Back at Mobile World Congress 2018 we saw a concept phone that Vivo (the Chinese manufacturer that8217;s little known in Europe) was working on. The Apex, as it was called then, seemed like a far-flung concept phone from the future.
Yet here we are in Shanghai, just four months after MWC, at the launch event for the Vivo NEX. This device embodies much of the technology first shown in the Apex 8211; an under-the-screen fingerprint scanner and pop-up front-facing camera to allow for near bezel-free design 8211; in fully fledged launch format.
Is the Vivo NEX a glimpse at the future of smartphones? It won8217;t be launching outside of China just yet, but with the company keen to show off its hardware and future-thinking features, we suspect that these kind of innovations will crack the whip to get others to compete.
- Near bezel-free design, over 91% screen-to-body ratio
- Under-the-screen fingerprint scanner
- Black and Red colour options
- 162 × 77 × 7.98mm; 199g
- 3.5mm headphone jack
The most striking thing about the Vivo NEX is its almost ridiculous absence of bezel. We8217;ve never seen a phone with greater screen-to-body ratio than this device, with the manufacturer claiming that 91.24 per cent of the phone8217;s front is all screen, screen, screen. You only need to look at our pictures to know that8217;s not far-fetched at all.
We have the black model in hand, but there8217;s also a red option if you8217;re looking for something with a bit more pizazz. The NEX follows the cues of many current flagships in terms of design, with a glass rear that uses holographic laser etching technology to give the surface a quirky and interesting look. Catch it against directional lighting and there8217;s a rainbow-colour refraction that catches in the design. However, despite being glass, there8217;s no wireless charging on offer here.
One of the NEX8217;s most stand-out features is its incorporation of an under-the-screen fingerprint scanner. Much like that found in the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS, the Vivo8217;s scanner impresses on principle. It8217;s like that phone feature you didn8217;t know you8217;d be getting so soon. It also means minimal bottom edge bezel, which is a significant part of its point in the NEX8217;s design.
That said, however, the functionality of this fingerprint scanner isn8217;t as good as optical ones found elsewhere. Yes, this is Vivo8217;s third-generation implementation of the technology, making it an upgrade from the company8217;s X21, but implementing a physical scanner on the rear would likely have been more practical. It certainly won8217;t fail to impress your mates, but we8217;re more interested in the future of how rapid to respond this technology will become. Right now it8217;s ok, it8217;s fine, it works, but it8217;s not the greatest implementation of a scanner (even if the unlock animation is very cool).
- 19:9 aspect ratio 8216;Ultra FullView8217; 6.59-inch Full HD+
- Super AMOLED display (2160 x 1080 pixels), P3 colour gamut
As there8217;s so little bezel, the NEX can afford to offer a huge screen too. The 6.59-inch 8216;Ultra FullView8217; panel may sound like an unweildly behemoth, but it8217;s no wider than a Google Pixel XL 2 and barely any taller. That means it8217;s no problem for holding one-handed at all.
The screen itself is an AMOLED panel, so that means rich blacks. However, while the brightness and colour pops more than the Google Pixel XL 2, which we side-by-sided the phone with, the Vivo can8217;t match the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS8217;s OLED screen, which we also had in tow for comparison.
In terms of resolution, Vivo has been savvy in not over-doing the pixel count, with a Full HD+ panel. Any more and we suspect the battery would take a hit (like the Mate RS does). Besides, even at this larger-than-6in scale, there8217;s ample detail on screen to our eyes.
With so little bezel, however, what of the sound quality? Here8217;s where Screen SoundCasting technology comes into play, producing screen vibrations to make the whole device acts as a speaker. It reallty works, too, just as we said of the Apex concept phone.
Before we touch upon the phone8217;s innards, let8217;s get the elephant in the room out of the way: as a China-only device for now, there8217;s no Google Play available here (we8217;ll be looking to crack the device later down the line to use it as normal in Blighty to see how it fares).
