review

Vivo NEX Review – Something We Did Not Expect from Vivo

Vivo NEX Review

Something We Did Not Expect from Vivo

We all know that in the smartphone market, customers are more brand-conscious as the price gets higher, and this is especially true for the flagship market, for devices over RM2500. But recently, brands such as OPPO and Vivo, which usually are well known for their budget devices, are brave enough to enter the flagship market. In our last review, we looked at OPPO’s Find X, a RM3699 device that’s designed to stand out in the crowd, but doesn’t really makes a whole lot of sense to us. This time, we’re looking at Vivo’s offering – the NEX, which is based on the APEX concept they’ve shown us back in MWC 2018, which features real FullView display and a mechanically-risen front-facing camera. So, does the Vivo NEX worth the RM2799 price tag, or like the Find X, it’s still another overpriced device that we’re not ready for?

Specifications:
Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, Octa-core (4 X 2.8GHz, 4 X 1.7GHz)
8GB RAM, 128GB storage, no microSD card support
6.59-inch SuperAMOLED Display, 86% screen-to-body ratio
1080 X 2316 resolution, 388 ppi
12MP + 5MP rear camera, f/1.8 & f/2.4 aperture, 4K video recording
8MP front-facing camera
4000mAh non-removable battery

Unboxing

Once again, Vivo pretty much nailed it on the packaging, giving the NEX a good impression that it is a premium device. It comes in a pretty flat blue box, and pulling out the drawer from the side reveals its contents.

Design

Simplicity is the new premium.

Between this and premium devices like the Find X and the Galaxy S9+ which goes towards something flashy to catch attention, the Vivo NEX has adopted the usual Vivo design language – simple and understated, which is what we like about the NEX. Like the X21, putting the NEX alongside with it’s competitions might make it look a little boring, but let’s not forget that the NEX costs lower, and is much preferred for usability wise. For some people, the 77-millimeter width might be a little too wide, but it doesn’t cause too much of an issue.

Being a premium device, Vivo did not skim on the choice of materials this time. It starts off with a strong metal chassis in the middle, which extends to the side of the phone. Then, it is sandwiched in between 2 pieces of Corning Gorilla Glass which is the front and rear glass panel of the NEX. All the materials look and feels premium in one’s hands, which is finally something we can complement about a Vivo device. All these materials and the mechanisms do translate to a heavier weight, and with the weight close to 200-grams, it’s one big boy, and even for us who favour rightly-weighted devices, this is a little too much.

The front pretty much entirely dominated by the 6.59-inch display, which is what the NEX is known for. Like the Find X, it’s close to a real FullView display, without the ugly notch, which for some reason became an annoying trend in 2018. There is no visible holes on the top for the earpiece, that’s because the NEX adopts what they call a “Screen SoundCasting Technology”, where the speakers for the earpiece are hidden behind the display, and it uses vibration to send sound through the glass so that you can use it like a regular earpiece. Around the screen there’s very minimal bezels, and there’s a small lip at the bottom. Like the Vivo X21, the fingerprint reader is embedded right into the display towards the bottom.

To the left of the device there’s a dedicated Jovi button which brings up Vivo’s own version of virtual assistant, like Apple’s Siri. It’s something similar to Samsung’s Bixby button, and it’s non-programmable as well. But, since Jovi isn’t available outside of China, it’s programmed to bring up Google Assistant. The volume and power buttons are towards the right, and they are conveniently located and easily accessible.

Unlike the Find X, Vivo hasn’t ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack yet, and it’s located on the top of the NEX, along with the 8-megapixel front-facing camera assembly which is motorized and will rise up when it’s needed.

The rest of the items are cramped at the bottom – the bottom-firing speaker, a USB-C port for data transfer and charging, and the removable SIM slot, which only holds 2 nanoSIM cards.

Like the X21, Vivo has kept the back of the NEX relatively simple, and under the glass there’s some really nice pattern which gives it some nice visual effects, and the NEX branding is clearly larger than Vivo’s branding. On the top left corner sits the pair of 12-megapixel and 5-megapixel cameras sitting on top of each other. There’s also a dual-tone LED flash right below it.

