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It turns out we needed the notch more than we thought

There isn't a plight more impressive in the world of smartphones than the rise of the notch. Uncelebrated as it is, the notch stands today as one of the most common design traits found in these little devices we love.

It's easy to point to the iPhone X as the reason for the notch's acceptability (though it wasn't the first of its kind to market, Essential was). After all, many manufacturers look toward Apple to set the trends because everything the Cupertino company do tends to work out no matter what. But I don't think it's just that Apple did it — it's because many smartphone users like the presence of the notch more than they think.

That's going to rub some of you the wrong way, but hear me out. You don't love the notch because it's a notch. You love the notch because of what it does for the rest of your user experience. Many begrudgingly admitted that the notch design does add more overall screen surface and that's something they can get behind, but in the same breath identified that the negligible amount of added viewing room was not worth the grotesqueness that must come with it.

You have to take the good with the bad.

Because of the notch, we learned that consumers really like taller aspect ratios and edge-to-edge displays. We learned that more powerful camera capabilities and more convenient security options up front were important. And just as importantly, we learned how many people don't want anything to do with that little black slab (or dot) of sadness.

Don't look now, but the notch is single-handedly getting us to the smartphone nirvana we all want. The polarized reception to this trend is important on both ends of the spectrum. Companies now have a better idea of where and how to focus their research and development efforts, and it will result in even better smartphones in the future.

We're already seeing technological progress on the components that will bring us that future. Ultrasonic fingerprint sensors will allow companies to put the most popular biometric security option back in its most natural position without having to sacrifice screen real estate. And if they can figure it out, the ultimate dream is to be able to put those imaging sensors under the display, a move that would rid us of the notch and hole punch and any other weird display designs once and for all.

We needn't look that far back in history to find it repeating itself. The fingerprint sensor on the Motorola Atrix was horrible, and look where we are now. We thought all-glass designs were stupid until attenuation and wireless charging became bigger concerns. Secondary ticker displays seemed promising on paper, but after several failed attempts we now know no one cares about them. I will never forgive Kyocera for the Echo, but I can at least give it props for trying something different with the dual displays. (And would you look at that? Kyocera was actually onto something.)

This was the worst part of the Atrix 4G and now we can't go without it.

This was the worst part of the Atrix 4G and now we can't go without it.

That future isn't quite here yet. Device makers need time for technology to mature, and even more time until it becomes commercially viable. We see tides changing every day in that regard, with the odd smartphone attempting to bring back aged concepts with modern twists every few years.

Some companies don't even bother to try these things out in production devices, with concepts becoming more common closing material for otherwise ordinary product launch events. At the end of the day, all they're really trying to see is whether anyone wants the things they make before pouring millions and billions into research and development.

These continuous attempts at reinvention are key because sometimes the technology of the era doesn't match the scope of your vision. It's a tricky game of balance and compromise, which is why the Samsung Galaxy S10 is about to bring a hole punch display that will get these conversations and debates about the current state of smartphone design right back into full swing.

By all means, debate and fuss away. I only ask that we all remember how and why innovation works, and why we must suffer through these periods of questionable design decisions. No respectable consumer electronics company in the world wants to do anything to scare customers away, so instead of vilifying them let's take more time to understand why they do the things they do. Sometimes, those things really don't make sense (seriously, why are we still shunning headphone jacks?), but let's not curse their names without considering the reality of today's market and the desires that drive it.

