Review Vivo NEX Ultimate – The smartphone of the future for $639.99

The Vivo NEX Ultimate caused a sensation among us and smartphone enthusiasts worldwide. It offers a fingerprint sensor in the display, a front camera that can be pulled out of the housing and a display (without notch!), which deserves the designation “borderless” more than any other. But is so much innovation also suitable for everyday use?

Vivo NEX Ultimate

 

Technical Specifications

Vivo Nex Ultimate Vivo Nex
Display Size 6.59 in 6,59 in
Display Resolution 2316 x 1080 p 2316 x 1080 p
Display Panel  sAMOLED 19.3:9 Aspect ratio (388 PPI) sAMOLED 19.3:9 Aspect ratio (388 PPI)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 @2.8 GHz & 1.8 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 @ 2.2 GHz & 1.7 GHz
Graphic Chip Adreno 630 @710 MHz Adreno 616 @ 500 MHz
RAM 8 GB LPDDR4x 6 GB LPDDR4X
Internal Memory 128/256 GB UFS 2.1 64/128 GB UFS 2.1
Camera 12 MP 12 MP
Camera Type & Aperture  Sony IMX363 wide angle (OIS) with ƒ/1.8 + 5 MP with ƒ/2.4 Sony IMX363 wide angle (OIS) with ƒ/1.8 + 5 MP with ƒ/2.4
Front Camera 8 MP with f/2.0 aperture 8 MP with f/2.0 aperture
Battery 4,000 mAh with 10V/2.25A Quick Charge 4,000 mAh with 10V/2.25A Quick Charge
Connectivity LTE Band 1,3,5,7,8, 20 WLAN ac, GPS/BDS/GLONASS, Bluetooth 5.0, Dual SIM LTE Band 1,3,5,7,8, WLAN ac, GPS/BDS/GLONASS, Bluetooth 5.0, Dual SIM
Features Fingerprint sensor in display | USB Type-C | Headphone connection Fingerprint sensor | USB Type-C | Headphone connection
Operating System Android 8.1 Oreo, Funtouch OS 4.0, Security patch June 2018 Android 8.1, Funtouch OS 4.0Can it be even more bezel less?
Dimensions 162 x 77 x 7.98 mm 162 x 77 x 7.98 mm
Weight 199 g 199 g

The two versions of the Vivo NEX

As you can see in the table, there are two versions of the Vivo NEX. We are testing the Vivo NEX Ultimate (also called NEX S), which, as the name suggests, is the ultimate version of the Vivo Nex and features all the innovations. The slightly attenuated version is simply called Vivo NEX (also NEX A) and does without the in-display fingerprint sensor and unfortunately also without the most important LTE bands. Furthermore, “only” one Snapdragon 710 processor (known from the Mi 8 SE) and 128 GB mass memory are used. But the borderless display and the extendable front camera and all other features remain. So if you can live with these restrictions, you save approx. $100 with the normal Vivo NEX.

Vivo NEX Ultimate vs. Vivo NEX A
Both the normal Vivo NEX and the NEX Ultimate are available in diamond black and ruby red.

Can it be even more rimless? Yes!

That must have been what Vivo thought when she saw all the smartphones with Notch or front camera in her chin. The Vivo NEX consists of 91.24% display on the front (iPhone X: 81.49%). A value that was previously only possible with the first Xiaomi Mi Mix, but which the two successors could not quite achieve either. Thanks to the virtually non-existent edges, the manufacturer was able to make full use of the display size. Vivo uses a Super AMOLED Ultra Full View Display with a screen diagonal of 6.59 inches. The resolution can be called Full HD+, more precisely it is an unusual 2316 x 1080p with an aspect ratio of 19,3:9.

Vivo NEX Ultimate
It’s nicer without notch! This can become the standard of the future.

