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 idea. Many want an uninterrupted full-screen experience, yet won't forego that selfie camera. The hole-punch camera could be about to change all that.
Throughout the latter half of 2018 and now into 2019 we've seen brands experimenting with all kinds of solutions. From the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3's and Honor Magic 2's slider phone mechanism - we take a closer look at that solution in this feature here - to Vivo's full dual-screen approach in the NEX Dual Display. All have their merits and downsides.
Then there's the hole-punch camera, as first seen outside of China in the Honor View 20, which wraps the front-facing camera into a small circular area within the screen itself. No big notch, no big distraction?
Having lived with the hole-punch Honor for over a week as our day-to-day device, and with Samsung about to reveal the S10 with a similar design solution, here's what we make of the new-fangled anti-notch hole-punch.
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.
In the Honor V20 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 in the V20 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 a 6.4-inch screen size.
It puts the camera in a good place - no slider/second screen required
With a slider phone, such as the Honor Magic 2, the camera pops-up by pulling the upper screen portion down. While that sounds great, it means various dust and debris can get into the area where the camera is hidden. With the hole-punch solution that's no such issue.
It's a potential distraction
One of the most obvious downsides is how suddenly 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. Sometimes that'll see your eyes dart towards it; we even tried to brush it off the Honor V20's screen one time (oopsie).
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 - in the Honor V20 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.
Which phones feature a hole-punch camera?
All our hole-punch camera findings to date are based on the Honor View 20, which we've been using as our day-to-day device for over a week. By and large we've found the hole-punch experience to be typically smooth, with few problems as a result of its presence.
This is also the first device to launch outside of China with the hole-punch solution. That in itself is what will make this phone an interesting proposition for many; it's beaten even the big guns to the punch.
Huawei Nova 4
Wind back the clock to late 2018 and Huawei was actually the first company to release a hole-punch camera solution. But you'll only find the Nova 4 in China for the time being, thus it's not a device that's widely known.
Samsung Galaxy A8s
Samsung might have the S10 coming - more on that below - but its testbed solution was a hole-punch version of the A8, also not released in the wider market. It's similar to the Honor V20's solution, so not the all-bells-and-whistles approach of the S10, but shows it's a design solution the Korean company sees as marketable.
Samsung Galaxy S10
The one that everyone's got their eye on, but the device we don't know absolute truths about just yet. Expected to launch on 20 February 2019 at an event in San Francisco, Samsung's flagship won't be a subtle upgrade over its S9 and S9+ predecessors, as its sensor-pocked screen will attest.
If the rumours are true then the S10's front-facing hole-punch camera will actually have a second screen that's able to show prompts, colours and symbols related to the camera's use, just to offer that extra special something over its competition.
Sounds fun, but will it genuinely add to the experience? We'll find out soon enough…