75 Comments
  • Who else besides me is completely sitting out this round of awful design smartphone development? Note 9 has no notch or punch hole or pill notch and enough power to work fine for a few years, especially my 8gb ram unit.
  • I am as well. I'm happy with my Note 9 enough that I can sit out any more smartphones until they get the designs nailed down.
  • My S7 is running fine and will be for years to come. I'm waiting this out until this horror is over with. Let the others buy the notch products, I'm totally cool with a forehead and chin.
  • I am. My V30 looks better than any notched phones and will keep it until I see a better looking phone with the features I want come along. Similarly, my wife's Honor Note 10 is notchless and also looks far better than every ugly notched phone out there.
  • I figure you mean sitting out on a specific design direction, since the Note 9 just came out in August and is still a powerful, current generation flagship in the top grouping of most Android phone lists.
  • I'm sitting out also! I'm running a Moto G5 Plus and understand that all the stuff on the front of your device needs a place and that's normally a header and also at times a chin. So long as they're necessary and reasonable then I have an acceptance, much more so than a notch, a teardrop or a punch hole for that minute amount more of screen space... I'm also just the type of person that keeps their device like I keep my cars, in mint condition and until the wheels fall off so to speak... My last car I had almost sixteen years until the engine finally gave it up and I'll be keeping my G5 Plus a long while in smartphone terms as well...
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 here and if I ever decide to get another smart phone it will be a Samsung Note 8 or 9 since they both has no Notch and comes with Samsung software stuff which I like a lot.
  • I'm still on my 2017 device due to this retarded smartphone era. I still can't believe I can't have a new affordable phone with stereo speakers.
  • Notch will look stupid after a few years as technology improves and components get smaller and smaller. I'm going to pass on this.
  • Only got to about halfway through the entire article before I had ta stop and just call BS. The notch didn't do ANY of these things for us... It would have happened regardless... The notch was just the 'lazy people' trying to pull an AT&T 5G network over on everyone. Having the notch, and increasing the overall 'height' of the 'screen', allowed them to falsely claim aspect ratios, screen to bezel ratios, screen sizes, and many other things. It did NOT 'help' the industry. It just gave people an out. The hole punches on the other hand, actually 'do' something. They're there so that you can maintain a camera or a sensor, and still have a pretty much unhindered screen. But still not quite 'acceptable'. But ya know, that's the thing isn't it? People wanna take selfies. But they wanna ***** and complain about a notch or a hole punch while ******** and complaining about wanting bigger screens with better Screen to Bezel ratios... but they never stop to think 'well if we want a selfie camera, and the ratio, we'll HAVE to have a hole punch or a notch.....' because a tiny little motorized camera popping out from the top is NOT a solution.... And don't get me wrong... I like the notch, and I like the hole punch. I think it gives the phones a unique look that stands out from the generic 'slab of screen'. But I will also state... that I do NOT like the idea of having no bezels at all.... or even a curved screen all around to trick you into thinking there isn't any.... Why? because I've used all these fancy phones with the 'near bezel-less' designs... and I can't stand em 80% of the time. I don't want my hand touching crap on the edges of the screen and accidentally launching some app or clicking some ad... that happens WAY too freaking much on anything other than a Samsung phone. And if you're watching YouTube or Netflix... well... your hand has to hold the phone somehow doesn't it? Which means you'll be blocking the edges of your video 100% of the time. But i'm sure someone will go 'oh but a popsocket!' or those ring things.... nah, that isn't a solution. That's a third party accessory of horrid individuals. But anyway... No.... The notch, nor the hole punch, had ANYTHING to do with 'bigger screens'/'bezel-less' phones.... we were headed that way anyway. They simply allowed an out for the lazy engineers. And if not that, then they were just using all of us as alpha/beta testers as they tried repeatedly to make such a phone, and failed over and over... and to re-coop the costs, sold it as is... What I'd love to see.... if a manufacturer design a phone that YOU could choose... not like with the new lineup of S10's.... where each one is spec'ed nearly completely different from what the rumors state... but instead where you can go 'I want a phone with this CPU, this resolution screen, this style of screen (bezel-less, notched, hole punched, whatever), with or without a stylus, with this amount of RAM, this amount of