Bezelless, in-glass fingerprint scanning, and 2-day battery life in a single package
Smartphones have been converging to a specific look and set of features for some time now, but a few of these desirable traits have been effectively impossible until now. Vivo is the first OEM to not only successfully create a phone with no real bezels to mention, but also the first to have a working in-glass fingerprint scanner on a production phone as well. Pair this with the mechanical front-facing camera, which raises or lowers automatically when needed, and you've surely got one of the most interesting phones of 2018, hitting all the theoretical possible specs in a single package.
Specs and Unboxing
Vivo's upper-echelon NEX S (model Vivo 1805) is selling for an incredibly reasonable £535, €589, or $679 at this time of writing, and while it's not officially available in every market, importing the phone is fairly simple. The device ships in two colors, black or red, but it's not a single color on the back, rather a holographic-like pattern that's rather eye-catching. On the front is an essentially bezel-less 6.59-inch OLED screen with a resolution of 1080 x 2316 pixels (388 PPI) and a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Underneath this glass is the world's first production-class in-glass fingerprint scanner. The NEX S is packed with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC, along with 8GB of RAM and a choice of either 128GB or 256GB of internal storage.
The phone features a dual nano-SIM card tray, but does not have support for microSD cards. The front-facing camera is situated in a pop-up mechanism at the top of the phone, and sports an 8-megapixel sensor with f/2.0 lens. On the back is a pair of cameras; the main a 12-megapixel 1/2.5-inch sensor with 1.4-micron sized pixels, dual-pixel phase detection autofocus (PDAF) and 4-axis OIS sits behind an f/1.8 lens, with an accompanying dual-tone dual-LED flash alongside. The secondary camera is simply used as a depth sensor, and only sports a 5-megapixel sensor with f/2.4 lens.
Underneath the sealed glass back is a non-removable 4,000mAh battery, supporting 22W fast charging through its USB Type-C port on the bottom, which also sports USB 2.0 speeds and compatibility for USB OTG. A single bottom-firing speaker sits at the bottom, while a 3.5mm audio jack with 32-bit DAC is up top. Bluetooth 5.0 is supported for wireless audio and other wireless peripheral support. Vivo's own Funtouch OS 4 ships with the phone, running atop Android 8.1 Oreo. The NEX S measures in at 162mm high, 77mm wide, and 8mm thin, with a heavy weight of 199g.
Despite delivering an absolutely cutting-edge phone with a price tag that's still lower than many other brand new premium-level smartphones, Vivo packs in a good bit of value with the NEX S inside the box. Inside are of course the usual; the phone, a 22W fast charger, a USB Type-A to Type-C cable and a set of manuals, as well as a SIM tray eject tool. Above and beyond that you'll also find a pair of earbuds with a 3.5mm jack at the end, and a rubberized TPU case with an extra-grippy soft-touch finish. This case is superb feeling and really adds significant levels of grip to an all-glass phone, with a nicely placed NEX moniker on the back. The top and bottom portions are completely open, allowing for each port access, while still covering the sides and all four corners completely. It's got a slight raised lip around the edges; enough to help keep the screen from being damaged if the phone were to fall, but not enough to get in the way of touches. Vivo also includes film-type glass protectors both on the front screen and the back glass for extra protection out of the box; a true value as the phone is 100% protected without needing to buy anything extra.
While a display of 6.59-inches on a phone sounds absolutely massive, Vivo's bezel-less design makes this feel closer to the size of phones with a 5.8-inch screen instead. The Samsung-made Super AMOLED panel is of very high quality, with instant response times, no trailing, and no visual color shift at any angle. There's a bit of rainbowing at certain angles, something that's visible on any display with a polarizer, but this is typically only noticeable when the screen is displaying mostly white and also held at an extreme angle. Vivo doesn't offer much in the way of tweaking here, so aside from a general slider for warmer or cooler temperatures, you won't find any advanced color profiles or lower-level tweaks. As a whole, the display sports an ever-so-slightly cool tone, although this isn't terribly obvious until you compare it to another display that's more color accurate.
