It’s time to Chinese smartphone company Vivo to give us its annual update on the APEX concept line which, in its past two generations, had given us a taste of what was to come in the smartphone world. The new APEX 2020 5G concept smartphone is a device that comes with a number of interesting photography-related features, including what the company calls a “gimbal-stabilizing camera.”
Like previous APEX phones, the Apex 2020 is a concept, but this isn’t just a series of renders and a hopeful press release. Vivo would have shown the real, working APEX 2020 phone during Mobile World Congress, had the show not been canceled at the last moment. What’s more, this is not a concept with tech that will never make it into phones we can buy. Vivo has always been committed to bringing examples of the tech we see here to mainstream smartphones, sometimes with only very minor alterations.
The first highlight is that Vivo created a special continuous optical zoom system with four lens elements that function more like a zoom lens on a traditional DSLR or mirrorless camera. A 16-megapixel periscopic tele camera on the back which, according to Vivo, offers an optical zoom range of 5x to 7.5x, more than the currently longest smartphone teles.
This breaks the previous 5x upper limit on the likes of the Huawei P30 Pro and the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom, and will likely produce results that are almost as good as, if not better than, the 10x hybrid zoom offered by both devices. What’s more impressive is that this camera module is only 6.2mm thick, which is slimmer than the 6.76mm-thick component on the Reno 10x Zoom.
The 48-megapixel “gimbal camera” below the zoom camera is rather fascinating. Vivo says it managed to embed a tiny “gimbal-like structure” into the main wide-angle camera, providing twice the stabilization as traditional optical image stabilization systems. Vivo claims the new system extends the stabilization angle by 200 percent and says the design was inspired by the eyeballs of a chameleon, which freely rotates in its socket, allowing the animal to observe its prey.
“It achieves optical stabilization both in the front-back and left-right inclined directions, which largely keeps the integrity of the image,” Vivo says. “The design of this main camera also achieves a stronger capacity for night photography.”
Last year’s APEX concept phone lacked a selfie camera, but for the APEX 2020 Vivo put on the front a 16-megapixel selfie camera, hidden inside the 6.45-inch 2330×1080 AMOLED display which turns transparent as soon as the shutter is triggered, allowing incoming light to hit the lens. This is tech we’ve started to see discussed already, but Vivo has apparently worked hard to solve the problems associated with these early in-display cameras.
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.
The camera also has the ability to remove passers-by in the background in real-time and a ‘Voice Tracking Auto-Focus’. The latter uses audio data from the microphones and visual data from the camera to ‘focus’ audio recording on a scene’s main subject, minimizing background sounds, similar to Samsung’s ‘Zoom-in Mic’.
Another photography feature in the APEX 2020 is Instant Photobomb Removal. Using its powerful computing powers, the phone “can perform real-time image segmentation and background repair synchronously,” removing photobombers from your photos to keep your subject as the center of attention in the frame, even when backgrounds are busy.
Vivo isn’t necessarily known for its camera hardware innovation, but the Apex 2020 sees the company pursuing some major firsts.
The Vivo APEX 2020 is a concept phone that we’ll likely never seen in the real world very soon, but previous iterations of this concept line have been good at predicting soon-to-come features in the world of smartphones.
More info on Vivo’s website.