In defense of notches everywhere: the best design possible right now

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
In defense of notches everywhere: the best design possible right now
Ever since Apple popularized the notch design with the iPhone X (although it did exist before Apple, as these things often do), we've seen the design popping up everywhere in new devices and leaks. And not too surprisingly with a feature that Apple popularizes, there has been a backlash by people saying the notch is terrible, generally for aesthetic reasons. However, the argument against the notch is one that we've heard before and it wasn't very convincing then either.

The general argument against the notch is that it's ugly and I'll admit that is a hard argument to deny if you're going to stare directly at the thing constantly or have a tiny fit of rage on the occasion that you notice it. But, in normal usage, I find it hard to feel strongly as to whether the notch is ugly, beautiful, or simply something that exists. If you stare directly at it, sure, it's probably fair to call it ugly. If you stop to consider the tech hiding within it, the notch (at least on the iPhone) is kind of beautiful. At the end of the day though, it's just something that exists. Depending on your preferences there are even choices in the size and shape of the notch ranging from the uncomfortably large (iPhone X) to literally nothing more than the camera (Essential Phone).

I used an iPhone X for about one month, and I started to ignore the notch approximately 20 minutes into that time. I'm willing to bet that unless someone is dedicated to being upset by the notch, my experience is one that probably tracks to most others. That's the way humans work: we ignore things that don't much matter. In the most basic way, our senses are specially designed to do that, because otherwise the sheer amount of sensory input we experience every minute would overwhelm us. So, if there's a constant stimulus, your brain just filters it out unless you pay attention to it. That's what happens with the notch.

The same exact thing happened when Motorola released the original Moto 360 smartwatch. People who had never used the device constantly complained about the "flat tire" look, calling it ugly and impossible to ignore. But, the vast majority of people who used the watch regularly (I still have one) realized you start to ignore the display cutout almost immediately because there's no necessary information getting lost because of that design and even on such a small display, your attention is not that low down on the device but up where the information is on the display itself.

The notch is making its way to more and more devices now. Android P has modified the system bar to accommodate the notch (though one could also argue that limiting the number of notification icons in the system bar is just better design anyway; I know I personally get filled with anxiety seeing my wife's system bar overflowing with notifications). The speculation makes it seem like the Pixel 3 XL will include a notch, and there have been plenty of other phones adopting the notch, mostly in an effort to get the best screen-to-body ratio possible.

The notch appears here to stay, and frankly that seems fine to me.

Functional alternatives to the notch

These experiences with the iPhone X and Moto 360 bring an interesting question that most who decry the notch as bad design don't tend to comment on too often: what's the realistic alternative in the push to eliminating bezels?

With the Moto 360, there was a trade-off between bezels and the flat tire because of the sensors and display drivers needed to fit somewhere and Motorola decided to go for smaller bezels. The same choice for manufacturers applies to phones with one major difference: the front camera. Device makers can minimize bezels quite a lot if they don't have to worry about a camera, but the problem is that the selfie cam is one of, if not the most important hardware feature of any phone for the average user. A device maker could probably leave off the selfie cam and still sell to a base of power users, but that would be a very small base.

So, what are the options other than the notch? Obviously, one option is to have a bigger bezel on the top or bottom edge of the phone (or top and bottom if you want symmetry). We've seen this attempted with the Xiaomi Mi Mix series devices in an extreme (no top bezel and a bottom bezel only big enough to house the front-facing camera) or with the Samsung Galaxy S and Note devices in a less extreme version of the bezel-less design (symmetrical top and bottom bezels but no side bezels). If you can handle a bit of bezel, that's probably the best you can do and perfectly good options.

Another way manufacturers have gone is to use a pop-out camera like the Vivo NEX. This gets you all the way to the bezel-less dream and still includes a selfie cam, but there's one major drawback here: any mechanical feature is far more likely to break or malfunction than a non-mechanical feature. On a long enough timeline and considering the way we all tend to use our phones and drop them, a mechanical feature like the pop-out camera is the most likely item to break, so getting rid of moving parts is almost always preferable to adding new ones.

What does that leave? Current tech can't accommodate a camera under the display, so there's really just the three options: bezels, a mechanical pop-out camera, or the notch.

So, is the notch worth it?

Given those three realistic options, the only option that is unacceptable is the unofficial fourth option to complain about something you're not forced to use and/or something that you've never used.

