Over the last couple of years, we have seen the smartphone face evolve with fast-changing trends — from a full-fledged top bezel to an iPhone-ish notch to tiny cutouts of different shapes and sizes. But, regardless you are team no-notch or someone who doesn’t mind the barren black patches, a truly full-screen future is coming. One where the camera is placed beneath the display.

Yes, brands are either working on their under-display camera phones or have already come up with their vision. Here, we will be taking a look at the ones we have seen or known so far. But before we get to that, let’s have a quick look at the reasons why we need them in the first place. We’ll also glance at the glaring obstacles for this new piece of tech.

Advantages of under-display camera phones

• We’ll enjoy a truly bezel-less edge-to-edge full-view screen for content consumption. Under-screen cameras will effectively kill any need for a notch. So, there’ll be no more obtrusive indents that cut interface elements and get in the way of user experience.
• This also addresses the issues with pop-up modules and sliders. Firstly, no moving parts mean lesser durability concerns, more space or thinner phones. Secondly, with no moving part water and dust resistance is easier to implement.

Now obviously an in-display camera execution has its set of problems.

Disadvantages of under-display camera phone

• The image quality isn’t up to par as of yet since the light has to pass through the display to the sensor. And this transmission isn’t very ideal. Companies are reworking the display tech to sort this issue.
• Although companies claim the camera portion is discreet, that hasn’t really been the case. Phones launched so far have a tiny pixelated portion of the screen that could be seen from certain angles or if you pay close attention. We will need to see how annoying this partial visibility will be.
• Usually, the display panel is more prone to scratches than the camera lens. What if the display wears out or gets scraped? Won’t it hamper the camera output? So, in that sense, durability is a concern.

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Samsung, a titan in the smartphone world and also a leading display manufacturer has apparently postponed its under-display camera phone. Earlier, the Galaxy S21 was rumoured to arrive bearing the cutting edge tech, but recent reports tell the company has changed its mind.

At present, with Samsung not in the picture, it’s Visionox, a Chinese company that’s providing displays to OEMs like Xiaomi. It employs new organic and inorganic materials in the area above the camera to achieve higher transparency over the regular OLED panels. It further uses an industry-first “drive circuit and pixel structure design” to reduce interference and software algorithms to tackle the fogging effect of any kind.

All that sounds good. Let’s now finally look at the phones themselves.

Under-display Camera Phones, Prototypes

1. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 (review) is the company’s first smartphone with an under-display camera (UDC). This is also Samsung’s only foldable smartphone with UDC, even though the Galaxy Z Flip 3 was announced at the same event.

The smartphone uses under-display camera technology that applies a minimum amount of pixels over the camera hole. What is the objective? To maximize the viewing area and (nearly) eliminate the punch hole so you can watch movies, play games, or enjoy other apps on a blank canvas.

UDCs appear as a small hole near the top right corner of your screen when you use them to take selfies, and they disappear when you close the app. It seems almost magical.

The device’s UDC is covered with a thin, coarse mesh of pixels that work as intended when the camera is not in use, essentially camouflaging underneath the screen. Pixels on top of the camera blend well with the regular AMOLED display.

2. Xiaomi Mi Mix 4

Xiaomi’s Mix 4 offers a technology that’s been in development for a while: the selfie camera is hidden under the screen.

Xiaomi calls this technology CUP (Camera Under Panel), but it works much like the under-display selfie cameras we’ve seen from other companies. Xiaomi says the selfie camera on the Mix 4 is “virtually invisible” since there are 400ppi pixels on the screen. The camera is 20 megapixels, and its display is 6.67-inches and 120Hz.

On the Mi Mix 4’s flexible panel, the CUP is in the centre of the top edge. With the use of Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) wiring material, the selfie camera area is reduced in pixels in order to help increase transparency during the taking of photos. Xiaomi invested 500 million yuan (US$77 million) in research and development to perfect this under-display camera technology.

3. ZTE Axon 30 5g UDC

The biggest improvement of ZTE’s second-generation under-display camera is how well it is hidden from view with the Axon 30 5G UDC. It does not have a distinct patch of lower pixel density than the rest of the display, like its predecessor. At least this fulfils the full-screen half of the UDC promise, even if it wasn’t a deal-breaker before.

Thanks to the new UDC camera, the screen is larger than its siblings and uninterruptible.

In the area on top of the camera, ZTE doubled the PPI to 400, resulting in a fully immersive experience. The effect is most noticeable on white screens, where it appears as if there is dust on the display. Other colours are virtually invisible, and Black will make it disappear completely.

While it is still visible under certain angles and in unusual situations, in reality, you have to really try to be bothered by it if you wish to be bothered by it.

4. Oppo Under-Screen Camera

Oppo’s next-gen under-screen camera phone prototype

Oppo claims this time the camera portion is incorporated “without compromising the integrity of the screen”. In other words, this doesn’t suffer from lower pixel density in the front camera region. The company claims to have shrunk the pixel size of that area without reducing the number of pixels present to ensure the same 400 PPI sharpness as the rest of the screen.

Further, Oppo has also employed a 50% thinner transparent screen wiring inside. Also, now each pixel gets its own circuit for local control of colours and brightness. This apparently results in a mere 2% deviation from the source. Differently put, you won’t be able to easily discern the difference in colours and brightness of that region from the rest of the screen. You can read more about it here.

5. Vivo Apex 2020

Vivo has embedded a 16MP sensor under the screen. The screen is 6.45-inches in size with ultra-curved edges (up to 120 degrees on both sides). There is no physical button on either end. Instead, what you get are virtual pressure-sensitive buttons.

The back camera setup is also unique as it comes armed with a gimbal-like system for up to 200 percent better video stabilization than a regular OIS. The primary sensor is a 16MP sensor while the 48MP one is capable of continuous optical zoom from 5x to 7.5x zoom. This is possible thanks to a periscope lens structure. Vivo has thrown in much more neoteric stuff into this concept device. Vivo Apex 2020 was supposed to see the daylight in MWC 2020, but due to the pandemic, the event got cancelled.

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6. Realme under-display camera phone

Realme has also teased an edge-to-edge display phone, which looked like an in-display camera phone. The post was shared by the company VP, Mr Xu Qi Chase on Weibo. He commented it doesn’t have a pop-up camera, which fuels our suspicion. Also, since Oppo and Vivo are already invested in this tech, it won’t be much longer before we get to see a Realme under-display camera phone.

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