The NEX only comes in 1 colour for our market – black.

Specs and Performance

A Pretty Serious Powerhouse Underneath

Being a competitor at the premium market, performance of a device is one of the most important factor for a smartphone. Luckily, the Vivo NEX is well-prepared. Once again, Vivo has turned to Qualcomm for some help in the processor department, and now it’s powered by their top-of-the-line Snapdragon 845 processor, which is the same as the Find X. It’s an octa-core unit, its primary cores clocked at 2.7GHz, while the rest is at 1.7GHz. The version that we got is also fitted with 8GB of RAM, with 128GB of internal storage.

The specs on paper might sound pretty conservative for the NEX, but it does translate to a powerful device. Of course, we know that the Snapdragon 845 is a powerful processor, and it’s the same on the NEX as well. Light and easy tasks are nothing for the NEX, and even for heavier tasks, the NEX handles it beautifully. Unlike the Find X, Vivo does a better job at getting its operating system to talk better with the hardware, and the hiccups are pretty much non-existent. The temperature stays pretty well too when all cores are pushed to the max.

The NEX is also equipped with 8GB of RAM, which is a lot even by today’s standards. There is a lot of RAM for background processes to run, but Vivo has implemented some overkill strict measures when it comes to app management. It tends to kill apps way to quickly, even though it should be “learning” the way you use your phone.

As usual, the numbers obtained from Geekbench are pleasing. Single-core score sits at around 2410, while multi-core score lands at 9050.

The NEX is slightly down on internal storage compared to the Find X with only 128GB, but is well within the expectation for a device like this. You can expect speedy speeds from the NEX as well. But, the lack of microSD card support for expandable storage and larger capacities means that you’ll only be limited to the 128GB.

As per usual, the NEX is packed with the latest and greatest connectivity options. 802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual-band Wi-Fi is here as per usual, along with Bluetooth 5.0. Unfortunately, the NEX doesn’t have NFC on-board, which is unusual for a device of this caliber. At least it does support 4G+ on most networks, which is pretty much a must these days. Vivo has also finally jumped on the USB-C bandwagon, instead of clinging on to microUSB. But’s it’s only a USB 2.0 variant, which can be a little disappointing when it comes to transfer speeds and device support. At least it does support OTG devices.

While the Find X puts all of their work on their facial-recognition and ditch the fingerprint reader, Vivo has focused on their in-display fingerprint reader instead. The NEX is also packed with the same fingerprint reader from the X21, where there’s a sensor located underneath the display. While we are sad to see that the fingerprint reader which takes up half of the display on the APEX doesn’t make it to the NEX, it’s still not a big loss.

Like the X21, the fingerprint reader relies on the AMOLED display to light up in order for it to read the fingerprint. It’s not a relatively sensitive fingerprint reader, and to be honest, we’d actually prefer a traditional fingerprint reader, as a lot of time it could not detect our fingerprint properly. It does work, but not at all times. That’s when we would really prefer a face recognition system, but on the NEX, there’s none. Not sure what’s Vivo’s reasoning in removing the face unlock feature, but we think it’s part of protecting the front-facing camera’s motorized system.

Display

A FullView Display Done Properly

With pretty much all of the sensors and camera hidden away, there’s room for an actual FullView display. On the NEX it measures 6.59-inch, and unlike on the NEX, it doesn’t curve in on the sides, which we much preferred in this case. The best thing of all? There’s no ugly notch on the top, which is what makes it look so good in this case. This is the real FullView that smartphone companies have been working on to achieve, and kudos to Vivo for not only achieving it, but also implementing it so well. With only a 1080 X 2316 resolution, it’s definitely not the sharpest, nor it has a crisp display. While for most people it’s going to work out just fine, it’s definitely easier to pick up the pixels.

