What is the future of smartphones? At a time when most smartphone makers are thinking of foldable devices to answer this question, Vivo has come up with its concept Apex 2019, a smartphone with no buttons, no ports, no front-facing camera, no SIM slot, no charging ports, no headphone jack, and no speakers.
The 5G phone throws all cliches out of the window and offers more new concepts. How about a full-screen fingerprint scanner so that users can unlock their device by touching anywhere.
While Apex 2019 has a lot of potential, it also needs to be practical and user-friendly. Meizu tried to make a similar smartphone with its Meizu Zero but seems to have learned a tough lesson and is now clear it does not want to go down that path again.
I spent a brief time with the Apex 2019 concept phone and here is what we thought.
Vivo Apex 2019 concept phone: All-glass design
I like the look and feel of the Apex 2019. I was impressed by the glossy black finish of the Meteor Gray model as soon as I saw it. I was also impressed by the phone’s bezel-less curved display — though Vivo hasn’t specified the panel’s size. The display is of an OLED variety and it looks very good. Colours pop out and the brightness seems just right.
To create a port-free phone, Vivo used a single slab of glass to cover both rear and sides and thus offer a unibody design. It requires a special technique to bend the glass around the corners and create what Vivo calls it “Curved Surface Waterdrop Glass”. In contrast, today’s phones have a glass front and rear panels with a metal frame wrapping around the edges.
However, this also means you will constantly be worried about the durability of the phone. If you cracked your smartphone, the cost of repairing it would be huge. You need to understand that this phone is made out of a single piece of glass. And in case it gets shattered, dented or cracked, the entire surface has to be replaced. Because phones are so susceptible to accidental falls, I believe there are serious trade-offs to all-glass design. Second, I found the device to be heavier than usual and a lot thicker.
Vivo Apex 2019 concept phone: No buttons or ports
Vivo is making a big deal about the lack of buttons on the Apex 2019. While doing away with the buttons, the phone’s frame has been made touch and pressure sensitive.
There are pressure-sensitive touch areas on the right-hand side of the phone, spread across the same area as traditional volume and power buttons. There’s a small dotted portion that shows where the power button is located, but I struggled to identify that dotted area on my review unit which came in a meteor gray finish. Thankfully, on-screen virtual buttons helped in identifying where the volume keys and the power button are.
The power button needs a hard press to respond, so does the volume buttons. This is on purpose as touch-and-pressure sensitive areas can’t be too easily pressed either. Though it sounds great on paper, I am not fully convinced about the idea yet. Previously, HTC did try to replace the physical buttons on the phone with invisible keys on the U12 Plus. The phone wasn’t exactly a success.
What also makes the Apex 2019 different from other phones is that there’s no USB Type-C port for charging. Simply put, the phone lacks a charging port and instead uses a proprietary magnetic connector for charging (wireless charging could have been included). This doubles up as a data transfer cable.
I don’t mind having a phone that lacks a charging port. This is the age of cloud, where apps like Google Photos makes it easy to upload pictures within minutes. In that sense, I completely get the point of having a port-free smartphone.
Vivo Apex 2019 concept phone: Full-display fingerprint scanner
Now the good part: all-screen fingerprint scanning. Yes, the whole display acts as a fingerprint sensor, which means you don’t have to worry about placing your finger on a specific point to unlock the phone. The solution allows users to place a finger on any part of the screen.
In the little time I spent with the device, the fingerprint scanner worked just fine as Vivo claims. It’s fast, accurate, and identifies a finger when pressed on the screen. It’s also possible to use two fingerprints for extra security.
While this phone is not coming to the market anytime soon, I suspect we will see Vivo include the full-screen fingerprint scanning technology in the next NEX smartphone, expected to be out in 2019.
Vivo Apex 2019 concept phone: No speaker grilles
The Apex 2019 concept phone uses something called Body SoundCasting technology, which eliminates the need for a traditional speaker or an earpiece on the front. Instead, the phone transmits sound to your ear by vibrating the screen.
Vivo Apex 2019 concept phone: Top-of-the-line specifications
The internals are top-end, featuring a Snapdragon 855 processor, 12GB RAM, 512GB of fixed internal storage. The phone supports 5G and uses an embedded eSIM. Funtouch OS, based on Android, isn’t polished and needs a major revamp.
The phone does not offer a front-facing camera, which is pretty odd. Imagine a smartphone without a front-facing camera in 2019? The Apex 2019 also has a dual camera setup on the rear, but Vivo isn’t ready to reveal the camera specifications yet. Additionally, the company has not revealed the battery capacity on the Apex 2019. Remember – it’s just a concept device at the moment.
Vivo Apex 2019 concept phone: Early verdict
The Apex 2019 is an unusual smartphone for sure. What Vivo has done is something that I had no idea could be possible to implement. Then I worry again if it would be logical to release a phone with no buttons or ports. Right now, Vivo says the Apex 2019 is a mere concept and the company has no plans to sell the device commercially anytime soon.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines