Vivo NEX S Review

Vivo NEX S

Vivo NEX S

Vivo

June, 2018
6.59" Super AMOLED display, Snapdragon 845 chipset, Dual: 12 MP + 5 MP primary camera, Pop-up 8 MP front camera, 4000 mAh battery, 256 GB storage, 8 GB RAM.
EUR:€700 | USD:$798 | PKR:95,172 | INR:57,386

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Vivo NEX S Review

Vivo NEX S Review


Introduction

Vivo showed a concept phone called Apex at Mobile World Congress 2018 which was a first true bezel-less smartphone. It looked like a far-fetched concept at that time but here we are, after just four months with a brand-new flagship device from Vivo which is an actual finished version of Apex. Vivo is calling this phone Vivo NEX S and its display is closest to bezel-less as it gets. Phone features some remarkable futuristic features, leaving tech giants like Apple and Samsung way behind but is it a glimpse at future of smartphones? Or is it just a concept which will die out? Let's find out.

Design

First thing that will strike you looking at this phone is absence of bezels. I have not seen many phone with greater screen-to-body ratio than Vivo NEX S, with Vivo claiming that 91.24 percent of phone's front is all screen. There's no bezel on top and side of the phone with only a little bit at bottom and thankfully, there's no notch either. It is just all screen and it looks absolutely stunning that way.

Vivo NEX S follows cues of many current flagships in terms of design, with a glass rear that uses holographic laser etching technology to give surface a quirky and interesting look. On black version of this phone, if you catch it against directional lighting, there's a rainbow-color refraction to be seen that catches in design. Sides are also curved to enable easy handling as this is a large phone.

At front, there are no buttons for navigation as its all handled via software, much like how it's done on Apple iPhone X. As it's an all-screen front design, you won't find a front facing camera but that doesn't mean this phone doesn't come with it. Vivo has implemented their first ever pop-up selfie camera that is in top left edge of phone. Once you boot up selfie mode, you'll be greeted by little camera mechanically jumping up so you can take your shot. If you exit camera app or switch back to rear camera, it will drop back down in about 2 seconds. At first, I was a little worried that it will take time to come out in case I want to take a quick selfie but once you open camera app and switch to selfie mode, it never takes more than 2 seconds to pop out and function so that's a big thumbs up.

Next to selfie camera, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack, while bottom edge of this phone features a USB Type-C charging port and a single speaker for listening to general audio. Another innovation from Vivo involves earpiece speaker, where other smartphones have a hole for this in body of phone, Vivo has instead built an earpiece into display itself. This is achieved using a technology called Screen SoundCasting and it works in a similar way to bone conduction technology. It means you can place any part of screen to your ear during a phone call, and Vivo claims this should offer better sound quality in phone calls too.

A third innovation by Vivo is an in-screen fingerprint scanner as there isn't any physical fingerprint scanner to be found on Vivo NEX S. This isn't the first phone I've seen come to market with an in-display fingerprint tech, but it's still a novelty to just place your finger on screen and watch it work its authentication magic. With Vivo NEX S, you can only place your finger or thumb in a specific area on screen and it doesn't work while phone is resting on a flat surface to save battery life. You have to pick it up in your hands in order for it to work. There's a little icon to show you where to place your finger, and so far, I've found it to work rapidly. In my testing, it turned out to be fairly accurate, but Vivo recommends it as primary way to unlock this phone.

At back of this device, you'll find a dual camera setup, placed vertically on top left of device. There's an LED flash below camera module and NEX branding in middle of device. You'll only find some more Vivo branding at bottom of device with rest of back kept clean to display its unique color changing glory.

Vivo hasn't mentioned whether Vivo NEX S is Gorilla Glass protected but it is surely not dust and water resistant so you might want to be careful while using this phone near a water source. Overall, it's a refreshing design, with some innovations to challenge top dogs in smartphone industry and it a pleasure to see Vivo doing their best to push boundaries of smartphone design for user satisfaction.

Display

As there's so little bezel, Vivo NEX S offers a huge screen. It has a 6.59-inch 'Ultra FullView' AMOLED Full HD display with a resolution of 1080x2316p, aspect ratio of 19.3:9 and pixel density of 388 ppi. Even with such a large display size, it is not wider than Google Pixel 2 XL and barely any taller. That means it's no problem for holding one-handed at all.

Screen itself is an AMOLED panel, so that means rich blacks. When I compared it with Google Pixel 2's display, it certainly looked better with colors popping up more. However, it was nowhere near Huawei Mate RS Porche Design's AMOLED display which is in a class of its own but that's an extremely expensive smartphone and Vivo NEX S's display for its price is actually quite nice and sharp. Besides, even at this larger than 6 inch scale, there's ample detail on screen for your eyes.