We also have to give credit to the AMOLED panel as part of the immersive experience. It’s a panel sourced from Samsung, and in a typical AMOLED panel fashion, the colours are vivid and crisp, thanks to pixels that won’t light up on a dark area. The colour are spot on as well, and its brightness allows it to go quite bright which is perfectly usable under bright sunlight. The only small niggle that we had is the front glass being a little too reflective, which makes it look like a mirror.

Speaker

Stereo speakers? What’s that?

Well, this is where the NEX is a little disappointing, as it relies only on its bottom-firing mono speaker system despite being a premium device. To be honest, it’s a small niggle that’s easily forgiven, as competitors in the same league doesn’t have them as well. The mono speaker isn’t bad either, with ok bass and goes quite loud, but wished that there’s some more clarity to it.

Camera performance

The Most Important Section… is the Elephant In The Room

The camera performance of a smartphone at this caliber is also heavily judged, and Vivo has decided to take a very cautious step towards the camera setup. Like the Find X, the NEX’s rear camera setup is lifted from its little brother – a 12-megapixel sensor, paired with a 5-megapixel sensor which is there for depth information. As always, the rear camera isn’t always the main selling point of Vivo devices, and on paper, it seems like it’s the same on the NEX. The main sensor is also paired with Vivo’s 4-axis Optical Image Stabilization, along with dual-tone LED flash.

In the real world, the best word to describe the samples from the NEX is “okay-ish”. To be honest, we are expecting a bit more, since this is still a premium device. The colours are a little on the darker side, and could use more contrasts and brightness, but overall not far from accurate. The details are alright and well-rendered. Overall there wasn’t much of an issue, but there’s nothing to wow from it anyway. The HDR does kick in when required, and it works quite well at balancing the lighting without looking too artificial.

As the lighting gets darker, the NEX still holds up pretty well, but that’s highly dependent on the lighting. For most part it holds up pretty well – with good colours (slightly darker still) and okay sharpness, but at times there are still visible noise, which sometimes ruins the sharpness as well. It’s Dual-Pixel functionality works quite well here, and with OIS, it’s hard to get a blurry shot in low-light conditions.

The 5-megapixel sensor is there just to provide shapes and depth information for portrait mode. In typical Vivo fashion, it does take quite good portraits, especially with their software face beautification feature. It holds up alright for most cases, but do tend to get grumpy with complicated shapes and different distances. You do need to tone down the blur effect in order to make it look close to realistic.

The rear camera will record in 4K too, along with 1080p and 720p, but that’s pretty much it. All of them are capped at 30 frames-per-second, and there’s no option to go more. The 4K videos isn’t mindblowing, and we’ve definitely seen sharper images, but it’s still usable and is noticeably better than the usual 1080p. The 4-axis OIS is a really good assistance for video recording, and it does its job rather well to get the video stabilized without much of a drunk effect. The framerate on 4K is also quite stable, and there’s not much hiccups.

Now we’re finally talking about another party trick of the NEX – the motorized, front-facing 8-megapixel camera that rises from the top when it’s needed. First of all, let’s talk about the mechanism. Unlike the Find X, the NEX doesn’t have a facial unlock feature, so it will only rise up when needed, and goes back down when it’s done. The mechanism is surprisingly smooth, and very satisfying to look at indeed. There’s also optional sound effects that, also surprisingly, makes it even more satisfying. It is spring-loaded, and won’t snap off even when bumping into things. As for durability, Vivo has addressed in the video below, and we do not recommend trying this out for yourself. All we can say it, as far as our test go, there shouldn’t be much problem.

As for the image quality though, it’s a little disappointing as well. The 8-megapixel sensor is relatively smaller than the massive 24-megapixel sensors found in their lower-end V9, but right in-line with their vision of staying conservative. As for image quality, it’s again, alright and nothing special, since that’s not really the biggest selling point of the NEX. To be honest, putting it next to its premium rivals is a bit of a shame for the NEX, as it could really use better rendering. Other than that, the colours are alright, and it works if you’re just going to casually take a photo and share it on social media.

