You don't need to do a double take: although the gallery above may look like it contains two different phones, it's actually just the front and rear of the Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition.
Yep, the front is camera-free, hence the almost bezel-less design, while the rear hosts the triple camera setup alongside another screen – negating the need for a front-facing camera altogether.
In the world of the notch – the black-out dip where the cameras are housed in many phones – it was perhaps inevitable that a dual screen phone design would come to the fore. But is the NEX twice the fun or double the trouble when it comes to using it?
Dual screen design: A sound idea?
- Main: 6.39in AMOLED display, 2340 x 1080 resolution
- Rear: 5.49in AMOLED display, 1920 x 1080 resolution
- Device: 157 x 75 x 8.1mm; 199g
- Finishes: Blue, Purple
With its 6.39-inch AMOLED main screen, the NEX is on trend when it comes to delivering top quality – just as you'll see in other top handsets from Samsung (from where the screen is sourced), Huawei, Xiaomi and many more. The absence of bezel is impressive, however, especially when compared to the large notch found on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (which uses the same panel).
Where the NEX really stands out is with its second screen to the rear. It's not the first time we've seen a phone adopt a second panel – be that the e-Ink panel of Yota, the small scale panel of the Meizu 7 Pro, or one of many other examples (which we've explored in the feature below, via the link) – but it's the first time we've seen one to such a significant scale.
If someone showed you the rear of the NEX Dual Display two years ago, you'd assume it was the front of a then flagship phone. The panel, a 5.49-inch AMOLED, has no compromise in terms of fidelity or quality. There's all the necessary resolution, the side bezel is tiny, with only grander bezels top and bottom – the former where the triple camera circular emblem and dual flash/illuminating lights lives, slightly protruding from the body.
Interestingly, Vivo isn't propositioning the Dual Display as solely for camera use. Yes, it means selfies can be taken from the rear while looking at the screen, thus feeling natural, but the second screen can also be used for multi-tasking with multiple apps. Logical examples are QR codes for flight check-in, while some games (including PUBG: Mobile) can benefit from Rear Touchpad, where the rear screen can also accept simulteanous inputs from extra fingers (how about that for super rapid fire?).
Flagship specs, as you'd expect
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor, 10GB RAM
- In-screen fingerprint scanner
- 3500mAh battery capacity
- 128GB storage (no microSD)
The idea of running multiple apps might be a problem for some phones, but the NEX Dual Display is a heavyweight on the specifications front. The current top-end Qualcomm chipset is on board, with a mighty 10GB RAM as standard – that's a load for handling the additional pressure that certain dual screen scenarios may bring. It's run super smooth in the half an hour we've spent tinkering with the phone.
At present, as we've only seen the handset in China (it's due for some nearby markets too – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore) it's not running Google Play and, therefore, we've not been able to download additional or personal apps. That's Vivo's position for the time being – but we suspect the brand is figuring out when and how to target the wider world.
Sandwiched between those two screens is a 3500mAh battery which does raise the question of longevity. With Huawei cramming a 4200mAh battery into its Mate 20 Pro, surely the Vivo's lower capacity will suffer when pushing power between two screens at different moments in time. Without using the phone as our own we can't tell, of course, but it's set alarm bells ringing a bit.
Elsewhere the NEX Dual Display brings Vivo's fifth-gen optical in-screen fingerprint scanner. We found the one in the earlier NEX S to be quite reasonable, but not perfect, so an updated version in this model is good to see. Vivo says it's been working with Qualcomm to optimise at chip level, bringing a super-fast 0.29s login time. There's also facial recognition, which we'll touch upon in more detail in the camera section below.
The last main piece of the performance puzzle is the software. Vivo has its own skin over Android, which it calls FunTouch (here in version 4.5). As we've said of it before, its upward swipe gestures feel alien for an Android system, but we're sure people could get used to it. Here's hoping it has considerable optimisation for international launch when that happens though – it needs it!
The king of cameras?
- Triple rear cameras: 12MP f/1.79, 2MP f/1.8 and Time of Flight (TOF) f/1.3
- Rear flash and Selfie Spotlight in Lunar Ring Display
- Super Night Mode, Night Video Camera
The cameras are core to the NEX Dual Display Edition. In a sense it's the position of these triplet of optics that define the handset: as they're all on the rear that's what enables the almost bezel-free design to the front.
Does flipping the whole phone around to take a selfie feel weird? At first, yes, but it's really not difficult to do. The dual screens can be used in other ways too: with both active, in mirror mode, you can see yourself to strike a pose while someone is using the phone to take a photo of you. Plus the addition of what Vivo calls the Lunar Ring introduces two lights for softer illumination – these are separate to the flash and can be used as you wish.
However, as other makers race to add more megapixels and wide-angle or zoom lenses, Vivo is keeping its setup fairly simple: the main sensor is 12 megapixels; the second sensor, at 2MP, is used for special modes and depth data; while the third is Time of Flight (TOF), used to capture data points – as used for facial recognition login. This TOF feature is important though. It creates a 10,000 point map of your face, which it can recognise from up to 3m away, for rapid login and Face Pay (the latter in China only, of course).
Looking in some respects to take on the Google Pixel's Night Sight mode, Vivo has both Super Night Mode and Night Video Camera mode, which uses some clever processing to largely remove image noise and brighten scenes. This is achieved using the 2MP camera (its low resolution means large pixels, better for low-light capture). We've seen it in action at a demo station and in the hall of the product launch and look forward to testing that out in more real-world environments in the future.
So is dual screen a fad or the future? The Vivo NEX Dual Display makes a strong impression as a flagship device. But there's the sense of over-engineering too: it's fingerprint on the front, face recognition on the rear, rather than a choice; only one side has Gorilla glass protection and you can throw the idea of a case out of the window too. That said, it's one impressive bit of over-engineering that gives our inner geek a warm glow.
The Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition will go on sale in China on 29 December 2018, priced 4,998RMB (which equates to £575/€640/$725), followed by Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore in 2019.