Color saturation is at a healthy level, with colors that look nice and punchy without feeling cartoony or unrealistic. 388 pixels-per-inch density is a solid number that looks clean and clear in most respects, but since it's only 1080 pixels wide, ends up restricting the quality of video content to 1080p. HDR is supported through YouTube only at this time, not Netflix or Amazon Prime video at the time of this writing. The display gets very bright and is very easy to see in direct sunlight, and is also able to lower this down to a super dim level that's comfortable to view even in a pitch black room. Typically this range of brightness is only found on flagship phones, and even then not all of them offer this wide of a brightness range. Despite having an in-glass fingerprint reader, there's no obvious visual distortion or brightness differences in this area. In fact, there's no real way to tell anything at all is working under the display, which is a very good thing indeed.
Hardware and Build
Vivo's hardware design here is unmatched in many ways, and it, of course, all starts with those ultra-tiny bezels. 3 out of four sides of the phone, the top, left and right sides, sport virtually the smallest bezels you'll find on any phone except the OPPO Find X. While it's possible some OEMs may have bezels that are fractions of a millimeter smaller, there's no real distinguishable difference between what's on display here, and what many would simply consider truly bezel-less. An extremely small chin rests on the bottom of the phone, and despite having ultra-tiny bezels on the other three sides, is among the smallest chins you'll find on any phone. Even most phones with notches have larger chins than the NEX S, which is something truly impressive when you consider what Vivo has done here. In order to essentially remove bezels in their entirety, Vivo has chosen some alternative designs for the key components that typically take up the notch section on other "bezel-less" phones.
The part you see most prominently is, of course, the motorized pop-up front-facing camera, which appears when called for and disappears when not needed. The pop-up motor makes a very quiet whirring noise by itself but is also enhanced via a set of three selectable sounds. The default sound is called Futuristic, and for good reason; this sci-fi-esque sound brings to light a component that already feels futuristic, and only furthers this feel with such a sound. It's a quiet sound, not one that's overly obnoxious or loud, but can be changed or disabled depending on your taste. Mechanically this camera is more solid than initial expectations might make it out to be. Pushing the camera in will begin the pull-back mechanism, much in the way that pushing the disc tray of a DVD or Blu-Ray player would, and likely will not cause any long-term mechanical damage. There's essentially no wobble to this camera either; the mechanism is extremely tight, and even after hitting it fairly hard against a wood desk, doesn't show any signs of quality degradation. There's no way to pull up the camera by force, so no worry about stressing the mechanism within.
Vivo has not only redesigned the front-facing camera experience for the NEX S, it has also chosen a very different earpiece for the phone as well. Utilizing a "screen soundcasting technology," which vibrates against the glass rather than projecting an audible sound, the idea of an earpiece has been replaced with something that works equally well. You can even hear the sound as well from the back of the phone as can be heard from the front, and unlike the initial generations of this type of technology, this earpiece is loud, clean and clear. It's likely most people won't notice any real difference between this and a standard earpiece while making a phone call, and it's in this regard where Vivo is the real winner. There's no compromise with this component even though it's of a completely different nature, delivering the same output quality without the need for a physical outward component.
The real engineering marvel is in Vivo's ability to make a phone that feels sleek and slim, coming in at only 8mm thick, yet it packs a massive 4,000mAh battery, a motorized camera, sonic earpiece and a myriad other components inside. While it's heavier than the average "phablet" sized phone, it's nowhere near the heaviest in this class either, still coming in at under 200g in weight. A standard pair of buttons is on the right side; a power button just above the mid-point, and a volume rocker above that. On the left side of the phone you'll find something new that's quickly become a trend in 2018: an AI button. By default, pressing this button will launch's Vivo's virtual assistant, Jovi, but this button can be mapped easily to your virtual assistant of choice. What's more is that this button can be used to perform multiple tasks too, depending on the virtual assistant mapped; for instance, setting Google Assistant to the default assistant in the OS means a short press of this key launches Google Lens, while a long press launches Google Assistant.
