A couple of years ago, Lenovo hardly had any phone presence outside of China. But in the meantime, the company has made some serious strides, particularly in price-sensitive markets where multiple well-priced models follow one after the other. This strategy has helped bolster the company’s reputation as an affordable and reliable smartphone manufacturer. Reliable because the Lenovo name is well known and highly regarded in the portable computer industry, and as such enjoys that much more of a trust from consumers over some of the other Chinese phone brands. And now, with the acquisition of Motorola, the company is poised to take on the smartphone market with an ever greater confidence.
The Vibe X3 is one of the company’s recent launches, and it’s a flagship device. As with Lenovo’s other offerings, the Vibe X3 plays the value card instead of getting into the spec race. That’s not to say the phone isn’t well equipped, but as Lenovo would repeatedly tell you, it’s not about the specs with this one but rather the overall package that you are getting for the price. So let’s take a brief look at what you’re getting for your money.
Lenovo Vibe X3 at a glance
Hybrid DualSIM/microSD slot
Aluminum frame with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
5.5-inch, 1920×1080 resolution, IPS LCD with 401PPI density
Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC, 4x 1.2GHz Cortex-A53 + 2x 1.8GHz Cortex-A57, Adreno 418 GPU
3GB RAM, 32GB eMMC storage, support for microSD cards up to 128GB
21MP rear camera with PDAF and 4K video, 8MP front camera
LTE Cat. 6 (300/50MBps), Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, A-GPS, GLONASS, NFC, IR
2x 1.5W front stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos
32-bit Sabre ES9018K2M DAC with 3-amp for music
Wolfson WM8281 Audio Hub for calls with a 3-mic noise cancelling setup
3,500mAh Li-Polymer battery
Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
The design of the Vibe X3 will be no stranger to those who have seen the K4 Note. The two phones are pretty much cut from the same cloth, with minor visual differences, most notably the aluminum frame on the Vibe X3.
The front of the device has the stereo speakers at the top and the bottom, which are particularly noticeable on the white Vibe X3 due to the white color bezel. And white, by the way, is the only color option available.
Between the speakers is the Gorilla Glass 3 panel covering the display in the middle, the front-facing camera at the top, and the three capacitive buttons below. The buttons aren’t backlit, which has become an increasingly common cost cutting measure among manufacturers. It’s not a huge inconvenience but having the keys backlit takes out some of the guesswork when using the phone in the dark.
The aluminum frame runs all around the phone but on the right, it hosts the power and volume buttons. The buttons are sensibly placed, and the power button, in particular, falls well within easy reach.
On the opposite side is the SIM tray. The tray can hold either two nanoSIM cards or one SIM card and one microSD card. The hybrid slot is a fairly typical arrangement these days and makes the dual SIM claim somewhat disingenuous as there is no way to have two SIM cards if you also want to use a memory card. Vice-versa, a memory card is out of the question if you choose to use two SIM cards, forcing you to rely on the limited 32GB internal memory.
The back of the phone is a smooth matte plastic surface, with the camera surround being made out of metal and slightly sticking out. It also houses the two-tone LED flash, along with the fingerprint sensor.
Unlike the lightning quick fingerprint sensor on Vibe P1, the one on the Vibe X3 is decidedly older gen and takes a while to unlock the phone. The back panel is non-removable.
The metal frame and the sealed body gives the phone a very sturdy and well-put-together feel. The Vibe X3 feels considerably more premium than other phones in its price range, such as the Nexus 5X and the Moto X Play.
The Vibe X3 is on the bulky side, however, and is also quite large, meaning those who prefer a small and light phone will have to give this one a pass. The lack of any other color option is also perplexing.
The Vibe X3 has a 5.5-inch 1920×1080 resolution IPS LCD, with a claimed 100% coverage of NTSC color gamut and 1500:1 contrast ratio. The display is big, bright, and beautiful. Colors look vivid and brightness is plenty indoors and outdoors, but if you need more there is a higher brightness mode that you can activate manually on particularly sunny days. You can also adjust the display color and temperature although the default settings are quite usable.
The display does have dynamic contrast enabled, which cannot be disabled by the user, meaning it will continuously vary the representation of black and white. This fluctuation can become annoying while, say, scrolling down your Instagram timeline, as the different images make the display brightness bounce up and down. It’s not a drastic change, but it’s noticeable and can be distracting, especially while watching videos, detracting from the otherwise excellent display.
Software and Performance
The Vibe X3 runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. Lenovo made a note of scaling back on its custom Vibe UI for this one and going for a more stock look. Right off the bat, you will notice that the company now has a standard launcher with an app drawer, similar to the Google Now Launcher, whereas previously all the apps would appear on the homescreen. The pop-up dialogues in the UI also have the native Lollipop look to them.
Beyond that, however, things are a bit disappointing, as it is very much the Vibe UI but with a white and gray theme designed to mimic stock Android look. The way Vibe UI is trying to replicate the vanilla Android experience is equal parts amusing and frustrating. Just imagine all the time the company must have spent trying to make its UI look like stock Android when it could have just used… you know, stock Android.
