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, now into 2019 and beyond, 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? That's the theory. And now with Honor, Samsung, Motorola and many others with this setup available on the market, what are the good, the bad and the ugly truthes about this design?
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?
Samsung Galaxy S10
The one that everyone was talking about prior to launch and the only series that offers an OLED screen along with the hole-punch design, meaning richer blacks and more popping colours overall. This is a powerful flagship, but it's also expensive compared to many of its competitors, as listed below.
Honor's second series to implement the hole-punch (it doesn't replace the View 20, below) is well executed. The notch is small, the hardware is fast and the price is sub-£400, making for a OnePlus 7-challenging proposition.
Motorola Moto One Vision
Motorola's second-gen One phone is a whole different deal to the original: not only does it have an ultra-long 21:9 screen aspect ratio, making it taller than most on the market, there's also that hole-punch notch to the top corner. Sadly, however, the notch is the biggest opening of any phone available right now, which, in part, undoes much of its point. Still, as an affordable phone, the Moto is a solid mid-level entry.
Honor 20 Pro
Much like the Honor 20, but with an optical zoom camera and slightly more battery, this level-up version of the phone isn't easy to find in the UK at present.
Samsung Galaxy S10+
Can we call that a hole-punch? Ok, so it's more like two-in-one, but that's the S10 Plus' big sell: two front-facing cameras tucked away into the corner. It also began the whole amusing situation with hole-punch-hiding wallpapers, from Jonny Five and beyond.
Honor View 20
The first device to launch outside of China with the hole-punch solution. That is what will make this phone an interesting proposition for many' it even beat the big guns to the punch. Although it's not been replaced by the Honor 20 (above), per se, this device is now a generation old, so the newer 20 - which has a very similar design - is most likely where you should buy.
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, thus it's not a device that's widely known.
Samsung Galaxy A8s
Samsung's testbed solution prior to the S10 was a hole-punch version of the A8, but this wasn't released in the wider market so you won't find it in the UK.
Vivo Z1 Pro
Only available in China at present, the Z1 looks to be Vivo's testbed for the notch before rolling it out as an option to its wider range of phones. Or maybe Vivo will never really pursue the notch as its principal design solution - after all, we've had Dual Screen NEX phones and entirely port-free phone concepts from this very interesting brand.
Even Nokia is in on the act, but only in Taiwan did this device see the light of day. Perhaps more of the companys number-named devices may see this design format rollout in the future?