Fingerprint Scanner, Pop-Up Camera, and Security
It's been a number of years since the fingerprint scanner became the de facto standard for security on smartphones, but we've seen little change in the fingerprint reader's design over that time. While they've manifest the form of a button or a dedicated scanner on the front, back or side of many phones over the years, they've never been placed under the glass and completely hidden from sight. That's where Vivo has beaten every other OEM out there to the punch, and is one of the defining features of the NEX S without a doubt. Despite some amazing engineering that it took to place a fingerprint reader in the display without affecting display quality at all, the actual accuracy and speed of the fingerprint reader leaves a lot to be desired. Often times I found the scanner just wouldn't read my finger at all, and even when it did there was a clear half a second delay or so before it determined a positive or negative reading result.
As a result of this hit-or-miss nature, I found myself oftentimes just putting in my PIN code, and I can see plenty of users giving up on the idea of using the fingerprint reader in its entirety; in fact I too would have done the same if I weren't specifically testing the phone out for review. It's clearly a first-generation product in this regard, and it's going to be frustrating. I found that the scanner worked best with clean, dry hands, lightly pressed against the screen rather than forcefully smushed against the glass. Since this is an optical reader, any discrepancies, such as inflation from humidity, oils or even dirt on the skin will significantly reduce the fingerprint scanner's accuracy. There's no facial recognition scanning either, so you'll likely be entering a PIN to unlock the phone more often than with most phones in 2018.
While the fingerprint scanner leaves a lot to be desired, the concept of a motorized front-facing camera brings about some incredible user-facing insights into the world of smartphone permissions, especially when it comes to personal privacy. While it's rare to find an app that violates user privacy for one reason or another, there's no real way to detect such events when they happen. Vivo's concept of raising or lowering the front-facing camera when the camera permission is requested gives a truly visual indication of when an app is trying to look at you, and it's something I didn't expect to love so much. Most often you'll find the camera only raises itself when trying to take a selfie in any app, but there were a few times where I thought the camera's presence was strange.
Allo, for instance, appears to request front-facing camera permission at all times, regardless of whether you're actually trying to take a picture. The first time I launched the app and saw the camera pop-up, I was a bit alarmed, but once I realized what was going on I was rather taken aback by the real possibility of privacy intrusion on other phones without knowing it was even happening. With the NEX S I know something is requesting this permission, and you can verify the app in question is requesting the permission by forcefully pushing the camera down. This, in turn, closes the app that's requesting the camera permission, and while it's probably not good in the long term to constantly do this to the motor, provides a real and simple way to determine what the offending app might be.
Performance and Battery Life
It's rare to find a phone that doesn't perform well enough nowadays, especially when talking about a flagship-class phone like the Vivo NEX S. Sporting Qualcomm's latest processor, the Snapdragon 845, the Vivo NEX S is as fast as any flagship out there. Putting it through the paces showed no signs of slowing down whatsoever, both aided by the fast processing package and more than plenty of RAM. There are only a handful of flagships that deliver 8GB of RAM, and many of these cost more than the Vivo NEX S too. Part of the trick here is that the screen is essentially 1080p+, which helps keep performance in check over phones that offer QHD or even 4K resolution panels. While you likely won't notice much difference in image quality with those higher resolution phones in most situations, you'll certainly notice the performance advantage this slightly lower resolution gives when more intense games and applications are running.
Vivo is utilizing a new multi-tasking Overview interface design for its Funtouch OS 4 update, sticking with a horizontally scrolling carousel of full vertical tiles, but adding some much-needed "fun" to the experience. There are many different designs in the world of multi-tasking, and while no single design does everything right, Vivo's design here is simply excellent at what it does. Three app tiles are visible at all times, with the foreground app always closer to the screen thanks to a 3D grid that moves the tiles toward or away from the screen as you scroll. In addition to having full view of each running app, the names and icons of each app are prominently displayed at the top of each card at all times, making identification of apps a simple and quick affair while scrolling through the carousel. Apps can be locked into memory with a swipe down, and a swipe up dismisses them. The only casualty here is the inability to quickly launch split screen from this interface; instead, you'll have to select the "multiple tasks" option from the command center, accessed by swiping up from the bottom right of the screen.
