The Vivo NEX is priced at Rs 44,990 and available via the Vivo e-store and Amazon India.
The Screen SoundCasting tech makes the entire screen an earpiece.
The smartphone also features an in-display fingerprint scanner.
Apple introduced the iPhone X with a display notch, which incorporates sensors and front cameras, while creating some extra screen space. Soon, other manufacturers also added a notch to their smartphone displays, and it is now the predominant new trend in smartphones. And then if you think smartphone designs are getting boring and innovations have become stagnant, Chinese smartphone makers Oppo and Vivo have found the solution to ditch infamous display notch, while maximizing screen-to-body ratio.
The Oppo Find X comes with motorized slide out camera modules with 3D face detection, whereas the Vivo NEX brings an elevating selfie camera, among other interesting innovations. The sliding camera solution allows manufacturers to offer a near edge-to-edge display with a screen-to-body ratio of over 93 percent. The Vivo NEX is priced at Rs 44,990, which is impressive considering the innovations it packs in. You can buy it from Amazon India and Vivo’s e-store.
With the NEX, Vivo is competing against the likes of Oppo Find X, which is priced higher at Rs 59,990 and the OnePlus 6 which starts at Rs 34,999, and goes all the way up to Rs 43,999. It will also compete with the big guns, such as the Samsung Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9+, Pixel 2, and iPhone 8-series. With such fierce competition, does the elevating front camera, in-display fingerprint scanner and other features make the Vivo NEX worth buying? Let’s find out.
Watch: Vivo NEX first look
Vivo NEX specifications: Top-of-the-line
Generally, when you talk about concept phones, they have all the innovations, but powerful hardware is mostly missing. Thankfully, this isn’t the case as Vivo has managed to offer the best hardware you can get for the price. The NEX is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC with an octa-core CPU, paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage. Sadly, you don’t get an expandable storage option.
For shutterbugs, there is a combination of a 12-megapixel f/1.8 sensor paired with a 5-megapixel f/2.4 secondary sensor. The second camera only acts as a depth sensor to let you add DSLR-like background blur effects to your photos. Up front is an 8-megapixel sensor, which is embedded into the pop-up mechanism. The NEX is armed with a 4,000mAh battery with Vivo’s dual-engine quick charge feature. Usual connectivity options such as Bluetooth 5.0, dual-SIM card slots with 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11ac and GPS are present. For charging and data transfers, you get a USB Type-C port.
Design and display: All-screen beauty
One of the USP’s of the Vivo NEX is the full-screen display that runs from edge-to-edge, and there is no notch either. And the moment you hold the smartphone, I’m sure you won’ stop admiring its beauty. Vivo has managed to do something that you would otherwise expect the market leaders such as Apple or Samsung to do. The NEX is based on the APEX concept phone that Vivo showcased at MWC 2018 in Barcelona. And who would have thought that the concept will soon turn into reality, and it will be in our hands in just about four months.
Up front, you get a 6.59-inch full HD+ AMOLED display that runs at a resolution of 1080x2316pixels, which corresponds to an aspect ratio of 19.3:9. And as mentioned earlier, there is no notch at the top, and the bottom chin is very thin too. So, all you get is a larger screen real estate – as close to a true bezel-less display experience as it can get. And despite the screen size of 6.6-inch, it isn’t really that big. Not that you can easily operate the phone with one hand, but the form factor is marginally bigger than the OnePlus 6 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. The Xiaomi Mi MAX, on the other hand, comes with a 6.44-inch display, and is still bigger in size, with dimensions and feel closer to a tablet.
If you are wondering where the proximity and ambient light sensors are, they are under the display, and they work pretty much as expected. However, at times, when you go from indoors to bright outdoor conditions, the ambient light sensor takes a few seconds to kick in and increase the brightness. But considering this is an early implementation, I expect the successor to come equipped with better sensors.
The screen can get really bright at full brightness and the color reproduction is really punchy, as you can expect that from an AMOLED panel. If the screen was of a QHD+ resolution, it could be been better, but no complaints here. If there is one thing I missed, it had to be the color balance settings to let me choose if I want to see vivid colors, or basic ones.
The back comes with a glass panel that is curved on both sides to offer a better grip when holding the smartphone. But as in case with other smartphones with glass back, this one too attracts smudges, and becomes very slippery, especially if you have sweaty palms. Thankfully, a rubber case is also provided by Vivo. You won’t be able to flaunt the design and looks of the smartphone, but you will surely be able to protect it, if that’s more important to you.
