Vivo held in Hong Kong yesterday a media hands-on session for its Apex 2019 concept smartphone that first made news in January for having no physical buttons, ports or “holes” (meaning speaker grilles or earpiece) of any kind. The idea was to achieve a “minimalistic” device that is entirely uninterrupted by moving parts, protrusions or indentations, so it can be one smooth, unibody piece.
Due to the wildly competitive nature of the Chinese smartphone space, a smaller brand named Meizu managed to steal some of Vivo’s thunder by rushing to launch a similar “hole-less” device, which I tested thoroughly and found to be an idea that was too radical for its own good.
After testing Vivo’s Apex 2019 for an hour, I can say the same issues that bothered me about Meizu’s device would still hinder the Apex 2019 were I to ever use it full time. Chief among these is that Vivo’s phone, like Meizu’s device, can only make a cellular connection via e-SIM due to the lack of a physical SIM card slot. The former tech is not even close to being ready for mainstream adoption.
Another issue I had with this button-less design was that the touch/pressure sensitive capacitive side panels were impossible to find by touch (remember, these phones are entirely smooth on the sides), and I just can’t see myself ever wanting to give up the ease of being able to adjust volume easily in favor of having a phone that’s slightly “smoother” along the sides.
But here’s the thing, Vivo understands this. Unlike Meizu, which actually took its concept phone to the crowdfunding stage (and flopping), execs at Vivo told the media yesterday the device is just a concept to show off future technology, and that it won’t be released to the public.
Of the new tech, the one that impressed me most is that the entire display of the Apex 2019 is essentially a fingerprint reader, meaning a user can unlock the device by pressing their thumb on any part of the screen. This is achieved by implanting an optical sensor underneath the entire display panel of the concept phone, a big improvement over the current in-screen fingerprint scanning tech that requires finger placement on a specific–and small–portion of the screen, which can be hard to find at times. I’m currently testing the Samsung Galaxy S10 right now with such a scanner, and I can say it took me two days to learn how to unlock the phone without needing to find the blind spot.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Vivo is the one to introduce this improved tech, as the Shenzhen-headquartered company was the pioneer of the in-display fingerprint scanner movement, and it has continued to evolve the tech at a pace that can only be described as “China speed.” When I tested the first Vivo device with an in-display fingerprint scanner just 10 months ago, I found the tech a mixed bag that didn’t work all the time. Three months later, Vivo had improved it to a point that I had no problems with the scanner. And now, the Apex 2019 takes it to its no-compromise maximum potential.
Vivo did say that embedding an optical sensor under the entire display panel drives up production costs significantly, so don’t expect to see this all-screen fingerprint scanner tech “really soon.” But this is a Chinese phone brand we’re talking about, and the rate at which they work and the cut-throat competitive market has me confident that we’ll see this tech be used in a wide released Vivo flagship by autumn of 2019.