Vivo Nex full review

The Vivo Nex was first revealed earlier this year, and it caused quite a stir. Why? It’s one of the first smartphones on the market with an embedded fingerprint scanner within the display, and a camera that pops out of the frame of the smartphone. In a time where flagship smartphones all essentially offer the same features, the Vivo Nex is something a little different.

But is the Vivo Nex just a gimmick, or is it a serious contender for best smartphone of 2018? Here’s our Vivo Nex review.  

Vivo Nex: Price and availability

Before we get stuck into the review, let’s briefly discuss the pricing and availability of the Vivo Nex. As Vivo is a Chinese company, it may not come as a surprise to find out that the Vivo Nex isn’t officially available in the UK, meaning you won’t be able to get it on contract from the likes of O2 and EE. That doesn’t mean it’s completely unavailable, though.

You can head over to GearBest now and order the Vivo Nex in Black or Red for £667.92/$864.05 with free shipping. Considering the amount of tech on offer, that’s a decent price for the Vivo Nex, and makes it cheaper than Apple’s iPhone X (£999), the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (£869) and other flagship smartphones available in 2018.

Vivo Nex: Design and build

In terms of design, the Vivo Nex offers a number of firsts – and that’s not something you can say about many flagship smartphones in 2018. While many Android smartphones followed in the footsteps of Apple with the introduction of a notch to house the front-facing camera, sensors and earpiece, Vivo decided to do things a little differently, and the outcome is one of the most unique smartphones available right now.

The first thing you’ll likely notice about the Vivo Nex is the display. It’s a beast, measuring in at 6.59in and boasting a 19.3:9 aspect ratio, but the size of the display isn’t what’s impressive; it’s the lack of bezels. You’ve got a slight chin on the bottom of the smartphone, but apart from that, the display takes up the entirety of the front of the smartphone. In fact, the Vivo Nex boasts a 91.24 percent screen-to-body ratio, compared to 81.67 percent on the iPhone X and 89.53 percent on the Samsung Galaxy S9.

But without a notch, where are the front-facing camera and speaker supposed to go? Vivo has thought of that too. Rather than ditching the front-facing camera for a bezel-less display, a front-facing camera that pops out of the top of the phone whenever it’s needed. It’s inconspicuous when hidden, and with a little (customisable) chime, it pops out. Apart from wowing all your mates, it also stops the camera from becoming scratched or damaged if the phone is dropped and the display is cracked.

But what about the earpiece? As far as smartphones have come in recent years, they are still required to, y’know, make phone calls. Vivo employs 'Screen SoundCasting' technology within the display that replaces the earpiece without the need for a visible speaker. This makes the display vibrate, and essentially turns it into a giant speaker. When lifted to your ear, you’ll still be able to make and receive phone calls without a physical earpiece.

It’s an innovative solution, but it’s not perfect. As the audio is transmitted by vibrations rather than a speaker, it’s not as clear as phone calls taken on other high-end smartphones. While it’s easy enough to hear most of the time, loud background noise can make the call quality a little muddy and hard to hear. It also causes an odd vibrating sensation on your ear when the phone call is a little too loud, and can be distracting. It’s fine for the majority of calls, but for important or long calls, you might be better off using headphones or the speakerphone.

So, while the pop-up camera is a great addition to the smartphone, the Screen SoundCasting technology still needs improvement. It’s exciting to see a smartphone with such bleeding-edge features in 2018 though, and we shouldn’t knock companies that take these kinds of risks.  

Even without the bezel-less display, the Vivo Nex is still a stunning smartphone that we think could compete with the iPhone X, P20 Pro and Galaxy S9 in the design department. Sporting a slightly curved glass rear and a metal frame, the Nex looks stylish and premium, and that’s without taking the finishing touches into consideration. The Vivo Nex sports a fractal design on the rear, refracting light and causing a stunning rainbow effect.

Let’s talk dimensions; the Vivo Nex measures in at 162 x 77 x 7.9mm and weighs 199g. While that may sound bulky, it’s only 0.2mm thicker than the iPhone X, though the Nex is over 20g heavier – and it’s noticeable. The Vivo Nex feels weighty in the hand, but not so much that it becomes heavy and uncomfortable to use. The weight and sturdy nature add to the premium feel of the smartphone, oddly enough.

Alongside the standard volume and power buttons, you’ll find a dedicated AI button on the side of the Vivo Nex. This provides quick access to Google Assistant and Google Lens, and while this button is customisable, the number of available apps allowed to use it is shockingly low. In fact, we had a choice of Google Lens or nothing when we wanted to change the functionality, and it doesn’t offer any kind of dual functionality either. It’s perfectly placed to double up as a physical camera shutter when the camera app is open, for example.

Vivo Nex: Features and specs

Aside from a stunning design, what is it that sets the Vivo Nex apart from a sea of Android smartphones in 2018? Well…

Screen

The Vivo Nex features a 6.59in Super AMOLED Ultra FullView display with an Full HD+ resolution (1080 x 2316). The display is crisp, bright and detailed, as you’d expect from a flagship smartphone, but surprisingly, it’s not the star of the show.

