Vivo V21 5G phone review: Viable for the best looking phone award

Vivo V21 5G.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Overview

The Vivo V21 5G is the 2021 update to its V series phones, taking over the Vivo V19 introduced locally last year , which previously set a high bar for phones of this price point.

While this $599 phone's mainstream-friendly design and mid-range categorisation haven’t shifted, the Vivo V21 5G underwent some major under-the-hood changes. The phone is now 5G-capable while the V19 isn’t, making it more future-ready as our local telcos already have 5G networks for our phone users.

Another major change is the choice of processors. Previously, V19 used an entry-level Qualcomm chipset, while the V21 5G now uses a MediaTek Dimensity 800U processor that first hit the market in Q3 2020. It’s also a mid-range chipset (Dimensity has 700, 800, 900, 1000, 1100, and 1200 series chipsets in circulation as of writing), albeit a MediaTek one, so we’d like to check if there are performance gains between this model and the older V19.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

While its unique selling point is an Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) for its 44MP front-facing selfie camera, Vivo didn’t forget to change up the rear setup too.

The triple rear configuration now consists of a 64MP main camera with OIS and AutoFocus, an 8MP wide-angle camera, and a 2MP macro shooter. Coming from a V19, it loses a 2MP bokeh camera on the rear and an 8MP wide-angle camera on the front, but we believe those were traded away to improve the main cameras on both sides.

Not everything looks rosy though, as the V21 5G comes with a smaller 4,000mAh battery. The upside of having 500mAh less battery capacity helped Vivo to slim the phone down from its 8.5mm predecessor to its current 7.39mm (Sunset Dazzle variant) body.

Some aspects of the phone have stayed the same. It still has an in-display fingerprint sensor despite its price category. It also still has no NFC , no wireless charging , although 33W fast-charging technology is still available. Like the V19, the V21 5G also lacks IP-rated water resistance .

Are these features (or the lack thereof) enough to justify the phone’s refresh at the same price? Would the performance still hold up despite the change in chipset brands? Let’s find out.

Vivo V21 5G
Launch SRP
  • From S$599
Operating system
  • Android 11 with FunTouch OS 11.1
Processor
  • MediaTek Dimensity 800U
Built-in Memory
  • 8GB RAM
Display
  • 6.44-inch / 2,404 x 1,080 pixels / AMOLED / 90Hz refresh rate
Camera
  • Rear:
  • 64MP main camera, f/1.79, OIS, AF
  • 8MP wide-angle, f/2.2, 120° FOV
  • 2MP macro, f/2.4
  • Front:
  • 44MP main, OIS, AF
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz, 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.1, A GPS, OTG
Storage Type
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Hybrid nano-SIM 2/microSD card slot
Battery
  • 4,000mAh
  • 33W fast-charging
Dimensions
  • 159.68 × 73.9 × 7.39mm (Sunset Dazzle)
  • 159.68 × 73.9 × 7.29mm (Dusk Blue)
Weight
  • 177g (Sunset Dazzle)
  • 176g (Dusk Blue)

Design & handling

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The Vivo V21 5G (in Sunset Dazzle) is sleek and pretty, with a premium feel in-hand.

It’s easy to bandy about these adjectives for phones when they pack aesthetic appeal into their hardware, but the V21 5G is cleverly designed in certain ways. Take, for instance, the rear camera housing bump. It’s easily one of the slimmest we’ve seen on a phone despite the multiple cameras.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Not impressive enough for you? The V21 5G itself measures just 7.39mm thin. Logically, having a thicker body would accommodate having a slimmer rear camera housing, but Vivo defies even that with its phone.  For some reason, the Dusk Blue colour variant of the phone is slimmer yet at just 7.29mm!

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Other mind-bending design choices are its complete lack of visible antenna bands and carefully frosted AG glass rear. Further to its clean rims are slim volume rockers and a power/lock button - they aren’t that prominent on sight, yet they are easy to locate by touch.

The Vivo V21 5G only has to stop here if phones could sell based on looks alone.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

V21’s design would’ve been excellent if not for its disproportionate bezels. Viewable display areas at the sides are fully maximised and uniform, but its top and bottom bezels are oddly cut off just before the display ends. The bottom bezel also appears to be a hair thicker than the top one (only after measuring did we realise it was a difference of 0.5mm).

We won’t penalise the Vivo V21 5G for this, since non-flagship devices don’t often get this much treatment to their finish. Also, the uneven bezels aren’t as visible if you don’t go hunting for them (or are a normal, healthy person with better things to do).

