Since the first iPhone came out in 2007, all smartphone displays have been perfectly rectangular.
But that’s starting to change. Because of current technical limitations and the need for smartphone companies to distinguish themselves in a crowded and competitive market, some phones this fall will be sporting “notches” or “cutouts” in their screen.
The redesigned iPhone that’s expected to come out in September has a notch, according to an image included in recent code released by Apple.
A notch juts down into the top of the screen, dividing the status bar with cell signal, battery life, and the time into two. This is so there’s room for a selfie camera on a phone with an edge-to-edge screen.
But Apple won’t be the first company to release a phone with a notch.
The Essential Phone, by Android creator Andy Rubin’s new company, is the first phone with a distinctive status bar cutout. It’s up for pre-order now, and the tech industry’s top reviewers and critics (including Business Insider) have already had a chance to try the phone out and see what they think of the concept of a notch.
Turns out, the notch isn’t actually that big of a deal, according to early reviewers. Here’s what people are saying about the Essential Phone’s cutout:
Dieter Bohn, The Verge:
“There’s a cutout at the top for the selfie camera (and a couple of sensors) shaped like a little U, splitting the status bar in half between notifications and your radio status icons.
That cyclops eye seems like the sort of thing that would be distracting, but in my experience it becomes invisible almost immediately. Ninety-five per cent of the time Android doesn’t put anything of value in that particular part of the screen anyway, and the phone is adept at keeping apps that go truly full screen (like video) letterboxed in. Every now and then you will have something like an image that will be full screen and cut off by the camera, but it’s rare.”
Chris Velazco, Engadget:
“The notch cut out of the top for the 8-megapixel camera is a little peculiar too. The important thing to note is that it never really gets in the way, thanks to how Android fills up the notification bar from the sides in. Not every app takes full advantage of this unique screen, though.”
Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed:
“One weird quirk with this phone is that it has a notch on the top of the screen for the front-facing camera.
The phone is designed this way to allow for as much screen real estate as possible. For the most part, it’s not obtrusive. It’s where most notification icons live. But Essential’s software team is reaching out to the top 100 apps in the app store and proactively working with them to make their apps friendly to the front-facing camera nub.”
Joshua Vergara, Android Authority:
“All that really breaks the immersion is the 8 MP front facing camera, which has been given its own cutout at the top that peeks through the top of the screen. But that little bit of interruption in this very pleasing display only adds some more uniqueness to the Essential.”
Dave Lee, BBC:
“The front-facing camera sits “inside” the screen, creating a little notch that I thought would be distracting, but actually makes a great deal of sense.
It uses up screen space currently wasted by most apps, and means icons showing battery life and signal are tucked away neatly. If you’re watching a video, or an app which needs that particular bit of screen (most don’t), everything moves down by a quarter of an inch so the picture isn’t interrupted.”
“Not every app looks its best while working around the camera cutout. Essential says it will reach out to the top 100 Android app makers to help them optimise for the phone’s screen layout. In our tests, apps didn’t look completely cut off.”
Blair Hanley Frank, VentureBeat:
“While the upper part of the screen can be used to display the icons that typically occupy a smartphone’s status bar, apps don’t take advantage of the added space.
In portrait mode, it’s possible for the upper cutout to show the top of some apps, with varying degrees of utility. In order to show off the icons of applications that have generated notifications, the PH-1 applies a lampshade effect to that area of the screen. This can slice the upper parts of some compatible apps in half (see: Snapchat), while others just ignore it entirely (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Lyft, Pinterest, Instagram, and a host of others that I tested).
In landscape mode, Hearthstone just squares off the U-shaped upper cutout and ignores it entirely. The same thing goes for YouTube video and most other programs. That’s better than the alternative of having a camera-shaped bite taken out of the side of some footage, but it makes the iconic display feel less useful.”
Chris Davies, Slashgear:
“With the iPhone 8 widely expected to have a notch of its own at the top of the screen — albeit in a different shape — I was curious to see how intrusive the Essential Phone’s cutout would be in everyday use. Turns out, after the initial wow-factor, you don’t really notice it. Android’s status and notification bar naturally spreads its icons and alerts to either side, and since it’s usually black the section that isn’t screen simply blends in.”
“It gets slightly different when you’re watching full-screen content, but even then not as much as you might predict. Since the Essential Phone’s screen has a 19:10 aspect ratio, but most widescreen video is 16:9, there are naturally black bars either side: enough, certainly, to obscure the notch. The phone’s own camera records in 16:9 too.”
Karissa Bell, Mashable:
“There’s really no way around it: the “notch” looks weird. Rubin has said the unseemly camera cutout is a necessary concession for the edge-to-edge display since putting the front-facing camera on the bottom bezel would be even more awkward.”
“Still, it looks odd. It might even be a dealbreaker for some people, though it really didn’t bother me. More importantly, the cutout itself didn’t noticeably interfere with any apps. That’s because most apps don’t actually wrap all the way around the “notch.” Some do (mostly Google’s and other native apps like Android Messages and the Play Store), but the vast majority still had black bars on top as if there was a bezel.”
David Pierce, Wired:
“And that tiny notch at the top, around the camera? I couldn’t stop looking at it for about an hour, then promptly stopped noticing. I like it more than what I’ve seen in renderings of the next iPhone, and I’d rather have it than the wonky camera placement in something like the Xiaomi Mi Mix. Until manufacturers figure out how to remove the camera notch altogether, this feels like the best answer.”