- Kills the notch
- Immersive display
- Excellent build quality
- The pop-out camera looks attractive
- Class-leading battery life
- Very powerful specs
- Camera software needs some work
- Calls are not as clear on the piezoelectric speaker
- FunTouch OS is still a mess
- Some apps don’t scale properly on the weird 19.3:9 aspect ratio display
What started off as a stopgap solution to the full-screen problem, is now a full-blown epidemic. The notch is everywhere and you cannot escape it. While it has become a part of my peripheral vision — especially considering I’ve reviewed a lot of phones with a notch — at the back of mind I still hate it. It is definitely the most inelegant solution to the full-screen problem, right now.
But, the Vivo Nex – building off of the Apex concept phone showcased at MWC this year – has a good answer to the notch problem in the form of automatic motorised pop-out cameras.
I’ve been using the Vivo Nex for a while now, and in this review, I try to find out if pop-out cameras are a good alternative to the notch. And…if the Nex is a good flagship phone to being with.
Vivo Nex design: death to the notch
When you take the phone out of the box, you will notice that the Nex has a clean design. Except for its large size, the Nex is quite nonchalant in its candy-bar form. It is when you switch on the display that the phone comes to life. The massive 6.59-inch AMOLED screen with a 91.2% screen-to-body ratio (or 86% according to GSMArena) just springs to life. And boy oh boy, there is no notch. Hallelujah!
That raises a few questions about the design, which brings us to something else that raises from the phone. No you filthy mind, I am talking about the front-facing camera on the phone. Where is it? As we all know by now, the Nex’s front camera module pops up from the top edge of the phone. It looks stunning and I never got bored of the looking at the whole mechanism at play.
Now, a lot of tech reviewers have raised apprehensions of using moving parts on modern smartphones. Their concern is that it will eventually fail. Allow me to break that myth. Not that the Nex’s motorised part is entirely failsafe, but it is not as fragile as you think. Thanks to an interesting point raised by my friend Nachiket Mhatre – who is probably one of the most thorough reviewers in the industry – I can assure you that you don’t have to worry about the sturdiness or the rigidity of the Nex’s pop out camera.
Essentially, moving parts – like the pop-out camera on the Nex – use servo motors to move the module up and down. The servo used to build the Nex’s camera is extremely sturdy and it has a spring on the right axle to protect it from external pressure. You can feel the resistance when you push it down with your finger. In fact, the camera app shuts down when you push it down with your own finger. Don’t believe me, check out this JerryRigEverything video.
Also, the module is made of glass on the front and the back, with metal on the sides. The glass will protect it from scratching the lens when it moves up and down. However, there is no escaping from dust settling in the cracks.
To alleviate your confusion, this rhetoric should help: has anyone ever worried about the slide-out disc tray inside a PlayStation or a personal computer? Precisely why there is no need to worry about the pop-out camera on the Nex. It should last you at least three years easily and by that time most of us are ready to invest in a new phone.
By the way, Vivo gives you the option to change the sounds for the module’s movement. You can also choose to mute it entirely. However, even in the mute state, you will hear a very faint moving sound. Not that I find it to be a problem.
Apart from the pop-out camera, Vivo has also replaced the physical earpiece for calls with a vibrating display for sound. It is very similar to the piezoelectric setup on the original Mi Mix. The entire top part of the display vibrates to reproduce sound. It sounds okay. I think physical earpieces offer better sound.
Now, you also get a second generation in-display fingerprint scanner. And that’s your only option for biometric scanning because the Nex doesn’t offer facial recognition. Thankfully, this in-display fingerprint scanner is much faster than the one inside the Vivo X21. But there are still occasions when the scanner will fail, and that’s when you miss a proper physical fingerprint scanner.
Where’s the ambient light sensor though? Honestly, I tried hard to find it but I couldn’t. That said, the Nex does have an auto-brightness mode, which incidentally doesn’t work really well.
Coming back to the design of the Nex, the phone itself is made mostly of glass on the rear and the front, and it is protected by a shiny metal railing. The glass on the rear splits white light into its spectrum of colours (colours of the rainbow – VIBGYOR) to create this unique psychedelic effect. I really attractive. However, the phone itself is massive and heavy. Using it with one hand is near impossible. Moreover, the phone is top heavy and since it is tall I was constantly worried that I’d drop it. Thankfully, the bundled case helps distribute some of the weight evenly across the device. Oh, and this case is by far my most favourite case bundled with a phone.
