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(Pocket-lint) - Since its inception, the notch - that black-out area to the top of many flagship phones where the front-facing camera and sensors hide - has been a divisive smartphone design.

Many want an uninterrupted full-screen experience, yet won't forego that selfie camera. And the hole-punch camera changed all that - sometimes to excess, as dual punch-hole cameras are now a thing too (yes, Samsung Galaxy S10+, we're looking at you - a design that was dropped in the follow-up S20) - delivering the front-facing camera into a small circular area within the screen itself. No big notch, no big distraction? That's the theory.

Over the last few years, however, we've seen brands experimenting with other solutions too. There's now defunct designs, such as various slider phones - we take a closer look at that now-defunct concept here - and an increasing move towards under-display cameras, as seen on the ZTE Axon 30 5G. But, again, the latter hasn't quite stuck or reached maturity yet, so is the punch-hole here to stay for good?

The upsides

There's no unsightly notch

The most obvious benefit of a hole-punch solution is that it's far smaller than a notch, thus doesn't get in the way of your viewing experience overall.

The camera is placed in an area where the default software-derived blackout strip occurs, so for many apps and much of the software experience, it's hidden from view by default.

Full-screen really means full-screen

Many apps can be designated as full-screen - and that really does mean full screen. Apps can extend beyond the hole-punch to the outer edge of the display, for full immersion, especially on 6.4-inch screen size.

The downsides

It's a potential distraction

One of the most obvious downsides is how apparent the hole-punch can be when an app goes full-screen. After all, it's a totally black area, which really shows up on a bright screen. That'll see your eyes dart towards it.

It can get in the way of operation

The other potential issue is that the hole-punch area can hide specifics within an app. One example we've found is video adverts that have the close 'x' positioned almost exactly where the front camera is - which makes hitting it to close the ad a little trickier than it could be. It's not a common issue though.

Furthermore not all apps have to run in full-screen mode - it's possible to designate per-app whether you want a black-out strip (notch style, we suppose) to contain the app within a given space.

The future?

So is the punch-hole here to stay? Well, it's ultimately seen an end to slider-phone designs, and looks to be the current norm. It's only Apple that hasn't yet got on board - something that's rumoured for the iPhone 14.

But, as pointed out up top, technology is always evolving - and with devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 dabbling in under-display cameras, the total 'removal' of any notch or punch-hole would be the ultimate solution.

That said, however, under-display solutions just aren't good enough at the time of writing. Still, we suspect that this is where the top-end of the market will move eventually.

Writing by Mike Lowe.