The Face of Smartphones: From bezels to the notch

Published On: December 23, 2018 07:00 PM NPT By: Prabal Man Dhaubhadel

From reducing bezels to going bezel-less and of course, the notch.

Since the beginning, smartphones have had a distinctive feature - an all screen front facade with bare minimum buttons. Of course, as an exception, a handful of devices remained fixated on the physical keyboard concept; most notably the Blackberry phones. For the rest, from the first iPhone to almost all major Android smartphone handsets, the touchscreen revolution had begun and what an instant hit it was. People didn’t mind the laggy screen animations and embraced low-resolution display panels with open arms as this was definitely a step ahead during the time. This giant leap from the T9 keypads on feature phones and a significant upgrade even form the clunky qwerty keyboards was the obvious way to go.

The humble beginnings of smartphone aesthetics were somewhat hindered by the lack of strength and durability of materials. Plagued by broken smartphone displays, manufacturers had to stick to thick bezels and glass shields for protection. Additionally, smartphones retained a few necessary navigation buttons as physical buttons from its predecessors. Although the keyboard was now soft-touch, everyone still got a home button at least. Fast forward to now, we are accustomed to a much durable glass which is reportedly “shatterproof” and “scratch-resistant” although we all have that one friend whose phone seems to have taken a bullet. Screens now gleam all the way up on the surface and with newer technology, the colors really pop out. Buttons are slowly being replaced by on-screen navigation bars and fingerprint scanners have stepped aside towards the back of the phone with a handful of models flaunting it underneath the screen even. All these steps have taken the smartphone aesthetics to new extremes. Today, phone manufacturers don’t shy away from mentioning their nearing 90 percent screen to body ratio. Whatever is left of the front face that is not screen anymore is the notch.

Some Jargons:

Bezel: The remaining portion of the phone’s front-facing side around the screen intentionally left for sensors, cameras, buttons and padding between the phone’s chassis and the display panel.

Notch:  A small cut-out on the top of the screen usually aligned center kept aside to make room for the front-facing camera, proximity sensors, earpiece, and the notification LED.

Aspect Ratio: The ratio of the height to the width of a smartphone screen.

Screen to body ratio: The ratio of the total area of the screen to the total area of the front face of the phone. Higher screen to body ratio means that your display covers a greater area of the front side leaving little excess space.

2018 has been very big on notches. Despite the early reveal by the Essential Phone, the first ever smartphone to showcase the notch, many don’t even know about the phone or what it looks like. The notch did get its big break when Apple decided to join the party with the iPhone X. Apple’s move was considered brave by many for going all-in on FaceID; completely dropping the mighty TouchID and strongly advocating the notch design. Other smartphone manufacturers followed suit bringing in a flurry of notched phones into the market. Curved edges on the sides have complemented the overall persona of the smartphone today. Despite some stick early on, notches have fallen in place nicely and undergone quite a bit of evolution. E.g. the OnePlus 6T is perhaps the best-notched phone coming in at the end of the year with a minimal notch that is equally pleasing to the eye. Honestly, older phones with thick bezels have started to look go out of fashion.

Going forward, 2019 should give us more elegant smartphones that accentuate its element of beauty alongside productivity. Some experimentation with sliding phones, mechanically lifting camera modules and punched cameras continue in pursuit of a truly bezel-less smartphone. Like it or not, if you’re planning to upgrade, you’ll have one of these aforementioned features in your 2019 smartphone. Before we round up, here’s weigh-in on the immediate implications of this face-lift.


More Screen: By using up the sides of the notch for additional screen height, smartphones have acquired a taste for an 18: 9 aspect ratio instead of the conventional 16:9. As a result, more content fits.

Compact devices: The bezel-less design paradigm leaves little to no room especially on the sides making the overall dimension of the phone smaller. A smaller footprint calls for a pleasant experience while holding your smartphone or inside your pockets.

Fuller experience: By now, when you peer into a smartphone, it is a rich all-display experience without the clutter of buttons and sensors in the surrounding. This is definitely a big thumbs-up. 


Physical damage: By living on the edge, quite literally, your screen is more susceptible to drops now more than ever. Despite durability claims, it isn’t exactly difficult to break one’s screen even today. 

Ergonomics: Although a smaller phone may be easier to grab, it isn’t the same while using. An edge to edge display tends to come in the way on a firm grip resulting in unwanted touches. Also, taller displays with aspect ratios of 18:9 and higher means reaching all ends of the screen without a change in grip is next to impossible. This is overcome by several manufacturers using software but the whole one-handed mode thing isn’t admittedly pleasant.

Repairability: In the wake of a screen breakage or even minor setbacks pertaining to a broken earpiece or front camera, getting under the hood of these compact devices and/or replacing components involves a hefty cost.

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