Camera cutouts: The next horrible smartphone trend?

Some smartphone trends are born of necessity, like the trend towards larger onboard storage. Some smartphone trends are born out of a desire to curb costs and space, like the trend of removing the headphone jack. Some trends are useful, such as the wide adoption of fingerprint scanners. Some trends are nuisances, such as the removal of the headphone jack. We're seeing the beginnings of a new trend, and it's going to take a chunk out of our screens, if not our sanity.

Dammit Divot

Phones have trended larger and larger for the last several years, and then this year Samsung decided to go extra tall while keeping the Samsung Galaxy S8 reasonably narrow to hold and use. Bezels shrank almost ridiculously small on that phone, but other manufacturers saw that they could go further. Essential announced the Essential Phone, which stood out from the pack in a few ways, but most noticeably for the black divot in the middle of the screen's top edge, where the camera intruded upon the status bar. It's there, and while most of the time it's easy enough to ignore, there are some instances where that's just not possible, such as when watching videos or using the Essential Phone in landscape. It was an oddity, a daring experiment in just how far manufacturers could shrink bezels and give users usable touchscreen on the front of their phones.

Then Apple said hold my micro-brewed IPA.

Hera help us

The iPhone X is here, and while there's a lot going on here, the design feature your eye instantly gravitates to isn't that new vertical camera setup, nor the shiny glass back or the loving sculpted stainless steel frame. It's to that depression in the top of the screen, where the selfie camera and all of the sensors that make Face ID more than a glitchy fad dip down into the touchscreen, giving the iPhone screen stubby, sawed-off devil's horns.

iPhone X's screen is edge to edge all the way around the front face of the phone, minus that rectangle of sensors and cameras. While I'm looking forward to seeing how accessory makers handle having so little purchase for their front case lips, the real test here is going to be how users respond to having so little to grip around the edges of this edge-to-screen, and how users respond to that awkward bar at the top of the screen.

Lean in

Apple could've hidden this deformity and taken advantage of their first OLED display to have those horns blend back into the display by dying the status bar black, but they decided to lean into their choice. For that, I do have to respect them. My eyes, however, just keep twitching as they gravitate up to that black abyss in an otherwise bright, beautiful screen. I don't know if I'll ever adapt, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

I am sure of one thing, though, once Apple does it, it's bound to be imitated by other manufacturers, so get ready to see more divots, devil horns, or whatever they decide to call them.

They certainly look evil to me.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • Wholeheartedly agree! I thought, there may be a black bar when watching a movie but from the pictures it seems, that's not the case. Looks absolutely ridiculous! Also with a none black notification bar. The good thing? I'll never buy an iPhone anyway!
  • It is the case. You need to double tap on the screen to zoom in to fill the notch. Otherwise the video, by default, fits to inside the display taking into account the notch. Apple is aggressively trying to make the notch iconic, which is why all the shots show the zoomed in movie.
  • Just like the round home button on the bottom front was Apple's trademark that you have an iPhone that notch will also be Apple's new trademark that person has an iPhone X. Until they can figure out how to go completely 100% all screen. Maybe iPhone 11. Otherwise I like the new look. It's unique!
  • Your likings😮 Apple was the company which used to tout about having symmetry. Bottom and Top bezels equal, but now??
  • Unique?
  • As unique as watching a film with your thumb accidentally obscuring part of the movie which begs the question - what is the "actual non obscured" resolution and aspect ratio.
  • It's a rounded rectangle with part missing, lots of areas to subtract.
  • It's going to be more like anther 3-4 years to be able to have all those sensors and Front Camera hidden behind the OLED Screen (if at all)
  • Where did you get that information because so far all that was shown shows videos switching to a full screen landscape mode. It sound like you're making things up.
  • You can zoom in to avoid the notch but then you get horrific letterboxing on all 4 sides. Really is a huge design fail.
  • I'm actually surprised that Apple came out with that cutout design. I hope they don't stick around. Watching videos would bug the heck out of me.
  • I don't think Jobs would have let that leave the drawing board.
  • No chance. They are a mere shadow of what they once were from a design standpoint.
  • haha - short memory: Jobs deplored and ridiculed and refused to release pbones that had large screens
  • Exactly. It was a very lazy design decision for apple. I was expecting apple to develop a screen with the front cam behind it and will be invisible.
  • Too bad can't have the option of no front camera
  • Yes, but iOS users would need some outlet for their vanity - so a secondary selfie display on the back? If they chose e-ink on the back, they could provide always-on info without much battery impact. Put touch-id FPS on the back too.
  • Says the guy with a selfie as a display picture.
  • iMirror.
  • You can just add a black bar when watching videos, so the front camera won't annoy you. It's easy for me to do.
  • On iOS? I'm sure we could in Android.
  • He probably means grab some electrical tape and fixed.
  • Electrical tape? Commit! Go Sharpie!
  • Sharpie on glass is the opposite of commitment!
  • What black bar? Whatever you do to get rid of it will either crop the video, stretch the video or will add unnecessary letterboxing. There is no elegant way around it IMO.
  • Looks stupid. I understand reducing the bezels, but not to that point!
  • I just... don't see how this is worse than having a full bar along the top? Is it really a big deal having a cutout for the camera?
  • I think the point is that it's showing how useless that extra but of space is. Not a huge fan of the GS8, but it looks better than the Essential or the iPhone X. Not that there's typically a whole lot going on in the edges with videos, but it's still weird to have a big ass display and be missing content.
  • It looks dirty... Bad industrial design in my opinion. All forms of media have hard edges, the display should too.
  • If it's cutting into my video or game, it's a huge deal.
  • Welcome to the answer to bezel complaints.
  • Yep. You get what you whine for. Or, make that, you deserve what you get for what you whine for. Or, that for which you whine. OK. You deserve what you get as a result of whining? Forget it. Everybody just quit whining about freakin' bezels already!
  • Maybe once they've figured out the under-glass fingerprint sensor, they can move on to putting the sensors and cameras under the screen...
  • That will never happen. They cannie change the laws o' physics, laddie!
  • What law of physics would that be, mate?
  • Microsoft has recently been granted a patent for an under-display fingerprint sensor:
  • And Apple will probably copy it, implement it first, then sue Microsoft.
  • If any other company had put this out Renee Ritchie would have already written a ten thousand word essay about how it means they suck and their design sucks and Apple would never do something so lame.
  • Exactly right. I think that's what gets me with this iPhone X. The cutout doesn't REALLY bother me too terribly, but it looks so poorly done and just not like something I'd expect Apple to do. I guess I expect Apple to do a better job of implementation of something like this. If there's one thing Apple is good at, it's build quality and design. This iPhone X is probably great in a lot of ways but it looks like a budget phone to me.
