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

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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.

8.5 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 10

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 ($1,099 at Walmart) design to stand out, and that Chinese phone makers can indeed innovate.

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
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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 ($779 at Amazon Marketplace), 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
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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 ($419 at Amazon), 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 ($329 at Amazon), 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.

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