Smartphone manufacturers are in a race to make smartphones with bigger screens without increasing the dimensions, and to achieve this, they need to cut the bezels around the display. First came smartphones with thinner bezels and taller screens with 18:9 aspect ratio. The next trend was implementing a screen with a notch to accommodate the front-facing camera, earpiece, and some sensors, just like the Apple iPhone X (Review). This would increase the screen real estate even further, but leave an unsightly notch that comes in the way of an immersive viewing experience. Even though most consumers hate a notch in the display, every other manufacturer went forward with the same design, just because they hadn’t yet found a way to completely get rid bezels.
Vivo, however, not only understood that smartphones users don’t like the screen notch but has also managed to get rid of it, which even the big smartphone players like Apple and Samsung couldn’t. Vivo showcased the first truly bezel-less smartphone concept during the MWC 2018 expo; it was the Vivo Apex. At that time, everyone thought that the smartphone could take a couple of years to become production-ready. To everyone’s, Vivo announced a consumer version of the smartphone and launch of the Vivo NEX.
The Vivo NEX is based on the Vivo Apex, and it comes with a truly bezel-less display. Not only that, but the smartphone also has an in-screen fingerprint reader which makes it the second smartphone to feature it after the Vivo’s own X21. To achieve a true bezel-less display design, Vivo placed the camera on the top of the phone, which pops-out when the camera is accessed and slides back in when it’s not being used. So, there are quite a few exciting things about the Vivo NEX.
So far, Vivo had focussed only on mid-range smartphones, at least in India. This is the first time that Vivo has entered the high-end smartphone segment, challenging the likes of Apple, Google, OnePlus, Samsung, and Xiaomi. The Vivo NEX has been launced in India for Rs. 44,990, and competes with the OnePlus 6 (Review), Xiaomi Mi MIX 2s, Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus (Review), and the Google Pixel 2 XL (Review). Although the Vivo NEX looks promising on paper, people are sceptical about its pop-up camera’s reliability. Also, people might hesitate a bit to spend upwards of Rs. 50,000 for a smartphone from Vivo. So, how good is the Vivo NEX, and is it worth buying? Here is what I think after using it for more than a week.
Vivo Nex Review: Build Quality
The Vivo NEX is the first smartphone with a completely bezel-less and a notch-less display to go on sale in India. It doesn’t even compromise on the positioning of the front-facing camera. Since the display is free of the ugly notch and has minimum bezels on all sides of the screen, the Vivo NEX looks futuristic and beautiful. The device has a metal body sandwiched between Gorilla Glass 5 at the front and the back. The rear of the device has a pixelated pattern that changes colours when viewing from various angles.
The Vivo NEX has a premium build quality, and it feels rock-solid in the hand. Even though the device is bezel-less, it is very large due to its big display. Hence, the device is not suitable for one-handed usage. Also, sometimes, it slips out of hand due to its size and slippery surface. Speaking of the surface, the rear of the device is a fingerprint magnet, and it gets smudgy as soon as touch it.
Vivo NEX Review: Display
The most important feature of the Vivo NEX is its bezel-less display. Unlike most of the other bezel-less smartphones, the Vivo NEX doesn’t come with a notch, making it look truly futuristic. Although there is a small chin (bezel) at the bottom of the display, I think it is insignificant and it won’t be noticeable by users.
As for the display itself, it is a 6.59-inch Super AMOLED unit with Full HD+ resolution and 19.3:9 aspect ratio. I was slightly disappointed with the screen, though. Bring an AMOLED display, I expected it to have excellent contrast ratio and sunlight visibility. It failed in the second aspect. The visibility under direct sunlight was pretty average and looked more like an LCD screen in spite of its glass panel not being reflective. Contrast ratio wasn’t as good as I had expected, especially after using excellent Super AMOLED screens in Samsung devices.
That’s not the only problem with the screen. Apart from the unimpressive picture quality, the display also has touchscreen accuracy issues; it can’t properly register and track multiple fingers. Sometimes, it even registers a false touch. The touchscreen issues make typing and gaming a very frustrating experience. It is unusual, nowadays, for smartphone displays to have touchscreen related issues. I think that Vivo NEX is suffering from this issue mainly because of its in-display fingerprint scanner. However, I hope this is just a software issue that the company could fix with a software update.
