Lenovo Vibe X3 review: Sounds like a winner



In the current smartphone market where every other phone looks like the one launched a day before it, Lenovo's Vibe X3 is different. No, there is nothing radical about it, except may be the price. It's not different like the Asus ZenFone Zoom, which is a more niche product. But there are elements that Lenovo has tried to mix and match in latest phone with an aim to offer consumers something extra, something that they won't get with any other phone. 
That something extra is the kind of polished, premium experience that is missing in other phones. The company believes -- as in genuinely, sincerely believes and not just in the marketing brochures -- that the Lenovo Vibe X3 offers the best smartphone experience at its price point. And it doesn't try to do that with a head-line grabbing fast processor or by hoping to create some thinness record. Instead, the phone focuses on basics -- basic performance, screen, camera, sound etc -- to give users a more refined, more stable, more enjoyable experience. 
That all sounds great -- the phone does too, as we will explain -- on the paper but it is also a move fraught with the risk? Can the Vibe X3 stand up against the phones that are sold with a faster processor in its price category? Can it be better than the phones that claim to offer more jazzy design? 
The answer to these questions, if you want a quick takeaway, is yes. More or less.
Build quality and design
The Vibe X3, which is actually a successor of the Vibe X2, completely ditches the multi-colour layered design of its predecessor. It also ditches the aluminium in favour of plastic, although that is not as bad as it sounds. 
Instead, it follows the Vibe S1. Although, unlike the Vibe S1 that is phone designed to showcase that Lenovo can make sexy phones, the X3 reverts to a more utilitarian body and build quality. Though, design is unmistakably similar, complete with the curved back cover. 
Just like the Vibe S1 , the Vibe X3 uses a tough and well-crafted metal frame. It also has chamfered edges for that extra bling that helps the Vibe X3 catch the attention of a buyer. 
However, unlike the glass back cover of the Vibe S1, the X3 gets a plastic back cover. The good bit, however, is that doesn't diminish the appeal and usability of the phone. The quality of plastic used is fantastic. It has a soft, velvety feel to it and looks thoroughly premium with its matte finish. When you hold the phone, it definitely feels better than the OnePlus 2 or even the Nexus 5X. Due to the tough metal frame and its heft (it weighs around 175 grams), the phone feels durable and tough even though it has a body made of plastic. 
The Vibe X3 has a well-rounded design and despite its large size, it is possible to hold the phone comfortably due to its back cover. Although if you are used to smaller phones, you may find the weight a bit too much. For some added style, Lenovo has added a metal plate around the camera and fingerprint scanner. The buttons, which are made of metal, fit snugly into their sockets. 
While overall we find the Vibe X3 a very well-built phone that displays quality finish and feel every-bit as premium as a phone that costs double of its price, there are a couple of niggles. One, we feel that the phone is overly large. Lenovo should have gone with the on-screen navigation buttons and that would have (possibly) cut some of the flab that is around its screens. Although, it is possible that Lenovo made it Vibe X3 somewhat bigger because it comes with two speakers for stereo sound and the company had to place them somewhere inside the phone. There are no free lunches, we get it. Yet, we would have liked to see thinner bezels on the Vibe X3 under that Gorilla Glass 3 layer. The second niggle that we have is with the capacitive touch buttons. They are not backlit and that means initially for a week or so while using the phone you would often hit the wrong button. 
Screen
The Vibe X3 has a 5.5-inch IPS screen with 1080p resolution. Beyond the numbers, we can tell you that the phone has a very good screen. The resolution is definitely on the lower side at a time when devices like the OnePlus 2 and YU Yutopia offers 1440p. But resolution is not everything, something that the 750p screen on the iPhone 6S demonstrates amply. The Vibe X3 is sharp enough. More significantly, it displays excellent colours and has very good viewing angles. That makes watching a high-resolution movie on the Vibe X3 pure joy. Lenovo says that the Vibe X3 screen has a NTSC colour gamut of 100 per cent. Though we do feel that it's just a number -- phones like the iPhone 6S Plus or the Galaxy S6 have better screens -- the Vibe X3 does trounce its peers on the screen part. 