The glass back of the diamond-black version is also very colourful, despite the “black” in the name, if you look at it at the right angle. The dual camera protrudes slightly out of the housing, but less than with a Mi 8. This means that the NEX lies very flat on a table and does not wobble even when typing messages. But the NEX also looks good in the hand despite its size of 162 x 77 x 7.98 mm. This is partly due to the small width of 77 mm (thanks to a 19.3:9 aspect ratio), and partly to the beautifully rounded corners and edges and smooth transitions from glass to metal frames. Of course, the NEX Ultimate is not a one-hand phone, but it is as compact as a 6.59-inch display.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Diamond Backside
The camera and flash placement of the NEX reminds a bit of the Huawei P20.

On the right side of the smartphone there is the power button and the volume rocker, while a corrugated AI button has been placed on the left, which activates the “Jovi” assistant when pressed and held. Unfortunately, he only speaks Chinese. At the top is the headphone jack (thanks to Vivo) and the hidden front camera. Below you will find the loud mono speaker, a USB-C port and the dual SIM slot (no memory expansion option). The fingerprint sensor is of course not visible under or in the display and from the outside.

Vivo NEX Ultimate AI Button
The AI button may look chic, but it’s only for those who speak Chinese.

The processing of the Vivo NEX Ultimate is at the expected top level and can easily be compared with the flagships of Xiaomi or sister company OnePlus. In my opinion, the design then plays in a different league. At least from the front, the Vivo NEX Ultimate is the most impressive smartphone I’ve tested so far. And the back does not have to hide with the special rainbow effect either. A wow effect is definitely pre-programmed when the NEX is held for the first time.

6.59 inches of pure pleasure

The built-in Super AMOLED screen lives up to the manufacturer’s designation “Ultra FullView Display” with its barely existing edges and the size of 6.59 inches. Despite these phablet dimensions, a FullHD+ resolution of 2,316 x 1,080 pixels is “only” offered here. The pixel density of 388 PPI is therefore slightly below the usual standard of 403 PPI. However, the panel is sufficiently sharp so that you cannot see individual pixels with the naked eye.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Display

The color saturation is similar to that of Samsung smartphones, which makes the display look quite colorful. Although this does not result in the most natural colour representation, it underlines the wow effect of the display and should please many people. White displays have a slight blue cast by default. However, this can be compensated with the “Global Eye Protection” option (night/reading mode). Unfortunately, there are no more setting options for the color display.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Screen vs OP5T
OnePlus 5T vs. Vivo NEX S: The slight blue cast of the NEX is recognizable, but bearable.

These criticisms make the Vivo NEX display sound worse than it really is. The contrast is infinitely high thanks to AMOLED technology and the resulting real black and the brightness is sufficient for outdoor use. So if you can overlook the high color saturation or even like it, you will be satisfied with the screen overall. A protective film is pre-installed both on the display and on the back.

Strong performance thanks to Snapdragon 845

Anyone who experiences a déjà vu with this headline has probably already read some tests of flagship smartphones this year. Just like the OnePlus 6, Mi 8, Mi Mix 2s and Black Shark, the current top processor from Qualcomm is used here. The Snapdragon 845 offers eight cores of which four each run at 2.8 GHz and 1.8 GHz. As a result, the user gets an absolutely smooth operation and very fast reaction to inputs.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Benchmarks
The benchmark results could just as well come from OnePlus 6, which is to be understood as a compliment.

Also the mass storage (128 or 256 GB) according to the latest UFS 2.1 standard is very fast with a read speed of 723 MB/s but unfortunately not expandable. Personally, I don’t need an extension for at least 128 GB of memory, but the possibility would have been nice anyway. Thanks to very fast 8 GB LPDDR4X memory, multitasking is also a pleasure.

In games, the Adreno 630 GPU works with 710 MHz, which masters even the most demanding mobile games without problems. Asphalt 9 and PUBG Mobile run absolutely smoothly on the highest graphic setting and are a bit more fun on the huge screen.

Vivo NEX Ultimate PUBG Mobile

FunTouch OS offers mediocre fun

Like Xiaomi, Vivo works with its own interface based on Android 8.1. It is called Funtouch OS 4.0 and seems to have been strongly “inspired” by Apple’s iOS. To the left of the home screen is the so-called Smart Launcher, which looks very similar to the “Today” tab of iOS. So if you are used to “normal” Android or MIUI, you have to find your way around here. Vivo’s quick settings are at the bottom of the screen and the settings menu is quite confusing and does not provide a search function to quickly find individual settings.

