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More hole punch displays are coming, because we don't deserve nice things

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (Image credit: Android Central)

Let's get this out of the way early: hole-punch displays are stupid. They're poorly implemented cosmetic solutions to a fake problem, and they make your phone less functional simply by existing. The one saving grace to Samsung's gross af hole punch displays this year was how few if its competitors seemed to have picked up on the trend. While there were a couple of other manufacturers in China willing to give it a shot, most of the other phone manufacturers appeared to have devoted this energy elsewhere.

It turns out that had very little to do with a desire to avoid the hole punch, but instead was the result of a long-rumored exclusivity period Samsung had on the tech. So welcome to 2020, where the hole-punch display is probably going to take over the U.S. and the software managing it will get way worse before it gets better.

Wall-E Hole Punch Galaxy S10

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

While Samsung's implementation of the hole punch has improved with software updates, this hardware update is still not a net positive for its phone line. There's still unnecessary dead space around the holes, the notification gap is never not noticeable, and the fun things Samsung has added to the software don't actually improve the experience any.

You can put a very cool battery ring around the hole punch, letting you know how much power you have left... but this official software from Samsung doesn't let you choose between this and the standard battery reporter, so you just have both right next to one another. Ever put your phone in a cupholder upside down so you could charge it while you used GPS?

With a hole punch display, the whole bottom of the phone is cropped to save you from the display awkwardness and leaves you with functionally less display to work with. Even if you can look past these things or you say it doesn't bother you, this implementation is functionally worse compared to what we had before, where bezels were slightly thicker and the selfie camera was above the screen.

Shouldn't we be over this hole punch thing by now? Google's new facial recognition tech is really good

Samsung has had a year head start and a considerably larger software budget than most of its competition, and still can't create a functional way for this display tech to be better than just having a little extra bezel. With that in mind, what do you think these experiences from the other manufacturers will look like?

Aside from OnePlus, a small company making products mainly for power users, I can't imagine any software team making the hole punch useful. And even if they did, shouldn't we be over it by now? Google's new facial recognition tech is really good, and is only going to get the software support it so badly needs if other manufacturers start using it. Only you can't really do that and have a super slim bezel, and a hole punch won't do because there's far more than just two sensors at play. Will this year be divided between companies with ways to implement Google's new facial recognition tech and the slimmest bezels possible on a phone you can mostly hold in your hand? Because that's kind of a no-brainer for people who have actually used the tech in the Pixel 4 series.

Google Pixel 4a leaked render

Source: 91Mobiles / @OnLeaks (Image credit: Source: 91Mobiles / @OnLeaks)

Speaking of the Pixel line, these renders of an alleged Pixel 4a line up with this notion that Samsung had an exclusive on the hole punch display. It would make sense for Google to not include its new face unlock tech in what is supposed to be the budget model of this series, making that slimmer bezel the more attractive way to present everything on the display and make the phone still look and feel premium. But if this turns out to actually be what the phone looks like, Google will need to demonstrate that it has done more than just shifted the top nav to the right a little and padded the bottom UI when the phone is flipped to make the experience feel less awkward. As we learned from Google's first experience with a notch, a lot of this sort of thing is left up to developers to take advantage of, which isn't conducive to software consistency.

And yeah, selfishly I'm sad to see the weird phones disappear again for a while. I know the slide-up camera hidden in your phone body so you can whip it out like a party trick was never going to last, but I have a soft spot for companies willing to break the standard mold and try something new. There's value in experimentation, but it feels like most of what we're going to see out of 2020 is either a lame hole punch phone or a prohibitively expensive folding phone you probably still shouldn't buy. Well, and this thing Vivo is doing, I guess. That doesn't sound like much of a choice, and watching the smartphone ecosystem continue to stagnate and homogenize is a real shame.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