The brightness of the Vibe X3 screen is adequate although in extremely -lit conditions, such as when you are walking under the noon sun, you would wish the screen was brighter. But compared to the OnePlus 2 screen, the Vibe X3 is brighter. Also, there is a mode called "Super Bright" hidden in the display settings. Don't switch it when you are in a dark room or you will damage your eyes. It truly, greatly increases the screen brightness. But if you need the screen to be as bright as possible during outdoor use, feel free to use this mode. 
Lenovo also allows users to set the colour parameters of the screen. If you are finicky about how the colours look on a phone screen, you will love this feature. Although, most people will be fine with the default settings.  
Software
Just like other China-based phone makers, Lenovo loves to flaunt its custom user interface in phone. The Vibe X3, comes with Lenovo's Vibe user interface that runs on top of the Android 5.1. But there are some hints that Lenovo's lightening up its user interface compared to what it put in the phones earlier. The Vibe X3 is the first phone to come with a launcher similar to the one used by Google in its Nexus phones pre-installed and enabled by default. This means, unlike other Lenovo phones you get the app drawer and a user interface -- for example the multi-tasking cards -- that is somewhat closer to Android. That said, the Vibe X3 is still a Lenovo's phone and not a Moto or a Nexus. 
The icons have that same rounded and colourful feel that we associate with the user interface in Chinese phones as they try to ape the Apple's iOS. The notification shade is still full of gazillion quick action settings and can be rearranged. There are options to change themes and if you love Vibe UI, you can also switch to that.
Head into the Settings and you will see the myriad ways in Lenovo -- and other China based companies -- love to modify the software by including a number of unique features. There are options to tweak almost every aspect of the phone. We are just not sure if most consumers will like to do it.   
Lenovo has installed a number of third-party apps in the Vibe X3. But the great bit is that almost all of these apps can be uninstalled. 
Hardware and performance
The Vibe X3, for its price is a well-endowed phone. The device uses Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808 processor that has six cores and Adreno 418 graphics chip. The phone has 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage and option to use a microSD card. Although if you use the card, you lose a SIM slot. So this means you can either have a SIM card and a microSD card inside the Vibe X3 or two SIM cards. 
The decent hardware, and seemingly Lenovo's good work in optimising the software, makes the Vibe X3 a fast phone. It has no perceptible lag even when pushed hard. The phones handles web browsing, movie playback etc with ease. The GPS works reliably and the accelerometer tracks physical activity like walking accurately, with the help of the bundled app. Games like the Asphalt 8 and Implosion can be played at their maximum graphics settings without any trouble. Some prolonged gaming or using GPS for a long duration heats up the phone but that is within limits. It never gets as hot as a phone with Snapdragon 810 inside it. 
The Vibe X3 comes with a fingerprint scanner, which is very fast. It is conveniently located under the rear camera. Though it is not as precise as what we get on the devices like the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P, it is good enough to be used as the primary mode to unlock the phone.  
There are a couple of interesting features inside the Vibe X3. The phone comes with the IR sensor, which allows a user to control televisions. Lenovo has bundled Peel app that allows users to access this feature. It is easy to setup, easy to use and works well. Then there is the TheatreMax features, which needs to be used with Lenovo's VR headset (sold separately). This feature turns almost every video, and even some apps, into VR mode. The experience is not full-fledged VR like what Oculus Rift or HTC's Vibe provides. But despite basic, it is fairly polished and would help a user enjoy their games and videos more. It is also a good way to try VR technology, without spending too much. 
Finally, there is this whole focus on the audio performance of the phone. The Vibe X3 comes with three microphones along with a Wolfson chip that helps filter ambient noise and make the calls sound better. Then there is the Sabre ES9018K2M DAC chip inside it that handles the music playback and has a DAC to drive even the high-end headphones. Finally, there are two stereo speakers with rated capacity of the 1.5W. 
The result of all this cool audio hardware inside the phone is that the Vibe X3 is the best sounding phone we have used until now. No, it's front speakers still don't match the high notes that the HTC's BoomSound speakers touched -- they fall just marginally behind -- but they are surprisingly full and loud. It's possible to open YouTube app on the Vibe X3 inside a car, with all ambient noise of Indian roads around you, and yet hear the song playing on the screen. The audio performance with a quality headphone is, meanwhile, truly spectacular for a phone. When paired with a full size headphones, the Vibe X3 can make the songs sound extremely fun and full. It also drives headphones well and can handle headphones that may require a higher impedance. 
The sound quality during calls is good although we didn't find the network performance equally stellar. It was good enough but we did notice slightly more patchy network performance in an Airtel network in Delhi with the Vibe X3. 
Camera
The Vibe X3 comes with a 21-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel front camera. The performance of the camera is very good, although there are two areas of concerns. When the Vibe X3 gets everything right and the light is good (or good enough), its 21-megapixel camera clicks images fantastic images that have lots of details and good colours. The same is true for the video clips recorded with it. Even in lower light the performance is very good compared to what peers offer. The noise is visible in the low light images and the colour fidelity goes down. But the images still come out well enough to be shared on social media, even in extremely low light conditions. 
The camera app in the Vibe X3 offers two modes: auto mode, along with option to keep superior auto enabled -- we suggest you do keep it on -- and a pro mode, which offers more granular control over aperture and ISO etc. It works well enough. The focus is also fast, in fact fast enough to give you usable images of hyperactive pets if the light is good.
So, what's the concern? That is metering and white balance. Depending on the spot from which the phone is metering, white balance can be almost right to yucky warm. Although it is easy to just snap a couple of images in quick succession if your shots are getting white balance wrong and you will end up with a nice image. Similar, the phone also tends to overexposes when there is tricky lighting with lots of well-lit areas mixed with shadows. 
The front camera clicks very nice selfies in good light. In poor light you (mostly) end up with pixelated images, similar to what other phones give. 
To summarise, we feel that when the Vibe X3 gets the white balance right (in couple of image samples we have deliberately selected the photos where it is wrong) it is unbeatable this side of the Rs.20,000 mark. Only the Xiaomi Mi 4 matches it. That means we believe that the X3 is a fantastic shooter for its price but it is not as good as the phones like the nexus 6P or the Galaxy S6, which are in different league (and different price band).  


Check the following image samples to get an idea of Lenovo Vibe X3 camera performance: Image 1 , image 2 , image 3 , image 4 ,image 5 , image 6 , image 7 , image 8 , image 9,image 10 , image 11 , image 12 , image 13 , image 14 , image 15.
Battery
In one word: Fantastic. The 3500 mAh battery inside the Vibe X3 is good enough for 14 to 15 hours of fairly heavy use. If you are frugal in the way how you use your phone, you will easily see battery life of around 20 hours with this phone. Even in our battery benchmark, the phone notches one of the best performances we have ever seen (see the screenshot from the PC Mark battery test).
Should you buy it?
The Lenovo Vibe X3 is one hell of a phone for its price. It's an all-rounder and although it doesn't have one aspect -- other than audio performance -- that truly stands out, overall it offers more than any other phone does at this price point. We have no qualms in saying that this a better phone than the OnePlus 2, OnePlus One, YU Yutopia or OnePlus X. It is better than the Moto X Play, although the Motorola phone has the advantage of pure Android. It also is a phone that competes well enough with the Nexus 5X, which is now selling for aroundRs.22,000. 
All in all, the Vibe X3 is a phone that, as we said earlier, tries to mix and match a lot of components not for the sake of it but for creating a better user experience for consumers. Yes, we are still partial to the Android that goes inside the Nexus or Moto phones but if that is not a concern for you, go for the Vibe X3. It is the best phone you can buy this side ofRs.25,000!
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