If we had to gripe, we’d choose to harp on the jelly phone case provided in the box. Its USB port comes with a tiny rubber plug. If you’ve tried a phone case like that, you would know that it comes off after much wear and tear. A naked gap would’ve been just fine, Vivo - don’t overthink it.

All in all, V21 5G has a build quality befitting mid-range phones, or better. It’s a near-perfect slate with minimal bumps, conventional and sensible button placement, and it’s free from superfluous markings or warning labels. While phone aesthetics are subjective, we also think it looks more appealing than some flagship-tier handsets, like OnePlus’ devices.

Display & audio

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Vivo V21 5G has a 6.44-inch FHD+ (2,404 x 1,080 pixels resolution) E3 AMOLED FullView display. Its official spec sheet doesn’t list its refresh rate, but the phone’s Settings app will tell you it can go up to 90Hz (60Hz is the default). It also has a Smart Switch feature that gives adaptive refresh rates based on the content displayed.

Besides blue light protection, you’ll find that the V21 5G doesn’t have many astounding display features seen on higher-end handsets. That said, the AMOLED panel still ensures that video and images are clear and vibrant. But, note that high or max brightness throws off the display’s white balance, more so than other mid-range or high-end phones.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

We’ve also noticed how V21 5G handles landscape (horizontal) content. Videos, websites, images etc. cut off just before the front camera’s tear-shaped notch when viewed in landscape mode. We’re not against black bars framing our content.

But, we did hope that there were consistent black bars on both sides, which wasn’t the case. This only added to our uneven bezel gripe from our Design section of the review. Unlike the uneven bezels, the black bar in landscape mode is obvious even during routine use.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

While its single bottom-firing speaker provides serviceable audio, we felt that not using the call speaker (at the opposite end) is a missed opportunity for Vivo to create a semblance of stereo sound on a mid-range product. The audio quality itself is balanced, although bloated.

UI & features

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Vivo V21’s Android 11 operating system comes cloaked under its FunTouch OS UI. We’ve already gone through how FunTouch was in our Vivo X60 Pro review , so we’ll spare the details.

In a nutshell, the same pros and cons are on the V21 5G - decent looking interface with a few disjointed design choices. While the phone still comes with preinstalled apps that aren’t by Vivo or Google/Android, they’ve gotten rid of the repulsive Likee app (yay).

We’ve also covered some of its UI flaws in the Design and Display sections of the article. But, of course, getting your bezels and black bars right is key to an excellent interface, so we already know V21 5G doesn’t have the chops in these areas.

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The in-display fingerprint sensor is blazingly fast and responsive, and so are the other personal security features like PIN and face recognition.

As mentioned, the Vivo V21 5G has no NFC connectivity - it says so in its spec sheet, at its launch , on Singtel’s sales page, and after confirmation with Vivo’s spokespeople here.

In the Settings, however, we still found NFC options in its Settings, so for good measure, we tried ‘using’ NFC by sharing content with other NFC-capable Android phones on hand - no dice. This is yet another interface oversight (again, with Vivo), leading to a confusing experience for less-informed users.

Besides lacking stereo speakers and NFC, the V21 5G also lacks IP-rated water resistance. Not that we're complaining, but we didn't expect this many items missing as mid-range phones are getting to be increasingly capable devices as seen in our Realme 7 Pro review .

Also, going slimmer took away yet another feature that the V19 had and this is the 3.5mm audio port.

Imaging performance 

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

As mentioned, the V21 5G has a triple rear camera configuration:

  • 64MP main camera, f/1.79, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), AutoFocus (AF)
  • 8MP "wide-angle", f/2.2, 120° FOV
  • 2MP macro, f/2.4

It loses a bokeh camera and an additional 8MP front camera if you're coming from the Vivo V19. What the V21 5G got in return is OIS on its 44MP front camera. All in all, we expect it to produce decent rear camera images. It's worth noting that the V21 5G supports 4K video recording at 30FPS.

The V21 5G’s camera UI requires you to select lenses by tapping on the Lens symbol and swapping to a camera of choice. We didn’t have any major issues with the interface, since the phone was fast and responsive at changing lenses and taking photos. 

Sample images

Main camera, no zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Main camera, no zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Main camera, 2x zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Main camera, 5x zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Main camera, 10x zoom (max).
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

At this point, we'd like to highlight that the main camera on V21 5G is capable of taking serviceable photos. Good noise control and detail aside, we find that it tends to struggle under more complex light sources, since the phone will throw its white balance out of whack (first two images are from the same camera).

In fact, you might find the colours a little too unreal and saturated. Zoom on this camera is purely digital, evident from the noise and artefacts seen in its 2x, 5x, and maximum 10x zoom images.