Vivo NEX Review: Camera
Starting off with the primary camera, the Vivo NEX has a 12MP+5MP dual-camera setup. Though the 12MP sensor resolution is fine, the 5MP camera doesn’t sound flagship grade. The 12MP+5MP camera setup is usually seen in mid-range smartphones like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro (Review) and I think Vivo could have equipped the NEX with a better hardware for better image resolution. Nonetheless, the camera has 4-axis OIS and dual-pixel phase-detection autofocus, things that are used in flagship smartphones.
The images captured in daylight conditions have an excellent amount of details. The pictures neither suffer from excessive noise nor with over-sharpening effects. The camera also manages to capture near-accurate colours. I was also very impressed with the dynamic range of the camera; it handles the lighting variations very well even when the HDR mode is not activated.
The images clicked using the Vivo NEX in low-light conditions are surprisingly bright. The scenes captured by the camera look brighter than in reality. This is mainly due to the 4-axis OIS, which allows the camera to keep the shutter open for a longer duration without introducing any shakes, helping it to capture more light. Furthermore, the camera highlights the skies and buildings, to make the images look more appealing, which I think is a brilliant feature.
On the downside, the low-light images have noise and lens flare. The camera also tends to use LED flash even when there’s enough ambient light. This results in images with blown highlights and inaccurate colours, making pictures look ugly. The camera also blows-out signboards, and other such bright objects in low-light conditions, hence affecting the details. Due to these issues, the images captured using the Vivo NEX in low-light conditions don’t seem like they have been captured with a sub-Rs. 50,000 smartphone camera.
The Vivo NEX can record 4K resolution videos at 30 frames per second, but it is sad to see that the device misses out on 4K 60 fps video recording in spite of it having a robust and capable processor in the form of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. Nonetheless, 4K videos recording using the Vivo NEX have good details and vibrant colours. Most importantly, they are properly stabilised, thanks to the 4-axis OIS mechanism.
The Vivo NEX also has a portrait mode, thanks to its depth-sensing 5MP camera. However, the portrait mode itself isn’t very impressive. The amount of background blur is very less, due to which, the images don’t even look as appealing as similar images on competing smartphones. The Vivo NEX lacks the premium camera features that are expected from a smartphone of this price, and it is also far behind its competitors in the primary camera performance.
The Vivo NEX features a pop-up front-facing camera, which I think is the most exciting part of the device. The camera looks cool and futuristic when it slides out and slides in. It is also very fast to pop up and pop down. As for its reliability, I’ve been using the device for a week, and so far, I didn’t face any issue with it. I also tried to force-close the pop-up camera, but even after doing so, the camera worked without any problems.
As for the camera itself, it is an 8MP unit with a fixed focal length. The camera captures excellent images in daylight conditions. Details and colours are very well captured. Dynamic range is slightly limited, though, resulting in blown highlights. There is also a Face Beauty mode, which, as you might have guessed, beautifies the face. It works flawlessly and removes blemishes on the face without any problem. There is also a portrait lighting effect, but I didn’t find it very useful, as the effects look very artificial, making the images look less appealing. As for the image quality of the front-facing camera in low-light conditions, it is excellent. Images appear bright and detailed. The noise is contained very well, and the colours are vibrant as well.
Vivo NEX Review: Performance
The Vivo NEX is the company’s most powerful smartphone in terms of processing power. Powering the Vivo NEX is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor. In China, the smartphone comes in two variants, one with 128GB of storage and the other with 256GB of storage. However, in India, the Vivo NEX is available only in its 128GB variant. The device also has 8GB of RAM. In terms of power, the Vivo NEX is as good as most the other flagship smartphones from this year.
It speed and performance in real life are equally good. The animations are very smooth across the UI. The device doesn’t stutter or lag even under heavy multitasking and gaming scenarios. Surprisingly, the device also stays quite cool while performing heavy workloads. In my opinion, the Vivo NEX is faster than the smartphones like the Galaxy S9, Nokia 8 Sirocco (Review), and the Huawei P20 Pro (Review), all of which are costlier than the Vivo NEX. However, the Vivo NEX is still not as fast or as smooth as the OnePlus 6.
As mentioned earlier, the Vivo NEX comes with an in-display fingerprint scanner. Although we have used this technology in the Vivo X21, the company claims that the scanner in the NEX is significantly faster, and they are correct in claiming so. I was sceptical about the performance of the in-display fingerprint scanner and I thought that it would be slow and inaccurate. However, to my surprise, the in-display fingerprint scanner is decently fast. It is not as fast as regular fingerprint scanners found in other smartphones, but you will not have any issues using it on a daily basis.