Most importantly, there's no notch to be seen here. Many manufacturers have chosen to implement an Apple iPhone X like design, with a blacked-out area at center top of phones. Vivo, however, makes you realize how differently and better one could implement a display with aim to minimize bezels without notch.

At the end of day, it is a beautiful and large screen which is on a mission to make this phone and exciting piece of technology.

Hardware

Vivo previously had a reputation for using mid-tier hardware on most of their flagship devices. Vivo NEX S is a whole different story, however. Phone packs a Snapdragon 845 processor and Adreno 630 GPU, alongside a hefty 8GB RAM with two on-board storage options: 128 GB or 256 GB. There's no microSD card slot, however, so if you really need more storage, then hard luck.

During my performance test, phone performed exceptionally well, opening all apps with no issues and there was no lag whatsoever. I went through social media apps that most people use as multi-tasking was pretty smooth on Vivo NEX S. Even while opening heavy games like PUBG, I did not face any issue and thanks to its top of the line hardware specs, this phone performed like a beast. Hardware on Vivo NEX S can be a little hit and miss, however, mostly due to software implementation. Some apps are a little hesitant while opening for no apparent reason. WhatsApp sometimes opened a little slower than on Google Pixel 2 which is a comparatively less powerful device.

Talking about hardware, Vivo's front facing camera is a moving module which hides inside phone and pops out whenever camera app is activated. It's a moving part and it did concern me as there is definitely some friction playing its part every time camera pops out and goes back in. Vivo, however, claims that it has tested this camera module around 50,000 times so users shouldn't be worried.

For audio, you only get a single bottom firing speaker which isn't great but it does the job for most people. Overall, it's a well-rounded hardware experience, with focus laid on performance and innovation, and it is bound to make Vivo fans extremely pleased.

Battery

Vivo has opted for a 4,000mAh battery inside their latest flagship device. Battery is large but may still struggle considering how much screen this phone has to be powering whenever it's turned on.

During my test, I included a mixture of work and play, including some gaming, and I have been getting around 16 hours per charge. In similar fashion to Apple iPhone X, however, Vivo NEX S suggests it has almost never-ending battery power at its upper percentages (i.e. from full), which begins to get weaker towards lower end of range. I would get around 12 hours of usage from full down to 40 per cent, with bottom end of battery seeming to deplete a little quicker.

In addition to 'normal' battery mode, Vivo NEX S offers a Low Power Mode to throttle CPU/GPU, and a Super Power-Saving Mode which only enables contacts, phone, messages and clock. You can barely do a thing, but it'll last for days.

Despite having a glass back, Vivo hasn't included wireless charging technology in this phone, but it does at least support fast charging. You get a fast charger inside box as well which is capable of charging this phone at 22 Watts. This is a good indication that Vivo NEX S should charge within 2 hours and that for a 4,000 mAh battery is not bad at all.

For most users, phone will last a day of casual use and in my test, phone lasted longer than Samsung Galaxy S9 so you shouldn't worry about running out of battery without lasting a whole day on Vivo NEX S.

Camera

The feature which everyone talked about on this phone is its front facing elevating camera. Vivo made a bold move of implementing this design decision and using it for first time, it sure felt as a novelty. At front, you get an 8 MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture capable of recording videos at 1080p. Quality of selfies has been okay in my testing as this won't give you those stunning selfie shots that you can see from some phones, but novelty alone of it coming up from inside Vivo NEX S is sure to encourage you to boot up front camera more often.

I could watch that camera move in and out of its enclosure so many times, as it's a very fun feature indeed. It also avoids absurd solution of a bottom-edge camera, as found on Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, for example.

At back, Vivo NEX S's comes with a 12 and 5 MP dual camera setup, which is increasingly typical for phones. Lower-resolution sensor'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 favorite all over the world after Apple's popularization of this mode. On Vivo NEX S, functionality of Portrait mode is rather similar to top-end Huawei P20 Pro. 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 right place, while background and foreground blurs away to dramatic effect. It's got just as many bugs with adapt edge detection as any other manufacturer's implementation of this feature, as none have got it right just yet, but it's what people want and it's fun to have on board.

There are camera AI features here like on Huawei range of products and some other devices, meaning camera will optimize its settings to take what it believes to be the best shot when you're shooting particular objects. Vivo has packed in loads of other features here too including a beauty mode, panoramas and artificial intelligence filters that will work in a similar way to Snapchat. In Vivo NEX S, functionality of Face Beauty mode is a little different to other manufacturers, but there are some similarities to Huawei P20 Pro.