You have the dual-camera module on the top left along with LED flash. Also, the back has a matrix style textured holographic finish that reflects light to offer a rainbow effect, and it looks stunning. I showed the phone to my friends, and even they’re stunned with the design; it completely looks premium. Another thing to notice is that there is no Vivo branding on the phone, but only the NEX branding at the back, which clearly means the company wants to promote it as a premium offering.
Talking about ports, the top houses the pop-up camera and a 3.5mm audio socket; yes it still exists. The bottom has an odd placement of the dual-SIM tray, followed by the USB Type-C port and the speaker grill. On the right, you have the power / sleep button with volume rocker, whereas you have a dedicated button on the left to summon Vivo’s personal assistant Jovi. Sadly, it is only for the Chinese market; in India, it brings up the Google Lens on a single click, whereas holding the button, starts the Google Assistant. The use of Google’s AI tools might actually be a better thing.
Elevating selfie camera: The highlight
To make the all-screen dream a reality, Vivo had to make some bold design choices, and the first one was to get rid of the front camera from above the display, while not completely doing away with it, because it is needed after all. It now sits inside the chassis on the top left and comes with a mechanical slider mechanism. After you open the camera app and switch to the front camera, only then it comes out, while the rest of the times it sits inside the chassis. It takes about a second to pop-up and get back into the chassis, and Vivo does let you choose between various sci-fi sounds to make it more interesting.
Before getting my hands on the device, all I saw was the company’s official video, and I had my doubts about the working of pop-up mechanism. My immediate concern – what about long-term durability of the mechanism, especially with moving parts? But I must say, Vivo has done a good job as the mechanism looks solid and sturdy. It will handle the regular use and abuse, and Vivo says it has tested it enough to ensure durability.
However, it remains to be seen what will happen over time when dirt and dust particles get accumulated. Also, what if the selfie camera is turned on, and you happen to drop your phone, will it break and pop out of the assembly? Sadly, I couldn’t try the drop test to see what happens, but I did try pushing the camera module inside, and you really need to apply some force to push it in, which is good durability wise.
Talking about the quality, selfies look decent with good amount of details and accurate skin tones when beauty mode and other enhancements are turned off. There is an AR Sticker mode that lets you add augmented reality effects to your selfies, and they are plain basic, nothing really interesting.
Vivo has also added AI portrait mode to detect the background and foreground and add DSLR-like blur effects to your photos. The blur effect isn’t too strong, but decent. You also get selfie lighting effects like the iPhone X, but I didn’t find it appealing enough. There is one option with monochrome background, where the subject in focus is in color and rest is black and white, and it looks good. Below are some samples.
Screen SoundCasting: The whole display is an earpiece
Another bold move was to get rid of the speaker to make room for the display. The Vivo NEX comes with Screen SoundCasting technology that uses bone conduction to transmit audio waves. In short, sound waves are sent to the display, rather than a speaker, and the entire display acts like a speaker. It is similar to the piezoelectric transducer that was used in the first Xiaomi Mi MIX.
But what about the audio quality? Well, it’s not perfect as the earpiece, but it’s not bad either. It is loud, and practically, you can listen to audio on any part of the screen. My only problem is that the audio sounds a bit muffled at times. But only audio enthusiasts will notice issue. I made a few phone calls, and asked people at my home to talk for about 2-3 minutes, and they did not notice any difference. In fact, I had to tell them that there is no earpiece, and they were listening to the audio right from the display.
In-display fingerprint scanner: Futuristic and real
Once again, Vivo was the first manufacturer to showcase this technology at MWC Shanghai 2017, and the first smartphone maker to launch a device that features the next-gen fingerprint reader. The X21 UD (launched as X21 in India) was the first commercial smartphone to come with an in-display fingerprint sensor. I had tried it, for most of the times, it failed to recognize the fingerprint and unlock the device.
Thankfully, this isn’t the case with the NEX. The scanning is quick, and it unlocks the smartphone as quickly as a regular fingerprint sensor. However, like the APEX concept, where the entire bottom half of the screen was a fingerprint scanner, here, the implementation is a bit different. The placement is convenient, and you get a display icon to guide you on where to place the finger. You can choose between 3 interesting animations too.
