Five years ago I reviewed the Galaxy Note Edge from Samsung, the first phone with an OLED screen that was bent to the side. It didn't have many practical functions, but it looked great and served as a useful technical proof of concept for Samsung. I described it as a small step towards folding phones.
Well, here we are in 2019, and we have just about foldable phones, while every Samsung flagship now has an OLED screen with curved edges as a standard design feature. Curved screens are no longer surprising or exciting – until you see the Vivo Nex 3 personally, that is.
With what the company calls a "Waterfall FullView display", Vivo has taken the concept of curved screens to a higher level. The degree of curvature on the Nex 3 is so extreme that many of the sides of the phone are covered with a screen, so there is no room for hardware buttons.
Previous Vivo Nex phones focus on creative ways to prevent bezels and indentations, from pop-up selfie cameras to secondary screens. They felt experimental but also pragmatic. Of course you prefer a seamless screen, all things are equal, but with many of those functions now commonplace, the Nex 3 cannot claim to photograph to solve a particular problem. The sole purpose is to look like a dope without compromising the overall experience.
I am a bit surprised to report that Vivo has almost succeeded.
I would describe the design of the Nex 3 as an attempt to surpass Samsung with Samsung. There is of course that curved screen, but the high construction and hard lines of the phone are strongly reminiscent of recent Galaxy Notes. The display has a small chin on the bottom, a smaller ring on the top and yes, virtually no ring on the sides when you look at the phone from the front.
The way content spills over the edge of the screen on the Nex 3 is frankly a bit surreal. You can even tilt the phone at an angle and still see nothing but the screen. With the Nex 3 in your hand, it looks like you're holding a glowing, organic blob of pixels. Is there any benefit to this? Well, not if you don't think it's cool to be a job. If you do that, you can be sure that the Nex 3 is a cool looking phone.
However, curved screens are not suitable for everyone, even on devices with less dramatic angles. The curves inevitably distort the image, which is most noticeable with light backgrounds, and content may look strange depending on the apps and websites you are viewing.
View the photo above Verge start page for example. I like how the photos wrap around the sides and the edge of our & # 39; hero & # 39; section for featured stories happens to end up where the curves begin, which is happy. But the white background looks bad where the glass bends at the very edge of the screen, giving the image an awkward vignette. When you view a white webpage frontally, you will see this effect on both edges simultaneously. Under extreme angles, the flat part of the screen will meanwhile be noticeably dimmer than the curves.
This doesn't really bother me, but it hinders the wow factor a bit. Although I am not normally a fan of dark modes, I notice that I use them on the Nex 3 wherever possible for apps such as Twitter and Instagram. The phone simply looks much better in use with black backgrounds and vibrant colors that run around the edge.
Otherwise I have no problems with the screen of the Nex 3. I have had no problems with unintended input. In fact, Vivo seems to have solved this simply by removing the touch sensitivity completely from the curved parts. For example, you cannot scroll down on a website by moving your finger along the side of the phone.
The real surprise is that the virtual buttons are excellent. The right edge of the phone has a pressure-sensitive strip with a textured area in the middle for the sleep-wake button and volume-up-down icons on both sides. It is easy to feel the buttons without looking and they give satisfactory feedback, unlike the start button on an iPhone 7 or 8.
I expected the Nex 3 to fall in this respect, because I was not impressed by Vivo's virtual buttons on the Apex 2019 concept that I used earlier in the year, but it's really no problem here. The phone has a small physical sleep-wake button on the top in case you really need it. However, I never had to press it, because the virtual buttons work great and are in a more natural position.
There is not much more to say about the Nex 3. It has many of the same drawbacks as the other Vivo phones: overbearing iOS-style software, no wireless charging and a terrible mono speaker at the bottom. But it also embodies many of the typical strengths of the company: a fast fingerprint sensor on the display, a durable battery and a headphone connection. It has a Snapdragon 855 Plus processor and 8 GB RAM, and it feels very fast to use outside of some occasional cumbersome animations. My review unit is the 5G variant, although I have not been able to test the connection speeds because the next-gen networks have not yet been launched in Japan.
The installation with three cameras is one of the few visual performances of the Nex 3. It is housed in a round module that is probably inspired by watches, with notches around the perimeter and a funny inscription "F1.8 -2.5 / 16-52mm ASPH "as if this were a real zoom lens with variable aperture. What it actually is, of course, is a set of three with ultra-wide, wide and 2x "telefoto" lenses, as is now standard on high-end phones. It performs reasonably well in most situations, although it does not surpass any Pixel 4 or an iPhone 11.
Another trademark of Vivo returns with the pop-up selfie camera, which on the Nex 3 is a much wider module comparable to that on the midrange V17. However, unlike that phone, there is only a 32-megapixel selfie camera along with a LED for fill lighting or flash. Your tolerance for notches may vary, but pop-up selfie cameras are a pretty proven feature right now, and it's the right choice for a phone like the Nex 3 that acts in its screen-to-body ratio.
The Vivo Nex 3 is a good phone with a single striking – and possibly polarizing – design feature. The waterfall view is just something that we can now do with OLED panels, and I don't expect the Nex 3 to be the last time we see it. With Huawei & # 39; s flagship Mate 30 Pro adopting a similar design and also working on the technology for Oppo, it is likely to find its way to more affordable phones from other Chinese companies in 2020. At the even higher end, Xiaomi continues things with a display that wraps around the entire device.
There is no practical advantage of the Nex 3 waterfall display, but there is also no real disadvantage. Vivo has done a good job, making the Nex 3 easy to use without compromising how you would expect a phone to work, so the only thing that really matters about the screen is whether you like the look.
And well, I love the way it looks.
Photography by Sam Byford / The Verge
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