Main camera, no zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Ultra-wide-angle camera, no zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Main camera, 2x zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Main camera, 5x zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Main camera, 10x zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

If the main camera seems brighter than the ultra-wide to you - yes, we thought so too. Many factors could be at play - the ultra-wide doesn't have an aperture as bright as its main camera, and/or the camera could've been compensating using image recognition software in between shots (it read the wider shots as 'streetscape' while the close-ups as 'buildings').

Either way, zoom really isn't the V21 5G's forte, but we're quite pleased with its main and ultra-wide quality so far.

Main camera, no zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Ultra-wide-angle camera, no zoom.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone
Macro camera, 4cm focusing distance.
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

We've also given the macro camera a spin, and are satisfied with what it offers. Artificial sharpening is present, but we'd take this over a blurry, difficult to use macro camera.

Overall, the image quality offered by the V21 5G isn't much to shout about, but its main and ultra-wide cameras aren't too shabby for what Vivo charges. Pity about the zoom capabilities, though, because a dedicated zoom lens would lend itself to more flexible casual shooting as compared to a macro camera.

Benchmark performance

To recap, the Vivo V21 5G packs a mid-range MediaTek Dimensity 800U mobile chipset. With its $599 price point, we pit it against other similarly priced handsets. The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G and Realme 7 Pro are worthy mid-range alternatives.

We’ll also resurface the Vivo V19 to see how the newer V21 5G did against its predecessor. For added measure, we’re throwing in an Oppo Reno4 Pro, another 2020 mid-range device (which is sadly overpriced, next to the competition).

 

  Vivo V21 5G Samsung Galaxy A52 5G Realme 7 Pro Oppo Reno4 Pro Vivo V19
  Vivo V21 5G Samsung Galaxy A52 5G Realme 7 Pro Oppo Reno4 Pro Vivo V19
Launch SRP From S$599 From S$548 From S$499 From S$899 From S$599
Operating system Android 11 with FunTouch OS 11.1 Android 11 with Samsung One UI 3 Realme UI, based on Android 10 ColorOS 7.2, based on Android 10 Android 10 with Funtouch 10
Processor MediaTek Dimensity 800U Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G Octa-core (2x2.3 GHz Kryo 465 Gold & 6x1.8 GHz Kryo 465 Silver) with Adreno 618 GPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 712
Built-in Memory 8GB RAM 8GB RAM 8GB LPDDR4X RAM 8GB RAM 8GB RAM
Display
  • 6.44-inch / 2,404 x 1,080 pixels / AMOLED
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • 6.5-inch / 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (FHD+) / Super AMOLED Infinity-O Display
  • 120Hz refresh rate
6.4-inch / 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (409 ppi) / Super AMOLED
  • 6.5-inch / 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (402 ppi) / 20:9 ratio / AMOLED Display
  • 90Hz Refresh rate / 180Hz Touch Sampling Rate
  • TÜV Rheinland Full Care Display Certification
6.44-inch / 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (409 ppi) / Super AMOLED Display
Camera
  • Rear:
  • 64MP main camera, f/1.79, OIS, AF
  • 8MP wide-angle, f/2.2, 120° FOV
  • 2MP macro, f/2.4
  • Front:
  • 44MP main, OIS, AF
  • Rear:
  • Main: 64MP OIS autofocus (F1.8, 0.8µm)
  • Ultra Wide: 12MP fixed-focus (123-deg FOV, F2.2, 1.12µm)
  • Macro: 5MP fixed-focus (F2.4, 1.12µm)
  • Depth: 5MP fixed-focus (F2.4, 1.12µm)
  • Front:
  • 32MP fixed-focus, (F2.2, 0.8µm)
  • Rear:
  • 64MP, Sony IMX682, f/1.8, 1/1.73-inch sensor size
  • 8MP, Ultra-Wide-Angle, f/2.3, 119° FOV
  • 2MP Macro, f/2.4
  • 2MP, B&W Portrait, f/2.4
  •  
  • Front:
  • 32MP, in-display selfie, f/2.5, 85° FOV
  • Rear: 48MP Main, f/1.7, 26mm / 8MP Ultrawide f/2.2, 13mm, 2MP Macro, f2.4 / 2MP Mono, f/2.4,
  • Front: 32MP, f/2.4
  • Rear: 32MP main camera, f/1.79 / 8MP wide-angle, f/2.2 / 2MP bokeh, f/2.4 / 2MP macro, f/2.4
  • Front: 32MP main, f/2.08 / 8MP wide-angle, f/2.28
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz, 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.1, A GPS, OTG Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz, 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, MST, GPS, Glonass, BeiDou, Galileo, USB 2.0 Type-C 4G/LTE, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4G, 5G), NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, A-GPS, Beidou, Glonass, GPS/A-GPS Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, MU-MIMO, hotspot, Bluetooth 5.1, SBC, AAC, LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX TWS+, dual-band A-GPS, Beidou, Glonass, Galileo, QZSS, NFC Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz, 5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0, A GPS, OTG
Storage Type
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Hybrid nano-SIM 2/microSD card slot
  • 128GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 1TB
  • 128GB internal storage
  • UFS 2.1
  • 3-card slot (2 SIM + 1 microSD)
  • 256GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 256GB
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Dedicated microSD card slot (up to 1TB)
Battery
  • 4,000mAh
  • 33W fast-charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 25W fast-charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 65W SuperDart Fast Charging (10V/6.5A)
  • 4,000mAh
  • 65W SuperVOOC 2.0
  • 4,500mAh
  • 33W fast-charging
Dimensions
  • 159.68 × 73.9 × 7.39mm (Sunset Dazzle)
  • 159.68 × 73.9 × 7.29mm (Dusk Blue)
159.9 x 75.1 x 8.4mm 160.9 x 74.3 x 8.7mm 160 x 73.2 x 7.7mm 159.4 x 75.04 x 8.5mm
Weight
  • 177g (Sunset Dazzle)
  • 176g (Dusk Blue)
189g 182g 161g 186g
Network   5G Sub6 FDD, 5G Sub6 TDD, 4G, 3G      

