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vivo NEX First Impressions – Notchless Wonder

A lot has been said and make out about the vivo NEX. From its early days (well, not so early) as a just a concept phone dubbed the Apex to the final product in the hands of consumers with just a few months in between, the NEX shows that Chinese phone makers are increasingly in the forefront of innovation and capability. Like you and everyone else, I was excited and intrigued to see the NEX becoming a reality. And now that it is sitting on the palm of my hand, I get to examine the device close up and see if it lives up to all the hype.

The first thing I immediately noticed when I picked up the device is how weighty it feels, noticeably weightier than many of the current smartphones I’ve picked up. On the good side, this gives a device a really solid, premium feel. On the not-so-good side, holding it up for a prolonged period of time might offer more strain on your wrists. The NEX is as big a phone as it gets considering it is packing a massive 6.6-inch display.

Next (pun not intended), my attention swiftly turned to its display. Now I use an iPhone X and unlike many vocal smartphone users, I do not particularly hate the notch. Still, the notch-less NEX is a positively refreshing sight once all the pixels on its screen light up. Minimal bezels all around except for a little bit of a “chin” at the bottom. Compared to the iPhone X – and any other Android smartphones with a notch – the NEX isn’t particularly life-changing, but watching videos on landscape offers a far, far better experience without any annoying hindrance. The display itself is good, bright and vivid, though not at the level of a top Samsung flagship.

The display is not the only interesting design observation. With the fingerprint sensor directly embedded in the display, there is no such physical sensor on the front nor on the back. The SIM slot is located at the bottom and conversely the headphone jack on top. The volume rocker and power/lock are situated on the right as usual and on the left is an additional button known as the AI Button. Not unlike Samsung’s Bixby button, the AI Button on the NEX supposedly activates vivo’s very own AI Assistant, Jovi. On our unit though, it launches Google Lens while a long press brings up Google Assistant. The AI Button is non-programmable, not through the standard means at least.

Speaking of the in-display fingerprint scanner, this is not our first encounter with it. The vivo X21 released in early June first showcased the technology. The NEX works similar with the vivo X21 with a dedicated area on the lower half of the display that we put our fingers on. We wished the scanner area would be a whole section of the display like what we saw from the Apex concept phone but that is not to say the one on the NEX doesn’t work well. It does. But there is one rather major caveat – there is no face unlock feature. The absence of an all-present front-facing camera makes it an inevitable omission. The in-display fingerprint scanner will thus be the only unlocking method.

The NEX’s biggest draw and the very reason we all are excited about this phone is no doubt its “elevating front camera”. Its the very first feature we put to the test as soon as we unbox the phone. Having played around with it for what must be dozens of time, we have this to say – it works as advertised! And the cool factor is undeniable.

Of course, the only way to bring up the pop-up mechanism is to launch the front camera or switching to it from the main camera. The way it works, there is an inevitable slight delay that adds roughly a second to when the front camera is ready for use, but it is not really going to be a problem for the majority of users. Launching the front camera will also induce one of three sound effects, which may seem tacky and unnecessary for some users. Fortunately, it can be muted. If you have wondered what will happen if someone applies a downward force on the motorised structure – whether the stress will be bad news – well we are glad to say that with enough force, it knows how to retract itself close.

As impressed as I am with the whole idea, the question of long-term durability comes to mind every now and then as for any moving mechanical part, but that’s a story for another day.

As far as early first impression goes, the vivo NEX definitely has that wow factor that so many smartphones lack in recent times. The elevating front camera is a decent workable solution to realise the true bezel-less dream, though time will tell whether it is a perfect one in the long run.  Similarly, a longer time to be spent with the phone will be needed to get the full picture.

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