My wife recently decided to print out a hundred or so of the best photographs we’ve taken with our smartphones over the years. Looking at them, I’ve noticed something interesting: More than half of them were selfies.
It’s hardly surprising. Rear cameras are great for taking photos of sunsets, but for those family moments you really want to remember, a selfie makes more sense. So why are rear cameras on phones vastly better than the selfie cameras?
China’s Vivo, a top five smartphone manufacturer but not very well known outside of its home market, reverses this situation completely with its Vivo 7+ phone. This smartphone has a 16-megapixel shooter on the back, and a vastly better, 24-megapixel camera on the front.
I’ve spent about two weeks with the Vivo 7+ to see whether this configuration makes any sense, and while the answer isn’t as simple as you might think, I can tell you one thing: I took a ton of great selfies in the process.
I’m not going to go into many details on the Vivo 7+ outside of camera performance. It’s a good, if cheap (about $338), midrange Android phone with a somewhat paltry Snapdragon 450 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. It has a 6-inch, 1,440 x 720-pixel LCD screen, a 3,225mAh battery and a fingerprint scanner on the back. I used the phone mostly to take photos, and the cameras were surprisingly snappy, which was a pleasant surprise.
It ships with Android 7.1.2 and a fair amount of bloatware on top, some of which you can thankfully remove. The Funtouch OS that Vivo 7+ runs on top of Android is mostly an iOS ripoff, complete with the lack of app drawer, but I’ve gotten used to it fairly quickly.
The variant I’ve tested was matte black (you can also get it in champagne gold color), and with relatively small bezels all around (not as small as on, say, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, but not as big as on the Pixel 2), it looks pretty good. The plastic body and the antenna lines on top and bottom, however, cheapen the look a bit.
I’ve welcomed the presence of the headphone jack, but I scoffed at the microUSB charging port. It’s 2017, USB-C is a must, and even mid-range phones should get with the program.
Put all of that together, and you get yourself a pretty nondescript, solidly built, inexpensive smartphone. But its most important feature is that selfie camera, so let’s have a closer look at that.
How many megapixels?
The Vivo 7+ selfie camera is great. It takes crisp, huge photos in daylight, it takes really good photos in low light, and it’s generally the best selfie camera I’ve ever tested.
And to answer the title’s question, yes, a 24-megapixel selfie camera does make sense. It is a bit of an overkill; after all, the best phones out there — the latest iPhones and the Samsung — only have a 12-megapixel main camera, and no one’s complaining. But hey, when the photo quality is this good, I don’t mind. The only downside is these photos take up more storage space, but I can live with that, and the Vivo 7+ lets you expand its memory with a 256GB microSD card.
It comes down to photo quality. If the selfie camera can deliver better-looking pics without sacrificing speed or convenience too much, why the hell not?
Here are a couple of daylight selfies I’ve taken with the Vivo. Colors can be a bit off, but the amount of detail is great. If I ever decide to print these out, they will look vastly better than any of the selfies I’ve taken with other phones.
For group selfies, I’d like to have a bit of a wider angle. I’ve been testing LG’s V30 which has a wide-angle selfie mode, and it’s really useful. The Vivo 7+ doesn’t have that, but it does have a “group selfie” mode, which is similar to taking a panorama shot, and it produces fairly shoddy results (though this depends on how steady your hand is).
Where the Vivo 7+ really shines is nighttime selfies — and that’s despite the f/2.0 aperture size, which is not that great nowadays. No matter how dark it is, this phone will give you a decent photo. Check out the comparison below: The photo on the left was taken late in the evening with the Vivo 7+; the one on the right was taken seconds later with the LG V30. The difference is absolutely stunning.
Emboldened by this result, I’ve taken it a step further and tried to take a selfie in near-total darkness. Amazingly, without any sort of flash, Vivo 7+’s camera managed to produce…well, something. No other selfie camera I’ve tested comes close to this. I’ve tried shooting in those same conditions with the LG G6, which has an 8-megapixel selfie camera, but there’s no need to show you that photo as it’s just a slab of blackness.
So is the Vivo 7+ the perfect selfie phone? Unfortunately, no.
The selfie camera, as good as it is, sometimes produces photos with completely messed-up colors.
It also has a bokeh mode that’s absolutely atrocious. I’m not crazy about bokeh in the first place, but the Vivo 7+ will nearly always screw it up by blurring unwanted parts of the photo.
Finally, the camera software lacks some very basic options. For example, you cannot take photos that are smaller than 24 megapixels. You also can’t change the photo size at all.
And then there’s the 16-megapixel rear camera, which is nice but not nearly as good as the best Android cameras out there. It’ll produce decent photos in the daylight, but when it gets darker, the photos will get blurry and the details will disappear. The examples below are far blurrier and more lifeless than I would’ve liked.
The world needs better selfie cameras
The Vivo 7+ is far from a perfect phone. While overall pretty great, even its 24-megapixel front camera has a couple of drawbacks. Still, I’d recommend it to someone that really, really likes taking selfies.
But my experience with this device has convinced me that all smartphone manufacturers should work to improve selfie cameras. There’s no reason why a selfie camera should be atrocious compared to the rear one — I’m looking at you, LG V30, and your crappy, 5-megapixel selfie camera.
In fact, I see no good reason why the selfie camera wouldn’t be exactly as good as the rear camera. Wide angle shots, bokeh, nice resolution — why reserve these features only for the rear camera, if actual, real-life users take tons of selfies? On the flip side, as the Vivo 7+ proves, the selfie camera shouldn’t be drastically better than the rear camera, either.
The bottom line is that the world needs phones that have amazing cameras on both sides. Hopefully we’ll start seeing those soon.
Great selfie camera
Weak CPU • Unimpressive rear camera • MicroUSB charging port
The Bottom Line
The Vivo 7+ will be a good fit for the selfie-obsessed, but you can find better phones out there for the price.