Vivo NEX Ultimate FunTouch OS Software
Apple’s iOS seems to be very popular with Vivo’s software designers.

Once you have settled in, FunTouch OS offers many personalization options and smart features. In iTheme you can find lots of themes, backgrounds, icons, fonts and ringtones. iManager lets you manage app permissions and notifications down to the smallest detail. Smart gestures are available, for example, for a three-finger screenshot, the quick opening of the camera and of course double-tap-to-wake to name but a few.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Software

The Play Store is not directly available, but very easy to get. Add a Google Account to your settings and you’ll be offered Google Services for download, Top! Other languages are even available directly and can be set normally as language. Except for a few systempps, everything is translated so that you can use the NEX in languages other than Chinese. Unfortunately, the smart assistant Jovi only speaks Chinese and is therefore quite useless.

Replacing Vivo NEX Ultimate Launcher

The many good launchers on Play Store are also useless. If you want to use e.g. Nova Launcher on the NEX you will notice that a Vivo account is necessary. However, you can currently only get this with a Chinese mobile phone number. Therefore you cannot use any other launcher on the Vivo NEX at the moment! This is a strong limitation that I have never experienced on an Android smartphone, not even in Chinese.

According to some users the described launcher problem does not exist with the Global Version of GearBest. Also the smart assistant Jovi will probably be replaced by the Google Assistant. This makes the NEX even better.

Strong colors, but lacking sharpness

The highlight (next to the screen) of this smartphone is probably the mobile front camera with 8 megapixels. Oppo presented a similar concept with the Oppo Find X. But of course, the back also requires a camera, which in this case consists of two lenses. The primary sensor is the Sony IMX363, which with a 12 megapixel resolution and f/1.8 large aperture also provides good photos in the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S. The secondary 5 megapixel sensor provides additional image information for portraits.

Vivo NEX Ultimate front camera

Good low-light performance

Since the main camera offers “only” 12 megapixels, the individual pixels are quite large at 1.40 μm and can therefore capture more light. This is particularly noticeable in low-light situations in which the NEX still draws a lot of light from the scenes. Of course, there is the familiar image noise, but details are convincing that you wouldn’t see with other cameras.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Low Light

Under normal conditions, the photos can also be seen, but the colors are very strong depending on the scene, so that images can appear supersaturated. However, this is more a matter of taste, as many also like the “trendy” colours. The details and dynamic range are convincing and thanks to optical image stabilization you don’t have to worry about blurred images. Stabilization also helps with video recordings (up to 4K).

Vivo NEX Ultimate Julian

Vivo NEX Ultimate Normal vs. HDR
The automatic HDR mode (right) is good overall, but sometimes it makes a photo worse

Vivo NEX Ultimate Foosball Table

Of course, there is also AI scene recognition, which optimizes the image depending on the object photographed. 17 different scenarios such as plants, people, food and buildings are currently recognized. However, the improvements are barely noticeable. Maybe Vivo needs a suitable software update, after all our test device has already received three updates. The AI photo is the one on the left, but you can see that, right? 😉

Vivo NEX Ultimate AI left

Portrait Mode

The secondary 5 megapixel camera is unfortunately only used for portrait mode, but produces good photos with the main camera. The edge detection hardly makes any mistakes and the colours are just right. A little more sharpness wouldn’t hurt the pictures, though.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Portrait

The intensity of the blur can be adjusted live before the impression is taken and the desired effect can be achieved. Often this setting option is only available after the photo is finished.

The retractable front camera

If necessary, the front camera moves out from the top of the housing and back in again as soon as the camera app is closed. Apart from the fact that it’s cool every time the small camera comes out, a camera hidden inside the body is also a big plus for the protection of privacy. Vivo says the small engine can handle at least 50,000 lifts. So if you make 50 individual selfies a day, the engine will last at least 2.7 years.