storage, and with/without an SD card slot. THAT would be an amazing manufacturer and one hell of an amazing day. Where you can choose what your phone IS. If you want the top of the line CPU in your phone, with a 4k screen, 512GB of storage, an SD card slot, 8GB of ram, and a bezel-less screen, then you choose those options! but what if you want the exact same phone but with a 1080p screen because you want the better battery life? And you don't want to sacrifice on the other options? WELL! You can choose that! Yes it'll make things harder/more complicated.... but a phone shouldn't just be a 'here, you get this or that, suck it up'.... We've gotten to the point that these little guys are as vital/powerful as some laptops/computers! And we can pick and choose (for the most part anyway... lookin at you laptop manufacturers! D:< ) what goes into our computers... so why not our phones too? You walk into Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and go "hey! I want the new LG phone! I want this screen, this cpu, etc etc" and they go "Hey! We put that order in for ya! Should arrive in 3-10 days!" of which you reply "AWESOME! Can't wait to get MY phone that I CHOSE!"... Would help those tremendously who need to save money on their device purchases too... if they want the latest and greatest phone, but can't afford the top specs, then they can still get one damn good phone but with a slightly slower CPU or lower res screen, or less storage space.... THIS needs to be a thing.... Who gives a flying french toast about a notch or about bezels!
  • No therapy needed this week for this guy 👆😉😀
  • Yup. I've always said: lazy engineering.
  • Strangely, LG kinda did that with their incremental V30/V35 upgrades, but the idiot tech press dissed them for doing it, before they then launched the notched abomination that is the V40.
    Your idea would be great in theory, but only a couple of manufacturers would probably be flexible enough to do it (Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo). Looking at how they release new models currently, the likes of Samsung, Apple, LG, Oneplus would really struggle for a variety of reasons.
  • Sorry, I did not get through your 'second article'...however, I kinda buy into your 'notch didn't do any of this' point of view. But the author has a point: Apple wanted to differentiate itself again and show its 'innovativeness', so it 'reinvented' Essential's notch. The OEM lemmings followed, and we got all riled up, some pro, some con. In the end, it showed that yes, the notch is window dressing, will age badly, and needs to go. Which I think is the author's point. The process of even trying badly can have positive consequences. To Apple's credit, it alone seems to be able to 'try badly' and get away with it. As far as displays are concerned, it also not an all-or-nothing situation. As I see it:
    - The gold goes to meaningfully thin bezels and chin, with biometrics (Note 9)
    - The silver goes to the pillbox that allows biometrics (S10 Plus)
    - The bronze goes to the tear/dewdrop notch with biometrics (P30/P20?) - Consolation prize to the basic notch with biometrics (iPhone). The Godzilla notch on the Pixel is DQ'd. Seriously, folks!
    As well, holes and tear/dewdrop notches that offer nothing in the way of biometrics, over a Galaxy S8+ are all DQ'd.
  • Nailed it. Give me a flat screen version of the Note 9, with a 1/4" top and bottom bezel, front speakers and a 1080p screen and I'm good. I don't need a high resolution selfie cam, I barely use it as is. And it really wouldn't bother me to shorten these up a bit so I can actually use them one handed.
  • Ah, flat screen... why do Samsung put cotton in their ears every time (sooooo many) people say this!
  • Have a OnePlus 6 and a Pixel 3, so one notch and one not. I could honestly care less whether it has it or not. Doesn't affect usability either way. I think people just like to complain about new things without giving them a fair chance. Allot of people on here who say there not good have never even tried them. I like to give technology a chance before saying it doesn't work. I think smaller notches are very useful based on the phones I've had.
  • Say what you will. But I'm not buying any notched phone.
  • For some reason, Lana Cane saying "Nope" came to mind while reading this.
  • Maybe I'm way off here but wasn't it just a few years ago when people were boasting about Android's superior notification feature and that made Apple step up their game too. What I find hard to believe is how I rarely read anything about how the notch has basically destroyed the notifications on phones. Just using the Pixel 3 XL as an example, that notch has taken away roughly 33% of the notification area sacrificing it for "more screen real estate". Honestly, what benefits are there to more screen but less notifications? I really don't understand. Now phones like OnePlus 6T and the upcoming S10 have lessened the hit to the notification area but I still don't get why the sacrifice of notifications for screen size has ever been OK.