So, in its launch guise, Vivo delivers Funtouch OS 4.0, which, despite being based on Android 8.1, is nothing much like Android proper. The lack of the typical trio of Android softkeys might be fine for a Chinese audience, but it8217;s a hurdle that other territories will struggle with (not that they8217;ll have to, given availability).
However, Funtouch OS is an interesting viewpoint into the different way a device can operate. The bottom of the screen has designated left and right swipe-up commands, used to open the settings shade and 8216;go back8217;, respectively. A swipe up in the middle shows current open apps. Swiping from the top of the device opens a settings search bar and notifications.
In addition, Vivo has its own voice-assistant, Jovi. And while that makes us think of a certain rock superstar (Livin8217; On A Prayer is going around in loops right now), it hits more bum notes than we8217;d like because, well, we don8217;t speak Mandarin or Cantonese and it doesn8217;t understand our 8220;Hello Jovi8221; tones. Oh well. For a Chinese audience its complex contextual understanding ought to make it a capable assistant, though.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 8GB RAM
- 256GB storage as standard, no microSD
- 4000mAh battery, USB-C fast charging
Add in 256GB of storage as standard and you8217;ll never be short of space for files and goodies either. There8217;s no microSD card slot, however, so if you are really that storage happy then hard luck.
Without Google Play we8217;ve not been able to run the ususal set of tests and use apps as we would to see how the device functions. That8217;s something we8217;ll be doing in the future once the handset is adapted to our needs.
When it comes to battery, the NEX has a 4,000mAh cell under the hood, which is a high capacity. That8217;s not dissimilar from what Huawei is offering at its top-end. And with the sensible screen resolution, we suspect the Vivo will last well beyond a day8217;s use without issue, despite that ultra-powerful processor.
If it does run low on charge then there8217;s fast-charging via USB-C. We plugged the handset in the moment we received it, after which it confirmed 8216;Dual-engine quick charge8217; was operational. Within 20 minutes we added 40 per cent to the battery, making it pretty quick 8211; just not Oppo Find X ultra-quick.
- 8MP f/2.0 8216;Elevating Front Camera8217;
- 12MP f/1.8 & 5MP f/2.4 dual rear cameras
- 4-axis optical image stabilisation (OIS)
- Dual Pixel Sensor for enhanced light gathering quality
Here8217;s a feature that8217;ll get everyone talking: as there8217;s no space for a front-facing camera due to the tiny bezel, the NEX has a mechanical pop-up camera camera which engages the moment you click the selfie camera within the Camera app.
We could watch that camera move in and out of its enclosure oh so many times, as it8217;s a very fun feature indeed. It also avoids the absurd solution of a bottom-edge camera, as found on the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, for example, which is ripe for enhancing those double chins.
The NEX8217;s rear combines a 12- and 5-megapixel dual camera setup, which is increasingly typical for phones. The lower-resolution sensor8217;s information can be used for depth data, which means it can produce blurred background effects (bokeh) for its Portrait mode, which has become a fan favourite the world over after Apple8217;s popularisation of the mode.
In the NEX, the functionality of Portrait mode is rather similar to the top-end Huawei P20 Pro. The Vivo also offers an f/0.95 maximum software-based aperture, which is selected and adjusted by an on-screen slider. Automatic facial recognition ensures focus in the right place, while the background and foreground blurs away to dramatic effect. It8217;s got just as many bugs with adept edge detection as any other manufacturer8217;s implementation of this feature, as none have got it right just yet, but it8217;s what the people want and it8217;s fun to have on board. There are other modes, too, from Beauty to Pro, to cover all bases.
As for the main sensor, its 12MP is brought direct from Sony, meaning a larger-than-average pixel size for better light-gathering properties. Autofocus is adept, too, while artificial intelligence handles automatic scene recognition (out of 17 available modes) for the best possible picture each and every time 8211; similar to, say, the Honor 10. Overall, it8217;s a decent camera innings to match its flagship specification elsewhere.