  • Notch may not appeal to everyone but make no mistake the iPhone X is no budget phone in terms of looks, quality and of course price lol. It's definitely a high quality looking phone. As I said in the above comment the look is unique. That notch is now Apple's trademark look like the round home button you have an iPhone X phone until they go all screen hiding the sensors underneath.
  • Meh. People will continue to pay for overpriced crap and then try to justify their purchase. iPhone 7s Err 8 is an incremental update over last year's and the X Err ten isnt much better really. You get OLED vs IPS in a small screen which let's be honest here the difference is next to none. On a nice big screen it's noticable and only to some. You get the "Notch" which I guess is a feature? OIS on secondary zoom lens, which lest be honest here that's where it's needed most. The fact they didn't include it in the 8 plus is just asinine. Face ID.... We'll have to wait in this but it's never really caught on. I mean Android has had it since 4.0. Designs nothing exciting. I mean I thought the camera hump was hideous on my V20, the iPhone X has It beat.
  • Android hasn't had Face ID (which includes depth) since ever. It has had facial recognition, limited to 2D. Maybe Tango had 3D facial recognition but I never saw it mentioned in any review.
  • Glad to hear that I am not the only one who doesn't like the V20 camera wedge!
  • Not a fan.
    I guess we're just going to have to live with bezels until they just implement components in to the screen, if that's possible.
    To me having just a little bezel is perfectly with me if we can just keep the screen size rectangular. I'm not sure why anyone would tolerate this. Imagine buying a TV with something like this. No way.
  • I do believe you could put cameras under glass, but biometric, not yet.
  • Almost all cameras are already under glass... What you can't put them under is a screen.
  • Hate it. At least with the Essential, they tried to make it blend it as much as possible. Apple didn’t even try.
  • some claim (i.e. iMore/Macrumor folk) that's Apple's *entire point*, to make the notch look unique and stand out. I think any notch would drive me crazy. Sorry to see that the company that started all this bezel stuff, Sharp, has gone all cut-out with their Aquos 2 as well. I think this cut-out business is all temporary until something else comes along, like under-glass sensing (patents are out there now) or something that stretches along more of the frame.
  • Hopefully, because this notch is a disgrace to the Apple logo. Apple is the company known for obsessing over the small details. This notch is a big joke.
  • The Apple logo has a notch.
  • I know I'm the minority here, but I would be 100% ok without a front facing camera.
  • Expect other companies to beef the hell out of their front facing cameras. They aren't going anywhere.
  • i don't do selfies, but there is a lot of utility in a fron-facing camera, like having an illuminated mirror for seeing behind things where you can't get. i use the front camera for this on a regular basis.
  • I agree. Other than showing me the positioning for the iris scanner on my Note 8, I have used a front facing camera for photos maybe 10 times in the last 7 years, and none of them have been for selfies. I'm sure the front facing camera is used for many other things, but if they could find a way to do those things without it, I'd be in support.
  • It's interesting because the so-called "selfie camera" was originally implemented to allow for FaceTime and similar video chatting. The narcissists have commandeered the feature to feed their insatiable egos.
  • Oh ya taking a picture is narcissistic. You're so edgy and cool because you don't take pictures of yourself.
  • Instagram has deleted your account. ;)
  • They really just looks dumb, it's basically just wasted space. Nothing that can't be fixed by lowering the screen and hiding the taskbar when needed!
  • Yep, it is pretty dumb. Give me the design of the LG G6/V30 and the GS8/Note 8 over the Essential and iPhone X any day.
  • I hate them! If rather have a small bezel on top and the bottom of the phone (like the S8s and Note 8) than ugly camera divots distracting me from my screen.
  • Agreed. I am for all intents and purposes an Apple Fanboy. I actually am a technology fanboy, but I have a large vested interest in Apple and this notch broke the spell for me. They just don't care anymore because they don't have too.
  • "They just don't care anymore because they don't have too." THIS SO MUCH!!! Iphones will sell no matter what they look like or do, and Apple knows that.
  • Exactly! Minimal bezzels like that is good enough for me. Don't need bezeless at the cost of the camera cutting in the screen.
  • You guys cried for minimal bezels. Now you got it. Don't complain now!
  • Minimal bezels, like S8 or G6, not idiotic bezels, iPhone X and Essential.
  • I invite you to go back through all of my comments and find a single example of me asking for the removal of bezels... Til then, I'll complain all I I want.