As for the buttons, you get these extremely clicky, and tactile power button and volume rocker on the right edge. There’s also dedicated button for Vivo’s own AI Jovi but the Indian variant doesn’t have it. So, Vivo has replaced it with Google Lens, which is invoked when you short press the button. You can’t remap the button unfortunately, but you can switch off Google Lens if you want. Also, long pressing the button brings up the Google Assistant. You also get a 3.5mm jack on the top, which is pretty awesome.
The Nex comes with a USB Type-C port at the bottom, which is flanked on either side by the speaker grille and the dual-SIM card tray.
All in all, despite a few minor issues, I love what Vivo has achieved with the Nex’s design. Killing the notch is definitely the masterstroke!
Vivo Nex display: drool-inducing full-screen experience
The 6.59-inch display is an AMOLED panel sourced form Samsung. So, you get deep blacks and extremely vibrant colours. Obviously, the colours are saturated and not very accurate but there is no doubt that it looks good. Vivo doesn’t provide you with the option to change the colour temperature or the colour gamut. So, you are stuck with what you get.
The display can also get adequately bright but at certain angles you are bound to notice some discolouration, which is typical of AMOLED panels.
But, I still can’t get over the fact that you get a massive display with no notch. Reading, watching movies, playing games, and everything else just has an added level of immersion. You just get sucked in. If you play PUBG, trust me you can’t go back to a regular notched smartphone once you play it on the Nex.
Vivo Nex software: FunTouch is still no “Fun”
The Nex, like the X21 and the V9, runs on the latest version of the Vivo’s very own FunTouch OS based on Android Oreo 8.1. Since it supports Project Treble, you can expect fast updates. However, FunTouch OS continues to ape Apple’s iOS and has some design inconsistencies. I have spoken in length about FunTouch in my review of the Vivo V9. Let me just highlight a few things about FunTouch:
- Apps are scaling better now on the fullscreen display. But there are still a few apps that struggle with the weird 19.3:9 aspect ratio display.
- And then there are some other issues that crop up from time to time. For example, Google Assistant doesn’t talk with Vivo’s built-in Timer and it doesn’t take a command for setting the timer. It’s totally weird.
- I still love the fact certain apps like Whatsapp throw up a floating icon on an incoming notification and you can immediately jump into split-screen mode.
- Talking about split-screen mode, it is an absolute joy to use on the Nex thanks to its big display. I found myself using the split-screen mode more often.
- The gestures are easy-to-use and are a perfect fit on the massive display.
I’ll stop here and I know I am not even scratching the surface as far as the features on the FunTouch OS is concerned. But if you ask me, just replace FunTouch with a launcher of your choice. I love Evie and it is stunning on the Nex’s full screen display, especially with the smaller icons you can make full use of the available screen estate.
Vivo Nex camera: falling short of being flagship-grade
Inside the Nex’s pop-out module sits an 8MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. Let’s start off by talking about the selfies. At times when the front camera manages to focus you can get some sharp details. But, during my testing I noticed that the auto-HDR mode tends to overexpose selfies and there is a lot of clipping of highlights happening in the background. Also, most of the images look like Vivo has the beauty mode switched on by default. I definitely don’t look that fair!
Anyway, there’s also a separate Beauty mode if you are interested in looking like a ghost. What I like about the front camera is the fairly decent software-induced Portrait mode. Honestly, it is not half bad and you will find yourself using it often. What I don’t like about the Portrait mode is the half-assed attempt at recreating the iPhone X’s selfie lighting mode. I don’t know why anyone would want a monochrome background. I am not a fan. In fact, Huawei did a better job of aping Apple’s modes on the P20 Pro.
On the contrary, the 12MP+5MP camera setup on the rear offers better performance. In more ways than one, the Nex’s camera tuning reminds of what Samsung does with its flagship phones. Boosted colour reproduction and slightly over-sharpen the details to make the image look extremely crisp. It looks great, but it is not the most accurate representation of the actual scene. Which is another way of processing images. Regardless, I liked what the Vivo managed with the auto-HDR mode where it boosts the dynamic range and makes the image look extremely vibrant. Essentially, you don’t need to download Snapseed if you buy the Nex.