38 Comments
  • I would happily take bezels over a notch or hole. Worst idea ever.
  • "making that slimmer bezel the more attractive way to present everything on the display and make the phone still look and feel premium" Hole punch on Pixel 4a = look and feel premium
    Hole punch on everything else = gross af 🤔
  • I think this is meant to say that the hole punch on the Pixel 4a communicates "premium" by association with other premium phones having hole punches. Basically, "you can't have face recognition on a 4a, so here's a slick hole-punch camera to make you feel like you're getting your money's worth". It doesn't mean that that Russell thinks the hole punch on the 4a is a good idea, but I can see how you could interpret it that way.
  • I never said he thought it was a good idea. Not even close.
    However, you still managed to confirm that a hole punch actually conveys "premium."
  • I just don't get it. The bezel was never really a problem to me. My S9+ has a slim enough top bezel, I can't see any reason for saying it's too big and needs to go. They manufactured a problem but never really "solved" it adequately.
  • "While there were a couple of other manufacturers in China willing to give it a shot, most of the other phone manufacturers appeared to have devoted this energy elsewhere. It turns out that had very little to do with a desire to avoid the hole punch, but instead was the result of a long-rumored exclusivity period Samsung had on the tech." How could there be an exclusivity agreement on hole punch displays when Motorola, Honor/Huawei and Xiaomi/Redmi all released phones using the tech in 2019? Surely the fact that phones like the Honor View 20, Honor 20, Honor 20 pro, Moto One vision and Redmi K30 all exist in 2019 shows there was no exclusivity agreement as it's definitely not exclusive to Samsung. Unless you focusing on the US market.... "That doesn't sound like much of a choice, and watching the smartphone ecosystem continue to stagnate and homogenize is a real shame." The smartphone market has been stagnant for years. Screens have been good enough for a long time, cameras decent enough for most people for years. Phones have been quick enough for a long time. If it wasn't for software updates dying off so quickly (especially for Android phones) they would almost be no reason to upgrade. And the pixel bias is so apparent on this site and it's articles. The only interesting pixel phone they've released was the original and since then they've got worse and worse. Most dull flagship of the year. Costs silly money and still can't last a day without being hooked to a power bank. Fast updates are it's only saving grace.
  • I much prefer the hole punch on my note 10 plus over that notch on my pixel 3xl
  • In other words it's more of phones being the same with very little differences.
  • But the war on bezels!
  • Yeah, I don't understand the hatred for having bezels around a screen.
    The punchhole cameras are just weird. (and not in a "good way")
  • TBH I got used to the hole punch design than tear drop and God awful chin designs. Now would I rather not see any camera punch holes or bezels? Sure and other manufacturers have come out with many different varieties to make the phone more pleasant in viewing (e.g. One Plus 7 Pro etc.) But I do not like the mechanical system of front facing cameras or having another screen at the back of the phone. I am sure we will see in screen cameras to come out soon and we won't be talking about this anymore. Until then...I am sticking to the hole punch over others.
  • I suppose I should be glad this is just an opinion piece because it makes no sense to me at all. I have never had any issues with the hole punch on my S10+ and would absolutely rather have something off to the top right corner as opposed to some tear drop Gap right in the middle of the top of the screen. To me, this is like people who complained about the finger print sensor going to the back on the S8+. It takes 1 hour to get used to it, and maybe a day or 2 to master using it, but people would rather complain because it was different than what they were used to.
  • That's why you have a choice of manufacturers. Don't like it, find a brand that does not have one. One of the great things about Android. You have lots of options out there. Pretty simple.
  • Even Samsung tries hide the embarrassing hole in the screen with wallpapers. It's fine if you are just doing phone stuff like calls, text, and email. Switch to a full screen game or a movie, and the hole is unavoidable.
    What would you do if you sat down in a movie theater, and there was a three foot hole in the screen? I'd get my money back.
    Sorry, but I'll keep my little bezels where the hardware lives without compromise, and enjoy every last pixel of the screen, including the corners 😉
  • ......that's like comparing apples and oranges. you don't go to the movies to also take a selfie.
  • Who really cares though!! Bezels, notch, teardrop, etc, etc.... Looks like the whole tech world suffers from OCD.
  • I'm far from OCD, but I don't buy cars with wheels missing, sandwiches with a bite missing, or screens with a hole in them ;)
  • It is not less screen, it is more screen. Otherwise, the screen surrounding the hole or notch would have been bezels!
  • Well, it wouldn't be called a car if it didn't have wheels... Notch or no notch, what would you use the screen space above for anyway? Battery, network, notifications..... Same as is being done now, therefore it's not a big deal to the majority of us.
  • The difference is that the notification bar goes away, the hole cannot because it is actual missing pixels in your screen. I'd rather have a couple millimeters of bezel than have the screen corrupted, but that's just my opinion.
  • But if HTC released a phone with a hole in the screen, that would be the best thing since sliced bread.......