As for main sensor, its 12MP is brought directly from Sony, meaning a larger-than-average pixel size for better light-gathering properties. Autofocus is good, too, while artificial intelligence handles automatic scene recognition (out of 17 available modes) for best possible picture each and every time, similar to, say, Huawei Honor 10. Phone also shoots videos up to 4K at 30 fps, however, a slow-motion mode isn't found as it can be seen on some other flagship devices, like Samsung Galaxy S9,

Overall, it's a good camera, but it's not the best you'll find. Results lack detail in certain areas, while other areas are over-sharpened which can lead to a halo effect around subject edges. Camera app could also be a bit more user friendly and quicker to offer adjustment between modes. Low-light images do resolve image noise, however, for relatively clean shots in dark at night. AI also isn't clever enough to detect movement and up shutter speed, which can pose issues for night-time shots and blur. There is a manual mode, though, which goes some way to help counter. In the end, it's still a good camera experience, and one, majority of smartphones users will appreciate.

Software

First and foremost, before diving deep into phone's software, let's talk about the most important issue with Vivo NEX S's software. As a China-only device for now, there's no Google Play available on Vivo NEX S. Vivo delivers Funtouch OS 4.0 on this phone, which, despite being based on Android 8.1 Oreo, is nothing much like Android. Lack of typical trio of Android softkeys might be fine for a Chinese audience, but it's a hurdle that other territories will struggle with.

However, Funtouch OS is an interesting viewpoint into different way a device can operate. Bottom of the screen has designated left and right swipe-up commands, used to open settings bar and 'go back', respectively. A swipe up in middle shows current open apps. Swiping from top of device opens a settings search bar and notifications. You cannot access settings with a swipe down from top of screen, however, rather an iOS-like swipe up from bottom, which is downright annoying in an Android phone.

Notifications can be accessed by swiping down from top of screen, just as you would with any Android phone, which is good. There's a block option alongside every notification, however, which can get downright frustrating sometimes, especially when it appears next to one of your most important updates. Activating notifications in first instance is also tricky, as they're off per app by default, and requires some deep menu digging to ensure their action. Even then, some apps won't notify on this phone, which I suspect is due to clashing Funtouch OS with Android OS.

In addition, Vivo has its own voice-assistant, called Jovi. And while that makes me think of a certain rock superstar, it hits more bum notes than I'd like because, it doesn't understand my "Hello Jovi" tones which isn't in Chinese or Mandarin accent. For a Chinese audience its complex contextual understanding ought to make it a capable assistant, though.

Being a phone for Chinese market, you'll find many Chinese apps on-board and some bloatware as well, which certainly makes it hard for stock Android fans but idea behind FunTouch OS is to deliver extra features glued with a smooth interface which it does end up delivering. Even while navigating through UI, I did not feel any stutter or lag and honestly, this is a huge improvement by Vivo in their software department.

Overall, it's a software experience which many Vivo fans in China might love and with all new navigating features, Vivo NEX S does look like a phone with its own unique signature. However, for international audience, Funtouch OS can be a frustrating experience, one that can be a serious blow to Vivo NEX S's credibility as a futuristic device.

Conclusion

Vivo NEX S is available in Chinese market for around $825 for 128 GB variant. Vivo has announced that it'll launch this phone in Indian market soon and there are two colors to choose from: Black and Red. Vivo NEX is an innovative glimpse into future technologies that we're likely to see appear into flagship handsets in coming months and years. Chinese company turned around a prototype to fully fledged launch product in such a short period of time is testament to its drive.

No, Vivo NEX S isn't going to be available outside of China at launch, and its Funtouch OS is far too restrictive for a western audience at this moment in time. For people who are used to phones by Samsung and Apple, Vivo NEX S will indeed be much difficult to use at the moment. However, Vivo will certainly launch an international variant of FunTouch OS.

In summary I have never seen a phone with less bezel, making Vivo NEX S look stunning in hands. It's not as huge as its 6.59-inch screen may suggest either, thanks to an interesting and innovative design that doesn't compromise quality. Oh, and that pop-up selfie camera is one of the coolest things I've ever seen on a phone and something to certainly impress quite a few people. It is unmistakably an exciting phone that comes packed with innovative features and gives an alternative to notch design for those who are desperate to own a bezel-less phone. These new technologies may be embraced over next few years by companies around the world, and I just hope that Vivo NEX S is deemed big enough to be available all over the world as soon as possible.