In terms of accuracy, I found it to work roughly 85 percent times, but other times, it would just simply not recognize, and I had to enter the passcode to unlock the phone. Sadly, the phone does not support a face unlock feature, which isn’t surprising considering that the camera front camera is out of sight most of the time.
Dual rear cameras: Good enough
For shutterbugs, there is a dual-camera set up at the back, and the photo quality is good. It also comes with AI scene detection and it does a good job in identifying the scene and tweaking settings to help you capture better photos. The camera doesn’t click flagship-level photos, but they are good enough, especially for sharing on social media.
Daylight shots look good with enough details, but the dynamic range isn’t too wide. Low-light photos look good with less noise, but the quality could have been a bit better. Below are some camera samples.
Software: FunTouch is no fun, literally
Now, this is where Vivo has to make a lot of improvements. The smartphone runs on Android 8.1 Oreo with FunTouch skin on top. Unlike the previous FunTouch skins, the latest iteration is less bloated, and much more fluid. Pre-loaded apps include NewsPoint, UC browser, Amazon, WPS Office and PhonePe, all of which can be uninstalled. Then there are a bunch of Vivo-centric apps, such as the Vivo website shortcut, email, Vivo cloud and Vivo Apps store that you can’t get rid of. I created a folder and put all the useless apps in there, so they don’t bother me anymore.
The interface includes a few ways in which you can interact with the phone. You can have the Android navigation buttons at the bottom, or replace that with iPhone X like gestures, thus making space for additional screen real estate. A swipe from bottom left brings up the iPhone-like control center where you have toggles for Wi-Fi, Data, Hotspot, Flight Mode and more. Swipe from right bottom acts like a back button, whereas swipe from center bottom takes you back to the home screen. Also, swiping from the bottom and holding for a few seconds brings up the multi-tasking screen to switch between apps.
The gestures work well, and its fluid too. However, my problem starts when you enter the settings menu. It is very cluttered, there is no search bar to find the settings that you are looking for, and there are over 20 sub-sections that will surely leave you confused. This is one area where Vivo seriously needs to look into.
Performance and battery life: The best you can get
Now, let’s get to performance. Thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC and 8GB of RAM, and FunTouch OS optimizations, the NEX is as fast and fluid as you can expect. I did not come across any force closes, or app crashes. Apps open and close quickly, and even opening graphics intense games is quick.
Thanks to the large screen without the obstructing notch, movie watching and gaming experience was something I personally enjoyed a lot. Games like PUBG and Asphalt 9: Legends run smooth as butter. In fact, I’m hooked on to Asphalt soo much that I end up playing for about 6 hours in a day, with each session lasting as much as 45 minutes. Even with that kind of usage, the back of the device barely got warm and that is a good thing.
Battery life is another core area where I appreciate the NEX. The 4,000mAh battery lasts long, really long. With a lot of gaming through the day, the battery lasted for about four-and-a-half hours. One weekend, I was binge-watching shows on Netflix, and I could watch back-to-back episodes for close to six hours before needing a charge, which is impressive.
The other weekend, I charged the NEX on Friday night, and with minimal usage, I could go the entire weekend, till Monday morning, where the phone still had about 3 percent battery left. And thanks to the dual-quick charge engine, the battery charges from empty state to 100 percent in around 90 minutes.
Verdict: Should you buy the Vivo NEX?
The Vivo NEX is an interesting smartphone. After looking at the concept APEX phone, I never thought that the commercial availability would be so soon. But Vivo has managed to surprise everyone. The NEX comes with a bold design, a beautiful full-screen display that is a treat, battery life that is impressive, and the cameras are good too. You also get top-of-the-line hardware.
The Screen SoundCasting and in-display fingerprint scanner both are futuristic, but they are not perfect. The scanner fails at times; it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is frustrating. The pop-up front camera tech is good to show off, and Vivo says it can handle wear and tear, but I wonder how it will be when dust accumulates or when water enters. The audio isn’t clear at times, but won’t bother you most of the time. However, the software can be frustrating.
Overall, considering the innovations that NEX brings to the table, Vivo has done a commendable job. But there is room for improvement. If you don’t mind the above issues, and want to show off a cool phone, the NEX could be a good purchase.
If you want something sturdy and performance driven, the OnePlus 6 would be the de-facto recommendation in the Rs 45,000 price range. Alternatively, the Asus Zenfone 5Z is also a good alternative. And if you want a phone that has one of the best cameras, comes with water and dust resistance, and if you can shell out more, you can look at the Samsung Galaxy S9.