Priced starting at CNY 5,698 — roughly $806 — Vivo's NEX 3 5G is a flagship from its design to its internal specs. It also comes with some caveats, such as an utter lack of Google services or apps, as discussed over in the negative review for this phone. In terms of availability, Vivo opted not to sell this handset in Europe or North America.
But a deep dive under the hood reveals that there is quite a lot to love here too and that may not be all that important for its intended sales region.
Not only does Vivo Nex 3 5G offer a premium feel with an edge-to-edge display that almost nobody can match. It builds on the technology introduced by competitors almost across the entire board. This smartphone stands apart in a staggering number of ways, from its premium haptic feedback, lack of physical buttons, and almost perfectly optimized gaming software to its handling of networking.
Vivo backed up the internal hardware on this flagship with a 64-megapixel camera. The camera comes loaded with features and is color accurate. Like everything else with this smartphone, the Vivo NEX 3 5G camera is ready right out-of-the-box. Most users won't ever need to dig into the deeper settings or features.
The company offers significant rewards for those who do choose to dig a bit deeper. Every aspect of this device and the user experience is customizable.
Frame-based pressure buttons aren't the only premium hardware feature in the Vivo NEX 3 5G
The Vivo NEX 3 5G hardware is groundbreaking in a number of ways on the design front but one feature stood apart from the rest in my review. Vivo didn't include any physical buttons at all on this device. Instead, a slight hump, case and display markings, and a lined texture note where the buttons are. That's for both the volume up and down 'keys' as well as the power button.
Instead, it's using a more refined take on a similar technology to what's found in some HTC devices and Pixel-branded handsets. Users just need to squeeze the frame in the right spot to turn the phone on or off — or to adjust the volume. Unlike the failures reported at the launch of the HTC flagship, here it actually works.
Moreover, it works as naturally as any hardware buttons. There is one caveat to that. Vivo split the volume keys above and below the power button. But that's easy enough to adapt to and accidental inputs are all but non-existent here.
The rest of the build quality for the Vivo NEX 3 5G follows suit. Although the handset is a bit heavy and lacks ruggedization, it feels like it was made to last. Ports and plugs fit snug and there are no sharp or ill-curved edges to catch on anything. The in-hand 'feel' is as premium as the price tag and overall design suggests.
This handset looks equally good, as the gallery above can attest. That remains the case with or without the gray, suede-textured case Vivo includes applied. Vivo sent the gray/black hue variant of this device. It resembles polished metal, with deep blues, purples, and green attributes showing depending on the lighting. A silver coloration with blue and purple hues scattered throughout with changing lighting is also available.
The 'waterfall' display provides an almost seamless bezel-free experience
The display used here is nothing short of brilliant.
To begin with, the curves are much more pronounced than that other device. Vivo NEX 3 5G has what been referred to as a "waterfall" design, meaning that the screen curves sharply to almost a 90-degree angle. The result is a phone that appears to be entirely bezel-free aside from a barely-perceptibly thin line — under a millimeter — when looked at straight on.
Despite that, Vivo has done a spectacular job ensuring that the curve isn't noticeable from a graphical standpoint. Images appear almost flat — in the best way — when viewed on this phone rather than being distorted by the curve. Better still, the edges respond intuitively to touches even with heavy multitasking. The only input the screen doesn't respond to is accidental touches around the edges.
Aside from the side-mounted buttons and persistent UI showing where those are — which is adjustable in the Settings app — the screen seems almost flawless.
There's absolutely no latency in responsiveness either. Interactions are buttery smooth and UI elements are all well-within reach for single-hand use.
Vivo allows users to make adjustments to color shift and intensity for the panel. But I found color accuracy to be almost spot on out-of-the-box so I didn't mess with that too much here. Brightness is great too. Indoors, the screen can be kept at almost its dimmest level and only around half was needed. Auto brightness adapts smoothly.
I spent the testing period a 70-percent regardless, for the sake of consistency in my battery testing. At any brightness, lines on this screen are crisp and clean, allowing for a more immersive experience. Only a higher refresh rate could have made that better.
