As mobile phones continue to advance, the demand for more screen and less bezel is dominating design. Manufacturers proudly present greater screen-to-body figures at their press conferences. But there's a problem: where to put the cameras, sensors and fingerprint scanners in such devices?
We've all seen the notch - yes, the at-first dreaded notch; that black-out dip to the top of many current flagship phones, from the Apple iPhone XS to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro - but, if the second-half of 2018 is anything to go by, following Oppo's reveal of the Find X, then the slider phone is the future.
Xiaomi seems to think so too, following the announcement of its latest flagship, the Mi Mix 3, at a media-only conference in Beijing, China, on 25 October. And Honor followed this a week later with its 31 October event in the same city, showing that slider phone momentum is certainly gathering.
But is the slider phone really the future, or just a short-lived fad that will be outlived by the even newer hole-punch camera solution? We take a look at the current devices trying to present an alternative future.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
- Full slider phone design
- Uses magnets and manual motion
Rather than investing in a motorised mechanical design, Xiaomi's Mi Mix 3 functions using a magnetic system – it's a case of manually sliding the phone up to display the front-facing cameras. It's said to be good for 300,000 cycles, which is three times that of its mechanical competitors, like the Oppo Find X.
The Xiaomi devices boasts a 93.4 per cent screen-to-body ratio, cementing the Mi Mix's position as the device with the some of the least bezel available. The Lenovo Z5 Pro, which we look at further down the page, claims 95 per cent.
Interestingly, the Mi Mix 3 offers customisable app launching when sliding it open. So it doesn't have to just be for that selfie – it could be to answer a call, like a traditional flip phone, or to load a game. Although we do worry that pulling it out of a pocket will see it constantly slide open – something mechanical devices avoid.
Honor Magic 2
- Six cameras - three front, three rear - in full slider phone design
- Uses 'five rail butterfly-style' mechanism for manual motion
- 6.39in AMOLED display, in-screen fingerprint scanner
Hot on the heels of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, Honor has been teasing its Magic 2 since the launch of the Honor Play in August 2018, going on to reveal the handset in full at a Beijing launch event on 31 October 2018.
And the Magic 2 certainly isn't holding back on specs: it's got the same 6.39in AMOLED screen and in-screen fingerprint scanner as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but without the notch thanks to the slider design.
A flick down on the screen reveals its trio of front-facing cameras, which join the three on the rear to total six. That's Honor's big push: portrait modes, including bokeh blurred background and lighting effects, both front and back.
Lenovo Z5 Pro
- Full slider phone design
- In-screen fingerprint scanner
- China only release
It's not all about Xiaomi and Honor, though, as Lenovo has quietly launched its own equivalent slider phone – the Z5 Pro. It's not made a big song and dance about the device for the simple fact it's only available in China. We got to see it at the company's Beijing HQ in late November 2018.
Design is a familiar tale to its competition, opting for an almost bezel-free front and non-mechanical sliding mechanism to reveal the front cameras. The fingerprint scanner is embedded under the screen to keep the design neat and tidy – although this phone is certainly far thicker than its Xiaomi and Honor competitors, with a more plasticky feel to it. The spec is also a little lighter, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 under the hood.
Interestingly, the Lenovo offers the highest screen-to-body ratio of any current slider, with hardly any of the black stuff towards the edges. That sounds like a vision of the future, but with a China only release it's not destined for the wider world to witness.
Oppo Find X
- Full-width mechanical pop-up cameras
We thought the Oppo Find X was the device to make smartphones interesting again in 2018. There's nothing else out there that's like it, with a mechanical pop-up mechanism the full width of the phone that reveals the cameras.
However, its €999 price tag (it's expected to be £999 in the UK, when (perhaps more if) it launches) directly relates to using such technology.
Vivo NEX S
- Pop-up camera
Ok, so it's not a slider phone per se, but this was the first device to change the pace. Initially shown as the Vivo Apex concept at IFA 2017 (Europe's largest tech show), the device quickly turned into the Vivo NEX S, a full to-market device with a mechanical pop-up camera built into its top edge.
Not having a full-on slider phone design means it retails for less than the Oppo, although its equivalent price depends on direct conversion from the Chinese model (which isn't quite accurate due to exchange rates, import export and tax).
Samsung Galaxy S10
- Rumoured behind-screen front camera
But there's a problem. Samsung's rumoured work on a behind-screen camera in the Galaxy S10, expected in late February 2019, removes the need for any mechanical movement. Well, if it doesn't distract your eyes anyway: as the above image shows, the little black dot doesn't make the camera fully invisible.
And this won't be the first phone to feature such a hole-punch camera solution: we've seen the Honor View 20, while other makers from Huawei and Samsung (in a different device) have already gone down this route.
Whether it's notches, pop-up cameras, behind-screen sensors, or a combination of some or all that will dominate future phones remains to be seen. But we know this: the Chinese makers are thinking outside of the box and making phones exciting again. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, Honor Magic 2 and Lenovo Z5 Pro, in particular, create a convincing image of the flip phone reimagined.
But herein lies the problem with the very idea of the slider phone: it's an exciting fix for what's likely to be a temporary problem. The integration of mechanical components in many devices may cause issues later down the line, while other advancing technologies that eliminate the very need for physical movement (yes, that behind-screen camera) will ultimately see the slider phone go the way of the flip phone: into a happy nostalgic place.
Plus these phones are all only available in China at present, which perhaps speaks of a cultural difference. The Lenovo Z5 Pro will never make it overseas, the Honor Magic 2 might, but with Xiaomi now launched in the UK and other EU territories the conspicuous lack of the Mi Mix 3 suggests that, right now, the slider phone isn't destined for such markets.