The beauty of the smartphone ecosystem is that there are options out there regardless of what option you want. Sure, there's a possibility that at some point in the future, Apple won't offer an option outside of the notch, but at this point, if you're an Apple user who hasn't resigned yourself having the limited choice that Apple offers, I really don't know what to tell you. And, if you really don't want the notch, there will always be an option available in the Android ecosystem that doesn't have one. So whatever your personal preference, you can find something you like.

Personally, I can't accept a pop-out camera as a real option because of the fear of malfunction or breakage. So for me, the two choices are to embrace the notch or stick with top/bottom bezels. Top and bottom bezels are shrinking on most phones (though not on the non-X iPhones as yet), but having used both, I know that I'll begin ignoring the notch almost instantly and I love the feeling of holding a device that feels like nothing but display, so I'll likely choose the highest screen-to-body ratio possible on my next device purchase (and given my other preferences, that will likely be the Pixel 3 XL.)

What will you choose?



1. Darckent

Posts: 100; Member since: Sep 17, 2016

Right please everyone bookmark this article..Mr Heller says that he cannot accept a pop out camera In 2 or 3 years when apple does it he will be calling it the best revolutionary thing since smartphones began.. If the Vivo nex was an apple phone you can just imagine the fanfare, balloons and confetti this man would be throwing up in the air that apple have for once innovated Can't stand apple fanboys who are journalists because their information is never sincere unless it's about the product they are bias to Bookmark this article I have

2. dnomadic

Posts: 449; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

Truer words are seldom spoken.

17. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I’m always curious how people call me an Apple fanboy considering I admitted to returning the iPhone X after one month and using a Pixel as my main device (not to mention the vast number of past articles where I openly admit being a Google fan...) I guess building straw men is easier than reading.

18. maherk

Posts: 7054; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

What's the point of admitting you're a Google fan, when you're articles are nothing but an Apple love fest? We are critical of the bias in your articles, not what you use in your daily life.

19. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

This article is about notches on all phones not just iPhones, so I’m not clear where the bias is

22. maherk

Posts: 7054; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Maybe the tone used in the article while talking about the notch and dismissing other solutions.

38. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Seems to me there's a large gap between saying notches are the current best design choice if the aim is to minimize bezels and being pro Apple. Also, the only other solution I dismissed was pop out cameras.

36. omar92

Posts: 5; Member since: Dec 09, 2016

You claim not being an apple fanboy, yet you didn't mention the smartphones who did it first and also not mentioning smartphones who do the notch better. Also liking the notch is your personal opinion which is ok, but to not be biased you need to write that according to many polls including some made here 90% or more of the people do not like them and prefer Samsung or Xiaomi aproaches. Yes you are biased, thats ok, just don't try to say you are not, because we are your public, we are not idiots.

39. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

As noted above, there's a huge gap between being pro-notch and being pro-Apple

37. max1c

Posts: 103; Member since: Oct 11, 2014

Well, he likes his Pixel and he knows that Pixel 3 will have the notch. So better jump on the notch train right now so that people don't flame him for loving the notch on the Pixel 3.

3. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

I also hate the notch but I don't see much wrong with this article. Well written, though the way it tries to justify the notch adoption gets on my nerves. What I hate most is how Android OEMs follow Apple's lead even though they constantly hear our cries about how much we hate the notch, liek Oneplus CEO saying, 'Get over with it', or something like that. Same happened with headphone jack. These things show most OEMs care about us only as far as that gives them great profits, or hype. If even the latter isn't present, they copy Apple. Seems like everyone hires the same idiotic designers nowadays..... And I don't know what bit Jony Ive!

9. Cyberchum

Posts: 1133; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

There's everything wrong with it. If the iPhone X was a Samsung phone and the Nex made by Apple, you'd see everything wrong with it.

32. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Why are so many of you guys such delusional beings and think every guy with an Apple logo is a blind Apple fanatic?

6. Cyberchum

Posts: 1133; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

I wish I could give you infinite likes. You got him!

8. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Good to know people around here still don't read before commenting

11. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

Sad to know you write such articles without testing out the other solutions you're dismissing.

15. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Not really sure what you’re talking about or what you’re basing that on. My primary phone is a Pixel, my wife has a Pixel 2 XL. As noted in the article, I tried the iPhone X for one month before returning it. Separately, I’ve also tried plenty of other phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S8+. And as noted at the end, I’m likely to stick with the Pixel for my next phone. So, what exactly have I not tried and what am I dismissing?

23. NateDiaz

Posts: 1094; Member since: Mar 03, 2018

You don't have to explain yourself to a 12 yo kid.

26. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

I'm referring to the two solutions on the Mix2 (bottom camera) and Nex (pop-up camera) that you mention in your article. I'll ask again. Have you used either phone to be able to make an objective assessment? I would bet you haven't, otherwise you would have said so. You wrote this article without doing adequate research. No current Pixel has a full screen so I have no idea where you're coming from with that. My comments will probably be deleted anyway as you guys are fond of doing with critical assessments.

10. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

Agreed. What he also fails to address is the usable screen space on phones like the iPhone X is actually a little less than 5.5 inches. He also glosses over the limited notification area. No room for the battery indicator? Really? You're ok with that? The pop-up camera argument holds no water either. Several circumstances would have to be in play for the camera to break from a fall. First, you'd have to be using it in the first place. Second, it's not in the corner and would unlikely be affected by a drop unless it falls directly onto it whilst in use. Vivo tested it with 50,000 simulated uses, so it should hold up very well. I'll bet the screen breaks 90% of the time before the camera does. It would make more sense to write these articles when you've actually used the other phones like the Mix2 and Nex rather than promote the notch. But it's Apple so...........

14. cmdacos

Posts: 4383; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

The pop up may be prone to fail as a moving mechanical component however assuming it will be prone is much different than what reality may deliver. Too early to say and maybe it's not Vivo that gets it right, but maybe another OEM.

51. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

Motor is unlikely to fail unless it's bad QC. The mechanical failures that could happen that I can see is when you drop it or snap it but like he said it's unlikely. What's more likely is turn your phone useless by cracking it screen.

28. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

I totally disagree with you. I've seen a lot of articles of Mr Heller and posts on G+ as well from him. And he is anything but an iPhone fanboy. Do I agree with him on this article? No, I don't but that doesn't mean I automatically consider him a fanboy because his views are different from mine. Especially with something so subjective as the notch. It's a shame people are so blinded by Apple love/hate

29. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

*double post*

64. thenotoriousrob

Posts: 22; Member since: Oct 11, 2017

True. And the word you're looking for is "biased."

65. htainlintha

Posts: 73; Member since: Mar 20, 2010

I couldn't agreed with you more, dear, they even sometimes accuse Samsung for not listening to customers! I do not know how apple has brainwashed them, sigh!

4. japkoslav

Posts: 1553; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

So, is the notch worth it? No. It's that simple. What is the best alternative to notch? NO NOTCH.

7. Orion78

Posts: 230; Member since: Mar 27, 2014

I'll NEVER purchase a phone that has a hideous notch plain and simple.

12. Cyberchum

Posts: 1133; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

Granted, I've dropped my phone(s) a couple of times, but never on that angle. And when taking a selfie with the phone, it is virtually impossible to land on that top bezel, in the case of accidental drop.

13. viandrona

Posts: 19; Member since: Jul 03, 2016

Gonna defend the Vivo NEX pop-out camera. There is a place and a market for that as well. Namely those few of us who aren't self absorbed selfie addicts. I myself took 3 selfies this year: on February 28th, May 15th and June 9th. By that logic, I will probably take another 3 by the end of the year. According to Vivo, the pop-up mechanism is rated to move the front-facing camera up to 50,000 times and lift up to 500-grams of weight. Split that in 365, and that's 137 selfies per day, every day. If you do that, you clearly have a problem. But I digress... For the average Joe, who switches phones every 2 years (which is most smartphone users, or at least most phonearena readers, as a recent poll here showed) what Vivo promises is more than enough. And if by any chance you're unlucky enough to have your selfie cam break, there's always the 1-2 year warranty, depending on where you live. Sadly, there's no news the NEX will make it outside of China. So the pop-out cam is not even a choice yet, for many of us. As for myself, speaking from past experience, there are worse things that can break. For example, on my HTC One X, the volume down button (goodbye booting into recovery mode and stuff) and 6 months later, the touch input on a 2 cm strip on the display. Both were fixed under warranty. Then came my next phone, an iPhone 5s. After 6 months its battery life was half of what it used to be when brand new. This was also fixed under warranty. Then came the Huawei P8 and Oneplus 3, which have worked flawlessly. The OP3 still does. Will be replacing it sometime in the next couple of months. To some this article might seem notch apologist and/or pop-up camera bashing. I don't think it is. But I get it why it could seem that way to some. I will admit, I don't like the notch. But that didn't stop me from wanting an LG G7. But then they had to out the V35... Back to the waiting game :)) Cheers. Mistakes are lessons learned. And as long as we, the buyers/end-users get what we need, all is good. Lets be thankful there's enough variety in the tech world to satisfy everyone.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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