There is a war against bezels in the smartphone world and almost every day a new phone joins the “kill them bezels army.” And among the things that have kept smartphone manufacturers from going completely bezel-less, it is the selfie camera – from placing it on the chin to putting it on a notch bundled with a few sensors to get rid of the borders around the screens, we thought the companies had tried it all. But we were wrong. Vivo has taken the bezel-less game up a notch (or minus a notch), launching the high-end Vivo Nex (the Nex S in China) with minimal bezels around the screen and by minimal, we mean it has just very thin black lines for borders. You heard it right. There is no chin, no notch, and almost no bezels. So where did they put that front-facing camera, eh? Well, read on to find out more about Vivo’s high-specced flagship which is turning heads mainly because of the location of its selfie camera.
Heavy and a handful, but with them premium looks
The Vivo Nex S is a premium segment device and the company has definitely worked hard to make sure it looks like one. The smartphone looks gorgeous right out of the box. It comes with a 6.59 inch FHD+ super AMOLED display with screen resolution of 2316 x 1080 pixels, surrounded by those extremely thin bezels. Below the tall screen, there is a bit of a chin, representing the bezel side, but the other three sides are pretty clean. And it is a very good display too – it produces deep blacks and great contrast. It is bright and responsive and can be easily read even in the harshest daylight. Definitely, one of the finer displays we have seen in the smartphone world.
On the front, there is also a fingerprint scanner and (insert drum rolls) a selfie camera, both nestled perfectly under – yes, UNDER the display. While the fingerprint scanner is literally under the display and can be accessed just by touching the screen, the selfie camera pops up from the top. There are capacitive keys for navigation.
And it is not just the front; the back is good looking as well. The glass back (we got the black variant) comes with tiny pixel-like dots which reflect rainbow colors when light falls on it. A far cry from the reflective glass that everyone is going after these days. Yes, it can pick up smudges too, which is why there is a case in the box to protect it. And not a “clear plastic” case but a more substantial, solid dark one.
There is a vertical capsule shaped dual camera setup along with dual LED flash on the top left side of the back. A little down south from that is the metallic silver NEX branding while the company has chosen to go with a very subtle Vivo branding near the base of the back. The back curves out on the sides and has soft rounded edges.
The sides come with a hint of metal. The left side bears a textured button, marked as AI. Which when long pressed launches Google Assistant, and when pressed normally takes you to Google lens. The right side of the smartphone carries the volume rocker and the power/ lock button, while the top houses the selfie camera and the 3.5 mm audio jack (yes, it is there) while the base sports the dual SIM card tray (an odd location), the USB Type C port and speaker grille.
The device measures 162 x 77 x 8 mm, and tips the scale at 199 grams. No, the Vivo Nex S is not the lightest feather in the smartphone wings, and neither is it the smallest. You would need all hands on deck to use the device and it lands on the heavier side of the smartphone spectrum. That said, the smooth curvy side and round edges help it to sit in your hands comfortably. And yes, heads will turn when that camera pops up or when the back reflects those rainbow colors. This is a premium device, no mistaking.
Generally a very smooth operator
In the performance department, the Vivo Nex has got all the right numbers on its side. It is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor paired with 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage, and 4G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. The smartphone does not support expandable memory, though, which means you either would have to limit your data or would have to take to the cloud. With those numbers, it is no surprise that the phone sailed super smoothly through not only our daily tasks and casual gaming sessions but also through high-end gaming zones. Sound quality is decent over the loudspeaker and very good over the bundled headphones (yes, there are headphones in the box!) – that hi-fi chipset is not just jargon, believe us.
We switched from one app to another, jumped from scrolling our social feed to messaging applications and did not face any glitches. Casual games like Temple Run 2, Subway Surfer, and Dumb Ways To Die, were all a treat to play on the device with that display and so were high-end games like PUBG, Asphalt Xtreme and NFS No Limits. Even with as many as 10-15 apps open in the background, the games ran just fine we did not face any crashes or stutters while playing. The full view display only added to our joy and made the gaming experience even more engaging. Sorry notch, we did not miss you.
Although the Vivo Nex ship sailed smoothly through the gaming and most of the general performance oceans, there were times when it hit difficult waters. For beginners, the fingerprint scanner under the display seems to take forever to register a fingerprint. You are either always moving your finger too fast or are just not placing it right. But even after it finally registers, using it is not really a cake walk either. The fingerprint scanner often did not recognize our finger and took it at least two attempts to unlock the device, even when we were patient with it. There is no face unlock on the device (for obvious reasons – the selfie camera is under the display, remember, and recessed). After our struggles, we think, placing a regular fingerprint scanner on the back would have been a better idea than an under display scanner. Do not get us wrong, we are all for cutting edge technology and bringing new innovation to the table, but in the day and age where people want to open their phones just by looking at them, putting them through the struggle of endless taps and presses on the screen just to open the phone seems a bit unfair. That said, we like the fingerprint scanner icon which glows when you touch the screen when the device is locked and the unlocking animation that comes with it is pretty cool as well. The smartphone sports a large 4000 mAh battery with support for fast charging and does not come with dust or water resistance which is again a negative, especially at this price point.
A rear camera champ
The pop-up selfie camera may be the star attraction of the Vivo Nex S but the device is not loaded with the biggest numbers when it comes to camera specifications. The dual primary camera set up on the device consists of a 12-megapixel primary shooter with 24 million photosensitive units and a 5-megapixel supporting sensor with 4 axis OIS. And of course, there is the 8-megapixel selfie camera which pops up from the top for video calling and selfies.
