Year Of The Notch: How The Controversial Design Trend Took Over Smartphones


In May 2017, Andy Rubin’s Essential confirmed the first Essential Phone. The PH-1 wowed everyone with its unique design with the display occupying almost the full-front of the phone, thanks to a small cut-out to house the front camera.

The notch, as this cutout has come to be known, has taken over smartphones. With all manufacturers aiming to go bezel-less, the notch was an inevitable design decision. It’s almost exactly one year since the Essential Phone started shipping on August 25 last year, and it’s clearly been the year of the notch. The thing that surprises us most about the notch is that it’s not always a good design decision, but it’s been copied by nearly everyone.

So let’s take a look at how smartphone companies have given in to the notch, and where we are headed in the years to come.

Essential Phone

While many credit the notch to iPhone X, it wasn’t the first phone with a display cut-out. The Essential Phone was the pioneer of the notch, as we mentioned in the intro.

It was the first phone to remove a small chunk of the screen to fit the selfie camera and pushed the bezels to the top edges. It was unobtrusive and not distracting at all, since it didn’t take up too much space. The Essential PH-1 excited the tech community as it gave them the chance to have an immersive display experience, in a unique design. Well, unique only for a short time.

Essential PH-1, the first smartphone with a notch

The Sharp Aquos S2 was seen soon too, which also has a tiny notch and was unveiled at around the same time as Essential PH-1. These were the first notched phones, soon to be a huge breed.

iPhone X – The Trend Setter

You don’t need to think twice to figure out which phone catalyzed the mad notch frenzy. The iPhone X took things to the next level with almost no bezels on any side, but with a very wide notch. Despite being as large as it is, the notch on the iPhone X was essential (no pun intended) as it housed sensors for Face ID. It packed the 7-MP selfie camera, a ‘TrueDepth’ sensor that includes an infrared camera, dot projector, and a flood illuminator, which were all critical for Face ID.

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And then the world followed suit.

Clone Army Rises

There were many who hated the notch on the iPhone X. But it still trickled down to Android phones (with support for cutouts in Android P) and almost every other phone these days sports a cut-out at the top.

And though I have no problem using an Android device with a notch, it’s annoying that phone makers are seemingly copying the iPhone X to a fault – even beyond that notch.

While Apple actually used the notch for its innovations, Android phone makers were simply copying the aesthetic without adding any functionality to the notch.

The iPhone X clone army includes the likes of Xiaomi Mi 8, the Huawei Nova 3recently launched Moto P30, and a lot more. Even phones from other manufacturers such as Huawei, Asus, OnePlus or LG, looked just like one another thanks to the notch.

Our Notch is Smaller!

Major Android manufacturers took a tape measure to the iPhone X notch and figured out they could reduce its size because they don’t actually have the Face ID modules.

Smaller notches were justified with the usual ‘larger screen-to-body ratio’ marketing jargon, with the Asus ZenFone 5Z and OnePlus 6 being the forerunner in this category.

Year Of The Notch: How The Controversial Design Trend Took Over Smartphones

Most phones, be it budget or flagship, including the Vivo X21 UD, Nokia 6.1 Plus, Honor Play, Huawei Nova 3i, Huawei P20 Pro, all sport a similar smaller cutout to integrate only the earpiece, selfie camera, and sensors. There’s just not enough space in the notch to place a Face ID-like tech, so face unlock on these devices is not totally secure.

Back to The Minimalist Notch

Meet the Oppo F9 (or the Oppo R17, if you’re reading this in China), which I feel has the best notch implementation to date. This device takes cues from the Essential Phone and builds on that by keeping the cutout as minimal as possible.

oppo f9 teardrop notch

This notch design has been dubbed as the ‘teardrop’ and it complements the curved design of the Oppo F9 to make it look too attractive. The bezel-less screen, minimal chin, and the smaller display cut-out means there’s no huge compromise in screen real estate and the notification bar doesn’t need to be extra thick.

On the other end of that spectrum is Google. There is one notch design I already hate and it’s not even official. We are talking about the huge smiley notch on the upcoming Google Pixel 3 XL.

The Pixel 3 XL, as seen in leaks, will stand out from the notch crowd with a massive cutout, that’s almost twice as tall as most other notches. If you ask me, it looks hideous. Google is looking to add two front cameras to the Pixel 3 XL for a more secure Face Unlock, but it could have stuck to a full bezel, if that’s the case.

Year Of The Notch: How The Controversial Design Trend Took Over Smartphones

Ultimately, like it or hate it, the notch is here to stay and will not go away anytime soon. It may be coming to more budget phones too as seen with the Redmi 6 Pro.

We may not have liked the notch at first, but we are already witnessing a shift in trend as consumers are becoming more accustomed to the notch with each passing day.

The notch will stay until phone makers figure out how to cram all those sensors and cameras under the display. We are already seeing innovations on this front, with the likes of Vivo Nex and Oppo Find X that are giving us a glimpse into a bezel-less and notch-less future. With time and improvements in hardware and display technology, we will have cameras under the screen, and even smaller cutouts for speakers, as Apple could do with its patent.

So, what are your thoughts on the notch? Do you like it or hate it? And finally, would you be open to owning a notch-ed phone? Let us know in the comments below.

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