it time and time again that it doesn’t work in the long run. We are curious to see what their mid range Y series line has to hold.
Fostering a strong reputation at the highend and letting those innovations trickle down to the mid range is a tried and true way to gain market share. Being perceived as the innovation leader helps for brands to foster trust in mid range devices.
Let’s just hope that these are just as, if not just a tad more, competitively priced.