  • I like the design of Sony's latest xperias, to me they look modern and stylish with small bezels top and bottom and no hole on the screen. I realise you probably get used to them but there's an answer to holes or notches...small bezels hey presto no hole in the screen and room to fit multiple cameras and stereo speakers with no problems!
  • What exactly can satisfy you? No bezels, no notch, no hole.... such a nit picky thing to write about! It is better than a hidden camera mechanism !
  • As the market gets more and more saturated, phone design gets dumb and dumber. A few years ago, it was all about thin, at the expense of battery life, where Jony Ive infamously said "we have to sacrifice battery life for thinness, because that's how you like to use your phone" (or something like that). Then after a few years of people getting tired of doing the wall hugging routine and complaining loudly about it, some manufactures (Apple, Samsung) actually added a touch of thickness (see the iphone 11 - definitely thicker than the 6,7,8), to get much better battery life.
    More recently, it's all about minimal or no bezels, as if bezels were the worst thing ever. In fact, if a phone, tablet, convertible, or laptop has bezels that are perceived as being too thick, all the dumb tech reviewers will ravage the thing for being "so dated". And what do we get as a result? Stupid, asinine notches, teardrops, and hole punches, all of which totally interfere with the most important part of the phone - the screen, and can really ruin the video or gaming experience.
    And most reviews of the Pixel 4 have criticized "the huge forehead" OMG!!!! But I'll take that "huge forehead" over a stupid notch or hole punch, any day ... because bezels are fine, and I'd rather have an uninterrupted screen.
    Anyway, nice article.
  • big fan of the hole punch, i do not see the issue with it. gives bigger screen and you do not even notice it.
  • The only success you've had in this article is proving how much of a ****** you are and ensuring I never click on anything with your name again. This is some of the worst writing I've ever read.
  • In order of preference:
    1. No notch and no bezels - most solutions involve some embedded mechanical camera
    2. Small bezels - Samsung S9/Note 9 are good examples
    3. Teardrop notch - OnePlus 7T is rather unobtrusive
    4. Hole Punch - Samsung S10 is solid implementation
    5. Other notches - Too many to name
    6. Larger bezels - Old school but tolerable
    7. Pixel 3XL notch - Wow, that thing is hard to miss
  • I have never been happier than now, having a OnePlus 7T Pro with a slide up camera - which I'm more than satisfied with, since I never take selfie's at all.
    No notch, no hole punch, just a big clean stunning 90 Hz display. I think there's a market for phones like this,
    I can't be the only one in the world, who doesn't use the front facing camera.
  • And yet Sony gets **** for their bezels. Happily read this article from my Xperia 1
  • Slim phones at the cost of battery life and notches or holes for the camera only show marketing has too much input over the engineers, who would probably prefer just to crank out beast after beast. It's the Paris Hilton effect.
  • Pixel phones are ugly they were trying to copy iphones but no one bought them. Now they are trying to copy samsung phones. Google should just kill the pixel.
  • No they shouldn't kill the Pixels, only because there's limited options for stock Android users apart from Android One. But I'm over the Pixels now that I finally bought a OnePlus 7T which is a brilliant phone and Oxygen OS is so much better than stock Android that I'll never buy a Pixel again.
  • OnePlus is crap. you went from ****** screen pixel 2xl, awesome in every other way. to a data robbing scam company. you really are a special one aren't you. what about nokia? thought they were WAY better than ANYTHING. oh. right, whatever YOU have is the best and the rest is crap. Oxygen OS is pure sewage compared to stock android.
  • Thank you for this op ed. Someone needed to say it. The hole punch is a solution to a problem that did not exist. I’m tired of Google and other android cell phone companies attempting to imitate apple. This is also the main reason why I still have my Note 9 and I won’t be upgraded any time soon
  • The Chinese had the perfect low tech solution years back: pop up or slide open cameras. Slide open cameras are especially potent - pull out your camera, one single motion as you pick up the phone activates camera and takes a snapshot to capture the moment. With traditional camera layout, you have to either navigate on screen or tab awkward side buttons several times in order to activate camera, and by the time you do, you already missed the shot.
  • What's all the hate on the hole punch. It is better than a notch and it's not a waste of space because it stays within the status bar where there is nothing ever displayed there anyways. The S10 hole punch wasn't the greatest with its size and position, but the Note10 got it right and so will the new Galaxy S
  • Every other phone company should have just did either 1. keep a very small bezel, or 2. did what essential did and just have a very tiny bip out of the screen instead of bowing down to the design flaws of jony ive and the disasters that he's developed. I am keeping my iphone 8, it has a nice size, design and I don't care about having a bezel, since it holds the superior finger print scanner instead of the insanely stupid farceID. or similar.
  • I really don't like the hole punch, it seems like a "copout" to design. More phones will come with them(UggH!), because mfgrs found a cheap way to say "we're modern". I'd rather keep doing it the pixel way, til
    "under screen camera/sensor" thing becomes a commercial option, as a mfgr showed a prototype, that worked pretty good. i'd rather do it