Samsung, Apple and Essential – The Race to the Ultimate Bezel-free Phone

The Current State of Bezels

Where 2016 was the year where phone companies raced to make the thinnest phone with the best cameras, 2017 was the year where they raced to reduce bezels. Three big players come up at the top for reducing bezels: Samsung, Essential and Apple*. Let’s compare what they’ve done and what is coming in the future using ratios, zoomed-in pics and all that good stuff!

*Don’t get me wrong, there are actually phones out there with better screen to body ratios like the LG V30 for example with 83.24% but I chose these three phones because they are popular (aside from the Essential Phone) and illustrate three unique approaches to achieving the bezel-less experience.

Samsung’s approach – sleek but less screen

Samsung S8 Plus Bezel

Samsung took the elegant approach and made regular cut-offs for the top and bottom edges in its most recent Galaxy S8 Plus but still managed to hit a high screen:body ratio of 84.26%** with a huge 6.2″ screen to work with. This is largely because of their infinity-edge display that makes the side screen edges actually curve over the side! Samsung was the first to kill off side bezels with the Samsung S6 Edge in 2015. That was 4 years ago and today, Samsung is incrementally getting better and perfecting its design by slowly eating away at those top and bottom bezels too. It has a very weird aspect ratio of 18.5:9 which can only be used to its full potential in optimized apps (your usual social media, web browsing, etc.). I doubt it will ever get fully used in mainstream media because no one is going to start recording in a new video aspect ratio just to please Samsung fans… right?

**Note that the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 boasts an 88.8% ratio which is inaccurate according to GSMArena. 

Apple’s approach – more screen? more notch…

Apple iPhone X Bezel

Apple instead tried to rid with as much screen as possible by jamming all the components they needed (they added a ton more for Face ID btw) into what has been known as the “notch”. Some aren’t too bothered by the notch and some absolutely despise it but I think everyone would agree that no one actually likes it. With the notch (which is only half usable), you get an even wider aspect ratio than the Galaxy S8 with 19.5:9 or an approximate 18.5:9 without the notch, matching the S8. Including the two “horns” around the notch on the iPhone X, the screen to body ratio is 81.49%. This is quite significant because that means the Galaxy S8 took the more elegant approach (no notch) AND has better screen efficiency.

Essential’s approach – more screen, mediocre camera indent

Essential Phone Bezel

The Essential Phone was released right in between the other two flagships and had some questionable problems with supply and advertising so it ended up not doing very well. However, It’s included in this comparison because I find that their solution is right in the middle of Samsung and Apple’s solution and doesn’t quite look as gaudy as Apple’s “notch”. Also, it comes in with the highest screen to body ratio of 84.9% with a screen size of 5.71″, aspect ratio of 19:10 and is the cheapest of the three by far at $499! However, note that the components (camera, sensors) on the S8 and iPhone X are much (like MUCH) better than the Essential Phone and needed the extra real estate to fit these MUCH better components in.

Below is a tabular summary of these findings with the top phone for each category highlighted. However, the findings do not suggest that either phone is better than the other. The iPhone X doesn’t shine in any category listed here but everyone knows paper specs are only a small part of the bigger picture in choosing the best phone. The release date was included because I did call this the “race” to the ultimate bezel-free phone.

 Samsung S8 Plus  Apple iPhone X  Essential PH-1
Visual Samsung S8 Plus Bezel Apple iPhone X Bezel Essential Phone Bezel
Screen Size  6.2″ 5.8″  5.71″
Screen:Body Ratio (screen efficiency – higher the better)  84.26% 81.49% 84.9% 
Aspect Ratio 18.5 : 9

19.5 : 9 (with notch);

18.5 : 9 (without notch)

19 : 10
Release Date April 2017  November 2017  July 2017
Base Price in USD (as of Jan 2018 – based on official website) $1114.99  $999 $499 

The Future of Bezels

Okay, so now we have an idea of the current state of bezels. Guess what the trend is for 2018? You guessed it; continue to reduce bezels and hopefully eradicate them completely! Below are a few rumors/ideas/patents that these companies have put forward to approach in the upcoming years and while the technology still has a way to go, it is quite exciting!

Samsung’s response to iPhone X’s notch

Samsung Bezel-free Phone Patent

Samsung has filed a patent for an approach that would get rid of bezels entirely while still being able to house the components like a front-facing camera. The phone would have holes in its screen for the camera and other components and the display will flow around those components instead of completely cutting the screen off like in current cases.

Companies have already been successful at integrating a fingerprint sensor into the display so it’s only a matter of time before all components are integrated and if any company were to do it, it would be Samsung as they have had a kick start in the display game for a while now.

Apple’s intentions for the future… maybe?

Bezel-less phone race-ApplePatent

Apple’s most recent patent filing is a little further out there. Earlier in 2017, Apple filed a patent for a translucent phone with a flexible array of OLEDs, arranged with minuscule gaps between them. This could allow for light which is needed for different components like the fingerprint sensor, camera, IR blaster for Face ID, ambient light sensor, etc., to transfer through the display without needing cutouts like the “notch”! This also brings forth other bizarre opportunities such as allowing the screen to act like a partial window, providing a whole new level of augmented reality where you can actually look directly at something in real life and get overlaid information.

Sources: technobuffalo, the verge

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