In low light situations, the Nex does fairly well but suffers a lot from underexposing dark areas; Vivo’s algorithm favours high contrast. Like the previous marquee Vivo phones launched this year, you have a software-based variable aperture mode. Essentially, to shoot good bokeh shots you can choose an aperture of your choice. But, making that choice is tough sometimes. So, let me make it for you. Stick to f/4 and that’s the sweet spot right there. You can get some neat depth. Look how handsome Ashish looks in this picture.
As far as video recording is concerned, I’d like to tell you guys that the Nex is probably not my flagship of choice. Despite using the SD845 chip, the phone cannot shoot 1080p or 4K video in 60fps. That’s not cool. Thankfully, there is OIS so you get a fairly stable footage. You can also do 240fps slow motion at 720p resolution and 120fps slow motion at 1080p. The quality is decent in good light. You can also shoot 1080p videos using the front camera and since it has a decently wide angle lens, you can accommodate more people. If you are planning to V-log using the phone, then you should know that there is very little noise cancellation on the mic.
Overall, the Nex’s cameras fall a little short of being flagship-grade. But, they are not entirely unusable either.
Vivo Nex performance: undeniably fast
It is no surprise that Vivo has kitted the Nex with top-tier specs considering it is the company’s marquee product. You have your regular SD845 SoC, 8 gigs of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. There is no option to expand the storage, but I guess the amount of internal storage should actually suffice.
As far as performance is concerned, I am not even jumping into the whole benchmark scores discussion. You can achieve one of the best scores on the Nex. What matters is the real-world performance, and the Nex doesn’t disappoint. That said, it is not as fast as the OnePlus 6 or the ZenFone 5Z. You are bound to come across a few hiccups once in a while but I am not really holding it against the Nex because it is mostly a blink-and-you-miss-it situation. Only reviewers like us care about those kinds of things. And like I said, PUBG plays beautifully on the Nex. So, do all the other graphically intensive games like Asphalt 8, Guns of Boom, and more. Also, you must must must try Sky Force Reloaded on the Nex. The colourful graphics filling up the screen looks absolutely mesmerising!
I’d like to highlight that FunTouch has always had a very aggressive memory management. Thankfully, it is not very aggressive on the Nex because it has 8GB of RAM at its disposal, but it is still strict at times. I guess this decision is because it helps in improving battery life because apps don’t stay in memory for long. And now that we are on the topic of the battery, the 4000mAh battery inside the Vivo Nex is the best battery performance I’ve experienced on a flagship smartphone.
I easily got a day and a half worth of usage on a single charge, and a screen-on-time of around 7 hours on more than a couple of occasions, which is insane. You also get Vivo’s ‘Dual Engine Quick Charge’ technology which can charge the phone from 0 to 100 in 2 hours and 11 minutes. But, it can actually charge from 0 to 50 in 30 minutes. And, beyond 80 per cent it only trickles charging.
Coming to the sound quality, as I mentioned before, the piezoelectric speaker is a letdown. And, the mic is also not very effective because on more than one occasion the caller on the other end couldn’t hear me clearly. As for the mono speaker, it gets adequately loud but it is not a very rich sound and it is easy to muffle the sound when you hold the phone in landscape mode. Your fingers will invariably obstruct it. Vivo also bundles a pair of earphones in the box but the sound quality is meh. Swap it for a pair of reference earphones like my 1More Triple Drivers and the sound does improve drastically.
Should you buy the Vivo Nex?
If you don’t care about the ultimate flagship-grade camera performance or its massive size, the Vivo Nex is a stunning smartphone that impresses with its innovation and overall build quality. And honestly, Vivo isn’t charging a bomb either. You can get it for Rs 44,990, which is the same price as the OnePlus 6 Avengers Edition.
Honestly, the company has got the pricing right this time. That said, phones like the OnePlus 6 and the ZenFone 5Z are still better value propositions and offer better cameras as well. Also, Vivo really needs to overhaul the cartoonish and iOS-inspired FunTouch OS.
But if you hate the notch – as much as I do – the Nex is one of the only two options available right now. The other option being the OPPO Find X. All the negative chatter aside – pop out cameras look damn cool!
I am glad that #SayNoToTheNotch is finally gaining some traction and all of Mr. Phone couldn’t be happier.
Do let us know in the comments section below what you thought about the Nex.