First look

Innovative features in pricey Vivo Nex S

The Vivo Nex S is crammed with next-generation features that may not work perfectly all the time.

But it succeeds as a showcase of the technologies smartphone makers are experimenting with to create a truly bezel-less phone.

First thing: It is not quite a bezel-less smartphone. There is a chin, a thin black strip that is a hair slimmer than the bottom bezel on a Samsung Galaxy S9.

One could also argue that the borders around the rest of the screen, which look like they have been outlined by a thick black marker pen, are technically bezels (Vivo says they are just 1.8mm thick).

But it definitely ranks among the top smartphones now in terms of screen-to-body ratio (around 86 per cent). In comparison, the Apple iPhone X's is around 83 per cent.

There is no top bezel or a display notch.

The front selfie camera - Vivo calls it an elevating front camera - is hidden inside the chassis.

  • How phone makers get thin bezels

  • IN-DISPLAY FINGERPRINT READER 

    An optical-based fingerprint sensor embedded under the screen 

    Pros

    •Keeps the fingerprint sensor in front instead of the rear - a feature preferred by some users 

    Cons

    •Slightly slower than conventional fingerprint readers

    •May not work with certain screen protectors

    •Requires the use of an Oled screen, which is more expensive than an LCD display

    SCREEN NOTCH 

    First seen on the Essential Phone, but popularised by the Apple iPhone X, this cut-out at the top of the phone houses the camera and other sensors 

    Pros

    •Enables an edge-to-edge display, maximising screen real estate without compromising usability 

    Cons

    •Takes space away from the notification bar

    •Most apps, especially Android ones, are not optimised to use the screen space flanking the notch

    FRONT CAMERA AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PHONE 

    Moving the camera to the bottom bezel lets smartphone makers remove the top bezel completely 

    Pros

    •Does not affect the size of the notification bar 

    Cons

    •Users have to manually rotate the phone to take selfies properly or they might end up with pictures of the chin and nostrils

    •Camera in third-party apps may not support 180-degree screen rotation

    POP-UP FRONT CAMERA

    When not in use, the front camera is concealed within the smartphone body 

    Pros

    •Enables a truly all-screen design 

    Cons

    •Moving parts have higher risk of failure due to wear and tear

    •May not work with smartphone cases

    •Poses a challenge to waterproofing

When summoned, it pops up in under two seconds with a futuristic sci-fi sound effect. You can choose two other sound effects in the settings.

Its 8-megapixel front camera takes very decent photos and has an option for a portrait mode with the bokeh effect.

To work around the lack of a top bezel (and hence the lack of a conventional ear piece), its entire screen vibrates to produce sound.

It can be held (barely) with one hand, despite its massive 6.59-inch display. The screen looks vibrant, as you would expect from an Oled panel, though it is taller than usual with a 19.3:9 aspect ratio.

Like Vivo's earlier X21 smartphone, the Nex has an in-display fingerprint reader just under its Oled screen. An illuminated circle on the screen tells you where to place your finger to unlock the phone.

Vivo says it has improved the accuracy and speed of the fingerprint reader and, based on my preliminary testing, it certainly feels faster. I cannot say if the accuracy is better, but it fails to work if my finger is a tad greasy or wet.

To my surprise, Vivo has retained the 3.5mm audio jack on the Nex.

It also has a single speaker at the bottom that is easily muffled by my palm when I am holding it in landscape orientation.

The China set I tried does not have Google Play Store and is hence unsuitable for users outside China. Its Funtouch OS (based on Android 8.1) is heavily influenced by Apple's iOS operating system and runs smoothly on the Nex S, which is powered by the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, with 8GB of RAM.

It comes with its own artificial intelligence-powered voice assistant called Jovi that can be activated by pressing a dedicated button at the side, like the Bixby button on the latest Samsung Galaxy and Note devices. But the version on my set understands only Mandarin.

Vivo has yet to confirm if the Nex S will be available in Singapore.

Its innovative features do not come cheap - it starts at4,498 yuan (S$922) in China for the 128GB model.

Vivo also has a slightly cheaper model - the Nex A - that has a conventional rear fingerprint reader and a less powerful processor. It still has the pop-up front camera, though.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline 'Innovative features in pricey Vivo Nex S '. Print Edition | Subscribe