Android Roms

All-screen phones and the dilemma of the frontal camera: all the alternatives (as well as the ‘notch’)

Cell phones with a screen that goes from edge to edge are here to stay, but taking the screen to the edges presents one or another type of headache. And now what do we do with the camera?

This year we are seeing how the manufacturers are using all of their creativity to resolve this dilemma with ‘notches,’ retractable and swiveling cameras, but the truth is that in the end there are few magical solutions and all have their pros and cons. To see it visually, we have created a small Frankenstein monster showing examples of all the possible solutions to what to do with the camera in order to maximize the screen.

Take the following images as just an approximate visual representation created thanks to the magic of Photoshop. The phone is based on a Galaxy S8 and the screen background is from OnePlus, but instead of looking for historical perfection, we were simply trying to visualize every possibility.

1. Camera in the top border

The previous creation is basically a Galaxy S8 / S9 with a more reduced bottom border and assumes the most classic alternative design. The camera, along with other sensors, is kept in a reduced top border, thus preventing it from covering part of the screen.

The problem for all-screen purists is that this top border has to be big enough to house the camera, which makes it lose in a certain sense the effect of an edge-to-edge screen. Some of the phones which make use of this type of solution are the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S9, Galaxy Note 8 and the LG V30.

2. Camera in the centered notch

Another alternative when the screen really covers the whole front is to create an island to house the camera. In the previous image we have used that of the Essential Phone because it is one of the most discreet, but here we will include all of the ‘notches’ of all sizes and designs.

The ‘notch’ refers to an area of the screen that is always covered and causes many side effects in the camera experience like black stripes or especially thick status bars. The problems are even greater if the phone is used in landscape mode, which makes all of the invention appear shoddy. Some of the phones which are using this system are the Essential Phone, the Oppo R15, the Zenfone 5, and many more.

3. Camera in a ‘notch’ in the corner

It was rumored that the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2s would have the camera in a discreet ‘notch’ in the top corner, and although it looks like in the end it won’t be like that, the idea was at least original. If they must take up some of the screen space for the camera, it’s better to put in on one side where it is less annoying than right in the middle.

Aesthetically it isn’t a Michelangelo and we lose the symmetry of the ‘centered notch,’ but to be honest, the majority of the time our cell phones aren’t symmetrical. The ‘notch’ on one side would have the advantage —assuming it could be small enough— of being able to be camouflaged in the status bar with the phone held vertically as well as horizontally. For now no cell phone uses this method.

4. Camera in the bottom border

Where it does look like the Mi Mix 2S will have its camera is, like its predecessors, at the bottom. The advantages are similar to those of the first option (the top border), since the screen is not cut, thus maintaining the aesthetic experience. Also, when one holds the phone, this bottom border tends to be covered, so the experience is almost like having a phone with no edges.

Nevertheless, the camera at the bottom has some side effects, since you have to choose between turning the phone to take a selfie or take a photo of your double chin. The phones that use this method are the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 and the Xiaomi Mi Mix, although Xiaomi placed the camera to one side and I have put it in the center, which in my opinion is better.

5. Retractable camera

And what if the solution to the dilemma was not to put things on the screen, but a camera which only appeared when it was needed? Essential has the patent, but Vivo was the first to carry it out with the Vivo Apex. When you need it, the camera magically appears from the top border.

The solution is of course ingenious, although having moving parts is already known to be a double-edged weapon. Mechanical movement is also sure to result in a greater battery use and those who take selfies all day long won’t want to wait for the time it takes for the camera to be ready, but the idea opens the way for bigger camera models or models with optic zoom. We have the most recent example in the Vivo Apex.

6. Swiveling camera

A similar solution to the previous one is that which Bluboo used in its S2. In this case it is the camera in the back of the phone that can turn on a hinge so that it can double as a frontal camera. It isn’t a new concept: the Oppo N3 had something similar in 2014, but at that time with a generous top border in which the swiveling camera was stored.

Economically, it is very convenient for the manufacturers to use one camera that works as two, since they only need to include one sensor in the phone, although for you as the user it means that changing the camera doesn’t mean only pushing a button, but instead doing a maneuver with the phone which could get old very fast. We have examples of this technology in the Bluboo S2 or the Huawei Shot X from 2015.

7. Camera in a hole in the screen

A compromise between the ‘notch’ and not having a notch is simply having a hole in the screen. It isn’t a technology that exists today, but Essential already has the patent for it. Doing away with the island in question, the lens of the camera shows through a hole in the screen, which is somewhat more discreet than a ‘notch’ because it takes about the same space as an icon on the notification bar.

The behavior would be similar to the different types of notches and depending on where it is located, it could be camouflaged more or less with the interface of the system. The main advantage is that, without the actual ‘notch,’ the area of the screen that it covers would be significantly reduced. So far no cell phone uses this technology.

8. Camera beneath the screen

Another technology that is not yet available —and for which Essential also has a patent— is that of cameras beneath the screen, following in the wake of the fingerprint readers. It is an important technological challenge that with luck will in the future free us from ‘notches.’

With a camera integrated into the display, we would get the best of both worlds: huge bezel-less displays without a camera that takes up part of the display or that is placed on the bezel or a corner. Taking into account how much time it took for in-display fingerprint sensors to arrive, I would not hold my breath while waiting for in-display cameras that no phone has yet.

9. Without the front-facing camera

Lastly, the easiest solution: to forgo the front-facing camera entirely. Although this situation would anger those taking selfies all the time, we have to agree that this is another possibility. Your selfie-taking needs could be met by using an attachable camera lens or the rear camera with an additional display on the phone’s back to take photos correctly.

If we take into account that one of the most important and most talked about features of any phone is precisely taking selfies, I doubt this option would be considered because it would also prevent us from making video calls.