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Our fixation with smartphone “chins” has to stop

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Our fixation with smartphone “chins” has to stop
Smartphone design hasn’t exactly peaked yet, but it’s getting there. Each year, the aesthetics of our handheld companions are becoming more refined. Companies are shifting away from the utilitarian looking devices we had in the past with big, ugly buttons to more elegant and subtle forms with polished details. The materials used in smartphones are now higher grade and give them a luxurious feel, even the colors are reaching new heights with various gradients and reflective coatings.

But these changes came gradually and with them changed the way users are perceiving smartphones and judging their design. If there’s one thing the human brain is good at doing, it’s getting used to nice things. And, oh, have we gotten used to good looking smartphones. You can tell that’s the case by some of the biggest complaints we’ve had in recent years.

Remember the notch?


Now, I’m not here to say that notches aren’t something worth complaining about. However, objectively speaking, it wasn’t that big of a deal either. Sure, the way it would poke from the top of the display was kind of intrusive but at the same time, it did offer some extra screen real estate for your notifications, clock and battery percentage. And while watching videos, it could easily be negated by just sticking to the 16:9 aspect ratio of the video rather than stretching it to the whole display.
 
So it wasn’t so much that notches were terrible, it was just that there was so little else to not be happy with when it comes to smartphones (besides the constant need for longer battery life) that people fixated on that one small issue way more than necessary.

We all knew that the notch wouldn’t be around for long (you hear that, Apple?) and that companies will be quick to come up with alternative designs. While it will take a while more for the notch to disappear from all models, plenty of flagship smartphones are already offering bezel-less displays. If you found the use of the word “bezel-less” inappropriate for the devices we have today, you’re exactly the reason for this article.

Still a millimeter away from perfection


With notches replaced by punch holes or motorized pop-up cameras, we’re left with even less to nitpick about when it comes to smartphone looks (besides those pesky moving parts). But less doesn’t mean none at all, and some users have taken their demands to another level. The focus has shifted from the notch to another element: the bottom bezel. Despite engineers working tirelessly in R&D facilities all over the world to shave off as much as possible from the so-called “chin” of smartphones, their efforts aren’t met with the recognition they deserve. Quite the opposite, actually. Every time there’s a discussion about an existing or an upcoming phone’s design, there’s inevitably at least one person that says something along the lines of “the bottom bezel needs to be thinner” or “that chin is still too thick” when in fact it’s barely a millimeter or two thicker than the side or top bezels of the phone. Sure, there are cases in which the chin is objectively big for 2019 standards, but in some models it’s thickness is negligible.
 
I understand that for our brains even a small difference is noticeable, but to point it out as if it’s some significant downside of the design is simply ridiculous. If you’re that bothered by one side of your phone being a fraction thicker than the rest then you’re probably looking for imperfections a bit too hard.

And it’s not like most people even care about that stuff. No one is going to put their phone next to yours and go “Ha-ha! My phone’s chin is smaller than yours!”. Plenty of smartphone users don’t even realize the notch was something to be appalled by and they won’t spend even a second thinking about the bottom bezel of their phone.

It says a lot about the state smartphone technology has reached that we have people who feel compelled to point out as a flaw something so minor. The competition between manufacturers has pushed the limits so much, that we, the consumers, have adopted extra harsh standards by which to judge the products available to us. And that goes beyond simply complaining about the thickness of the chin. Photo quality, display resolution, RAM and so on are in the same bucket. We’ve become so spoiled by the hardware we have at our disposal every day that we fail to appreciate how amazing it is to begin with, focusing instead on “shortcomings” that will disappear in a year or two with or without our criticism.

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