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Vivo Nex review: The pop-up camera makes this beautiful all-screen phone possible

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Goodbye screen notch, it's been nice knowing you. The Vivo Nex, with its pop-up selfie camera and all-screen experience, proves you don't need ape the iPhone X's design to stand out, and that Chinese phone makers can indeed innovate.

Vivo Nex
8.5

Vivo Nex

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Using the Vivo Nex's full, no-notch screen is an unparalleled experience and performance is as smooth as butter. The pop-up camera works pretty well, too.

The Bad

Its copycat iPhone X gestures are unwieldy and hard to use. It feels heavy.

The Bottom Line

The Vivo Nex's clever engineering and fantastic notch-free screen serve as a model for other phones. But good luck finding it outside of Asia, India and Russia.

Vivo's Nex demonstrates everything a phone of the future can be. It starts with a bezel-less 6.59-inch Super AMOLED display featuring a full HD+ resolution of 2,136x1,080 pixels. There's no front speaker grill, which gives it a clean, nothing-but-screen look. The fingerprint reader is integrated into the screen, and a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor powers the phone.

Vivo Nex

The magic of the Vivo Nex comes from its pop-up selfie camera.

James Martin/CNET

The Nex is amazing to look at, and it's the perfect conversation starter. I've had plenty of people marvel at the pop-up camera, though the first question is usually almost always, "Will it break?" The answer is no, it won't, but more on that later.

The phone's major drawbacks are its terribly unwieldy iOS clone of an operating system and the fact that the Nex is currently limited to a few countries. Besides China, the Nex will be available in Russia, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan soon, but there's no word on when, or even if, it will head west. The Nex costs 3,898 yuan, which converts to $575, £440 or AU$775.  

That isn't cheap, but alongside the Oppo Find X, the Vivo Nex demonstrates what futuristic phones can look like, by moving the camera and speaker grill to other parts of the phone. If you can get your hands on the Vivo Nex and want to stand out from the crowd, it's a worthy purchase, though not at all a mainstream device. So make sure the Nex will work with your carrier bands before buying it and adding your SIM.

The Vivo Nex's cutting-edge design is also clever

Companies that make "all-screen" phones have a problem: where do you put the front-facing camera, speaker grill and other sensors you need to make a phone work?

Vivo's solution is to strip them out entirely, which makes for a phone face that's over 91 percent screen.

Vivo Nex

Look ma, no notch!

James Martin/CNET

The highlight of the phone, the 8-megapixel selfie camera lives inside the phone body and pops up when you take a selfie. The mechanism is sturdy and likely unlikely to break. I tested it carefully at first before applying more force, and I'm confident that it's anything but flimsy. The eject mechanism is also pretty strong too, enough to keep pushing away my finger, which was purposely blocking it, with some strength. When you switch from the rear dual cameras to the front pop-up selfie, the switching speed is only slower by about half a second at most compared to the iPhone X.

Another cool piece of engineering is the underscreen fingerprint sensor. Another Vivo phone, the Vivo X21, has this, too, and honestly, I wasn't too impressed. It was slower than an actual physical scanner, and was sometimes frustrating to use. The Nex features the third-generation Synaptics scanner, however, which registers my prints almost immediately, a definite improvement.

While the X21 had face unlocking to help with the fingerprint unlock, the option isn't available on the Nex, since the selfie camera is hidden away. But the in-screen fingerprint reader is fast enough.

To really cement the all-screen experience, Vivo also took away the Nex's front-firing speakers. Instead, it uses the screen as a speaker when you're taking calls through the use of a linear vibrator, which basically transmits the sound to the frame of the phone that's relayed through the screen. This tech is similar to Xiaomi's Mi Mix 2, but plays out better on the Vivo Nex. Unlike the Mi Mix 2, the Nex doesn't broadcast your audio to everyone within hearing range. Regular music and video playback use a bottom-firing speaker instead.

The trade-off for having a motorized camera is a phone that's heavier than normal: almost 200 grams (7 ounces). It feels kinda clunky, and friends who checked out the phone also commented on the weight.

Vivo Nex

The rear of the Nex is shiny, pretty and features a cool mesh pattern.

James Martin/CNET

iPhone X-style gestures fall flat on the Nex

If there's one thing that holds the futuristic Nex back though, it's Vivo's poor attempt at aping Apple's iOS software. Called FunTouch, the Nex's user interface is based on Android Oreo 8.1 but strives for the look and feel of an iPhone. Even though it borrows from the iPhone X's gesture navigation, it feels like a poor adaptation for an all-screen phone.