  • I'm still mad at them for removing physical keyboards, the jack, and removable batteries. I am looking forward to hidden cameras though.
  • Yeah. Give me my Hewlett Packard 100LX for the keyboard. Put a S8 Active screen on it and my 512 Note 9 inside. I would bet it would last me another 20 years.
  • I'm keeping my Samsung s9plus till it explodes. No notches or punch holes for me, bottom line they suck! All they are is a major distraction.......
  • We couldn't have the Model S of today without the Model T of yesterday. Progress takes iteration and experimentation. If Edison had stopped at attempt #999, we'd still be burning wicks.
  • Quite wrong as the incandescent bulb was co-invented independently by Swan. Most things in modern life had multiple parents. When the Model T Ford came out, European engineers considered it to be backward; Ford's success was mass production, which is not Musk's strength.
    Progress needs multiple sources and competition. In the case of the notch, Apple's marketing feature (it was done to replace the round button in making iPhones recognisable, there was no technical need for it) already looks very old fashioned. It was just a design tweak, there was no progress involved.
  • Edison was largely a fraud who lived off his assistants' ideas. Go research Nikolas Tesla and why Edison only patented cylinders and not discs for recording formats.
  • Bs. The notch is a solution to a problem nobody had. The reason they're so popular is that manufacturers shoved them down our throats. That's not the market driving design.
  • Yeah, no. I miss the flagships of yesteryear with bezels, the 16:9 aspect ratio, etc.
  • I have a Pixel XL and I don't mind the bezels, but taking them away wouldn't be a negative thing. I don't care how much screen space a phone has as long as I can hold it in one hand like this phone.
  • I agree with the article. What I've been able to do with Face ID and a true depth camera, more than outweighs the notch annoyance.
  • Not everyone is a child who spends all day pretending to be an cartoon character.
  • No... Some are children who ***** about real world problems on the internet. Face ID isn't just about cartoon characters. And if you actually used it you would know that. Video conferencing
    HD Face Time with family when you're in another country
    Payment and password authentication in a matter of seconds. Just to name a few. People really should stop speaking out of their asses.
  • Not everyone is an adult pretending to be a dog.
  • They "begrudgingly admit" because they are too stupid to realize that the notch takes away more than a third of the width of the screen, ~¼" - ⅜" deep.
  • No it doesn't.....it takes away from the bezel.
  • A summary of this article: Instead of paying beta testers, we've now figured out how to charge users to be beta testers.
  • Get rid of the vanity selfie camera. Manufacturers could easily put a small display on the back of phones to help center your selfie. I never use the front facing camera.
  • Novel idea....not sure the implementation is practical.
  • Remote workers need videoconferencing, which is the serious reason for the front camera and why laptops have them.
  • Teenage girls making the duck face is the serious reason.
  • The notch was change for the sake of change, nothing more. We never needed it, it's a marketing tool to distinguish the new and improved that is a "must have" , even though it's not really an improvement. To me it's no dif than dead pixels on a screen. Annoying AF. My opinion, yours may vary.
  • I never minded the notches nor the absence of the headphone jack. I have been Bluetooth long before it went the way of the...[not sure what to put]...lol
  • But some people have ears that work and listen to well recorded music. Thank you LG.
  • You know nothing then about the capability of USB C audio.
  • Conspiracy theory; Samsung will introduced the hole punch on the flag ship, so people like me who hates the ugly and stupid notch or hole punch fad will skip the next flagship and consider the fold or whatever it will be called.
  • Some of the articles on here recently really have been a good chuckle. Thanks man.
  • The "Notch" is the creation of AC and other sites like it that cried and complained and wanted bezeless phones with hard to hold on to screens that go fully from one side to the other.. on touch screen phone's!
    Thanks for nothing folks, nothing to whine about so complain making manufacturers think that consumers want a damn notched phone.
    Hey AC, where do YOU suggest they put the cameras, sensors and speakers ay. Come on, speak up. Y'all wanted a notch and got one, now create more B/S news to get rid of it so you'll have something else to cry about...
  • Even the manufacturers disagree that the notch and hole in the screen are a good thing. It's an engineering bandaid. They may put on an air that it's good, but look at how they make the wallpapers black or shaded darker to hide it or at least make it less offensive. It's like a car salesman selling you a car while standing in front of the dent. Take an HD+ screen that is 1440 by 2880. What happens when you add a notch or a hole? You make a portion of that screen unusable. Don't drink the kool-aid.
  • You don't take away screen, you take away bezel
  • But, the bezel is outside the boundaries of the screen. The notch and hole are inside the boundaries of the screen. The Pixel XL 3 screen is 1440 x 2960, and should have 4,262,400 pixels total... but it doesn't.
  • nothing wrong with the notch. people just love to hate and complain... that's better than liking something....
  • Yes, it's pointless.
  • This article proves that 'new smartphone tech' really has almost nowhere else to go. We have been at peak cell phone technology for a year or two. Oh yes, networks will get faster... But is this where we are at... Debating fractions of a smartphone screen size? Or, lol, marveling at the next 'must have way to unlock your phone'? LMAO!
  • Exactly....well said
  • A key reason I'm still with my S7
  • Couldn't disagree more. The Notch, just like removing the audio jack, are marketing gimmicks done by Apple when they ran out of creativity. My V30 has a jack, is thinner than an iPhone, waterproof, and the screen looks awesome. More puzzling than these gimmicks, are the other brands following that stupidity. Main reason why I move away from the Nexus and pixel.
  • Mostly correct, but a couple companies had more than missing creativity. Apple's decision was based on money. They make nothing when a third party company makes headphones with a 3.5mm jack. Force them to use the lightning port, and each company has to pay a licensing fee to Apple. But, we both know Apple audio was on the "average" side anyways, so it's not like an audiophile would be using an iPhone for music. HTC did it for a different reason, and it's actually more expensive for them. They created native USB C headphones with active noise cancellation controlled by the phone CPU and microphones, so that connector requires power to the headphones, bi-directional data transfer through the headphone cable, and the ability to perform an actual sonar scan of your ears. 3.5 jacks are passive, and it would be impossible for them to do what they did, so they kinda had to go USB C instead. And trust me; as a recording engineer who knows what it sounds like standing in the studio with legends of the industry during mastering sessions, USonic is mind blowing. LG and HTC have different approaches to audio, but I think they are the only two that get it right.
  • Just a thought.... Setting aside trade in options... Imagine a cell phone maker trying to convince you to spend $1300 (Canadian dollars) to upgrade to a "revolutionary" phone that now has a hole punch camera and a front facing fingerprint unlock.... Hahaha! But yep, that's reality come Feb 20th.
  • A lot of assumptions and contradictions in this article.
  • Being back the bezels. No, seriously. I'd like to know that dropping my phone off the kitchen table wont totally destroy it. My note 9 is fragile enough. A true bezel free phone will simply make it that much harder to wrap a protective case on. I never had cases on my phones until i got the S8. Last night with my Note 9 i forgot to put case back on after using some USB adapters. It was 25 degrees outside. The slick all glass phone meant i couldn't grab it with gloves. And even bare handed it was very slippery. For the entire festival I had to keep my phone in my pocket. Unusable, because I didnt want to risk dropping it on concrete. My original Evo 4G wasn't like this. Bring back bezels and grippy textures. Usability over style.
  • You can grab an S7 Active for about $300 nowadays or an S8 Active for a little more. Doesn't require a case, waterproof, and being they're both Samsung, simply unplug your sim from your Note 9 and plug it into your other phone if you're going to be spending time in the 'outdoors'. Sad reality is, that's cheaper than paying for a quality replacement screen.
  • Ah, Evo 4G brings back fond memories!
  • Wow, what a piece of work. Did you actually convince yourself this is true by the time you were done writing it?
  • 10 Stars if I could give them. Critical reasoning totally omitted. Sounds like some sales pitch from a PR department.
  • There are more materials than just glass which allow wireless charging, besides being more durable than glass. Bezels allow one to hang on to the phone without false touches. Curved edge screens like on my S8+ guarantee that most of the time there is a reflection that has to be put up with whenever the phone is used, furthermore, things displayed on the edges gets distorted making that part of the display nearly useless. The rounded corners of the screen remove screen real estate and block things displayed in the corners. Yes, this has been an issue for me where there was no way I could see what was needed to be seen. I had to go to a computer to get the info in the corner. This was never an issue with my Nokia Lumia 950XL. If I could get an Android image for it I'd keep using it. I'm not a gamer but I'm seriously considering the Razer Phone 2 due to it having a bezel, no notch, and a flat square cornered screen.
