Opinion: Bezel-less is not the way forward


How do you imagine phones in three years? Foldable? Bezel-less? With invisible cameras? Powered by new long-lasting batteries? I could get behind a few of those ideas, sure. But bezel-less – that can’t be the way forward. While I agree that the sooner we get rid of those awful notches the better, the bezel-less dream should be put to rest, too.

I know this is the unpopular opinion, but just bear with me for a while. I was once a fan of the all-screen phones myself. But having reviewed enough skinny bezel-less smartphones, I just can’t imagine myself with a true bezel-less phone – it will be a disaster.

Let’s go back to 2016 and the Galaxy S7 edge. I was curious back then about this edge hype and indeed, what a beauty the S7 edge was. Incredible screen, impressive design, sophisticated execution. But after a couple of days as my daily driver I became bothered by phantom touches. As it turned out the phone registered my palm all the time and thus misinterpreted my actions.

Samsung was rather quick to come up with palm rejection. It didn’t work at all for me at first, and even though the maker improved its algorithms a lot for the Galaxy S8, the 2017 flagship still wasn’t ideal. My palm was always getting in the way and it was pretty annoying.

This should have been the first red flag for me, and the whole industry if you will. An edge-to-edge screen would always need palm rejection, but it’s just impossible to find the perfect one working for all people.

But these Galaxy issues disappeared from the news eventually. Not because they were solved – they are still present to some extent – but Samsung improved its algorithms just enough and we all grew accustomed to this needy design.

Bezel-less isn't the wayLooking back at this S6 edge and S7 edge design issue, it’s really a “you are holding it wrong” thing through and through, but it never became touchgate. On the contrary, the edge became a trademark for all Samsung flagships.

Fast-forwards a couple of months and the Mi Mix arrived. It was truly unique, breathtaking, one of a kind. When Apple still had the bezel-heavy iPhone 7 as a flagship, the Mi Mix looked like a device from the future, previously seen only on the Hollywood’s sci-fi sets.

Bezel-less isn't the wayThe Mix had a chin below its screen hiding the LCD controller, but also to make room for the selfie camera. And it worked for the best – while we had to stretch fingers for the things around the top of the screen, we the UI navigation keyps were easy to reach.

And the same goes for the Essential’s PH-1 – it had a similar screen with a tiny notch around the top for the selfie camera.

Then, in 2017 Apple launched the iPhone X. It also had a notch, larger at that, but its OLED screen stretched top to bottom, left to right. Let’s forget for a minute about the notch invasion that followed. Even the awkward system gestures eventually stuck, and it is how you control the iOS today.

Bezel-less isn't the wayThe iPhone X had a 5.8″ screen (not accounting for parts lost to rounded edges and notch), and it still required some finger stretching to swipe from the bottom or invoke the notification or control center from the top. It didn’t have issues with phantom touches due to its thicker frame.

But 2018 is where I just stopped believing in the bezel-less concept. The iPhone XS Max introduced a larger screen and not having a chin is a bit of a nightmare for my thumb – every time I need to stretch it to close an app or summon the task switcher. Meanwhile one-handed access to the top of the phone became impossible. And let’s not forget about that awful notch, which got in the away on pretty much every app and video.

Bezel-less isn't the wayLast year also brought us the Oppo Find X – a phone very close to the bezel-less promise because of that pop-up part at the top. I even voted it as the most beautiful smartphone for 2018. But it has two annoying things that combined together make for an even worse user experience for the sake of beauty – curved screen and almost non-existent chin.

With the Find X my palm rejection issues have returned, as well as the finger gymnastics. At least it didn’t have a notch, right?

At this point I was probably fine with the palm issues, maybe it was just me, maybe I am using it wrong. Okay. And the finger-stretching – it’s some kind of an exercise and it should have been good for me. Right? Right.

Bezel-less isn't the wayBut on the verge of embracing the future, something happened.

Right now, I have less free time than the usual for various reasons, so instead in front of the TV, I spend more time watching videos and TV shows on my phone. And I struggle with that.

I struggled with the Find X, I struggled with the iPhone XS Max, as well as with the OnePlus 6T and especially with the most recent Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 masterpiece. I just couldn’t find the right way to hold the phone so I don’t obstruct the gorgeous screen with my fingers on palms.

The best method I could come up was to squeeze the smartphone between my palms and support it from the back if I can – that was the only way to really enjoy the full screen, notch or no notch. But some of those phones have curved edges, polished and rounded frames, and sometimes the frame provided little to no grip. All these factors make dropping these very expensive glass devices very likely.

Bezel-less isn't the wayI shouldn’t have to struggle with my daily driver which also happens to double as my all-in-one multimedia device. I paid more than handsomely for it, and I should be able to simply enjoy it. Hassle-free.

But the whole industry is moving towards bezel-less phones. Even worse – those devices, and respectively – their frames – are getting thinner and tougher to hold. At the end, the slippery glass design is going nowhere.

Nobody can hold a bezel-less phone properly, hassle-free, and enjoy fully and uninterrupted, say, a movie. Add the finger-stretching and the struggle to hold it right, and we are on the path to disaster. No, actually we have arrived there, but we have accepted our fate.

Well, I don’t want to.

Innovation needs to happen and needs to happen fast. The good news is the companies have begun experimenting with phone designs again and even though it’s for the wrong reasons, I’m convinced something good will come out of it eventually. The pop-up parts have been tried, the sliders have returned, and Samsung will be announcing a foldable smartphone as soon as next month.

Bezel-less isn't the wayMeanwhile I would prefer a phone with bezels at the top and the bottom, which will allow me to go though my day hassle-free. Sony seems to get it though it has added trendy curves, Razer phones have nice bezels as well, even Samsung is still holding on, though not for long apparently. Here is hoping things will change for the better!

Bezel-less isn't the wayNow if you could please scroll back to the beginning of this article and take a second look at our lifestyle photos. Notice something? Most of the people holding those pictured phones were struggling to do it and it’s easy to tell by those awkwardly looking fingers. This needs to change.



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