 

JetStream 2.0

PHOTO: JetStream 2.0

JetStream 2 is a combination of a variety of JavaScript and Web Assembly benchmarks, including benchmarks that came before like SunSpider and Octane.

It primarily tests for a system’s and browser’s ability in delivering a good web experience. It runs a total of 64 subtests, each weighted equally, with multiple iterations, and takes the geometric mean to compute the overall score.

AnTuTu 

PHOTO: AnTuTu

Note: As of March 9th, 2020, all AnTuTu benchmarks were removed from the Google Play Store. This move likely arose from Google's attempts to relieve the Play Store of apps that violate their policies. AnTuTu is working with Google to restore their app listing. For this review, we used the APK file that was available on AnTuTu's website.

AnTuTu is an all-in-one benchmark that tests CPU, GPU, memory, and storage. The CPU benchmark evaluates both integer and floating-point performance, and the GPU tests assess 2D and 3D performance, the memory test measures available memory bandwidth and latency, and the storage tests gauge the read and write speeds of a device's flash memory.

Note: HWZ scores are not available for the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G and Realme 7 Pro. The scores reflected in this graph are taken from AnTuTu, which is the average score based on all benchmarks submitted to the platform (12).

Geekbench 5

PHOTO: Geekbench 5

Geekbench CPU is a cross-platform processor benchmark that tests both single-core and multi-core performance with workloads that simulate real-world usage. Geekbench 5 scores are calibrated against a baseline score of 1000, which is the score of an Intel Core i3-8100.

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme

PHOTO: 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme

3DMark Sling Shot is an advanced 3D graphics benchmark that tests the full range of OpenGL ES 3.1 and ES 3.0 API features including multiple render targets, instanced rendering, uniform buffers and transform feedback.

The test also includes impressive volumetric lighting and post-processing effects. The test's Unlimited mode ignores screen resolutions.

We’re also collecting scores with 3DMark’s new benchmark, Wild Life. Below are the test’s Unlimited Mode scores. Unfortunately, the Wild Life scores for the other devices are not available - for reference, the Vivo V21 5G scored 1582 (average after multiple runs).

Performance benchmark remarks

The benchmarks show better scores than the preceding Vivo V19 at CPU and graphics processing. V21 5G also measures up against the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, but the latter sits at a lower starting price. It scored quite poorly for web-browsing, oddly. 

The V21 has fluid animation and touch response in real-world use, but load times are noticeably longer - between taps, when apps are booting up, entering new submenus inside apps, and more. Each loading action may not take much time on its own, but they add up if you’re trying to complete a series of actions (e.g. searching, downloading, and installing an app, or jumping between apps to multi-task).

The phone’s animations also start slowing down when you’re running a high-priority background process, like downloading files/shows/apps as you shuffle through the device. We shudder to think how the phone will react when tasked to run a much needed background app like TraceTogether which tends to sap resources and battery life.

While slower load times are expected from more affordable phones, the preceding V19 never had these issues during navigation or browsing - at least, not when it’s freshly out of the box.