The highlight of the display tech has got to be the built-in fingerprint scanner. While many smartphones sport a fingerprint scanner embedded into a button either on the front, rear or side of the phone, the Vivo Nex sports a fingerprint scanner within the display.

Yep, that’s right, you just put your thumb on-screen and you’ll be able to unlock the smartphone (with a cool customisable animation!).

It’s one of the first smartphones on the market to boast the technology, and it’s rumoured to be coming to other flagships – but not until 2019. This makes the Vivo Nex ahead of the curve, but like with the SoundCasting tech, the experience isn’t perfect just yet.

There’s only a circle around the same size as the iPhone 8 home button that has the ability to scan your fingerprint. It’s indicated by a fingerprint icon, but unlike with physical buttons, you can’t align your finger based only on touch. In our experience, it meant that we’d often slightly misalign our thumb, causing the scan to fail.

Generally, though, if you correctly place your finger or thumb, it’ll scan it the first time around. It’s not quite as fast as what’s offered by Apple or OnePlus (in regular sensor form), but it’s certainly faster than typing in a pin. It has to be noted that if your screen or fingers are dirty, or if there’s bright ambient light, the fingerprint scanner will more than likely fail, so there’s still work that needs to be done on the tech, but it’s certainly a good start.

Even with spotty performance, it’s one of the most exciting new features we’ve seen on a smartphone in 2018, and we don’t think the novelty of using an embedded fingerprint scanner will ever get old.

Processor, memory and storage

Beneath the display, the Vivo Nex is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 alongside an Adreno 630 GPU and a whopping 8GB of RAM, aligning itself with other 2018 flagships including the OnePlus 6 and LG G7 ThinQ. You’ll also get 128GB of storage as standard, but with the lack of a microSD card slot, there’s no way to expand it.

So, how does the flagship-tier internals affect performance? Can it perform well against established brands like Samsung, LG and OnePlus?

We’ve found that, in general, we can’t fault the performance of the Vivo Nex. It’s buttery smooth, whether swiping between the home screen menus or playing the latest 3D shooter from Google Play, and we’re yet to experience lag of any kind. And if/when that day does come, the iManager app allows you to optimise the performance of the smartphone by clearing the cache, freeing up RAM and more.

It’s hard to quantify performance and compare it directly to competitors, so we’ve run a series of benchmarks that test various elements of the smartphone, from CPU and GPU processing to browser performance, to help you understand just how impressive the Vivo Nex is. Before we go any further, it’s worth noting that in all of our benchmark tests, a higher score is better.

Let’s start with Geekbench 4, an app that tests the processing power of your smartphone’s CPU. It scored an impressive 9042 in multi-core mode, putting the Vivo Nex in line with the likes of the Galaxy S9+ (9109), OnePlus 6 (9112) and the Xiaomi Mi 8 (8984), and blowing the Huawei P20 Pro (6759) out of the water.

It’s a similar story in the graphics department; we ran several GPU benchmarks of varying quality, giving us a good idea of how the Vivo Nex performs when powering mobile games, and the Vivo Nex could keep up with the big guys.

Let’s talk specifically about the Car Chase test, the highest quality test available as part of GFXBench (you can see other results in our widget below). The Vivo Nex managed to get an average of 33fps, beating the S9’s 26fps and OnePlus 6’s 31fps, though it’s worth noting that Samsung’s offering has a higher resolution display, so performance is fairly similar across all three.

Finally, we ran the JetStream browser benchmark that tests the speed of your browser. While for many Androids the default browser is Chrome, the Vivo Nex comes with its own browser that is surprisingly fast. It scored 88.7 in JetStream, beating both the Galaxy S9 (68.8) and S9+ (64.9), as well as the OnePlus 6 (88.3). It’s not quite fast enough to beat the chart-topping Safari mobile browser for iOS (224), though.  

Cameras

It’s time to move on to the Vivo Nex camera setup, and talk about the quality of images taken. After all, the smartphone is the go-to camera for most occasions, and has to be able to perform in varying environments, from the well-lit to the dark. The good news is that the Nex boasts scene-detecting AI that will automatically tweak camera settings to enhance the image.

Let’s start with the rear-facing setup; the Vivo Nex sports a dual-camera setup comprised of a 12Mp camera and a 5Mp camera, complete with 4-axis OIS. The dual setup doesn’t provide any extra functionality like the 2x zoom of the iPhone, or the ‘true’ monochrome photography captured by the Huawei P20 Pro. Instead, the secondary 5Mp lens is used to add depth information to shots, as well as adding the background blur effect to iPhone X Portrait mode-esque shots.

The quality in daylight and well-lit conditions is impressive, capturing a decent amount of detail. Though, when zoomed in at 100 percent, the noise cancellation starts to become noticeable. Take a look at the below photo of St. Pancras hotel; while it’s perfectly crisp and in-focus at a glance, zooming in on the image reveals noise cancellation that makes the brickwork of the building look a little soft when compared to images from the likes of the Huawei P20 Pro.

