Opinion, Smartphone

The Display Notch & Hole-Punch Design Conundrum

Smartphone makers have gotten pretty creative over the years to maximise screen real estate on their devices, and arguably the most discussed – and controversial – implementation is the display notch. Now, it appears the “hole-punch” design will be the next big thing.

But is the new hole-punch design a better alternative to the display notch? Are manufacturers better off with a different approach? That’s what we will be discussing in this article.

First, let’s talk about devices that will be sporting the new hole-punch design. One of them is the Samsung Galaxy A8s, which is the first device officially introduced with the unconventional design. Featuring what Samsung calls an Infinity-O display, the A8s’ top left corner has a cutout for the front-facing shooter.

Does it look odd? Definitely. And the rather large camera hole makes it look all the more…peculiar. But that’s where the Honor View 20 has the upper hand, which is slated to be revealed later this month on 26 December.

Even though we’re still a couple of weeks away from the View 20’s launch, the Chinese company actually revealed some information regarding the unannounced device. While we still don’t have its full list of specifications, we do know that the View 20 sports a smaller hole-punch camera design than the Galaxy A8s.

Of course, the camera cutout still looks pretty odd, but based on early images of the View 20, it does look better than Samsung’s implementation. Although the hole-punch on Honor’s phone is only marginally smaller than the Galaxy A8s’, it is tiny enough to not be as distracting as Samsung’s design.

These two phones are not the only ones that will be sporting a hole-punch design. Huawei will also be revealing its own device, the Nova 4, with the peculiar camera cutout on 17 December. Chances are, the Nova 4 will share some design elements of the View 20 – both Huawei and Honor are related, after all.

So there are at least three devices that will be featuring the new hole-punch design, and quite possibly more will follow suit. Samsung’s next flagship device, the Galaxy S10, is rumoured to use the Infinity-O display too. It’s not confirmed yet, of course, but we wouldn’t dismiss the possibility either.

Now, aesthetically, I do prefer the looks of the hole-punch design than a display notch. The thing is, the amount of space that a notch takes up – more often than not – is larger than a small, round cutout for the front-facing camera. As a hole-punch design takes up less screen real estate, devices with the camera cutout looks sleeker as a whole.

Well, aside from the obvious downside of having an odd hole in your screen.

But there is an alternative to either one of these two design approaches: a sliding mechanism, like the one found on the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3. There are pros and cons to this mechanism – the long-term durability of the moving parts is one of the biggest concerns – but this design allows for a truly bezel-less display. You won’t have to worry about any notch or weirdly positioned hole in your smartphone screen.

There is, however, one more thing that needs to be addressed before we get a full, all-screen smartphone. Yeap, I’m talking about the smartphone chin, and it’s something Apple completely removed last year with the iPhone X. Nonetheless, I digress. You can read up all about smartphone chins in this article.

Given a choice, I would opt for a phone with a sliding mechanism to get a truly bezel-less display. But if I absolutely have to pick between a notched display or a hole-punch design, I’d go for the latter. The fact that a hole-punch design isn’t as intrusive as a notch does make it more appealing despite its potential downsides.

In fact, how the hole-punch design will affect a smartphone’s user experience will be important, especially when it comes to media consumption. It could very well be a weakness the hole-punch design shares with notched displays, so it’s up to phone makers to ensure the camera cutout does not affect the user experience too much.