Despite having blazing fast performance and excellent multi-tasking management, the battery life of the Vivo NEX S is beyond stellar. The 4,000mAh battery is larger than the average phone by at least 30%, and Vivo's excellent application and background task management means you'll easily get 2 full days of battery life out of this phone, even if you're a power user. Most days I ended with draining only 30-40% of the total battery, leaving plenty of room for the next day's use. On average I hovered around 7 to 8 hours of screen on time over 2 full days, meaning this phone saw very real use over that two day period without any additional charging or topping up. By default, most apps aren't allowed to run in the background for long periods of time, but this can be easily changed in the battery settings. It's irritating to even see this as a default behavior when not in power saving mode, especially with such a large battery, but at least the toggle switches work properly and keep notifications and other important information from being delivered late. The NEX S is one of the only 2018 flagships with true 2-day battery life, and this is truly a big deal in the end.
Wireless Connectivity, Sound
We often see very specialized devices come out of China, and the Vivo NEX S absolutely fits that bill, almost considered an "experimental phone" by many. Despite fitting into this moniker in some ways, the Vivo NEX S is absolutely ready for International use, and I found no problems getting a 4G LTE signal on T-Mobile US where I live. As it's not a T-Mobile certified device, there's no probability of ever getting WiFi Calling working on that network, but other networks around the world could feature this capability with the phone. There's also no VoLTE on T-Mobile US for the same reason, but again, you may not have this issue depending on your carrier of choice. The software support is there, you'll just need to make sure your favorite carrier supports the tech ahead of time before hoping to use it.
Despite the claims of some OEMS that large batteries and small bezels mean you need to remove other key components, Vivo has "magically" found a way to both reduce the bezels and include an extra large battery, all while still offering a 3.5mm audio jack and a motorized camera. It's companies like Vivo help unearth some of the PR nonsense we hear from other companies regarding the 3.5mm jack. As such, Vivo offers everything and the kitchen sink to buyers of the NEX S, which offers 3.5mm audio, USB Type-C audio, and of course wireless audio via Bluetooth 5.0. Sound quality from the 3.5mm jack is average, delivering solid tunes with a decent range of sound, but nothing extraordinary. I also had an issue using some USB Type-C headphones with the NEX S, but this is fairly typical in the world of USB Type-C where the standard is not always adhered to properly. The single bottom-facing speaker is pretty incredible for both being a single speaker, as well as just a bottom facing one. It's super loud, very clear, and often produces sound that's above and beyond the quality, clarity, and volume of most single bottom-facing speakers.
Vivo's FunTouch OS skin for Android is certainly iOS-themed without a doubt, which brings about some positive and negative aspects with it. Navigation feels more like iOS than anything by default, and while you can change out the launcher to make it feel more like other Android-powered devices, the system-wide navigation remains vivo's own creation. An amalgam of Android and iOS, you'll find the pull-down notification shade's basic function is all that remains, acting as a notification center but nothing else. Quick toggles have been moved to an iOS-style Control Center, accessed by swiping up from the bottom, which is a positive in many ways. This dedicated control center displays 10 quick toggles at once, whereas the default pull-down Android quick toggles only display 5. Swiping over to the next page reveals another 10 shortcuts which include some surprises, like calculator and camera, in addition to typical ones like WiFi and Bluetooth.
The downside to this design is the inability to quickly select from different WiFi or Bluetooth networks without having to open these individual settings, rather you can only toggle them on and off from this panel. Dedicated brightness and sound sliders can be found above these quick toggles, and a sliding 4-icon row of recently opened apps is found at the top of the panel. The lockscreen is a bit frustrating, as it's completely locked down and doesn't allow for notification viewing or control center access until the phone is unlocked. Many phones have the option to lock this down, if desired, but it's forced here.
Notifications are also locked down quite a bit by default, particularly on the lockscreen, where most apps don't have permission to display their notifications on the lockscreen until changed otherwise. Given that you have to dig quite a bit just to get to this setting, it's likely many people will miss out on the convenience of notifications for their favorite apps on the lockscreen, especially since the fingerprint reader is a bit annoying to use, thanks to its general slow nature and inaccuracy in identifying fingerprints quite often. There are plenty of positive points to the skin overall though, including the ability to easily change defaults for apps, and support for many extra OS-level features like Google ARCore. These are two big pain points in a number of phones still, as many heavily-skinned phones from China still restrict default apps in many ways, and plenty of phones ship without compatibility with Google's ARCore as well.
