The thing about concept cars is that even though they’re never going to be sold, car makers do actually have to build and present them. Otherwise, who’s going to understand the difference between a true concept and an absent-minded idea? Pity Vivo, then, which had planned to unveil its latest Apex concept phone at Mobile World Congress, but due to the event’s cancellation now has to settle for telling everyone about it in a press release.
Perhaps the Apex 2020 will see the light of day in a future event. For now, though, all I can do is tell you about what Vivo says it was expecting to show off and take the company at its word that the phone does actually exist somewhere in Shenzhen — because if it’s real, it does sound pretty groundbreaking in a few ways.
The Apex 2020’s most prominent visual feature is a 6.45-inch “fullview edgeless” display with 120-degree curved edges that go far beyond what Vivo installed on last year’s Nex 3 flagship. That phone’s “waterfall display” looked dramatic in person with its 88-degree curves, but the Apex 2020’s screen wraps even further around the edges. Like last year’s Apex, the 2020 model has no ports or openings and uses virtual buttons, which didn’t work too well in conceptual form but were much improved on with the commercial Nex 3.
Like other Apex and Nex phones, the 2020 has no notch, which for the first time Vivo is achieving by integrating the 16-megapixel selfie camera right into the display. Vivo says it’s managed to increase the light transmittance of that portion of the screen by six times, while relying on algorithmic optimizations to improve image quality. This is something we’d really want to see in person before passing judgement on — Oppo showed off similar tech last year, but it didn’t look great and is still yet to ship on a consumer device.
Vivo isn’t necessarily known for its camera hardware innovation, but the Apex 2020 sees the company pursuing some major firsts. At the top of this list is what Vivo calls “continuous optical zoom,” which basically sounds like it means “actual optical zoom.” Even the zoomiest phones on the market right now, like the Galaxy S20 Ultra, rely on fixed prime lenses and software to process the shots between those focal lengths; it’s really just digital zoom with a couple more optical steps along the way.
The Apex 2020’s telephoto lens, however, has actual moving lens elements that take it from 5x to 7.5x magnification. Vivo says the 16-megapixel module is just 6.2mm thick due to its periscope design, which allows it to fit inside the 8.8mm-thick phone.
Vivo is also professing to have achieved a huge leap in image stabilization by way of a “gimbal-like structure” on the 48-megapixel primary camera. The company is claiming a 200-percent increase in performance over traditional OIS systems, resulting in smoother video and much longer shutter speeds for nighttime photography. Vivo says the design is inspired by how chameleons’ eyeballs rotate to track subjects.
Who knows what this actually means in practice — it sure would have been nice to try these camera features out in person! But folding zoom optics and gimbal-style stabilization are not things that most people would have considered possible on a smartphone, so they certainly register as notable claims.
The Apex 2020 includes 60W wireless charging, which the company curiously touts as being able to charge a 2,000mAh battery in 20 minutes. That’s impressively fast for wireless and competes with the fastest wired solutions, but that would also be a tiny battery for a modern phone. Perhaps Vivo will take notes from Oppo and use a dual-cell design, which allows for faster charging without overheating, but the company hasn’t listed the Apex 2020’s actual battery capacity. It’s just as notable that Vivo is using any form of wireless charging in the first place — as far as I know, this is the first Vivo phone to offer it at all, even including the “port-less” Apex 2019 (which used pogo pins).
Not that the regular specs remotely matter for a phone that won’t ever go on sale, but Vivo says the Apex 2020 is a 5G device with a Snapdragon 865 processor, 12GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. The display is 1080p, the phone weighs 169g, and the OS is Android 10. It “comes” in black and white.
It’s odd to write about a phone that will never ship without seeing physical proof of its existence, but Vivo does at least have form for bringing concept features to life in actual products. The original Apex was the first phone we ever saw with the now-common pop-up selfie camera, for example, while the 2019 foreshadowed the Nex 3’s virtual buttons and curved glass. The question is, now that we know where Vivo sees the future of phone design going, how soon will it arrive for real?