  • Agree about the curved screens. The curved screen makes it almost impossible to use the SPen at the edges of the screen on my Note 8.
  • I wish they would just get rid of the selfie cam all together... I never use it. I use knock/tap code and fps to unlock my phone.
  • Why stop with the hole punch for the camera since it is so unobtrusive? I want better audio, preferably stereo front-facing speakers. Just pop another couple of holes in the screen and we can have that premium stereo sound. Maybe we can put a notch at the bottom too with a ticker screen for notifications while you are watching a movie.
  • I not only hate the notch, but I hate the whole idea of a bezel-less phone. It literally serves no purpose, outside of being a lame conversation starter with your friends. It looks cool, but in real world use, what’s the point? I have an iPhone 6s right now, and to me, that era of iPhones (the 6 through the 8) is the most perfectly sized phone ever made. The screen is big enough that I don’t need to hold the thing an inch from my face to read text, yet still small enough to use relatively easily with one hand. I don’t need a screen that takes up the whole front face of the phone, because I actually use those bezels to hold onto the thing while watching video, or taking pictures, etc. Basically, it really isn’t space that is going unused. The bezel actually does serve a purpose, at least for me. Judging by Apple’s somewhat lackluster sales of their new phones, I kinda think I’m not alone in feeling this. Hell, I’ll even accept a compromise; give me the bezels of a Galaxy S9, but get rid of the stupid curved screen (another design element that serves no purpose whatsoever). Just don’t take away all of the bezels. Some people actually like having them.
  • Guys/Gals; I'm right there with you. The edge to edge screen is what's been promoted by people who pick up on spacy looking phones from movies like Real Steel, and think that's what they should be like. Regardless of how the design ruins functionality. Phones are supposed to work well with our hands, and so called bezel-less phones don't work well. They are artsy and trendy and they suck when we need to, you know, USE our phones? I have a girl that comes over a couple times per week, and we'll spend hours having gaming competitions. I'll loan her my old iPhone 6, and we have to stop when it overheats, but at least it's better than trying to game with your thumbs curled in and cramping. My device is the U12 which is a beast and makes a nice gaming machine, but you know what? The U11 is even better for gaming because the bezels are bigger than the U12, and your thumbs fall in a more natural position in landscape position.
  • This is so much vacuous reasoning it is no wonder that science was not the author's strong suit in college. The notch is just another trendy Apple deluded design "improvement." Kind of like wired in batteries. Conformity is so much easier than original thought or critical thinking about true functionality. A better headline would be, A New Trend Is Always Better Than A Proven Feature.
  • "Because of the notch, we learned that consumers really like taller aspect ratios and edge-to-edge displays." Rubbish. The main reason for a notch is the thinner bezel. I don't mind having a bezel. Many of us have enjoyed larger displays than what was typically offered in the States. Go back to the Xiaomi Mi Max Prime with its 6.44-inch (1920 x 1080). Or the Huawei Honor Note 8 6.6inch AMOLDED screen. These "gigantic" phones were out for years sans notch. That would show what people wanted as far as getting more screen and not having to go the way of the notch. The bezel has never really been a problem. It may even provide that extra millimeter of "cushion" to allow for a case or in case of a drop, not shattering the glass.
  • Maybe the one good thing about the notch is that it will show the manufacturers just how much we dislike that notch. All the notch has done is shrunk the notification bar, and split it into two pieces. That is not exactly "useful." And I feel it is more a response to manufacturers wanting to make screens larger and shrink the bezels than for any utility to the end user. I'm either skipping the Pixel 3 XL or just going to go with the Pixel 3 and suffer through the smaller text on the screen. >> Sometimes, those things really don't make sense (seriously, why are we still shunning headphone jacks?) .....<< I know, right? Bluetooth is unlistenably poor in sound quality, and carrying dongles around to hang from a fragile USB port isn't exactly a great idea either. I'll take a fatter phone if it gives me a proper headphone jack.
  • The back of the phone is the most useful/convenient place for a fingerprint scanner. I don't want one on the front. I want to use my index finger in a nice easily reachable spot on the back. So, that isn't any reason for me.
  • « Sometimes, those things really don't make sense (seriously, why are we still shunning headphone jacks?)«  Because it is a great incentive to have better wireless audio as we already have today... it does makes sense, don’t be shortsighted