Back in 2017, I spent one sleepless night dreaming about Vivo’s APEX concept. It was a phone that showed us what the future of the smartphone will look like. A fullscreen display with no notch or any kind of interruption and the pop-up camera – it was so cool at the time — making it the ultimate dream phone. And when Vivo commercialized the concept in the form of Nex in 2018, I was more than happy to see the future of the smartphone embrace us so fast.
Since then, I used the original Nex – one of the best phones Vivo has ever made, and the Nex Dual Display edition – which was innovative with its dual-screen design. After these, I wondered does Vivo have anything cool enough to launch as the next instalment in the Nex series? Well, Vivo has and it’s called the Nex 3. And what’s new with this? A waterfall display that eliminates all buttons. And a display like this improves the screen-to-body ratio massively, which is rated at 99.6 per cent.
It sounds cool, doesn’t it? And although it sounds like a concept device, Vivo is selling the phone in China commercially as its flagship offering. That means this is a phone meant for the real world in 2019 and hence, I decided to try it out for a few days in the challenging outdoor conditions India has to offer.
How does it feel?
Honestly, the Vivo Nex 3 feels pretty much like any other premium smartphone I have seen this year. Kept on a table, it will remind you instantly of the Samsung Galaxy S10 or Note 10 flagships. And that’s not too surprising given that the display in this phone comes from Samsung itself. Kudos to Samsung.
Back to the Nex 3 – this phone looks and feels stunning. All the stunning part has to do with the waterfall display that makes it look like a phone with no visible edges. The display curves almost 90 degrees to either side and meets the frame halfway. Compared to the curved screens on the OnePlus 7 Pro and Galaxy S10 Plus, this display feels a generation ahead in terms of display technology.
And what do you do with the buttons when the screen extends to the sides? A notch for them? No. Vivo thinks pressure-sensitive touch panels are a better idea to replace the buttons. Hence, for waking up the phone or putting it to sleep, there’s a textured patch on the right edge that has a pressure-sensitive touch area to do the functions for the power button. The volume rockers are present on top and bottom of this ‘power button’, which takes time getting used to. However, a similar arrangement with buttons on phones with conventional screens could make life easier. Vivo, will you think about it?
With the screen curving all the way to the edge, it feels as if there’s no bezel on the side. However, there’s some noticeable bezel on the top and bottom. And these appear thick compared to the non-existent ones on the side. However, while using the phone, I never felt them be distracting.
And as for the viewing experience, the 6.89-inch POLED display with Full HD+ resolution is plenty sharp and produces extremely punchy colours. After all, this is a punchy Samsung panel and Vivo has taken all the benefits it can out of it. There’s even a pretty fast in-display fingerprint sensor which I found out to be quite accurate as well. And for those times when the sensor doesn’t work for you (it’s an optical sensor), the pop-up camera will come out for facial recognition.
Edging ahead of the display, rest of the Nex 3 is a lovely phone. There’s a USB-C port at the bottom for charging while the top has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Yes, the headphone jack stays in a concept phone – Vivo knows what we as consumers want. The back is made of glass with a luxurious gradient finish housing a circular camera module with three cameras in it. With all the glass craftsmanship, the Nex 3 is quite heavy at 217 grams and you can feel the weight all the times.
Is the waterfall display going to change the way we use phones?
No. And there’s a very good reason behind that.
Back in 2014 when Samsung announced the Galaxy Note Edge, it blew away everyone with its curved edge display. Since then, curved screens have made it to a lot of smartphones. I have used many of those phones with curved edges and, apart from lending aesthetic appeal, I have never found them to be useful. The same stands for the waterfall display on the Nex 3.
The waterfall display is essentially the curved edge screen extended further into the frame and the only rationale I can think of behind this must be the aim to get rid of side bezels. Or maybe to enhance waterproofing but with a pop-up camera, that’s simply undone. Surely, a phone without buttons is cool but that’s not enough to make this technology seem useful.
