Phones with under-display cameras are not coming this year, and there's a good reason for that

Phones with under-display cameras are not coming this year, and there's a good reason for that
We recently got our first-ever look at working under-display selfie camera prototypes, developed by Oppo and Xiaomi. Despite the short running time and low resolution of the video, it still managed to excite by offering a sneak peek at a future where solid-state, all-screen design is the norm for smartphones. A future, which is no doubt coming, but may not be quite around the corner yet.

Even though the prototypes we saw were in an advanced stage of development, it seems like the technology will still need some time to mature, before it makes it to mass production. According to prolific leakster Ice Universe (@UniverseIce), we won't see a phone with an under-display camera this year, with companies instead focusing on improving existing solutions.

Universe claims that display camera punch-holes aren't going away in the near future, and will instead keep shrinking until they reach around 1 mm in diameter. This will supposedly happen in the next "1-2 years," according to the leaker. For reference, the Galaxy S10's selfie camera punch-hole measures at 5 mm in diameter, while the Galaxy Note 10 is rumored to have an even smaller opening for the front-facing camera.


Under-display cameras have been one of the biggest challenges for smartphone makers in recent times. The concept itself is nothing new – in fact, we theorized how an under-display camera may work prior to the release of the Galaxy S10, and during our research, we stumbled upon patents from over a decade ago. The challenge here lies not with coming up with the idea, but with executing it. Technological limitations have up until now stifled the development of under-display cameras for consumer devices, but as technology progresses and manufacturing prices go down, companies are beginning to explore new ground.

We've already seen low-level implementations of under-display cameras in the form of optical fingerprint sensors. An optical fingerprint scanner is basically a CMOS camera sensor placed under the display, but it's very different from a dedicated selfie camera. The fingerprint scanner doesn't need a lens and is designed to capture images of your fingers pressed against the screen, not farther away than a millimeter from the sensor itself. A dedicated camera needs a lens, and needs to be able to capture clear imagery from a foot away to as far as infinity, and that's why it's difficult to implement under a display.


A clever way to go about this is to make the display double as a camera lens. That's what Xiaomi did in its under-display camera prototype, and is likely the solution (or a variation thereof) that Oppo and other companies are also basing their concepts on. To achieve this, Xiaomi made part of the OLED display transparent. When the camera is not in use, content is displayed on top as usual, but when the camera is initiated, this part of the display becomes transparent and starts acting as a lens. This is only possible with OLED displays and poses yet another reason for the industry to adopt the technology on a wider scale.

One of the main challenges when designing an under-display camera is ensuring that it can capture high-quality images, because the transparent display is nothing like an actual, convex camera lens. Xiaomi, however, promises "perfect selfies, clearer and crisper than the pinhole camera solution," which is certainly an interesting claim, especially the "pinhole" part. We'll be taking it with a grain of salt for the time being, not least because some nuances of this promise may have been lost in translation. 

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20 Comments

1. LEEDAQ

Posts: 183; Member since: Aug 07, 2018

we don't care if we can fk all those notch phone

5. TheOracle1

Posts: 2259; Member since: May 04, 2015

Amen to that. What's interesting about articles like this are the blanket predictions. No one saw the Mi Mix coming a few years ago, everyone said the prototype Vivo Apex wasn't ready until the Nex was released commercially a few months later. Heck, it never occurred to anyone to implement the Zenfone 6 panorama camera function. At this point I wouldn't put anything past to Chinese.

8. Man_Utd

Posts: 184; Member since: Feb 03, 2015

Actually the Zenfone wasn't the first to have a motorized panorama. Check out another Chinese creation, Oppo N3. A phone way ahead of it's time. I love how some companies are continuing to push the limits. Maybe that's why other companies are not reporting phone sales?

11. TheOracle1

Posts: 2259; Member since: May 04, 2015

Wasn't the N3 manual? Anyway, you get my point I think?

13. User123456789

Posts: 913; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Sharp saw Mi Mix coming, that is why they used that design 2 years before xiaomi.

16. TheOracle1

Posts: 2259; Member since: May 04, 2015

You must be some kind of comedian. The Aquos wasn't available and barely known outside Japan. It was also a pos spec wise. The Mix was the first to make it mainstream.

12. eausa

Posts: 86; Member since: Feb 28, 2019

Exactly like I predicted. Some half assed copy job from China once again.

17. TheOracle1

Posts: 2259; Member since: May 04, 2015

Who are they copying exactly?

2. bugsbunny00

Posts: 2264; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

,..this under display cam may need a couple more years to come. same goes to the Folding phones/tablet.

3. LawnBoy

Posts: 189; Member since: Feb 23, 2019

Top and bottom bezels. Stick w what works.

4. AngelicusMaximus

Posts: 691; Member since: Dec 20, 2017

Yes. Let's stick with what works on everything forever and never advance technology. Good call.

10. japkoslav

Posts: 1505; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

Compromise != better solution.

6. 7thlvl

Posts: 60; Member since: Dec 09, 2018

Am I the only one who doesn't give a damn about a front facing camera? I got a OnePlus 7 Pro, all screen, hidden camera, 90Hz refresh 1440p OLED display. Yep this phone is the best right now.

14. User123456789

Posts: 913; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Some people do. It depends on what people like. I can safely use my phone under rain because it has IP68. Somenthing pop up and slider selfie cant provide.

18. TheOracle1

Posts: 2259; Member since: May 04, 2015

The Oneplus 7 is waterproof with seals in all the right places including in the pop-up camera. They just didn't bother to pay for ip68 certification. I've always used all my phones in the rain because most phones are water resistant to a large extent.

7. TBomb

Posts: 1482; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Small notch like the Essential phone or a hole punch like the Galaxy are good enough for me. Pixel notch, iPhone notch - not for me because I value the notification bar real estate at the top, but I'm willing to compromise for the smaller ones. I'd rather wait until this tech is ready for the prime time. don't rush it and give us half baked please - unless they're cookies!

9. japkoslav

Posts: 1505; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

We have read this article 1/2 year ago!

15. Guaire

Posts: 886; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

Transparency of a piece of Gorilla Glass more than 90%. On the other hand transparent OLEDs was at 45% by 2015. No update on that number. Such a "low" transparency image quality would be like sh*t. Software can't fix that. Until transparent OLEDs became to acceptable level of transparency it won't be on the market. No one would sit on it, if it's ready to to be in commecial products. I bet, if Xiaomi and Oppo would share the images taken by those prototypes, no one would get really excited.

19. Mobilephile

Posts: 166; Member since: Nov 25, 2012

I won't be surprised if it comes in new models end of this year

20. kplayon

Posts: 55; Member since: Mar 02, 2018

I don't give a flip about the quality of the front camera. As long as I come out looking like some sort of human, i rather take that. I hate how all these current front camera's are so perfect and shows every blemish and imperfection lol

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