Vivo Apex hands-on review

Vivo’s quirky Apex concept phone has a pop-up selfie cam, and no screen bezels

A tantalizing, quirky, technically-exciting concept phone that gives us a glimpse of Vivo’s future smartphone innovations.
A tantalizing, quirky, technically-exciting concept phone that gives us a glimpse of Vivo’s future smartphone innovations.
A tantalizing, quirky, technically-exciting concept phone that gives us a glimpse of Vivo’s future smartphone innovations.


  • Stunning display, tiny bezels
  • Massive 98 percent screen-to-body ratio
  • Quirky, fun pop-up selfie camera
  • Effective in-display speaker system


  • Fingerprint sensor still needs work
  • Only a concept

Vivo made a splash at CES 2018 with its in-display fingerprint sensor, the first operational version on a production-ready phone we’d seen, and it’s back at Mobile World Congress with the Vivo Apex — a concept phone featuring technology we could see on future devices from the company. We should stress that the Apex isn’t about to hit shelves, so if you like what you see and want to go and buy one, it’s not possible.

Immersive display, protruding camera

When you first see the Apex, it’s the size of the screen and apparent complete lack of bezels that hits you. If Xiaomi revisited the original Mi Mix in 2018, this is what it would look like. It has an astonishing 98 percent screen-to-body ratio, way beyond any other phone we’ve seen so far. The bezels around the 5.99-inch screen are just 1.8mm thick, while the chin extends just 4.3mm. They’re almost impossible to spot around the sides. This gives the Apex a wonderful in-hand experience — you’re completely immersed in whatever is on screen, and video looks especially impressive. It also has the modern 18:9 aspect ratio, and a decent 2,160 x 1,080 pixel resolution.

The Apex phone is the perfect size. It fitted in our palm precisely, and didn’t require too much stretching to use one-handed. However, the software was a highly customized version of Android with some successful tweaks — like flicking up open apps to close them from the pull-up menu bar — and some less so, such as the iOS-esque notification shade. But the software wasn’t the focus, and when you hold the great-looking, Apex everything else gets forgiven.

The monstrous screen means many essential components usually around it have been misplaced, which has opened the door for Vivo to express its creativity, and show off some more clever tech. A new speaker system that Vivo calls Screen SoundCasting turns the entire 6-inch display into a sound-conducting panel, replacing the usual speaker in the top bezel. Hold it against your ear and sound comes through the front panel clearly.

When you hold the great-looking Apex, everything else gets forgiven.

We listened to some test calls and the audio quality was great, considerably more realistic and natural than the system used on the original Mi Mix, for example. The voices had more depth, less harsh treble, and sounded excellent. Vivo says Screen SoundCasting is energy efficient and minimizes sound leakage, increasing privacy, too. Positioning doesn’t matter here, and listening through the top part or the bottom part of the screen only produced slight volume changes.

The ambient light sensor has been relocated to the top of the device, and the proximity sensor is under the screen; but where is the selfie camera? Open the camera app and tap the selfie cam button, and out of the top of the phone rises an 8-megapixel camera, ready to capture your photo. You’ll definitely be smiling, as it’s just so much fun to watch. Press the selfie button again, and it retracts back inside the Apex. Although it only takes 0.8-seconds to appear, it does feel a little long, and we’d rather it popped up instantly, though this could ruin the visual impact. Additionally, we’re always worried about snapping protruding parts off in an accident, and would hate that to happen here.

Under-glass fingerprint sensor

Finally, we come to the under-glass fingerprint sensor. On the Apex, Vivo has introduced a half-screen sensor, which means you aren’t limited to a single spot to touch when unlocking the phone. Because more screen real estate is available, you can use two fingerprints at the same time to unlock the device, and they don’t even have to be from the same person. This could be helpful when securing individual apps — a banking app, perhaps — but rather inconvenient for the device itself.

While we love the additional space, the system was very much a work in progress. Registering our print was quick and easy, but getting the phone to recognize it was considerably more difficult. We needed multiple tries, and it was nowhere near ready for general use. Vivo isn’t positioning the Apex as a production-ready phone, so it’s not much of a problem, but it is evidence of how difficult it is to implement an in-display fingerprint sensor. Vivo isn’t working with Synaptics on the Apex, unlike the sensor fitted to the Vivo X20 Plus UD.

