Oppo's Under-Screen Selfie Camera Makes Notches Feel Like a Lazy Design Placeholder

Gif: Twitter

You can tell yourself whatever you need to feel better about having to stare at your smartphone’s ugly notch all day, but it’s an awkward design decision that serves as a placeholder until a more elegant solution to hiding a front facing camera (and other tech) comes along. Apple seems to be in no rush to get rid of it, but Oppo is now showing off a smartphone prototype that manages to hide a selfie camera behind its screen.

When taking a selfie, the portion of the screen hiding the front-facing camera turns black to improve image quality.
Photo: Twitter

After teasing the new tech a few weeks ago, Oppo brought a prototype to the MWC Shanghai trade show taking place in China this week. According to the company, the phone uses a specially-developed transparent material to let light pass through the various elements of its display, as well as a redesigned pixel structure that improves its transmittance. Oppo claims that while the screen is on, the camera lens underneath is invisible, but Engadget Chinese managed to get some close-up shots of the prototype, and the area that covers the camera does appear to stand out from the rest of the display, under close scrutiny.

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A truly bezel-less screen is the ideal solution for mobile devices, as they allow the size of the display to take full advantage of the size of the actual device. But features like fingerprint readers, selfie cameras, and the infra-red projector that allows Apple’s Face ID to work, have demanded ugly compromises like notches or holes punched in the corner of the screen. The industry is making some important inroads to eliminating these eyesores, however, with under-screen fingerprint readers, and pivoting cameras that can shoot either forwards or back. (Although more moving parts means more ways for your phone to break.)

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Oppo’s solution seems like it’s the ideal one, even if its execution isn’t quite perfect just yet. In a tweet, the company revealed that special image processing algorithms are needed to remove haze, adjust white balance, and fix other issues caused by the extra layers of glass and electronics over the camera’s lens. This will be an issue across the board, but we’ve already seen AI-assisted algorithms flawlessly remove obtrusive watermarks from photos, so it seems like a combination of clever software and hardware could make under-screen selfie cams a viable solution—eventually. Despite the working prototype at MWC Shanghai, Oppo hasn’t announced when a smartphone with the new tech will arrive, although it claims one is en route in the near future.

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