REVIEW | Vivo NEX 3 smartphone

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It seems that Vivo’s concept smartphone Apex was not just for show. Their their latest flagship device borrows a key feature that made the Apex design stand out — no buttons.

The Vivo NEX 3 is the phone manufacturer’s first foray in the edge-to-edge display realm as well. For a premium flagship product, it makes the device worthy of its P39,999 retail price. Currently, in the local market, three phones have circular housing for the rear shooters: the NEX 3, Huawei’s Mate 30 series, and the Nokia 7.2.

The Vivo NEX 3 is a phone that’s meant to be handled carefully because of its fragility. It has a glass body that wraps around an aluminum frame. It’s a little bit on the heavy side at 217 grams and using the phone one-handed can be tricky.

The power and volume keys are replaced with seven pressure sensors equipped with an X-axis Haptic Vibration Sensor. The vibration is able to mimic the familiar click of a button without the issues brought by a flimsy build and the power button has a different ribbed texture that makes it easily distinguishable. The hidden pressure sensitive sensors can be adjusted to the amount of sensitivity they can respond to.

For even more less interaction, users can opt for the virtual side button feature where volume can be adjusted by a simple swipe while a double tap will turn the screen off. For special cases, however, the NEX 3 comes with a small power button on top of the device sitting at the left side of the elevating front-camera. The 3.5mm headphone jack is also located at the top beside the easily missed antenna lines.

There’s nothing on the left side of the device, which could have been a better placement for the volume buttons. Underneath are two vertical antenna lines as well, a single bottom-firing speaker, a USB Type-C port, and a dual SIM tray. There’s no expandable storage option, which is a bummer, and the stereo speakers are easily covered up when gaming in landscape orientation.

Behind is the triple rear-camera setup housed in a circular panel and makes a subtle bump while the LED flash is placed outside it just below. Near the bottom is the NEX brand engraved while the Vivo branding is nowhere to be found.

The Super AMOLED display brings out a vibrant color reproduction with deep blacks. Videos with less than 720p of resolution do not look nice on the panel, which measures 6.89″ and has a screen resolution of 1080×2256. Given the type of panel for its display, the NEX 3 is able to achieve HDR10 visuals in a screen with a pixel density of roughly 360.

With the elevating selfie camera, the screen-to-body ratio is pushed to more than 99% which is a good decision since a punch hole or regular notch would have defeated the purpose of the generous screen real estate and visual experience. Users have the added option to activate low brightness anti-flicker which reduces visual fatigue in low brightness settings while increasing screen noise.

When locked with the screen turned on, a gallery of high-definition posters are displayed. Ranging from art, lifestyle, and fashion among others, these wallpapers also recommend news articles when the phone is connected to the Internet.

To prevent accidental fingerprint reading mechanisms, the phone’s under-display optical fingerprint scanner will only be activated when the device is in motion. Applications can also be encrypted using fingerprint verification as well as the built-in file safe.

Upon its release, the NEX 3 had some optimization issues with certain apps, both stock and pre-installed. When playing a YouTube video and a user locks his phone, a black screen with only the audio working will be greeting him upon unlocking it. Switching videos, though, fixes this issue.

A similar recurring problem is also present in the stock video player app whenever the video is locked to avoid accidental operations. Upon a swipe to any direction on the screen, the display gets torn between opening the app drawer and playing the video as seen in this photo.

When it comes to content viewing in the NEX 3, the experience will be enjoyed by its users since the edge-to-edge display is able to provide wider viewing angles. When playing music on lock screen mode, its side ambient light that animates the music played is activated at the edges. An additional feature called Vapor Chamber, meanwhile accommodates an even heat transfer across the phone’s entire body, especially since the CPU can generate elevated levels of heat when running heavier gaming titles.

For games like Mobile Legends and Call of Duty Mobile in cellular data connectivity, the unit maintains its cool temperature. Gamers will be glad to know that graphic-intensive games run buttery smooth in more detailed and high-quality video settings.

