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The all-screen smartphone is almost here, but there’s a huge caveat

Published Jul 26th, 2021 7:08PM EDT
Under-Display Camera
Image: Samsung via Evan Blass

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If leaks are to be believed, Samsung will launch its first smartphone with a camera under the display on August 11th. Earlier this year, Samsung demoed the technology, revealing its marketing name: Under Panel Camera (UPC). The Galaxy Z Fold 3 will be the first phone to feature the UPC. That’s according to multiple reports claiming Samsung’s next foldable phone will feature a truly all-screen design. Several Chinese handset vendors will release phones with under-display cameras this year as well. They won’t necessarily be foldable devices.

In fact, a phone with a traditional form factor was the first with an under-display camera — ZTE launched it last fall. A leaker familiar with these exciting developments indicates that the perfect design we’ve been craving isn’t going to be without problems. Apparently, handset vendors still have to choose between form and function. And so will you.

We’ve had “all-screen” smartphones since 2017. The iPhone X, with its notch at the top, is an all-screen phone. So are all the iPhones that followed it. This year’s iPhone 13 will feature a smaller notch, but it will still have one. On Android, hole-punch selfie cameras are the culprits behind the compromised designs. They’re also all-screen phones. All these companies are looking to place selfie cameras under the display, but that’s easier said than done.

The big under-display camera question

The notch and hole-punch cameras are a necessary compromise. Users expect selfie cameras, and we’re using video chat apps more than ever during the pandemic. The photo experience from a phone with an under-display camera needs to be on par with traditional designs.

Well-known Samsung insider Ice Universe put out a series of tweets that address UPC cameras. According to him, Samsung is prioritizing the selfie cam functionality over the design. That’s why the Fold 3’s under-display camera might be visible to the naked eye.

But Xiaomi and ZTE are going for a clean display look, so the camera performance might have to suffer. The leaker produced this image that shows a purported screen protector for the unreleased Xiaomi Mi Mix 4 phone. The implication is the phone will feature an under-display camera design.

According to him, users will have to choose between camera picture quality and display quality when it comes to UPC phones. If his information is accurate, we’ll have to wait some more for smartphone makers to deliver the perfect, no-compromise smartphone display.

Fold 3 UPC tech quality

Over the weekend, the same Ice offered additional details about the Fold 3’s UPC tech. He claimed that Samsung will use AI algorithms to improve picture quality. The results might not match a regular hole-punch camera, but they might be the best in the industry, he said. We’ve heard in previous years that algorithms are needed to improve under-display camera photography.

The leaker also suggested that some people might not appreciate Samsung’s software corrections for the under-display camera.

Finally, he revealed one potential issue with Samsung’s current UPC tech. Under-display cameras might force vendors to lower the pixel density in the screen region covering the camera. The UPC area will have up to 400 pixel-per-inch (PPI) density, which is lower than the PPI of high-resolution displays.

As before with these leaks, there’s no guarantee that the information above is genuine or up to date. But we’ll find out soon enough, at least when Samsung is concerned.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.