  • This is outrageous! And disgusting! I guess you have to write about something...
  • Not related to the notch, but did Apple say anything about using their OLED screen for an Always On feature (such as what Samsung does)? If not, what a waste.
  • They're saving that for the iPhone XS. Gotta have a reason to upgrade!
  • The battery life would be abysmal. It's already not much better than the iPhone 7, which was atrocious. Of course real life tests will show, but this is safe to assume considering Apple compared the phone to iPhone 7.
  • they've already said the X battery had to be bigger than the 8/8 Plus for the Face ID sensors because they have to become active whenever one moves or wakes up the phone. can't imagine they'd waste juice on anything additional right now.
  • I have always thought Apple has always had great looking hardware. I like the X, and wouldn't mind the notch, as I don't watch movies on my phone. My issue with them has always been software. I can't stand iOS. If Android were on an iPhone, I would purchase this in a heartbeat.
  • Hey man, my finger slipped when I was trying to upvote vebix and it hit reported on your post. That is definitely not what I meant to do and I’m sorry about that.
  • The iPhone X just smacks of "we need to do something different but the thru-screen tech isn't ready so here's a notch!" However I'm /way/ more worried about losing the fingerprint sensor because omg apple did it now we have to. There's simply no way faceID is more convenient than touchID. Apple could have hit it out of the park by putting a sensor on the back (in the apple logo even, that would have been pretty sweet) but /noooo/ that would be admitting android phones did something good, so instead let's gimp the phone. The mere existence of the iPhone 8 just reinforces my belief that they know the X isn't really ready.
  • exactly
  • I would have paid $1500 for an iPhone X without that notch. Instead I'll probably fly solo on the Note 8 for awhile.
  • I don't want to be a "notch Baby".
  • In the first place i don't have a problem with having some bezels on a phone. However that cam equipment in the status area wouldn't bother me at all. Within a few mins i would simply no longer see it. Minutiae.
  • Camera cutouts: the new flat tire. I prefer the Samsung and LG approach of making the bezels just enough to hold the hardware without compromising the screen. This whole race for the thinnest bezels for bragging rights is stupid. Watch the V30 review and pause at 1:46. It's hard to tell the difference between the V30 and the U11 in that shot because of the virtual bezels that are required to make the full screen video fit properly. But, that is far better than having a divot cutting into your video content.
  • Totally agree.
  • The Removal of the Headphone jack from mobile devices is not so much to save on cost and space as it is something that the RIAA (Recording Industry of America) has been pushing to have removed from devices for a long time. Headphone jacks are analog so they do not support copy protection.
  • This is probably at least partly true.
  • They may have wanted that at one point but do you really think that people are hooking their phones up to some sort of digital recording device to pirate music via the headphone jack?
  • Seriously? No way. If you wanted to copy something that way, you'd have to do it in real-time, so a 5 minute song now takes 5 minutes to copy. Stupid. Absolutely no way Apple caved to RIAA and removed the jack for that reason. Most other phones still have the headphone jack and will for a long time to come. Apple is just being apple.
  • My eye was drawn to the notch. Don't know how one would adapt to its presence in everyday use yet it looms so large.
  • "Some smartphone trends are borne of necessity, like the trend towards larger onboard storage. Some smartphone trends are borne out of a desire to curb costs and space..." Trends are born, not borne. "Borne" means "carried". Trends are generally birthed, therefore "born."
  • Pedants are born, not borne, as well.
  • Fixed with my thanks. My writing style sometimes lets a bit more slip through grammatically when editors dig into it.
  • For curbing costs and space, I think a thin battery would've been a better example than using the headphone jack twice.
  • I'd doubt there will be much criticism about that screen intrusion. People will not want to question their decision to buy a $1000 phone.
  • Iphone X is not bezel-free. The edges on my Axon 7 are smaller. Where is the ridicule that Essential received for the much smaller notch on the top of their phone? Just because it's (cr)Apple doesn't make it better.
  • There was MUCH ridicule regarding the Essential notch.
  • obviously you weren't paying attention when they treated the essential phone like the kid who had lice.
  • They finally realised that the whole bezel-less trend is stupid since it gives no space for grip. Unfortunately, they're only criticizing Apple for it for some reason.
