The X Factor? Not Really
A fantastic execution of a flawed idea still doesn’t make the cut. Some of Oppo and Vivo’s new features are cases in point
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I get the widespread appeal and the near euphoric proclamations of long overdue innovation that have accompanied the recent launches of the Oppo Find X and Vivo Nex smartphones… I really do. In an industry that pushes out “top-notch” bootlegs of the iPhone X without nary a thought to why they copied the iPhone design in the first place, these new devices may seem exciting, if only for the fact that they are trying something different.
What both Oppo and Vivo have done is inch a step closer to the Holy Grail of a truly bezel-less smartphone, and boy, do they do it with pizzazz! No me-too notches to see here, both phones are nearly all-screen, so you get pretty insane screen-to-body ratios upwards of 90 per cent. How, you ask? Both these devices take the pop-up selfie camera route – with the Vivo, it is done via a motorised pop-up module (akin to a mini-periscope), while Oppo raises the entire top of the phone to expose the selfie camera, face scanning tech and towards the rear, an intelligently hidden rear camera.
The motorised slide-up movement, working in tandem with the face unlock or camera features, is sure to evoke a collective jaw-drop across the room when you first use it, and I have to admit, it does look pretty neat even to the most jaded among us. Pretty cool, right? Admittedly. A good idea? Not at all.
You see, adding mechanical parts to phones is a horribly regressive move, one that creates a lot more issues than it aims to solve. For starters, it throws out of the window the notion of smartphone durability we have come to expect from flagship devices. Open up your device to the elements as the Find X does, for example, and you are asking for trouble — dust, water, sweat, lint and other miscellany will find their way into the nooks and crevasses of this device. Worse still, if they damage the motor powering the slide-up mechanism, your $1,000 device is left without its cameras or its face-unlock wizardry until you get it repaired. Also, consider that all this is possible in the unfortunate event that you drop the phone with the slider open and it lands wrong.
But hey, everyone uses a case, so you will probably just use a protective case to avoid such mishaps, right? Sure, but how are you going to find a case that actually protects the phone and yet doesn’t block the whole mechanism from opening? Quite honestly, even if you do keep it clean and don’t drop it at all, all those moving parts in the Find X are likely to see higher failure rates over their flagship peers.
And then there is the issue with packing in the front and rear cameras in an even tighter space than you would normally be able to afford with other phones. It comes down to sheer physics — you need a complex array of lenses to manage a high-quality camera, and these phones just don’t have the space for them!
So, while the novelty factor of these devices is high at the moment and the appeal of the motorised slider mechanism gives Oppo and Vivo a uniqueness in an otherwise highly crowded market, I am not the biggest fan of this trend. One can only hope smartphone makers treat this as an engineering showcase that remains in the labs and serves as an example of what’s possible, rather than out in the world in consumers’ hands. No matter how well you execute a fundamentally flawed idea, it still remains just that. A bad idea.
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