To make the NEX bezel-less, Vivo has used ‘Screen Soundcasting Technology’, instead of a regular earpiece. In this technology, the sound is produced by vibrating the glass screen. As for the quality, the sound from it is tinny and full of distortions, making it below par for outdoor usage, especially in a country like India where there is a lot of background noise. The tonality of the sound from the so-called screen-vibrating speaker is also way off. Therefore, the voice of the person you are speaking with sounds robotic.
The Vivo NEX is a dual-SIM device, and it has a SIM card slot at its bottom, an unusual place. It supports 4G LTE and VoLTE on both the SIM cards at the same time, which is an excellent feature for Indian consumers. The device also has a good signal reception. Apart from cellular connectivity, the NEX comes with Wi-Fi ac/b/g/n, Bluetooth v5.0, GPS, USB Type-C port, and a 3.5mm audio jack (yes! It’s there!). It is good to see that the Vivo NEX retains the 3.5mm audio jack in times where other manufacturers are skipping it in favour of digital audio. The audio quality from the 3.5mm audio jack is excellent, and the volume levels are also very high.
Vivo NEX Review: Software
The Vivo NEX runs Android 8.0 Oreo operating system, and it is customised using the company’s FunTouch UI. As far as the design goes, its icons, animations, scaling, and the whole layout looks outdated. As harsh as it may sound, the FunTouch UI is one of the ugliest custom UIs I’ve ever used on an Android smartphone.
The UI is unpolished, and many UI elements appear out of place. Not only the UI, but even the pre-loaded apps look ugly. I also didn’t like the bottom-sliding toggle menu, as I think it is not how an Android smartphone should look like or behave. Vivo has gone so far that it even removed some of the essential features of the Android OS, such as the battery usage graph. It has affected the user experience and the user interface in a negative way in trying to imitate the Apple iOS operating system.
On top of bad UI design and the lack of stock Android features, the FunTouch OS doesn’t even offer any extra features over what stock Android already has. The whole point of having a custom UI is to pack the OS with more features, and also make it look better than the stock Android UI, but the FunTouch OS fails at the very task it should be doing. The Vivo NEX is supposed to look futuristic, and even though its hardware is impressive, it is let down by its dull UI.
Vivo NEX Review: Battery Life
When you look at flagship smartphones, they actually have worse battery life than mid-range and entry-level smartphones. The main reason behind it is that manufacturers are cutting down on battery capacities to make smartphones slimmer with each passing year. Most flagship smartphones (priced around Rs. 50,000) feature a sub-3000mAh battery. The Vivo NEX, however, comes with a 4000mAh battery.
Although, a larger battery doesn’t always mean that the smartphone will have a great battery backup (just have a look at the dismal battery life of the HTC U11 Plus and the HTC U12 Plus), as it needs proper software optimisation as well. I am happy to tell you that the Vivo NEX offers excellent battery life. In my usage, the device usually lasted for about 30 hours with an average screen-on time of around 6 to 7 hours. In my opinion, the Vivo NEX has the longest battery backup among all the popular flagship smartphones released this year. On top of that, the Vivo Nex also comes with a 22.5W fast charger, and it charges the phone in just under 2 hours.
Vivo NEX Review: Verdict
Vivo has made a lot of hardware-level technological innovations to get rid of the display notch, something that no other smartphone manufacturer was able to do. As a result, the company made a beautiful-looking smartphone. The Vivo NEX also has a silky smooth performance and a great battery backup. However, the Vivo NEX has one major drawback, which is its ugly-looking UI. Also, the camera performance of the Vivo NEX is not as good as that of its competitors.
For a lower price, the ASUS Zenfone 5Z and the OnePlus 6 offer faster performance, better UI design, and better camera performance than the Vivo NEX. If you can live with the notch, then I think they are better smartphones than the Vivo NEX. That being said, if you care more about design and a notch-less, bezel-less screen, you can not go wrong with the Vivo NEX. We hope that Vivo learns to make better-looking software as soon as possible to suit its futuristic hardware design.
Vivo NexRs. 44,990
Design & Build Quality9.0/10
Value for Money7.0/10
What Is Good?
- Beautiful design
- Use of futuristic technologies
- Super-fast performance
- Long battery life
What Is Bad?
- Ugly-looking UI
- Average camera performance
- No water resistance
- Slightly overpriced