There are three swipe zones: one to go back, one to call up the control center, and the home button. You'll need to swipe up and hold to bring up the multitasking window. It's almost the same as an Android phone, yet made slightly more complicated. There's still no search feature for settings, which bugs me terribly, especially when I want to turn on and off settings in the phone quickly.

Mind you, I've been testing the Chinese version of the Nex, which does not come with Google Play Services installed, and you'll need a Vivo account (which requires a Chinese phone number) if you want to alter app permissions. There's also a voice assistant called Jovi, but it only understands Mandarin.

Vivo Nex camera, battery life and speed

The Nex's AI-powered dual-rear cameras are pretty good. It uses a 12- and 5-megapixel setup that lets you take portrait mode shots, though there's no optical zoom. Low-light performance is decent, but can be too sharpened at times. Performance is very similar to the Vivo X21, but that's no surprise, because both phones share the same setup.

This does mean that portrait mode shots can have very unrealistic depth of field, either overdoing the background blur or not blurring the right spots. The front camera has an overly aggressive beauty mode that smooths and whitens your skin (a popular feature for China) to a blurry paste. Personally, I hate it, and you can check out the shots below for an example of why I think it's terrible.

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The phone sometimes fails to blur the background accordingly, such as the spot between the shoulders. 

Aloysius Low/CNET
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HDR helps with getting the dramatic shots of the clouds without blowing out the background. 

Aloysius Low/CNET
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Low light shots turned out pretty good too.

Aloysius Low/CNET
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I apparently possess unbelievably smooth skin thanks to the phone's Beauty mode on the selfie camera.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Packing a 4,000-mAh battery, the Vivo Nex easily lasted a day of use. It lasted 21 hours, 50 minutes in our video loop tests. Performance from its Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor easily matched up to other flagship phones with a similar processor, such as the Samsung Galaxy S9, the Sony Xperia XZ2 and the LG G7 ThinQ. In real-world use, the phone is buttery smooth, apps load fast and games such as Asphalt 7 deliver fluid performance even at the highest graphical settings.

Check out the benchmark scores below to see how the Nex performed.

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Vivo Nex 63,324Samsung Galaxy S9 58,157LG G7 ThinQ 56,714Huawei P20 Pro 30,781
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

GeekBench v4.0 single-core

Vivo Nex 2,449Samsung Galaxy S9 2,180LG G7 ThinQ 2,436Huawei P20 Pro 1,918
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

GeekBench v4.0 multicore

Vivo Nex 9,145Samsung Galaxy S9 8,302LG G7 ThinQ 8,742Huawei P20 Pro 6,751
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Hardware specs comparison


Vivo NexSamsung Galaxy S9LG G7 ThinQHuawei P20 Pro
Display size, resolution 6.59-inch; 2,316x1,080 pixels5.8-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels6.1-inch IPS LCD; 3,120 x 1,440 pixels6.1-inch; 2,240x1,080 pixels (OLED)
Pixel density 388ppi570ppi563ppi408ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.38x3.03x0.31 in5.81x2.70x0.33 in6x2.8x0.31 in6.1x2.9x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 162x77x8 mm147.7x68.7x8.5 mm153.2x71.9x7.9 mm155x73.9x7.8mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.02 oz; 199 g 5.75 oz; 163g5.7 oz, 162g6.3 oz; 180g
Mobile software Android 8.1 OreoAndroid 8.0 OreoAndroid 8.0 OreoAndroid 8.1 Oreo
Camera Dual 12-megapixel, 5-megapixel12-megapixelDual 16-megapixel (71 degree, f/1.6 and 107 degree, f/1.9)40-megapixel RGB, 20-megapixel monochrome, 8-megapitxel telephoto
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel (f/1.9)24-megapixel camera
Video capture 4K4K4K4K
Processor 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845Octacore Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz)2.8GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8452.3GHz octa-core Kirin 970
Storage 128GB, 256 GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB128GB
RAM 8GB4GB4GB6GB
Expandable storage None400GBUp to 2TBNone
Battery 4,000 mAh3,000 mAh3,000 mAh4,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor UnderscreenBackBackBelow screen
Connector USB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack YesYesYesNo
Special features Pop-up selfie camera, gesture controlsDual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanningWater resistant (IP68), wireless charging, DTS:X 3D Surround, Quad DACThree rear cameras, super slow mo video (960fps), 3X optical zoom, 5x hybrid zoom, water-resistant (IP67)
Price off-contract (USD) Converts to $585Varies: $720-$800 (64GB)Varies: $750-$790Converts to $1,140
Price (GBP) Converts to £445 £739£629£799
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$790AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,349 (256GB)AU$1,099AU$1,099
Vivo Nex
8.5

Vivo Nex

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Camera 8Battery 10