Vivo NEX Ultimate front camera out

The 8 megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture unfortunately looks a bit better than it shoots. In backlighting, the NEX is quickly overtaxed, so that bright areas are over-illuminated. The HDR mode solves this problem, but reproduces colors very unnaturally. Thus one could think in the lower picture that a storm is imminent, although it was a very sunny day. The bokeh effect achieved with software is OK.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Selfies Vivo NEX Ultimate Selfies HDR

Very good battery life

Of course, such a large screen consumes a lot of energy, so it’s good that Vivo installs a 4,000 mAh battery. In combination with the energy-saving AMOLED display (compared to LCD), this brings the NEX to a very good screen-on-time of 8 hours and 23 minutes. If you use the Vivo a little more economically, you can use it for two days without recharging.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Battery GeekBench

Thanks to the new Quick Charge 4+ technology, charging is also very fast in the meantime. With up to 22.5 watts, the NEX Ultimate can reach 40% in just 30 minutes and after 90 minutes the battery is fully charged.

LTE & headphone jack but no NFC

The NEX Ultimate supports 16 LTE bands. Mobile surfing is fast and the reception in the O2 network was also very good. Telephoning is something special again, because Vivo does not use a normal loudspeaker as an auricle, but a piezoelectric loudspeaker behind the display. This also works as you would expect, but the other party sounds as if they had switched it to loudspeakers all the time. Nevertheless, both sides got on well together. The real speaker becomes very very loud, but does not produce the clearest mono sound.

Vivo NEX Ultimate USB-C Speaker

Next to the speaker is the USB-C port and the dual SIM slot, which unfortunately does not offer the possibility of memory expansion. On the top is the headphone jack, which you can use with the included in-ears. These sound surprisingly good for included headphones and even offer three ear cushions of different sizes. The location and the ac-WLAN could both work a little faster, but overall they are ok.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Headphones

Vivo does a lot of things right in terms of connectivity, but takes the liberty of making a mistake that hurts especially after Google Pay has been launched. Because NFC is simply missing for no apparent reason. With a mobile phone for over $600 I was a bit surprised that this function was omitted here.

Screen locking has never been cooler

At this point we also need to talk about the fingerprint sensor. Because this is in the display! We already know this technology from the Vivo X20 UD, with which it was introduced. Xiaomi has also added this feature to their Xiaomi Mi 8 Explorer Edition. The NEX Ultimate is already the third generation of this technology, which is said to have increased the speed of unlocking even further. Unlocking is definitely faster than you could see on the videos of the Vivo X20 UD.

Vivo NEX Ultimate fingerprint sensor

But the technology is still quite new and a bit slower than a “normal” fingerprint sensor, as you can see in the video. But this does not change the fact that it is simply fun to use such a “futuristic” technology. Face Unlock does not exist due to the hidden camera and also a notification LED has not made it into the narrow edge. As a “replacement”, however, there is the possibility of an always-on display.

Vivo NEX Ultimate Sensor
The small red dot is just the proximity sensor.

The scope of delivery is quite lavish. Besides the already mentioned in-ears there is a silicone case, charger and cable is also a protective foil premounted.

The smartphone of the future

One thing is certain: the Vivo NEX offers exactly the design that various manufacturers are currently pursuing. I also think that the NEX is in a way a blueprint for future flagships. The solutions for front camera and speakers work and are not an obstacle in practice. The fingerprint sensor in the display is already better than expected and the rest of the hardware also delivers. Really negative for me is only the operating system with launcher lock (not with the global version), the missing NFC and the price.

Everyone who has the money and is enthusiastic about technology will have a lot of fun with the Vivo NEX and can call one of the most innovative smartphones of recent years his own. But if you are looking for the best price/performance ratio, you’ll find it in a Mi 8 or OnePlus 6.

To the gadget
Profile picture from Maike

Maike

I love Gadgets destined to ease your everyday life - e.g. smart home gadgets. I own a few Xiaomi Gadgets (Xiaomi Mi A1, Xiaomi Yeelight Bedside Lamp, Xiaomi Wifi Repeater etc.), and would consider myself a fan :) 

Psst! Hey you! We finance the gadget tests mainly through advertising revenue.

We have used very little advertising to make your stay with us as pleasant as possible.

Therefore we would be happy if you would deactivate your ad blocker on our pages - so we can test even more :-).

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