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An exciting display upgrade is coming to more phones this year

Published Apr 23rd, 2021 10:18PM EDT
Under Display Camera Tech
Image: Samsung

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If you want a new smartphone right now, you only have a few design options to choose from. Every iPhone other than the iPhone SE has the same notch at the top. Similarly, most Android handsets have hole-punch screens. There’s also a limited third category that includes foldable phones. But they’re all Android devices, and their foldable screens are likely to feature hole-punch cameras as well. These display design variations ultimately try to achieve the same goal, which is to increase the display size as much as possible without impacting any core features. That’s why the notch and hole-punch cameras are still necessary.

But 2021 will bring significant display design changes to both iPhone and Android, which will lead to even better-looking handsets. The iPhone 13 series is rumored to feature a smaller notch. Over on Android, various devices should get under-display cameras, including Samsung’s upcoming foldable flagship, the Galaxy Z Fold 3. But a new report claims that Xiaomi is also keen on launching phones with under-display cameras this year, including foldable and traditional flagships.

Placing the selfie camera under an OLED display is technically possible. Oppo and Xiaomi demoed their prototypes back in 2019, although the technology wasn’t ready for mass consumption. The problem that needed fixing was selfie cam performance. The camera has to capture photos and videos by collecting light traveling through the display’s pixels, so algorithms might be required to fix issues and improve quality.

ZTE released the world’s first phone with an under-display camera last fall, but the phone did not receive praising reviews. It wasn’t a flagship handset either.

This year, we already have Samsung indirectly confirming that its Under Panel Camera (UPC) tech might be ready for smartphones. Samsung Display is already manufacturing OLED panels with high refresh rates and UPC support.

A well-known Samsung leaker claimed that the Fold 3 would get the same UPC tech. He said a few days ago that several Chinese smartphone makers would launch phones with similar UPC displays this year, including Oppo, Vivo, ZTE, and Xiaomi. At the time, Ice Universe said that Xiaomi’s Mix 4 would feature a UPC screen without providing more details.

Under Panel Camera
Samsung Under Panel Camera (UPC) tech developed for OLED screens for laptops. Image source: Samsung

Xiaomi took advantage of Huawei’s problems with the US government’s, eating up some of its smartphone market share in international markets. And Xiaomi has bigger ambitions. The Chinese handset maker already announced various new products and mobile innovations this year, including a Fold 3 competitor that’s already more affordable than Samsung’s handsets.

A rumor from a Chinese blogger, via MyDrivers, claims that Xiaomi plans to use an under-display camera in two devices in the second half of the year, including another foldable handset.

Xiaomi will reportedly use a third-generation under-display camera technology that’s ready for mass production. The camera system supposedly uses a new pixel arrangement that has two purposes. First of all, the display section covering the camera has to be visually indiscernible from the regular screen. More importantly, the pixel arrangement has to allow more light to pass through to the sensor. The report claims Xiaomi’s UPC tech achieves the same photo quality performance as a conventional camera, thanks to Xiaomi’s camera optimization algorithms.

The blogger did not reveal the names of the upcoming Xiaomi products with UPC screens or release date information. However, if Xiaomi’s UPC tech has reached the required maturity to launch it in commercial devices, it means some of Xiaomi’s competitors from China might have similar technology on hand. Oppo might be one of them, as the company has started demoing under-display tech around the same time Xiaomi did.

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.