What Is an Under Display Smartphone Camera & Which Smartphones Have One?
The Samsung Unpacked event in August 2021 saw the launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 3. While it had a lot of new things going for it, one of its key features is the under-display camera (UDC).
That got some people asking, how come there are not that many phones with under-display cameras? We have had in-display fingerprint sensors since 2018. But how come we only have three smartphones with under-display cameras so far?
The Allure of Edge-to-Edge Screens
Ever since Apple launched the first iPhone, demand for an all-screen smartphone has grown exponentially. Consumers wanted their phones to have the largest-possible screen real estate while remaining easy to grip and use single-handedly.
After all, the edges around a phone’s screen are spaces that could’ve been used to display content. That’s why smartphone makers strive hard to hide sensors and other phone parts facing the user.
For example, if you compare the Samsung Note7, released in 2016, to the Samsung Note8 released a year later, you’ll see the fingerprint sensor moved to the rear of the phone. A couple of years later, the 2019 release of the Samsung Note10 saw the rest of the sensors at the top disappear, with only the hole-punch camera remaining at the center.
How Long it Took for In-Display Fingerprint Scanners to Trickle Down to Mid-Range Phones
In our example above, the 2017 Samsung Note8 has the fingerprint sensor moved to the phone’s back, beside the camera flash. However, this isn’t the optimal placement for such a sensor. After all, it’s still more intuitive to unlock your phone from the screen.
But in 2018, Vivo released the X21—the first smartphone to get a proper in-display fingerprint sensor. While Samsung didn’t implement this technology yet in 2018, they applied it to their flagship smartphones the following year, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Note10.
In 2020, nearly all top-of-the-line smartphones sported an in-display fingerprint scanner. You can even start finding this technology among mid-range phones in 2021. Notably, among flagship phones, only Sony and Apple do not implement this tech.
Which Phones Have an Under Display Camera?
While some manufacturers dabbled in all-screen affairs through rotating, flipping, or pop-up mechanisms, none of those technologies captured the attention of the masses. It’s because all those moving parts are a damage risk and is expensive to repair.
They take up space inside the phone, reducing internal space for batteries. The motors required to move the camera add weight and thickness to the body. And they also reduce the possible sensor and lens combination the maker can put on the phone due to the limitations of the moving surface.
However, in 2020, the ZTE Axon 20 5G introduced us to the first-ever under-display camera on a smartphone. Then, in 2021, the China-only Xiaomi Mi Mix 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 joined the bandwagon, while ZTE released its second-generation Axon 30.
Three other smartphone makers, Oppo, Vivo, and Realme, have either announced or shown prototype phones with under-display technology. However, all three have yet to bring them to market.
Will Samsung Use an Under Display Camera?
While in 2021, we only have three smartphone models with this tech, with only two internationally available, Samsung’s implementation could serve as a catalyst for bringing this innovation to the masses.
That’s because Samsung’s global reach could force its competitors to release similar features in their top-end devices. Even though the Z Fold 3 can only be had for more than a thousand dollars, buyers who have tasted this tech would come to expect it from future foldable smartphones and maybe even in flagship non-foldable models.
This consumer pressure could then result in other phone makers following suit. However, we can expect its development to take a few more years, as UDC is a relatively young technology. After all, it took nearly three years before we started seeing in-display fingerprint sensors in mid-range phones.
Under-display cameras are far more complex than fingerprint sensors, and they still face several challenges. But once these are problems are solved at a reasonable price point, you can expect flagship devices to start sporting this tech.
Challenges Remain for Under Display Cameras
The biggest challenge that remains for the under-display camera is poor image quality. Because the light the front sensor will capture has to go through an additional layer of glass and is partially blocked by pixels, you cannot get the best image quality out of it.
For example, the front-camera quality of current mid-range phones is lightyears away from the quality of the flagship next-gen ZTE Axon 30 5G’s under-display camera.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 tries to solve this problem through software and AI processing, which results in a slightly better photograph. However, taking a video call using its UDC still results in horrendous image quality.
Furthermore, the missing pixels required to let light through the image sensor underneath the display are noticeable, especially if you’re viewing a light image. And although the Axon 30 has improved on this, the Z Fold 3 still suffers from this problem.
Taking Technology for Granted
All these announcements of new and innovative technology have made many of us go crazy with anticipation. However, we should realize that these things take time.
After all, the first all-touchscreen smartphone just launched in 2007, which is barely 15 years ago. And now, these small, pocket-sized devices are much more powerful than the computer that brought Neil Armstrong to the moon (given, Apollo 11 only used around 4KB RAM).
So, considering that the first UDC was launched in 2020, you can say that this technology is very much still in its infancy. If we just wait a couple more years, we can expect it to come out in more flagship smartphones, and then it will eventually trickle down to mid-range and even entry-level devices.
And when major manufacturers like Samsung, Xiaomi, ZTE, and perhaps most importantly, Apple, have made breakthroughs in this technology, you can expect all the other smartphone makers to follow suit. When this happens, you can expect the under-display camera to go a long, long way—even beyond smartphones.
Modern smartphones work almost like our own portable computers. But what breakthroughs got us to this point?
About The Author
(123 Articles Published)
Jowi is a writer, a career coach, and a pilot. He developed a love for anything PC ever since his father bought a desktop computer when he was 5 years old. From then on, he has been using and maximizing technology in every aspect of his life.
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November 13, 2021 at 09:03AM