Hardware Assistant buttons have begun to be commonplace on flagship phones, acting like a Walkie-Talkie for the built-in AI assistant. By default this button calls up Jovi, vivo's own virtual assistant, but can be remapped to any assistant installed on the phone. This includes Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, etc. Google Assistant works brilliantly with this button, as a press and hold functions like a Walkie-Talkie, as stated before, letting you take your time inputting a command by pressing and holding the button until you're finished talking. A single press will launch Google Lens, allowing for quick visual identification of anything around your person, and Google Lens can also be instantly launched from the camera software as well.
The camera software design is pretty typical of a modern smartphone, including a large white shutter button, swipeable modes from the main screen, and rows of quick toggles along the top of the screen. The software is lightning fast to launch, no matter where you start it from. There's no quick button to launch the camera (the default double-tap power button shortcut is gone), but the camera can be launched from the control center at the bottom if configured. It also focuses lightning fast thanks to the dual-pixel phase detection autofocus on the sensor; the same tech used in sensors on Samsung, HTC or Google's latest phones. As is typical of this sort of software design, switching modes takes way too long. This is already the worst kind of camera software design because of this sort of thing, and it takes a full second to switch between any mode, especially if trying to swipe through.
You can click on the words to switch the mode, but that's only good if it's displayed on screen at the moment, and there's too many modes to be able to use this for all of them. Manual mode is basic but offers some long shutter times and a relatively high ISO maximum of 3200, but there's no focus peaking for manual focus or much else in the way of advanced options here. On the other side of the carousel you'll find AR Sticker mode, which is pretty standard in its execution. The AR sticker selection is very small, essentially just simple masks like we've seen in the past, and nothing crazy like the ARCore stickers Google or other OEMs have begun adding into their cameras. This phone does feature ARCore support though, so there's nothing stopping anyone from just downloading one of those apps and utilizing better Augmented Reality (AR) stuff that way.
In standard photo mode you'll find a row of options up top, none of which feature any kind of descriptors initially, but thankfully give you a small hint of what they do after clicking them. HDR toggles, live photo and portrait modes are a single click away, and the options menu is fairly well labeled as a whole, although that 24-megapixel mode could use a bit more explaining. The only description in the list is "24M," which is quite vague, and there's no way of really telling what this bizarrely labeled setting does unless you turn it on and take a few shots with it. Even still, comparing the 24-megapixel mode side by side with the standard 12-megapixel mode reveals little to no difference in most situations, and sometimes this mode actually produced slightly fuzzier pictures, both in bright and low light. It's a mode that harkens back to those 50-megapixel interpolated modes we saw on smartphones for some time, but it feels less effective than those.
AI Scene identification is a trend that's been used in many phones, but Vivo's implementation of it really just isn't very good, unless of course you enjoy your phones looking like they've been put through Instagram filters all the time. Most of the time I found this mode just jacks up the saturation to unnatural levels, and really it just seems best to turn it off.
Camera Performance and Results
One of the most unique features of the vivo NEX S has to be the pop-up front-facing camera. This camera's quality is quite good, sporting an 8-megapixel sensor and an f/2.0 lens, along with a standard angle of view. Dynamic range is definitely better than the average front-facing camera out there, and details are marginally better too. When pitting it against the Huawei P20 Pro or HTC U12+, phones with dedicated space on the front for the front-facing camera, the results generally favor vivo's camera when everything is added up, including more natural colors and better dynamic range, and typically better overall detail as well. Comparing it to the only other phone with a mechanized front-facing camera out there, the Oppo Find X, it's pretty clear the Find X produces much sharper shots with significantly more detail in almost every situation. Low light support on the vivo NEX S is pretty solid, out-performing many other phones on the market, but still coming in under what the Oppo Find X can deliver. This camera doesn't offer portrait mode on the front-facing camera, but it offers some interesting lighting effects that attempt to mimic different lighting conditions.