As always, Vivo’s camera app can feel quite familiar for those coming from and iOS device, as the general interface is pretty much similar. The shortcut buttons live on the left side, which includes a setting button (unlike OPPO’s which makes you go all the way to Settings app). There are a few additions apart from the usual photo and video modes. Vivo has also incorporated AR stickers which involves face tracking. There’s also a professional mode, with lots of settings to play around – including the usual ISO, exposure value, shutter speed, white balance and focus.

Software

The NEX comes with Android 8.1 pre-installed, and on top of it lies their Funtouch OS 4.0 ecosystem. It pretty much looks and feels like other Vivo devices, including the X21 and V9. It’s a little on the heavy side, as they’ve pretty much redesigned the entire user interface, and no doubt that it looks and operates like a carbon copy of iOS. For instance, there’s no app drawer on the home screen, with all the icons cluttering around the home pages. There’s even a control center which contains shortcut toggles for settings such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

To be honest, like the Find X, while they are cool and have their own style, it’s just a little too messy and looks unprofessional, especially next to their rivals. All the built-in apps just looks a little too familiar and with everything cluttered here and there, it just messy looking. Vivo could really use some work on the software department. We think that while it’s fine on the V9 and somewhat workable on the X21, it’s somewhat unacceptable on the NEX.

Battery life

An Impressive Battery Life!

The NEX comes with a 4000mAh battery, which is one of the larger ones in the range. This meant that the NEX did actually have a rather great battery life. Our medium-to-heavy use usually end up at around 40% after 12-hours away from the charger, and that’s with both SIM cards running, mobile data on all the time and WiFi connectivity here and there, with calls, light gaming, navigation along in the middle. It will definitely last us way over a day, and you can easily squeeze a lot more with lighter usage. Overall, the NEX definitely hits the right mark, even with its beefy processor. We do think that it’s lesser pixels on the display and over-restrictive of apps running in the background do help a little in the battery department.

Another plus of the NEX is it’s charging, as it supports Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3.0. This means that it’s not only tied to a single charger or all from one manufacturer. There are lots of wall adapters, car chargers or even power bricks that do support this fast charging system. Yes, it’s not a QC 4.0, which is what the Snapdragon 845 actually offers, but at least there’s a quite recent fast charging system in it. It doesn’t lack in speed to, as it only takes a flat battery to 50% in only 30 minutes, and that’s relatively fast. Of course, it will eventually slow down to protect the battery. Overall, the battery and charging part is another impressive part of the NEX.

Our Verdict

When the NEX was first announced, we were praying that they didn’t set such a high benchmark that it would be priced the same as the OPPO Find X or Samsung Galaxy S9+. We are expecting prices around the Huawei P20 Pro (RM3299), and the final price definitely surprised us. And while we can’t really recommend the Find X, we can definitely recommend the NEX this time, as aside from its quirks (camera, operating system and speaker), the NEX is another device that not only brought us away from the questionable design trend in 2018, it also allows us to see the future of smartphones. Okay, the pop-up selfie camera is a little gimmicky, but it’s an interesting solution at the moment. We are not expecting companies like Vivo to take this step, but they certainly did. So in the end, putting two and two together, the NEX is still a pretty good buy, if you’re looking for something from the future but with a lower price and you’re willing to sacrifice on audio and camera quality.

But it’s not like the NEX doesn’t have any competition at all. If you’re looking for just a regular phone with a surprisingly big powerhouse, Xiaomi’s Mi 8 and ASUS’s Zenfone 5z features the same Snapdragon 845, and both prices start at under RM2000. There’s also the OnePlus 6 in-between. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, you’re better off with the Huawei P20 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S9, or even the Apple iPhone 8, as they are better, more proper premium devices.

Things we like:
The immersive, futuristic looking display
The impressive battery life with fast charging
Impressive performance
Overall great value
Motorized pop-up selfie camera is innovative

Things we’re not sure of:
The in-display fingerprint reader looks cool, doesn’t work really well
Lack of face recognition unlock
Image quality is rather questionable
No NFC and wireless charging
Funtouch OS looks childish, quite a mess

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