vivo NEX review — vivo pulled out all the stops for this one

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Introduction

Having a notch doesn’t mean bezel-less, as much as Apple insists. The vivo NEX and OPPO Find X push the limits by removing the notch and placing whatever sensors that are conventionally found in the upper bezel (or notch) elsewhere. OPPO decided to hide both the rear and front cameras on a motorized mechanism, while vivo is a bit less extreme and just hides the front facing camera with a motorized pop-up mechanism.

Unboxing

The packaging of the vivo NEX is pretty standard for flagships, with a liberal sprinkling of Russia 2018 logos to remind everyone that vivo was official smartphone sponsor of the FIFA World Cup earlier this year.

There is a rather interesting design here. The tray of accessories slide out after you lift off the lid, instead of the usual layered packaging most recent smartphones come in.

The stuff included with the vivo NEX are quite comprehensive, and the included rubberized hard case is a huge step up from the clear TPU cases most smartphones come bundled with. The 22.5W vivo Dual Engine Quick Charger is huge compared to most chargers, but we will probably need it to juice up quickly.

Appearance

The front is really bezel-less, with just the bottom bezel being a hair thicker than the side and top ones. For those who really hate notches, this is the device to get.

While the front of the device has no bezels or notches, the back is still more interesting. The glass back looks plain until it catches some light…

Whereby it will diffract the light with a 3D pattern under the glass. Somehow vivo has managed to design the back of the vivo NEX to be give us pretty diffractions in all of RGBae glory. Kudos for that!

At the top is where we will find a 3.5mm jack and the popup camera. The metal is finished in with a glossy sheen, so smudges do happen very easily on the sides of the vivo NEX.

The right side is home to the volume rocker and power button, while over on the other side you will find a AI button. It is a quick trigger to Google Lens and Google Assistant. We will be taking a closer look at it later.

Here’s where you will find the USB Type-C port and SIM tray. The sole loudspeaker is also found here. There is no earpiece, so mono audio is all you will get if you do not plug in any earphones.

Specifications

CPU/Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (4 x Kryo 385 Gold @ 2.8 GHz + 4 x Kryo 385 Silver @ 1.8 GHz), 10nm FinFET
GPU: Adreno 630 @ 710 MHz
RAM: 8GB LPDDR4X
Display: 6.59″, 19.3:9 FHD+ (1080p) Super AMOLED display, 91.24% screen-to-body ratio
Storage: 128GB UFS 2.1
Camera: Main Camera(s)
Primary: 12MP f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF, 1/2.55″ Sony IMX 363 sensor, 1.4μm pixel pitch
Secondary: 5MP f/2.4 depth detection
Dual LED flash, AI HDR, portrait mode, AI scene recognition, AI Beauty, filters, Pro mode, 4-axis OIS (primary camera only), EIS, DCI-P3 color gamut
Front Camera
8MP f/2.0
AI portrait mode, AI scene recognition, Beauty mode, screen flash
OS: Funtouch OS 4 based on Android 8.1 Oreo
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), supports WiFi 2×2 MIMO, MU-MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, LDAC support)
LTE-FDD: Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/25/26/28A/28B
SIM: Dual nanoSIM
Battery: Li-ion 4000 mAh (non-removable)
Dimensions: 162 x 77 x 7.98 mm
Weight: 199 g

The specifications are really nice, with lots of RAM and fast storage. The front camera is quite surprising coming from vivo which usually fits really powerful front cameras into their smartphones. Given that vivo has to design a motorized mechanism for the front camera with the limited space, we can probably let this one slide. There is no expandable storage either, which can be bummer if you are a hoarder.

Performance

The vivo NEX actually comes pretty close to the top here, coming just below the OPPO Find X.

The vivo NEX also performs admirable in Geekbench, coming in just below the POCOPHONE F1.

GPU performance is where we see the vivo NEX shine. It scores top marks here.

PCMark sees it score rather poorly for some reason. I guess this device isn’t meant for productivity-related workloads? You might also notice that we don’t have the scores for the PCMark battery test for the vivo NEX. That’s because it just refused to run the full test, quitting at just 50%. Bad vivo NEX, bad.

As vivo removed the standard battery usage chart from the vivo NEX, we can only judge it based on how long it was away from the plug. It did an excellent 24 hours away from the plug before hitting 15%, and it charged up 48% in just 30 minutes. Given that we have a huge 4000 mAh battery in the vivo NEX, that’s really impressive.