What we've observed is very likely due to the phone's use of the Mediatek Dimensity 800U processor as a vast majority of other phones tested in recent years have either been Apple's, Samsung's or Qualcomm's chips, for which we've never really observed these issues.

As a whole, the Vivo V21's general performance is oddly unbalanced, because the phone was blazingly fast at photo-taking.

Battery life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100 per cent
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email
PHOTO: Battery life

With its 4,000mAh battery, the Vivo V21 clocked in 942 minutes of uptime. Is that long for its capacity? Yes, but bear in mind the lower processing power helping it along. We’ve also noticed such healthy battery uptimes in other recent Vivo phones, so the long uptime isn’t a one-off incident with its devices. 

Provided in the box is a 33W (11V/3A) Vivo FlashCharge 2.0 fast-charging adapter. With it plugged directly into the wall, the phone takes 70 minutes to go from 0 per cent to 50 per cent and 160 minutes to go from 0% to 100 per cent.

If we’re frank, we’re already used to fast-charging Chinese Android phones that can generate full charge within an hour to two hours, so the Vivo V21 and its in-box charger isn’t exactly the fastest combo around. Having said that for comparison, you'll still be glad that the phone can juice up decently at short notice.

As mentioned earlier, the V21 lacks wireless charging, but we also wouldn’t expect to have this feature on lower-end devices of this class.

Conclusion

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The Vivo V21 5G does well at catering to its intended audience - younger folks who are, or want to be the next social media personality of note.

V21 5G offers front camera OIS and 5G network support, which makes complete sense if they’re looking to expedite their daily regimen that involves taking photos and uploading them ASAP to social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Also, social media videos hardly go beyond 60FPS, so a display with a 90Hz refresh rate is overkill for their needs.

It’s also an improvement from V19, with better performance, and better design. We doubt most people would miss the additional cameras the predecessor had, nor would they mind the slightly lower battery uptime when it's still last longer than most of its competitors.

With the Vivo V21 5G being much slimmer than before, having great battery life, and satisfactory imaging capabilities for social media at S$599 - it shouldn’t be a tough sell, right? Even without IP-rated water resistance, no 3.5mm audio jack, no stereo speakers and no NFC?

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

Sadly, no. The V21 5G may be a decent phone that looks pleasant, but the average local isn't so easily swayed. As contactless transactions are increasingly becoming second nature, it's almost difficult to think about buying a new phone without NFC functionality today and this alone is a major setback if not for the other aspects of the phone we've covered in the review.

What truly makes the phone suffer isn’t exactly due to what it lacks. Rather, it’s the intense competition happening at the mid-range phone segment - or, more accurately, its price point. The other options out there offer even more features or better hardware at the same price range.

The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, as mentioned, is slightly more affordable, and yet it has IP-rated water resistance, stereo speakers, and higher refresh rates for its display. In addition, it comes with NFC and an in-display fingerprint sensor too. It even offers the 3.5mm audio jack to pair with cheaper earbuds.

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Realme 7 Pro packs features similar to the V21 5G, but it has NFC, and faster charging that actually works at S$100 less (at launch, and it’s probably even more affordable now). 

These comparisons are only about the basics of a phone - we’ve yet to factor in how these named options come with comparable, if not better rear camera imaging capabilities than the V21 5G. 

V21 5G also has to contend against other mid-range alternatives we’ve yet to get our hands on. There’s the cheaper Poco X3 GT with a 120Hz refresh rate display, fast-charging, NFC support, bigger battery, and higher-tier MediaTek chipset.

There’s also the OnePlus Nord 2 with the same starting price but a flagship-tier MediaTek processor and fast charging.

If processing performance isn’t what you’re gunning for, there’s the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro, which sacrifices its chipset performance and 5G access to keep NFC, fast-charging, dual speakers, faster 120Hz refresh rate, a 3.5mm audio jack, a bigger battery, IP-rated water resistance, all at a significantly lower retail price ($150 less).

PHOTO: Hardware Zone

No matter where you look to, there’s a device out there more complete or has better overall value than the Vivo V21 5G, since it skimped on one too many basic features, plus its overall real-world performance isn't up to scratch with even older devices. All the alternatives mentioned above are officially available in Singapore.

While the Vivo V21 5G is certainly nice enough to use and one of the prettiest mid-rangers to boot, the feature-set, UI polish, real-world usage and price proposition pales next to our competitive phone offering here. Truly, one should not judge anything based on looks alone, and now that cliché includes smartphones.

Still, we aren't judging if you prefer appearances over everything else, so if you are a Vivo fan and this is a logical step up for you, hop over to their official Shopee e-store to get one.

This article was first published in Hardware Zone.