Thanks to its 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, it can also multitask with ease, even though the lack of expandable storage options can be a little restrictive especially for users who use the NEX 3 as their daily main driver. When it comes to OTG support, sadly it still needs to be activated unlike most of its competition where OTG connection is automatic.

Under the hood is a 7nm octa-core Snapdragon 855+ chip with an Adreno 640 GPU clocking at 700MHz. The CPU clocks between 825 MHz up to 2.96GHz. In the AnTuTu benchmark, the NEX 3 is able to score 482277, surpassing the OnePlus 7T Pro and Samsung’s Note 10 flagship.

The average CPU temperature when rendering videos and playing games at maximum settings is at 52°C while the battery keeps cool at 33.2°C. Vivo’s Funtouch 9.1 skin is also smooth and has little bloatware, although its design cues are a little outdated.

When it comes to the battery, the NEX 3 is able to impress many users when considering the price point. With a 4500mAh non-removable Li-Po battery, it can squeeze in at least two days of usage for light tasks and an entire day filled with online gaming and video streaming. At the other end of the beefy battery is the 44W quick battery charging capability that can power the device 0-50% in less than 40 minutes when using the power brick that comes with the package.

Another inclusion when buying the device is a sleek textured matte black case that exposes the edge screens and leaves room for the pop-up camera at the top.

Lastly, the cameras. As to why Vivo just gave a single pop-up lens to the NEX 3 as opposed to their V17 Pro upper midrange device may just be a case of finding where to cut corners. The selfie experience in the NEX 3, especially for a flagship offering, is underwhelming. The AI-powered beautification mode comes too strong and smoothens the face excessively while the majority of shots are overexposed.

The motorized module contains an LED flash at the left side while the 16MP shooter with an aperture of f/2.1 sits at the right. It can capture videos at 1080p resolution in 30fps. But for vloggers who rely on the front-facing camera for content creation, there are a lot cheaper options available out there.

However, the triple rear camera setup is ages better than the front camera. In the case of the Vivo NEX 3, more cameras do not mean better shots. With cheaper alternatives offering more lenses, a triple camera placement would have been laughable to put in a flagship smartphone. But by combining the 64MP main sensor with two 13MP telephoto and ultra-wide lenses respectively, the NEX 3 is able to produce stunning images with a high level of clarity, color reproduction, and edge detection.

The default photo mode can take a 2x optical zoom shot and 20x of digital zoom. The Super Macro mode, meanwhile, is able to capture images as close as 4cm with increased levels of detail. But the photo modes are easily overshadowed by the video mode of the NEX 3. It is able to record 4K resolution videos at 60 fps. Although its Electronic Image Stabilization only kicks in at 1080p, the videos produced by the NEX 3 makes it difficult for its competition to surpass.

▪️ Premium full view display
▪️ Large battery and quick charging
▪️ High quality video recording
▪️ No buttons
▪️ Capable gaming performance

▪️ Selfie camera exposure difficulties
▪️ Optical fingerprint sensor is not blazing fast
▪️ Apps need more optimization


The Vivo NEX 3 is a flagship that feels like one and looks like one. It’s definitely an eye-catcher when used without a protective case, although the phone is a fingerprint magnet. The screen is elegant and the 3.5mm headphone jack is a major plus.

Although the selfie capabilities are a little lacking especially when considering its price, its large battery capacity and video recording make up for it. The performance is nothing to complain about, as well as the heating issue.

The lack of physical buttons adds a future-proof aspect and the edge-to-edge display is something we might actually see in in Vivo’s future mid-range offerings. When thinking about the competition lined up, cheaper alternatives like the Reno 2 series can give better selfie experiences but not as powerful in performance. For users looking for a flagship with respectable specs and an impressive camera experience, the Vivo NEX 3 is worth checking out.

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