Granted, the UI does look better than before, an area that has traditionally been a weak point for Lenovo phones. Some of Lenovo’s customizations are welcome too, such as the expanded notification center. Hopefully, the company will move closer to stock Android in the future while maintaining the additional functionality that it has to offer.
As for the performance, the phone performed very well in day to day tasks. The Snapdragon 808 is not exactly a flagship chipset, but it has more than enough power for your messaging and social networking apps to work without a hitch. Where it falters is in gaming, an area where it could have used some more juice. This is especially true for heavy 3D games, which don’t run as smoothly as you’d like. Lighter 3D games and 2D games are not an issue.
If you’re worried about heating, there’s not much to complain about. While the phone does get nominally warm during intensive games, as you’d expect from something pushing that many pixels on screen at once, it’s never hot per se, and is hardly a cause for concern.
The Vibe X3 has a 21 megapixel Sony IMX230 sensor with hybrid autofocus, which has added phase detection autofocus. It’s, essentially, the same sensor as on the Moto X Style but the results aren’t quite as good, a fact we are willing to attribute to Lenovo’s take on image processing.
The camera often blows highlights in brightly lit situations and Lenovo’s artistic HDR modes are quite useless as they turn the image into a Jackson Pollock painting. In low light, focusing is a hit or miss, and the image quality itself is not satisfactory. The camera makes you work a bit to get the best out of it, which not everybody would have the patience for. Lenovo’s camera app, however, is pretty good, and better than what you find on Motorola or Nexus phones.
The phone also supports 4K video, and while the quality is decent, it’s not an exception and we have seen better before. The lack of OIS also doesn’t help, either.
Lenovo made a big fuss about the sound quality on the Vibe X3, and it’s not hard to see why. The phone comes with a 32-bit ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DAC (same as that on the LG V10) with 3x TI OPA1612, and that’s just for the music playback, with a CirrusLogic Wolfson WM8281 doing phone call duty. A combination of an audiophile-grade DAC and amp combination gives the phone some serious audio chops.
The phone sounds loud and clean through its headphone jack and has the power to spare for bigger, more demanding headphones. Lenovo has also added additional steps in the volume bar for a finer adjustment of volume, but it’s still not quite the same as the smooth volume slider on iOS devices.
The music player doesn’t offer any EQ tuning but there is a Turbo Hi-Fi mode that tries to increase the clarity for a more “Hi-Fi” experience, but we find it best to leave it off as the default sound is already good enough. We did notice the sound dropping out every time a notification came in, as it seemed the phone switched between its DACs for music and notification sound. One good thing about the Vibe X3 is that it allows the use of the DAC in all apps, unlike the LG V10, which allows you to use it only in the default music player.
It’s not just the headphone output that’s impressive. Even the front speakers are excellent, producing a substantial, full-bodied sound. But what gets the speakers going is the Dolby Atmos audio effect. Usually, we would advise against using software enhancements but coupled with a native AC3 audio codec file the speakers produce an excellent soundstage with the Atmos mode enabled. The Dolby Atmos mode works well over headphones, providing an even more immersive sound, perfect for movies.
The default video player, thankfully, supports AC3 audio codec (Dolby Digital) out of the box, so if you have any videos with AC3 audio, they will work without needing a third-party player.
The Vibe X3 also includes Lenovo’s TheaterMax feature, which works with the ANTVR kit that Lenovo is marketing. To clarify, TheaterMax is not a VR experience. All it does is replicate the display content twice for individual eyes, so when you place the phone inside the ANTVR kit, you see the two images as one. The glasses then try to emulate a big screen experience, so everything from your movies to your games feels more immersive. The ANTVR glasses have to be purchased separately but are much more affordable compared to full-fledged VR systems such as the Samsung Gear VR and they work with any content.
The Vibe X3 has a 3,500mAh battery. In our preliminary tests, the battery life seemed adequate, with about 4-5 hours of on-screen time and around 20 hours of overall battery life. Unfortunately, the phone does not come with a Quick Charger out of the box and fully charging the phone takes around three hours. We are still confirming whether Quick Charging is supported at all.
Lenovo is referring to the Vibe X3 as a flagship smartphone, which conjures up images of an inflated spec sheet and an even more inflated price tag, but the Vibe X3 has neither of those. On paper, the specifications are quite modest, but the price is anything but.
At roughly $300 in India, the Vibe X3 is amazing value for money, especially if you look beyond the spec sheet and see what you are getting. There are a few concerns, such as the large size, the less-than-satisfactory camera, the fingerprint sensor performance, and the lack of fast charger in the box. But those are not as major as they seem – the Vibe X3 offers a combination of sturdy build quality, excellent display, class-leading audio quality through both headphones and speakers, and great performance, and that’s what makes it a rather tempting proposition. We look forward to spending more time with it so we could test all aspects in a thorough review, but for now, our short time with the phone left us with all but positive impressions.