Photo quality from the auto mode on the main rear camera exhibits some absolutely incredible dynamic range. In fact, pictures from this phone, front or back, display some of the absolute widest dynamic range out of any smartphone on the market. Colors really pop and look natural when AI scene identification is off, and overall balance is extremely good. As a whole, pictures from this phone are reliably good and high quality the vast majority of the time, and deliver a sense of confidence that many other phones don't provide. Shots from this phone are consistently brighter, holding better shadow detail all while suppressing the blown-out look that can occur on brighter objects. It's also got more natural color than many of the other phones we've tested, a direct result of better dynamic range as well as better scene detection for types of light.
The only real weakness tends to be zoom detail, where the processing can be overly heavy at times and muddy up the details. It's not terrible, as we've definitely seen worse from other phones, but with only a 12-megapixel sensor it's important to have tight processing that doesn't go overboard on noise reduction. In these situations it's difficult to tell what the specific culprit of the detail loss might be, but it tends to be on certain phones when HDR kicks in, as it combines multiple different photos together, each with their own exposure value, and at times that combination could result in loss of fine detail depending on the algorithm. While this can be fixed on some phones by zooming in through the viewfinder when you need distance detail, there's no optical zoom on the Vivo NEX S, so no help from that secondary camera when zooming in with the viewfinder. It's not always the loser every single time in zoom comparisons, but it's certainly the case most of the time.
Moderate light performance is generally excellent overall. Moderate light refers to times of the day like dawn or dusk, and also including many different types of indoor lighting as well. In these situations you'll find the Vivo NEX S ranks among the best performers on the market, once again delivering superb dynamic range and color accuracy, while many phones tend to lose color detail or over brighten shots. Photos come away looking bright, clean and natural looking, and in general are simply superb images. The large 1.4 micron pixels on this 12-megapixel sensor do a great job of sucking in lots of light, and the f/1.8 lens also helps quite a bit here.
These aren't the largest pixels on the market, nor the lowest f-stop lens, so while it won't be competing toe-to-toe with low light champs like the Huawei P20 Pro in most low light situations, it's definitely better than the average smartphone in these situations, and will likely make anyone happy who is looking for a generally good low light performer. The same qualities that make other lighting conditions look great on this phone are present here; good dynamic range, acceptable levels of detail, and probably most importantly in dark situations, excellent, natural color accuracy. In fact, I found the warmer tones from the Vivo to be more attractive in these lower light conditions than the P20 Pro's shots, even if the P20 Pro ended up producing shots that were better in more areas of measurement.
Portrait mode is rather good as well, but it also depends on what you're looking for. Software wise, it's able to adjust the virtual aperture on the fly with a quick swipe up or down anywhere on the viewfinder after touching to focus. Aperture defaults at f/4, but ranges from f/16 for a mostly in-focus background, down to f/0.95 for a super blurred background with tight foreground focus. This can be adjusted after the fact too, so if you'd like the background to be more or less blurry after taking the shot, it's as easy as going into the gallery and clicking the 'Portrait Bokeh' button on bottom. It's not super obvious that this is a button, but given the design I'd be surprised if it weren't clicked at some point when just scrolling through, even if by accident. As a whole this mode does a decent job, as it utilizes that 5-megapixel camera on the back as a depth sensor specifically for this mode anyway.
In fact, because Vivo only uses this second camera as a depth sensor, it's able to catch the portrait mode at a surprisingly quick speed, even with moving objects. While it's not the best quality portrait mode you'll find on a phone, being able to use it in darker situations or while subjects are moving makes it pretty valuable as a whole, especially if you're not blowing up these shots to wallpaper levels of zooming in. They definitely fall apart when viewing on anything larger than a smartphone screen though, even a screen as big as this one, as there are plenty of points in the shot where the calculation for what's supposed to be in the foreground is just completely wrong. It's also not very good at detecting parts of the photo where gaps occur at times, like the space between the bike and an arm, for example. Thankfully it's fast at taking these types of shots, so take a few at a time and you're bound to end up with something decent. Comparing it to a phone that does a much better job at foreground recognition, like the Huawei P20 Pro for instance, reveals how much better recognition could be for more staged shots that don't involve movement.