  • Sharp has said since the original bezel reduced Aquos Crystal release 3 years ago that they left the bottom bezel as big as it was in part for something to hold on to (the other reason of course was sensor & camera placement).
  • The face camera and sensors are a necessity, but certainly not part of the appeal of a great display. I, by far, prefer the Samsung approach to make them sort of disappear into the thin upper black bar. Maybe some some will get used to it, but my eyes cannot "unsee" the divit/notch.
  • Wow, so they are actually altering the image to fit it on that terrible screen? It is bad enough having to crop everything for a display nothing is designed for (all those dumb 2:1 displays) but this is a step further. I won't buy any phone with a screen that is curved or isn't 16:9 rectangle. That means I will probably have to settle for midrange phones from now on but most midrange phones run great, have a longer lasting battery and don't cost as much so it's not really much of a loss. That iphone X would have still looked great (other than the rounded corners) if they had just done a normal bezel like how the Note 8 looks.
  • Actually they don't you have to double press rhe screen for it! By default the aspect ratio is respected and the notch and rounded corners are hidden. I don't know why apple is marketing that image!
  • i wonder what percentage of the entire screen is lost by them having to fit the image in sans-notch?
  • A lot. Makes a large screen phone pointless
  • Android Central: Home of the Hot Take.
  • Agreed, I don't like the cut-out either.
  • Basically having edge to edge device didn't becomea bad trend but now Apple did it and it is suddenly bad! Why haven't I seen criticism like it when Samsung or Essential released their phone! Being biased is ok as everyone kind of is anyway but come on!!
  • To be a trend, more than one person or entity must be doing it. When it was just the Essential, it wasn't a trend by definition. Now that Apple has also done it, it can be reasonably declared a trend. Samsung doesn't count because they haven't created a cutout on their screen.
  • Nope. Worst trend = $1000 phones.
  • "giving the iPhone screen stubby, sawed-off devil's horns." Sounds like a Hellboy reference, which is way cooler than they deserve.
  • It's Hellboy's thing, Apple shouldn't steal it.
  • The iPhone X. The very definition of buyer's remorse.
  • It's the new flat tire. I'd rather have tiny bezels like the S8 than something that permanently interferes with my display. Any game that has touchable elements or information on the edge now needs to rethink things. They even showed a game during the Apple Self Congratulations Festival where that cutout messed with the game's interface. If you walked into a theater and the left edge of the movie screen had a giant cutout, you'd demand a refund.
  • They did it on purpose to not look like an s8 or V30, then force developers not to hide it in landscape, sort of like a statement. And videos shown in press images are zoomed in to get edge to edge, otherwise it’s letterboxes
  • OMG!!! We hate bezels! Every phone's bezel is too big! Must kill the bezels! Hey, here's a phone without a bezel! OMG!!! It has a cutout! Must kill the cutouts!
  • Cut outs are ******* ugly.
  • And the laziest of design.
  • I understand why it's there, but honestly, I'd be perfectly happy to get rid of front facing cameras altogether. I never use mine. I don't do selfies and I don't do video calls on my phone. Maybe I'm just weird in this world of social media where everyone feels the need to share a picture of themselves with some kind of filter on it. And maybe I'm even more weird to think someone should be able to take a picture of themselves just as easily with a rear facing camera and recenter and crop it as necessary, or try again if they aren't in frame. Used to do it all the time with point and shoots and before front facing cameras were even a thing.
  • blasphemy
  • front facing camera is the number 1 selling point for mobile phones.... to get rid of it would be ridiculous lol
  • Your right, this **** is trash with these cut out of the screen. Don't care what no one says that crap gets annoying. I want full screen as much as possible. Essential and that iPhone are terrible
  • dont like bezelless design, dislike camera cut even more. they go hand in hand.
  • Agreed, good article
  • With the circle home button gone, Apple needed a new way to make their phones easily recognizable at a glance. I just hope other OEMs understand that and not try to follow (not likely, I know).
  • I'd rather have a thin top and bottom bezel. And I hate the new display ratios, the tall and skinny phone trend. Previous 4.7- to 5.5-inch display flagships from Samsung, Moto, HTC, LG, etc. felt great in hand. Reducing the bezel seemed like the perfect opportunity to offer more display with those ideal sized phones. Instead, OEMs seem to be going about this all wrong and making unappealing design decisions, like tall and skinny phones with odd fingerprint sensor and front camera placement.