Make no mistake, this is an Android flagship
The lack of any latency in the display of the Vivo NEX 3 5G is an attribute that's continued almost everywhere else. That's because this is a flagship through-and-through. Vivo packed its NEX 3 5G with options for either 8GB or 12GB of memory. Vivo backed up that up with 256GB of USF 3.0 storage.
My review unit of the Vivo NEX 3 5G was the 8GB RAM variant. But the real kicker is the use of a Snapdragon 855 Plus SoC. Now, most users aren't going to notice a difference because most apps and games won't come anywhere near needing the power it provides. But when it comes to in-depth video editing on-device, the boost is noticeable compared to a Snapdragon 855. Everything is just smoother and faster in general.
That's despite the fact that Vivo has made this phone somewhat bloated in features from the system down to apps. There's just no drag to be found in operations.
In games, specifically, Vivo built in its take on "Game Space" — called "Game Assistant" without the need for a full application. That's despite that this isn't technically a "gaming device."
When users launch a game, Vivo presents options for limiting incoming notifications, disabling gestures that could interfere with play, as well as a way to access deeper options regarding just what the applet prioritizes.
Vivo designed the menu to be intuitive and easy to use. Users are also free to disable it from appearing every time once they've got things set up how they like. So it doesn't need to become an annoyance. The features embedded in Game Assistant don't drag on the performance either, which is a plus since it can in some other devices.
Behind all of that, Vivo includes a "multi-faceted" cooling system. The specifics of that aren't readily apparent and it isn't noticeable while using the gadget. But even while charging this phone and playing intensive games simultaneously over a half-hour period, it never really even started to heat up. So the performance of that cooling system is obvious in real-world use.
Battery life doesn't suffer here despite high-performance internals
The Vivo NEX 3 5G is a very powerful device. It also packs in a brilliant display. That means that the battery drain is high and its life is short, even with a 4,500mAh capacity battery. Or at least that's what it should mean. That expectation wasn't helped by the fact that Super FlashCharge 44W fast charging is part of the package here.
My initial expectation was that this phone would die fast and charge fast to make up for it. I couldn't have been further off the mark. Instead, this phone both lasted a long time during use and seemed filled up fast.
I noted around 15 minutes to approximately a third of the battery filling up. 30 minutes put the battery at 75-percent. The full charge took significantly longer, with the last 10 percent taking the longest. I hit 100-percent in right around one-and-a-half hours.
Now, battery life isn't going to be the same for any two users. For my battery tests, I don't turn on battery saving and I time out various activities. I placed browsing, messaging, emails, and similar activities in the "standby" category. Here, 18 hours and 8 minutes were spent on standby. 8 hours of that was overnight time, which dropped the battery by around 4 percent.
I did spend 30 minutes trying to set this phone up to work as close to a standard Android experience as possible before moving on — for reasons made clear over in the negative review of the Vivo NEX 3 5G.
Conversely, just over nine hours were spent streaming high-definition videos and movies and a further two hours were spent streaming music. I spent an hour and a half on mobile games, in addition to an hour and ten minutes exploring the camera and taking photos. Not only around a quarter of my music streaming time was spent with the screen on but that still equates to over 12-hours and 45-minutes of screen-on time.
This camera isn't about to disappoint buyers either
The "Lunar Ring Camera System" used in Vivo's NEX 3 5G presents users with nearly every imaginable feature. Of course, that includes standard features like a panoramic mode, "Slo-Mo" and "Time-Lapse," Pro shooting mode, Live Photo, AR Stickers, and even a Vivo take on AI vision built on its Jovi AI.
Vivo built in a "Fun Video" mode that allows music to be added, filters, speed adjustments, filters, and more, for capturing more lighthearted video content.
In standard modes, Vivo's AI camera software goes so far as to determine which settings to use based on what's being shot. "Super Anti-Shake" keeps things steady when shooting videos. Both modes also feature AI suggestions under an AI icon, prompting users to shoot in a different mode or with a different lens if that's appropriate. For instance, it might suggest shooting in ultra-wide at 0.6x zoom.