Numbers may not be the strongest suit of the camera on the Vivo Nex S, but the performance definitely is.
The primary camera on the smartphone produces not only great detail but also captures colors accurately most of the times, which is a huge deal because many smartphones even in the high-end zone struggle to keep over saturation at bay. From landscapes to close-ups, the device seems to have mastered it all. We especially liked how the fast the device focused on subjects even when we changed the distance. Even the low light performance of the Vivo Nex S was impressive. As the light dimmed a bit, we did not find a lot of noise creeping in and the pictures remained fairly detailed and clear. The story remains the same when it comes to capturing moving objects. The camera did not fail to produce great detail even when we were taking a picture of an excited dog in the Portrait Mode.
Note: More samples and full resolution versions of the pics below available on Flickr
The camera UI comes with different modes like Panorama, Face Beauty, Professional and AR stickers. It also has the famous Portrait mode which is very snappy and creates deep bokeh in the background but can miss the edges and often merges them with the background. The camera also comes with Live Photo feature which takes a small video (just like the iPhone) when a picture is taken.
There is an AI element as well. And it actually works. It identifies and segregates the pictures you take in different sections like documents, food amongst others, and a small icon of these different categories appears on the corner of the viewfinder when you take a picture. The camera app also has a shortcut for Google Lens.
And a poppy-uppy selfie camera
Moving on to the star attraction of the show, the pop-up selfie camera. The camera pops out of the phone pretty fast and as soon as you hit the front-facing camera icon, the camera comes out. The 8-megapixel shooter, just like its rear sibling takes well-detailed pictures. The selfies might tilt towards slightly warmer shades in the color department but they do not get to a point of oversaturation.
Unlike many smartphones (even high-end ones) that fail to produce well-detailed selfies and focus (pun intended) on some rather aggressive skin smoothing, the Vivo Nex captured most our facial imperfections easily. For those who like smooth, unwrinkled skin, the camera offers a Beauty mode which can make your face look like an anime character. That said, the Beauty mode can be a little inconsistent and it sometimes only beautifies part of your face, leaving you with a very awkward selfie. The front-facing camera also comes with different lighting options which include Stereo Light, Stage Light, Monochrome Background. The Monochrome Background feature works really well as it separates the background from the subject really well with sharp edges. That said, we did not find a discernible difference between Stereo Light and Stage Light. While the camera app is mostly very snappy, it takes a while to process images taken under different light conditions.
The camera UI reminded us a bit of the iOS camera UI with the modes in yellow and white, the shutter button and filters on the base along with the icons on top. Even the lighting segment with different light options on the front camera has the same semicircular arch which moves in the same way as the Portrait Lighting does on the iPhone. It is not a complete copy but it has taken a lot of inspiration from the Cupertino creation.
The front camera not only pops up when you turn on the selfie camera but also when you camera-centric apps like Snapchat and Instagram. And while it slides out on its own and slides back in when you slip out of selfie mode, you can push it inside forcefully (not that we recommend it). We cannot say how durable this sliding in-sliding out camera is as it is a moving part and though it feels solid and moves very smoothly, we shudder to think what would happen if you ever dropped the phone while taking a selfie – we guess that is part of the price you have to pay to get that beautiful, near zero bezel display that the smartphone offers.
The UI is not a fun touch – no, really!
The Nex is powered by Android 8.1, topped with Vivo’s in-house UI, Funtouch OS 4.0. And while some manufacturers are trying to minimize bloatware and get closer to stock Android, the Nex’s UI follows a very different path. It has a very detailed and elaborate skin which runs very deep and comes loaded with its own features and apps. The phone has a bit of bloatware floating around and the number of features that the device offers can be a little intimidating for first time users – the long settings panel is a prime example. There are little touches like how the first party app icons move a little when you use the apps. But most other features can feel a little heavy on the head.
The UI skin is pretty heavy as well, the smartphone has non-expandable 128 GB space out of which almost 20 GB is occupied by the UI. While we did not face any lags or stutters while using the device, we think, having a skin this heavy, deprived the smartphone of the snappiness it could have had. Unlike the OnePlus 6 which just feels super swift, we think, the Vivo Nex S felt a little slower. Perhaps it is just us.
In the battery department, the Vivo Nex comes with a massive non-removable Li-ion 4,000 mAh battery. It is second high-end smartphone in the country to have such a huge battery after the Honor P20 Pro. The battery on the smartphone can easily see a day and half of the heavy usage and can last 2 days when used for day to day tasks. The device also supports fast charging which means you can easily get battery life worth a couple of hours in just 15-20 minutes. But for all the cutting edge technology that it brings to the table, the Nex S fails to bring the wireless charging feature on board.
At home in premium company
Priced at Rs. 44,990, the Vivo Nex is easily the most expensive device from Vivo. And that price tag puts it right among the premium devices. The flagship killer, OnePlus 6, offers a similar processor and RAM at a lower price (Rs 39,999), and the Asus Zenfone 5Z is even lower in price terms. And this is not to forget the big sharks in the sea, like the Samsung S9 and Google Pixel 2 which may be priced higher but have been in the market for a longer period and enjoy greater brand equity in the premium segment, and come into contention the moment budgets go up. It, however, speaks volumes that the Vivo Nex does not seem out of place in such August company, and even holds its own in the design, camera performance, general performance and battery departments. Although some will quibble about the absence of water resistance and of course, face unlock, we do not think these are deal breakers, considering what the Nex delivers. Yes, the pop-up selfie camera will get it attention, but this is a very solid performer overall.
Welcome to the big league, Vivo. Viva, Nex!