The smartphone has the potential to perform well in low-lit conditions, but it’s a little hit-and-miss. If you’ve got a static scene and you can keep your phone steady while taking the snap, the photos are detailed and decent – even without a flash. Take a look at the below image to see what we mean. But if your subject is moving, or if there are multiple moving light sources, the images can come out blurry and dark.  

The epic retracting front-facing camera is one of the biggest talking points of the Vivo Nex, which is why it’s so disappointing that the quality of the camera actually isn’t that good.

If you’ve got perfect lighting and the AI detects all faces then the 8Mp sensor performs well, capturing adequate detail for selfies and video calls, but if it can’t pick up faces (or if conditions are less than perfect), the images produced are soft with noticeable noise cancellation. Considering how well the Nex performs in almost every other area, it’s disappointing to see a sub-par front-facing camera.

In terms of video, the rear-facing camera is capable of capturing 4K, 1080p and 720p video, and also offers a range of specialist shooting modes (time-lapse, slow-mo and more). While the quality of the videos captured is generally impressive, there is one disappointment; the frame-rate. Regardless of the resolution you opt to record at, the Vivo Nex is capped at 30fps (apart from the dedicated slow-mo mode) and the result, especially with fast-moving videos, is slight choppiness. When smartphones in 2018 tend to offer 60fps video capture as standard, it seems like a slight step backwards for the Nex.

Oh, and we can’t discuss cameras and photography without pointing out the similarities in the app when compared to the iPhone X. The UI is largely the same, and the Nex even offers iOS-esque effects including Live Photos that work in essentially the same way as iOS. You’ll also find an iOS-esque Portrait mode complete with similar lighting effects to the iPhone X, although admittedly, the end results aren’t quite as high-end as Apple’s £1,000 smartphone.

Battery life

We’re yet to run our official battery test, but with a non-removable 4,000mAh battery inside, we’re confident of its performance. It may not be the best battery life on a smartphone we’ve ever seen, but we’ve found that we can comfortably get through the day with around half of the charge remaining, even after taking snaps, sending texts and playing games.  

There’s also fast-charging technology on offer, though like with many other Android smartphones, it’s only accessible via the company’s official plug and charger cable. Using a standard USB-C cable will charge the phone, but not very quickly. If you do use the official accessories, you’ll benefit from impressively fast charge times – we went from 0 to 56 percent battery in only 30 minutes.

Vivo Nex: Software and apps

While most of the big manufacturers now roll out many flagship smartphones with or close to stock Android, Vivo has taken a different approach.

The Vivo Nex features Vivo’s own Funtouch OS, based on Android 8.1 Oreo. If you’re an iOS user migrating to Android for the first time then you’ll appreciate Vivo’s skin, as there are a number of similarities between the two operating systems. Though if you’re a long-time Android user, you might be a little frustrated with what’s on offer as it feels (in some aspects) a little basic compared to stock Android 8.1.

As with most things, there are good and bad points about Funtouch OS. Let’s start with the good; the Nex features a range of handy software features not seen in flagship Android smartphones in the UK. The Vivo Nex features a customisable Control Centre that allows you to toggle various Settings and options from anywhere on the smartphone, but unlike most Androids, this is accessible by swiping up from the bottom like the iPhone and not in the Notification Shade.

There are also a bunch of small features that complete the overall experience, like having your current mobile data usage displayed in the Notification Shade, and the ability to customise touch gestures to launch apps, toggle the flashlight and more without having to unlock the smartphone.

Now for the not-so-good; there is bloatware present on the Nex, and much of it cannot be uninstalled. You’ve got Vivo’s own App Store, Theme Store and various other apps, all present on the homescreen with no way to remove them (apart from hiding them in a folder). There’s even an icon that’ll take you to the Vivo website to buy more products. Can you remove that? Don’t be silly.

Oh, and as the Vivo Nex isn’t officially available in the UK, there’s no way to select the United Kingdom as your Region during setup. It doesn’t seem to affect the usage of the smartphone in any way though, so it’s not a deal-breaker.

Vivo Nex: Specs

  • Dual-sim
  • 6.59in Super AMOLED Ultra FullView display
  • FHD+ Resolution
  • Fingerprint scanner in the display
  • Pop-up front-facing 8Mp camera
  • 12Mp dual rear-facing camera
  • 162 x 77 x 7.9mm
  • 199g
  • 4000mAh battery
  • FunTouch OS based on Android 8.1
  • Fast charge technology
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi
  • Dual-sim
  • 6.59in Super AMOLED Ultra FullView display
  • FHD+ Resolution
  • Fingerprint scanner in the display
  • Pop-up front-facing 8Mp camera
  • 12Mp dual rear-facing camera
  • 162 x 77 x 7.9mm
  • 199g
  • 4000mAh battery
  • FunTouch OS based on Android 8.1
  • Fast charge technology
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi

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