Now Samsung tries to make the curves on its phone screen useful with the edge panel. And for some, that is useful. Vivo hasn’t done anything with its software to take advantage of the steep curves. The FunTouch OS on the Nex 3 doesn’t have any edge panel or shortcut to make the phone any easier to use than its cheapest phone it sells in India. The only modifications done to the software is to make the phone understand the difference between accidental touches and deliberate taps, as well as highlight the edges with colours on the lockscreen.
So is the waterfall display completely useless? Not at all. Hold the Nex 3 in your hand and it feels like you are holding something futuristic. The screen melts to the sides with no visible bezels and that steals glances from onlookers. With no buttons, this phone looks feels like one continuous piece of glass on the front that fuses beautifully to the metallic frame and continues back to the glass glory at the back. The Vivo Nex 3 has a sex appeal that no other phone offers at the moment, not even the folding phones. If you love great designs, this is a phone you should possess.
Vivo’s first 5G phone is otherwise a practical Android flagship
With its curves, the Nex 3 pleases highly aesthetically. However, Vivo makes some interesting flagship phones and all the experience the company has gathered so far is accumulated in the Nex 3 to offer the best phone that has come out from the company.
In line with most of the late 2019 flagship phones, the Nex 3 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus chipset paired with up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. Vivo is using UFS 3.0 storage in the Nex 3, which seems obvious after its sister company OnePlus introduced the same on its flagship OnePlus 7 Pro this summer. The phone supports 5G connectivity as well which is something that I couldn’t put to use in India. But maybe within a few years time, this wouldn’t be a big deal. And as with all Vivo phones, there’s the good old FunTouch OS which is still based on Android 9 Pie.
As a premium Vivo smartphone, it offers a lot of features via its custom OS. And the OS is similar to what we have seen in conventional Vivo phones in India. Hence, if you don’t like FunTouch OS for the bloat and a messy interface, you won’t like the software here as well. I also tried to live with Vivo’s Jovi assistant but after a few tries, I resorted to the comforting arms of Google Assistant.
For the battery life, the 4500mAh battery offers almost a day’s backup but since I wasn’t using it as my primary phone, the real-world results may vary. The 44.5W fast charging system should fill up the battery faster than anything else but since my unit came with a Chinese adapter, I couldn’t test that as well.
And since it’s a Vivo phone, I can conclude without discussing the cameras. Vivo brings back the Lunar Ring design from the Nex Dual display which once again houses three cameras in a new triangular pattern. The main camera comprises of a 64-megapixel Samsung sensor along with a 13-megapixel wide-angle camera and a 13-megapixel telephoto camera. I played around with the cameras for a short period and in well-lit conditions, it delivered bright photos with vivid colours and high contrasts. The 64-megapixel camera is the same one used in the Realme XT and image quality seemed only slightly better in terms of details.
The front camera sits in a wide pop-up module and it relies on a 16-megapixel sensor, which is the same as the one you find on the OnePlus phones and few Oppo phones.
Vivo Nex 3 first impressions
When I first heard about the Vivo Nex 3 on the web, I was quite excited to see the new display technology and how it affects the general user experience. Now that I have seen and used it for a couple of days, my impressions haven’t changed much. The Vivo Nex 3 is an exciting looking phone with the gorgeous waterfall display, the stunning build quality and good cameras. However, the highlight, which is the steeply curved screen, seems more of a gimmick at the moment and there’s no application or feature that makes good use of it. The button-less design is impressive but it needs to be improved in terms of positioning and sensitivity.
However, the Nex 3 is an important landmark for Vivo. In the coming year, Vivo’s premium offerings will inherit this technology to appeal to users differently. And maybe by late next year, sister companies Oppo, Realme and OnePlus may come out phones that will feature this tech from the Nex 3. Maybe the next OnePlus flagship phone could offer the waterfall display with no buttons on the side and hopefully, OnePlus could make good use of the steeply curved edge.
While that’s for the future, the Nex 3 shows in the present that before we move to folding screens, the conventional form factor of the smartphone will try using more of the surface for the display — a point also made clear by Xiaomi’s Mi Mix Alpha concept device.