Surprisingly, in my daily use of the vivo NEX, I did encounter some hiccups even when doing some basic tasks like using SwiftKey to reply to Facebook messages. I absolutely did not expect this, nor have I seen this behavior with any other Snapdragon 845 device. I did not encounter this kind of lag in the rest of my usual apps though, so it could be an optimization issue.

User Experience

The fingerprint scanner which is hidden under the display was a very interesting feature that vivo brought to the table back at MWC 2017. However sad to say the accuracy may be a little off. My device which was secured with my the biometrics of my two thumbs, has since been unlocked by 3 different people. And the funny thing about that is that it doesn’t even unlock every single time with my own thumbs. It does not fail every single time, but when it does, I can’t help but wish for the good ol’ fingerprint scanners that have never failed me. Or unlocked with my friends’ thumbs.

While what’s under the display may not be impressive, the Super AMOLED bezel-less display taking up 91.24% of the vivo NEX’s front is really good. Deep blacks are a given, as are vivid colors. This display is about as faultless as it is bezel-less. There’s an ambient brightness sensor somewhere, but it’s hidden way too well for us to see.

Part of the appeal of AMOLED displays to me is Always On Display, and I am happy to see it here. There are an array of themes to select from too, so you won’t be bored with just the clock showing on your screen.

vivo’s FuntouchOS is probably the closest you get to iOS on an Android device, with a swipe up from the bottom for the quick settings. Curiously, there are two ways to access recent apps, the first being a row of it above the quick settings, and another being the standard card view of the recent apps. The gesture navigation is actually exactly the same as the one on the OPPO Find X, but because of the non-curved display, it is actually usable. The overall UI is quite easy to get a hang of, and I was quite comfortable using it, except when trying to get to the quick settings. That took a bit more time to get used to.

The AI button here on the left is supposed to bring up Jovi, vivo’s AI assistant, but it brings up Google Lens with a short press and Google Assistant with a long one. There’s no way to switch it around, so you are stuck with having to long press to bring up the more useful AI feature on the vivo NEX.

Moving on, the dual camera on the vivo NEX might seem like something that mid-range devices would feature. The 5MP secondary camera is only there for depth perception to enhance bokeh effects, so you don’t get any zoom or wide-angle bonuses. The primary camera is definitely flagship-worthy though, with a Sony IMX363 sensor behind a f/1.8 aperture and 4-axis OIS. There is also the mandatory AI scene recognition somewhere here.

The software is typical for Chinese-made smartphones. You will have to swipe through the different modes, instead of having a popup where you can choose the mode you want. Clunky. vivo offers the ability to shoot 24MP images, taking advantage of the Dual Pixel technology on the sensor. Checking the EXIF also reveals a rather interesting detail about the camera — it’s a 30mm (35mm eqv.) lens which is slightly narrower than usual.

Images in good lighting taken with the vivo NEX are quite good if you ignore you the graininess that’s visible in all lighting conditions. You might want to enable HDR for most shots though, as dynamic range is somewhat limited despite the large-ish sensor here. Shots at night do get even grainier,with the 24MP shots even worse than the 12MP ones. I liked the results I got from the vivo NEX, and here you can check out the full-sized camera samples on Flickr.

Now let’s talk about some of the new technology to make the device fully bezel-less. For one, the vivo Screen SoundCasting Technology works great. I didn’t have any complaints at all about call quality. While you won’t get to enjoy the stereo audio most recent flagships tout, I can’t say I missed it all that much. I was much happier without a notch getting in the way of everything I do. The front camera is nice enough, it pops up fast and selfies look decent enough. There are some selfies I sneaked into the camera results up above, so do check them out.

Conclusion

The vivo NEX is one innovative phone, with a long list of fancy features. I love the popup camera, the Screen SoundCasting Technology and the gorgeous display, and I must say that this a strong offering from vivo. However the vivo NEX also skips a lot of features that other flagships tout, like NFC, dust and liquid resistance, expandable storage and wireless charging. But then again none of the others have a display that nearly entirely fills up the front fascia either. I am somewhat disappointed with the hiccups I encountered in normal usage as well as the fingerprint scanner which failed to block my friends from accessing my device, and these aren’t flaws I can easily overlook.

The vivo NEX isn’t all bad, but there is definitely room for improvement. For RM2799, it is quite reasonably priced for a device with so many new features, but whether you are willing to live with the slew of drawbacks is a more difficult decision to make. If given the choice between the two truly bezel-less devices in the market right now, I would pick the vivo NEX anytime. I just can’t accept that fingerprint scanner though.

Our thanks to vivo Malaysia for provisioning the vivo NEX used in this review. To support us, do check out the vivo NEX on Lazada via the following link: