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The Curious Case of the Android Notch

An Objective Look at the Notch

Every year, we see a pattern emerge in terms of smartphone features or their overall design. We were once content with polycarbonate plastic phones until manufacturers decided to use aluminum and then they decided to sandwich metal with glass in following years to make the device look more premium. Some trends become a standard and, whether you love it, can do without it, or are still sitting on the fence about the whole situation, it looks like the “in thing” for smartphones this year is the notch that was popularized by Apple’s iPhone X and first seen on the Essential Phone.

There’s certainly been a growing aversion towards the notch, which continues to blossom with each brand making their announcements that happen to have a slight indentation on the screen to house their front camera and a few sensors. Rather than add fuel to the fire, we’ve set out to answer the question: “Why are Android phone manufacturers employing the use of the notch?”

 

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Well, the answer was already given in part at the beginning of this article. It’s the latest trend. The race to produce phones with dual cameras and give customers access to software assisted bokeh was all the rage in 2016 and it wasn’t long ago that people were asking why we needed the 18:9 aspect ratio too, yet it’s widely accepted today with smartphones still sporting a 16:9 display often being called dated by both critics and consumers alike. Since the turnover for gadgets is incredibly fast these days, brand’s have to adapt to the biggest draw or it’ll look like they’ve been left behind.

Capturing Some of that Apple Magic

With each new announcement and release of these notched devices, it’s hard not to compare it to the iPhone X. It’s no secret that Apple has inspired many smartphone brands and there’s always been certain quality or perception brought about by Apple products that make them feel like they were meant for the upper-crust of society (aside from the price tag), so we really can’t fault other smartphone manufacturers for wanting to capture a bit of that magic.

The Search for a Truly Edge-to-Edge Display

Another reason we could be seeing more notched smartphones is the allure of having a device that’s mostly screen up front and that brands are pushing boundaries to deliver a completely bezel-less device. Samsung has been giving us curved displays since the introduction of the S6 Edge; pushing the innovation further with their Infinity Displays. Now, Essential wants to put an end to the trend they helped get started too by patenting an under screen camera, which would go along nicely with the under screen fingerprint scanner from vivo. While the tech is still in development, the notch should be seen as a step towards that direction.

Consider the Alternative

If the end goal is to deliver a device that’s mostly screen up front then we have to look a phone that possibly started it all. Enter the Xiaomi Mi MIX.

The Mi MIX was probably one of the first, if not the first, device to give us a glimpse of a smartphone that was almost bezel-free but there was a bit of a trade-off. With no way to house the front camera on top of the device, like most smartphones, Xiaomi had to place it in the bottom right corner; not the most flattering of angles. While you can flip the phone over, the added action definitely wasn’t the most convenient and was heavily criticized as well. If you’ve been following along with the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2s news, they’ve also added a notch on their phone to address this issue.

Is The Notch Necessary?

To be completely honest, no — the notch isn’t a necessity per se. Android manufacturers and, heck, even Apple could have easily given us a bezel on top of the display to house the camera and sensors on their devices but often times companies will want to show people what they’re capable of even if it is just a step towards what they want to truly deliver in the future. Yes, we could have done without the notch but we also have to take it for what it is — a stepping stone towards a device with close to a 100% screen-to-body ratio.

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Jamie Inocian

A self-confessed geek. Jamie started out helping out on the Unbox Podcast and became the Digital Sales Manager when he joined the team full time. He has since then transitioned into one of our Senior Editors and Head Video Producer.

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4 Comments

  1. You guys have an extreme fixation on “The Notch”.
    Why can’t you just see it as it really is: an engineering and technological constraint for *its time*.
    Don’t worry, pretty soon they can find a way around this blown-out-of-proportion “monstrosity” .

  2. The notch is here to stay until apple ditch the notch on their next iteration. However, 1 reader here had a point. He said that the top screen is used for notifications so it wont be a nuisance. And movies played at the 18:9 ratio screen phones does not use the whole screen.

    Personally, i dont like the notch so i’m staying away from it. And many welcome the notch. So, its a matter of preference.

  3. Apple was already able to make 3 sides of the iPhone bezel-less. However, since they still don’t have the capacity to hide the front camera or sensors under the screen, they still need to have a bezel on one of the phone’s sides. To make their offering better than a Mi Mix (which also has 3 bezel-less sides), they removed as much as possible from the remaining bezel to give more screen real estate, thus the notch.

    What I do not understand from the copycats is that, they employ a notch yet they still have these wide bezels at the bottom. From a design perspective, if they cannot do without a bezel at the bottom, then why bother with a notch? Why don’t they just house the camera and sensors in a bezel at the top that is equal in size with the one at the bottom creating a more symmetrical (and from my perspective, more elegant) design a la Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or Huawei Mate 10? :(

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