ZTE may be looking to spark the next trend in mobile selfie camera placement via side-mounted front cameras, avoiding punch-holes, notches, and mechanized sliders altogether. Spotted first by Tiger Mobiles, the new design patent shows a concept that would center around reshaping smartphones dramatically.
The Chinese OEM is not, with this design patent, incorporating an unsightly notch, a display-disrupting punch hole, or a mechanical slider. Instead, it places camera sensors — and possibly multiple lenses — on an extension of the body, a hump, set out to the top-right-hand side of the frame.
Buttons or slots are shown moved to the left-hand side with the exception of a single physical key. That's likely a power button, remaining on the right-hand side of the frame under the hump. Nothing occupies the reverse-side of that at all in the associated images but it isn't out of the question that ZTE might use the extra space for more than just cameras.
For instance, there isn't a fingerprint scanner shown in the sketches. That hints at an under-display sensor, as has become the recent trend in the Android mobile world. ZTE could feasibly put the hardware in the same extended portion of the body or the extra space might be used for additional photography or security-related components.
Stepping away from the premium direction?
The space occupied by the extra frame in ZTE's patented design isn't necessarily 'small'. It isn't likely to be lauded if the company ever does release a device with that camera hump in place. Smartphone users tend to be averse to changes and to want more screen in their screen-to-body ratio. The new design would be a step back from that. It diminishes the screen-to-body ratio and all but forces a reconceptualization of how smartphones should look.
Summarily, if released, case designers, reviewers, and users alike would need to seriously reconsider both shape and function. Perhaps worse, ZTE's design could arguably be viewed as a step away from the premium direction it had previously been considering for its smartphones.
The front panel would need to be flat for the design to work. ZTE would further need to consider materials to reinforce the hump against damage. It simply doesn't mesh with the bezel-trimming and curved-edge trajectory of the market.
…but where would this side-camera ZTE experiment be placed?
There's no guarantee ZTE will ever build or release a commercially-viable device from its latest patent. If it does, it isn't at all apparent whether the handset would be a budget-friendly experiment or a flagship. ZTE's steps toward high-end devices following its temporary U.S. ban last year have been made clear.
Among its most recent achievements in that space, the company has opted to bring its flagship-challenging Axon 10 Pro stateside. That Snapdragon 855-powered gadget is a near-stock Android 9 Pie-touting 6.47-inch device. ZTE has packed all of the device's high-end spec under an AMOLED panel with a respectable 2340 x 1080 resolution. The ZTE Axon 10 Pro's edges there are all smooth and rounded.
But most importantly, the front panel features a waterdrop notch for the selfie snapper.
This new device is a definitive step away from all of that and nearly all of the other Android phones that are presently available.