  • Why is this only a thing after Apple did it? I don't recall an article just about this when it was the Essential phone. And most of the comments here are bashing Apple for doing it. Come on guys when it is something good you can't scream fast enough that Android has it first. Do the same here. By the F Apple, I hate them LOL
  • Articles about the Essential PH-1 were filled with complaints about the notch (among other things). Maybe you did not read them?
  • Please... It's edge to edge GLASS. Not screen... My V20 has thinner side bezels than the iPhone X.
  • This is something Steve Jobs would have NEVER allowed. The X looks like it was rushed to deadline and not completely finished. Yes, it is top notch hardware and I'm sure the chip is a beast, but anyone who remembers Jobs era Apple knows he would have never put out a product that didn't look, feel, and work up to his vision. Just wouldn't have happened. It would have either been done exactly as he wanted or delayed until it was...
  • "top notch hardware" heh
  • "but anyone who remembers Jobs era Apple knows he would have never put out a product that didn't look, feel, and work up to his vision"... The first iPhone was a 3.5" screen that looked like a kindergarden toy; which had no copy/paste, no app store, no mutitasking, etc. Even in Steve Jobs' era, things were ugly and rushed to market, the thing with Apple is and has always been; lot's of Marketing! iMaps was rushed to market and became a fiasco! iPads were never ever supposed to be less than 13" on Jobs 'vision', yet he was worng there too!
  • When does the larger battery trend kick in? I rather have that than weirdly shaped screens. SMH
  • Oh stop moaning Portia
  • I see pretty large "bezels" on all four sides of the screen in that image above. The glass may go all the way to the edge of the phone, but the image doesn't seem to. Not even close.
  • Biased as I may be (own an Essential), but I think the Essential move is ok. I look at it like this: the notch does not intrude into the screen, rather the notifications no longer intrude on the screen. It's similar in execution to the LG V20, but a more elegant solution (not a proprietary screen with restrictions). That is how that area behaves in practice, your background goes up to the top, notifications and system icons are up there, and much like how android allows occasionally the notification bar is themed (colored etc). Also, the notch registers touches so you are not required to avoid it when pulling the shade down. As such, a more accurate measurement of usable screen is probably closer to 5.6" instead of 5.7". I get if you don't like it aesthetically but functionally it works well and you only lose 2 notification icons worth of space in the middle of the screen. To apple, i don't know WTF those guys were doing, it would have been ok if they did what android/essential do, but now the notch covers more of the top than the screen.
  • And to add insult to injury: the screen-to-body ratio is still worse than an S8's.
  • Ugly as sin
  • Spot on with this article! One of the many reasons I didn't even bother with the Essential phone. Apple is even worse. I sure hope this will not be a trend going forward. No need to cut into the screen.
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  • On Hellboy, they're fine. Less so on a phone.
  • This looks awful. I'd rather have a wider top bezel with the camera in it instead of it intruding onto the screen
  • Camera cutouts is a very lazy design decision. Shouldn't have pushed the screen to the edge until the front cam has been addressed.
  • I agree! I won't say it's a deal breaker, but their only solution was to notch out the display? If you have to have a bezel at the top in order to fit the various front facing sensors, the front facing camera and perhaps a notification LED and you made said bezel no wider than the camera then I think most people would be forgiving as the bezel serves a purpose. Or like the Xiaomi Mi Mix you can make it little slits for the front facing earpiece/speaker and LED and I'm sure give some department of engineers somewhere the mission and they'd figure out how to make a camera that was a slit of megapixels instead of the traditional circular arrangement we have now. I mean cameras, microphones and speakers get smaller each and every year, it's the next logical step that they (cameras) become slits and leave behind their roundness...
  • In my simple and personal opinion, the ugliest 2017 design trend is that discrepant glass on back and front side. For example, why silver version of Galaxy S8 need to have a black front? Why not one of the same color? In Essential Phone this cutout is really weird but at least they use a uniform design in all the rest of device. I guess it has more well implemented on iPhone (and it will appear even on screenshots, as said by PhoneArena and another tech sites). But, taste is taste.
  • I don't like these screen intrusions either.
    I much prefer the aeasthetic of the Galaxy 8 series with the minimal bezels top and bottom
  • LG did extra tall better than Samsung. A trend I'd "like" to see is HI-Fi DACs as standard equipment. After all the whole point of a phone is the best sound possible. As to the camera cutout. WTF are they thinking?