Display notches ruled supreme in 2018, as far as smartphones are concerned, of course. It's hard to deny this, as we've seen a ton of notched smartphones in 2018, as pretty much every smartphone manufacturers released such devices, though there were some exceptions, like Samsung, for example. By the looks of it, notches are getting replaced by display holes in 2019, and that's not good, at all, at least in my opinion, and in this article, I'll try to explain why.
When Did It All Start & My Experience
Display notches essentially (see what I did there) became a thing back in August 2017 when the Essential PH-1 was announced, but they did not become popular until Apple released the notched iPhone X in September 2017, thus we did not see a major shift in the mobile industry until 2018. Having said that, a ton of companies are currently developing smartphones with display holes, whether for cameras, earpieces or something else entirely, but expect to see many such designs throughout 2019.
Display notches came in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the iPhone X's extremely wide notch, and Pixel 3 XL's extremely tall notch, to Essential PH-1's line notch, and OnePlus 6T's waterdrop notch. The latter two are actually quite minimal, and people had way more objections to those than to regular notches, such as the ones on the iPhone X and Pixel 3 XL, but the point is, all of those notches were cutting into displays, which is something that bothered people.
As far as my experience goes, the moment I started the OnePlus 6, I was immediately annoyed by its notch, and truth be said, I never fully got used to it, it got so annoying I had to "disable" it by enabling the all-black notification bar line. That put my mind at ease to a degree, as the OnePlus 6 actually has an OLED panel, so its deep blacks actually blend in quite nicely with the notch, and unless you're in bright light and looking at the phone at an odd angle, you won't even know that a notch is there.
People often tell me that it's stupid to "disable" notches as you're just getting a black line at the top of the display and are cutting into your display real estate, which is not true at all, as that space is used for status bar icons, whether be it notification icons or other system icons, so it doesn't really matter if it's black or in the color of the app you're currently it, your main content is not getting there either way, as that is how notches are implemented into Android. Therefore, "disabling" notches on OLED Android phones actually makes a lot of sense to me, and that's where the problem begins when it comes to display holes, and that's our segway into the next paragraph.
If Display Holes Annoy You, Just "Disable" Them! (Yeah, Right.)
So, up until now, we've seen several smartphones with display camera holes being announced, including the Huawei Nova 4, Samsung Galaxy A8s, and arguably the most interesting one out of the bunch, the HONOR View20. The Huawei Nova 4 and Galaxy A8s haven't made it to Europe or the US up until now, so we didn't really have a chance to spend some quality time with them, but the HONOR View20 is a different story. After spending some time with the device, we've come to the conclusion that it's a really nice-looking phone, which looks stunning, has a really good camera, and so on… to cut the long story short, our review will be up in a bit. Still, it has that display camera hole in the top-left corner, which doesn't seem to bother many people, but I'm not one of them, and you may find yourself in this as well.
In the HONOR View20's case, you can try to negate the impact that hole has by enabling a black notification bar (that won't be the case with many other such implementations), as the View20's front-facing camera is placed high up, in the top-left corner, so it can be hidden away by that bar, kind of. Considering the size of its camera, though, that black bar is a bit thicker than on notched phones with smaller notches, so if you do that, you're basically getting a worse experience than doing it on notched phones, not to mention that the View20 has an LCD display, so those blacks are not as black as they are on OLED panels. That's just the View20, though, the experience will be quite different on OLED screens, quite probably.
Display Holes Are Smaller, And Thus Less Annoying… Right?
This is an argument that most people use, and that is true, display holes are essentially smaller than notches themselves, they're not much smaller than tiny notches, but they still are. That being said, every single hole-punch phone that was announced thus far sports that camera on either left or right side, and not in the middle, so it's either messing with Android status bar notification icons, or status bar icons that are placed on the right-hand side, it takes away space for those, which is annoying on its own, at least in my opinion.
This was not the case with notches, at least notches that are not too wide. It actually seems like I'm defending notches, which could not be further from the truth, trust me, but I just don't feel like display holes are a step forward, at all. Waterdrop notches, or the Essential PH-1's notch did not have any impact on status bar icons, while they were negated in most apps with video content, like YouTube, for example, so that they don't cut into the content.
Now, most of you will probably be less annoyed by hole-punch displays if you don't mind the fact that those holes will cut into status bar icons, or if you don't plan to "disable" them via software. Also, there's a good chance we'll see plenty of phones with display holes that are centered at the top of the display, which would solve half the problem, at least for me. But it just feels like OEMs have replaced one bad decision with a new one.
The Bottom Line
Now, all of this comes down to personal preference, and I'm sure that most of you will disagree with me, that you think that display notches are worse that display holes. I respect that, I really do, as different people use their phones in different ways, and also have different preferences, which is why options are good. Notched phones are not going away completely, though, we'll probably see more of them in 2019, while a number of different hole-punch phones will be released. We have seen some patents suggesting that those holes will be utilized to accommodate earpieces, front-facing sensors, and so on, not only cameras, so it remains to be seen what will OEMs come up with throughout the year.
What I, personally, am waiting for, are under-the-display cameras. This technology is nowhere near arrival, though, as current under-the-display cameras are not capable of producing acceptable images, the technology is not there, not to mention that screens are often smudged up and that affects the quality as well. We have seen various different solutions to this problem, including phones with pop-up cameras, like the Vivo NEX, and phones with sliding camera mechanisms, like the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3, but none of those are ideal solutions, in my humble opinion.
Having said that, the newly-announced Vivo APEX 2019 actually doesn't sport a front-facing camera at all, which is Vivo's idea of dealing with the problem, and some people probably won't object to that, as they'd rather not have a front-facing camera than having to deal with a display notch or a display camera hole, though those people are in the minority. All in all, we're in for an exciting 2019, let's see what OEMs will come up with!