consumer electronics

6 smartphone brands developing under-display camera tech

Kyle Chua
6 smartphone brands developing under-display camera tech

OPPO prototype

Screenshot from OPPO video

Say goodbye to notches!

In an attempt to deliver on that ever-elusive, all-screen experience, smartphone brands over the years have managed to move various components around and axe the need for navigation buttons while slimming bezels down and upping screen sizes. Yet, one thing persists – one thing that doesn’t appear to have an immediate workaround – the highly divisive notch. 

While there are good implementations of the notch, for many, it remains a conspicuous annoyance that can ruin the display’s symmetry, lower the overall screen-to-body ratio, and break immersion. 

However, that could all soon change as more brands launch and develop smartphones that sport under-display selfie cameras that eliminate the need for a notch. 

The technology works similarly to under-display fingerprint sensors, which have become quite commonplace in modern smartphones. 

The setup uses two screens: one for the main body and one that houses the selfie camera. The screen can essentially make itself transparent, allowing light to pass through and reach the camera. A control chip that then helps the camera filter the light and color distortion from the screen, removing any interference when taking photos. There could also be a matrix that optimizes pixels in the area where the camera is to obscure it from view and keep it consistent with the rest of the display. 

Here are some of the brands that are developing the technology right now: 

Samsung

Photo from Samsung

Samsung has long been rumored to be developing its own under-display camera technology, and the brand finally debuted it with the high-end Galaxy Z Fold 3. The foldable phone’s 7.6-inch screen is completely uninterrupted, though the 4MP selfie camera is slightly visible under the screen. 

Insiders believe that it might take another year to see the technology again on another Samsung phone as the brand likely won’t use it on the Galaxy S22, citing quality and yield issues. 

ZTE

Photo from ZTE

ZTE is the first brand in the world to launch a commercially available smartphone with an under-display camera – the Axon 20 5G. The catch is that, as of writing, the phone is only available in China, and there doesn’t seem to be any plans to release it in other markets. 

Those who did manage to get their hands on the phone noted that the technology could still use some more work. TechRadar, for example, said that selfies don’t come out with the same clarity and level of detail when compared with ones taken from phones that don’t have the camera hidden. There are also instances when the camera is visible, especially, somewhat breaking the illusion that the screen is completely seamless. Then again, this is the very first iteration of an entirely new technology, so we can’t expect it to be perfect.

Xiaomi

Photo from Xiaomi

A full day ahead of Samsung’s reveal of the Fold 3, Xiaomi launched the flagship Mi Mix 4, another smartphone with an under-display camera. Like the ZTE Axon 20 5G, the phone is exclusive to China for now. 

The Mi Mix 4 is the first Xiaomi phone to feature the technology, which the Chinese electronics firm said has been “iterated through three major generations, five years, sixty patents, a $77 million investment, and hundreds of engineers”. 

The phone houses a 20MP camera under the 6.67-inch curved OLED display that supports up to 120Hz refresh rate. It also boasts a 400 pixels per inch area that allows light to pass through the selfie camera while keeping it virtually invisible. 

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Vivo 

Photo from vivo blog

Last year, Vivo unveiled the Apex 2020, the latest iteration of its concept phone that showcases new tech that the brand is developing. The phone featured a 16MP shooter embedded under a 120-degree completely edgeless display. This meant that the screen was kind of spilling over to the sides in what’s best described as a waterfall effect.

What’s also unique about this concept phone is that it removes all the physical buttons in favor of pressure-sensing buttons. Vivo said it did this for both aesthetic and practical reasons. 

The phone was supposed to be present at Mobile World Congress 2020, but because of the pandemic, the event was canceled. And we have yet to see any of the technologies demonstrated on this phone in any of Vivo’s commercial releases. 

OPPO

Screenshot from OPPO video

OPPO was one of the first brands to give a glimpse of what under-display camera technology was all about when it unveiled a working prototype in 2019. The unnamed phone shared a lot of similarities with Vivo’s Apex 2020 in that both featured under-display cameras as well as button-less designs. 

This year, OPPO is back with another prototype, a much improved version of the 2019 phone, boasting better screen and image quality. But the brand has yet to reveal when the technology will find its way to market-ready smartphones.

Realme

Photo from Weibo, uploaded by realme executive

Realme could also be working on a smartphone with under-display camera technology. 

Last year, an executive of the brand uploaded a photo on Chinese social media site Weibo, shown above, of an unidentified phone that didn’t have a notch or any sort of cutout, seemingly suggesting that the selfie camera is embedded on the screen. The executive went to say that the phone didn’t feature a pop-up mechanism, further strengthening the assumption that it was using under-display technology. 

Realme, however, has yet to share any details on when we can expect to see the technology in its releases.  – Rappler.com

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