It has an astonishing 98 percent screen-to-body ratio.

The lack of polish on the fingerprint sensor didn’t dull our excitement about the phone. The screen alone makes it worthy of attention, and the cute, slickly-implemented selfie cam makes it fun and gives it even more flair. Vivo continues to be a company unafraid of not just pushing smartphone tech forward, but showing it off too. Rarely do we get a chance to see these concept devices, which are often displayed internally before being adapted, diluted, and released in a different state. The Vivo Apex gives us an enjoyable look at how Vivo’s innovating.

The official word from Vivo is some, or none of the technology here may arrive in a future phone. It hasn’t been decided. We’d be surprised if we didn’t see the stunning screen used on a production device, with a refined version of the selfie camera sometime in the future — they’re too good not to release. The fingerprint sensor is a work-in-progress, and hopefully the next iteration we try will be better. The Vivo Apex is a cracking, tantalizing, playful smartphone that may be the shape of things to come.

Product Review

Google’s Pixel 3 is a hair away from pocket-sized perfection

Google’s Pixel 3 smartphone is the best Android phone you can buy. It doesn’t have the best looks or the best hardware, but you’ll be hard pressed to find better software and unique A.I. functionalities.

Apple applies for a patent on a wrap-around iPhone display

Previously, Apple was awarded a patent for a foldable phone, and the company has been rumored to be working on one. But it's not at all similar to other concepts. Here's everything we know about a folding iPhone.

Get ready for more V-series phones: LG trademarks names up to the V90

It looks like we should get ready for more LG V-series phones. LG has trademarked names for the LG V50 all the way up to the LG V90. We may have to wait some time before we see these phones; the next LG flagship is expected to be the LG G8.

Master your new Nokia 7.1 with our favorite tips and tricks

At $350, the Nokia 7.1 is a nearly perfect budget phone. It has a gorgeous body, good hardware, and a capable camera. Recently purchased the Nokia 7.1? Here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks to get you started with your new phone.

How to take great photos with the Pixel 3, the best camera phone around

You’ve scored yourself a new Google Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, and you want to take advantage of that incredible camera. We’ve got everything you need to know right here about how to snap the best photos with your Pixel 3.

Google's Wear OS update 'H' promises battery life improvements

Google has rebranded its Android Wear operating system to Wear OS. Removing the Android name may help people better understand Google-powered smartwatches, which also play nice with iOS devices. 

Leak shows a third, budget Google Pixel 3 with a Snapdragon 670, headphone jack

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are considered to be two of the best Android smartphones, but it looks like Google could be prepping a third. A budget Pixel 3 device that boasts some of the best features of the other two has been leaked.

Use multiple phone numbers on one device with Verizon’s ‘My Numbers’ app

For those who have separate phone numbers and devices for your work and personal lives, Verizon wants to help you get more organized. With its new "My Numbers" app, you can use up to four additional phone numbers on a single smartphone.

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.

How to use recovery mode to fix your Android phone or tablet

If you’re having a problem you can’t seem to resolve with your Android device, or maybe you want to update it or wipe the cache, recovery mode could be what you’re looking for. Here's how to use it.

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…

How to choose the best MicroSD cards for your smartphone or tablet

If you need some extra storage space and your device supports it, then a MicroSD card is an obvious place to start. Here, we look at what to consider and suggest some of the best MicroSD cards for your smartphone.

Common Kindle Fire problems, and how to fix them

Is your Amazon tablet giving you grief? Is it refusing to behave the way you expect? Take a deep breath -- everything will be fine. Here are some widely reported Kindle Fire problems and a few possible solutions to go with them.

Barnes & Noble’s new Nook tablet now has its own keyboard cover and dock

Barnes & Noble recently launched its largest mobile device to date, the Nook Tablet 10.1. Now the company has released a couple of accessories designed exclusively for the new Nook: A keyboard cover and a charging dock.