Video is another place where the Vivo NEX S truly shines, and it does so in almost every single area. Covering the weak points first, you'll find that slow motion is pretty standard, offering 240 frames per second recording at 1080p resolution. This is still stunning slow motion with excellent quality, but it's expected to be at least this good at this point in 2018, if not better in more respects. Other phones offer higher frame rates, slowing down the motion even further, but as far as standard slow motion goes, this really is an excellent camera for such a thing. Ultra fast focusing helps too, making sure more of the video is in focus than watching the camera slowly try to focus instead.
There's no support for 60FPS recording at 4K resolution, only 60FPS at 1080p. The vivo NEX S produces some of the nicest, cleanest and sharpest 4K outputs on the market though, despite the lack of extra options. Just as in photo mode, Vivo's HDR methodology is simply incredible, and offers not only a brighter picture during the day than the average smartphone, but wider dynamic range as well. With better shadow detail and less blown out highlights, colors appear deeper, richer and more accurate to life rather than tainted by the side effects of a small sensor trying to keep up with a big task. When comparing it to the HTC U12+ you'll find they're fairly neck and neck, which is a huge compliment to Vivo, and in this particular scene the NEX S even edges out the U12+ a bit thanks to wider dynamic range and some more attractive colors.
The same goes for when comparing next to the other major bezelless phone with a pop-up camera, the OPPO Find X, where the Vivo NEX S pulls out some significantly better dynamic range and sharper overall details, as well as offering more stable video when walking around. Colors are a bit warm in videos, a trend that follows throughout the experience, although warmer colors tend to be pleasing to the eye. Putting it next to the Huawei P20 Pro shows just how much work Vivo has put into the real time processing of video. Significantly sharper detail at times, more attractive colors, and many times more accurate colors, especially when higher ISO is used, and better stabilization as well. Something significantly better than most phones is its ability to not only instantly focus on an object in an incredibly smooth manner, but focus that's unbelievably accurate as well. It absolutely outdoes the P20 PRO in our tests, and schools the OPPO Find X in the same way as well.
Zooming in will not be as good on this phone as it is with the P20 Pro or OPPO Find X, as both of those phones feature a second camera with optical zoom. Watching those phones jump to the secondary camera shows just how important an optical zoom lens can be in certain situations, but the NEX S is still better stabilized than either of those phones regardless the fact that they might offer enhanced detail, so you may find one to be more preferable over the other if you have to choose. Low light performance is good, but nothing overly special. It produces a brighter picture than the OPPO Find X, and also pulls in a tiny bit more detail than that phone as well, not just because it's a brighter picture and can see more objects in a dark scene, but because everything is just a tad sharper as well. It's here where the larger sensor of the Huawei P20 Pro pulls ahead though, as it's both able to suck in more light and more detail, and even zooming into a far away object with harsh lighting can look significantly better on the P20 Pro over the other two phones.
Giant screen, small footprint
3.5mm audio jack with 32-bit DAC
In-glass earpiece sounds excellent
2-day battery life
Tons of RAM and storage
Lightning-fast and accurate camera focusing
Excellent overall photo quality
Top-notch video quality
Good value pack-ins like a quality case
Assistant button is handy
Pop-up camera highlights apps with suspect camera permission
Excellent gesture navigation options
Quality vibration motors
Fingerprint scanner is slow and inaccurate
Multi-window is bizarrely restrictive with app compatibility
No support for high frame rate video (60FPS, super-slow motion, etc)
Vivo has crafted an incredible phone that's not just cutting-edge in its design but also feels well-rounded and well-thought-out. It's got loads of customization options, including gesture-based navigation and plenty of other UI customizations as well, along with a large set of additional settings and features too. The design of the phone is a thing of beauty, with a giant screen, not-so-giant footprint, tiny bezels, and a unique pop-up front-facing camera too. It's also got true 2-day battery life, something most flagships could only dream of, all while not sacrificing performance or quality of experience. Match this with an excellent all-around camera and even a nice packed-in case, and vivo's got themselves a real winner with the NEX S. The price is tough to beat right now too, coming in around the same price as the OnePlus 6, with the in-glass fingerprint reader's slow and inaccurate nature being the only real big pain-point of the phone. It's a solid recommendation, even if you need to import the phone to get it.Buy Vivo NEX S at Amazon