Users can snap photos or shoot videos at up to 2x zoom or pinch in for digital zoom up to 20x zoom. All of that works as expected and fast, although things do get grainy at 20x zoom.
The results of Vivo's efforts show in the samples snapped during the review via our Vivo NEX 3G 5G Flickr gallery.
The primary lens is a 64-megapixels snapper. The secondary lenses both sit at 13-megapixels. So detail capture here is very good, even when shooting out a car window at 55 mph in 64-megapixel mode. Thanks to "Hyper-HDR" at 7.65+eV, shots across each mode capture beautifully even when heavily backlit.
Vivo includes artistic photographic filters for both standard photos and for portrait mode too. That means users can snap photos with more studio-like precision in terms of lighting and how soft or crisp the image is. Moving subjects, such as a stream or river, are no obstacle either.
The sole failure point I found was the fact that night mode shots are inconsistent. Capturing accurate colors was finicky at best and tended toward yellow if the light source wasn't natural.
Extra features highlight maximum effort from Vivo for the NEX 3 5G
Now, the in-display fingerprint scanner brings quite a lot to the table in terms of helping Vivo achieve an above-99-percent screen-to-body ratio. It's also not an entirely unique feature but it does work very quickly and is nice to have for added security. But there are a couple of other big features here that help the Vivo NEX 3 5G stand apart from the majority of other devices.
Dual WLAN acceleration is one of those. As its name implies, Dual WLAN acceleration is a clever way of accelerating connectivity. Users are going to find that particularly useful in online games but that's not the only place it's helpful. To summarize, Dual WLAN acceleration allows the utilization of two separate Wi-Fi signals for communications simultaneously — 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. That increases speed but it also increases stability where networking allows it.
The NEX 3 5G also sets itself apart with some unique "Multi-scenario Side Ambient Light" effects. Those reside in the settings and apply a variety of effects to the waterfall edge with audio. For instance, the effects kick in on incoming calls or messages. Vivo isn't letting users customize that a lot but there are multi
For example, Vivo didn't just use a ring around the edges of the screen. Instead, the company allows the animations to flow from the right and left-hand edge toward the middle. One animation, for music, forms a plethora of lined waves in a blue and purple hue, for instance. That intensifies as volume increases and the animation follows the flow of frequencies. So it's different for different music.
Is this worth the money?
Vivo engineered the NEX 3 5G to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. It also built this gadget to go beyond that, innovating across almost every characteristic and feature. That, in and of itself, means that it would be a mistake to write the device off for anybody considering a new flagship device in the Asian regions where it's primarily available.
In fact, this phone is so feature-rich that I could use it daily and still be discovering new tweaks, adjustable settings, and more after months of use.
The primary caveats for this device, subsequently, center around the software. That's hardly surprising since there's just so much to it and that will undoubtedly improve over time since my Vivo NEX 3 5G received no fewer than six updates to various system aspects during my review period.
For photographers, the Vivo NEX 3 5G is going to prove a useful tool to capture images, videos, and time-lapses while on the go. As with every other aspect of the device, the 64-megapixel AI-assisted shooter just feels far ahead of what most OEMs are offering. And that has nearly as many features as the rest of this iteration of Funtouch OS.
All of that is setting aside that Vivo incorporated the latest and arguably best smartphone chipset on the market alongside a healthy, above-average dose of RAM and expandable storage. The accidental-touch-free waterfall screen laid over the top of that is responsive and bright without consuming too much of the 4,500mAh battery. That's capable of achieving 13-hours of screen-on time or more with some of the battery saving features enabled.
Overall, the Vivo NEX 3 5G is a gargantuan achievement for Vivo. This phone is proof positive that nobody needs to spend $1,000 for an experience that builds on the most popular flagships around. For those in the market for a new flagship, Vivo NEX 3 5G is well worth the money. Even at CNY 5,698 or approximately $806, this phone absolutely feels like a bargain.