Bezel-less smartphones are coming this year – are you ready?

March 13, 2014

Bezel-less Galaxy S5

Smartphone manufacturers are doing a good job at producing thinner, lighter smartphones with bigger and bigger displays. But it seems that we are quickly running up against the limits of how thin our smartphone bezels can get. LG and Samsung are currently leading the way on the thin bezel front, but although LG’s 1mm bezel prototype, which it flaunted last year, may have given us a glimpse of what’s to come, so far none of last year’s bezel-less device rumors have come to fruition.

Enter CrucialTec, a South Korean fingerprint sensor and touch panel manufacturer, which is preparing to launch a new display technology that may finally usher in the promised era of bezel-less smartphones.

As well as enabling slimmer devices or larger displays, CrucialTec is also leading the way with its range of new touchscreen panel embedded with fingerprint sensors. This is something that we’re likely to see much more of in the future, given the inclusion of biometric security measure in the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5. In fact, CrucialTec was rumoured to have agreed to a deal to supply fingerprint sensors to Samsung Electronics for the Galaxy S5, something which the company now denies, and that has obviously not panned out.

body to screen ratio wide 1600px

I know what you’re thinking — we’ve heard promises of bezel-less handsets for more than a year now, so what makes CrucialTec’s claims more valid than anything else we’ve heard? Well, for a start, this is coming straight from the mouth of a manufacturer.

CrucialTec’s CEO is predicting that smartphones featuring the company’s new panel would be unveiled as early as the first half of this year, so anytime soon. Furthermore, the company has been relatively forthcoming about how its technology works, so let’s investigate how CrucialTec plans to rid us of smartphone bezels.

Existing technology – under the microscope

Alcatel OneTouch Hero 6 Inch Phablet Hands On -14

Leader of the thin-bezel pack – the  Alcatel OneTouch Hero

Although there are a range of different touchscreen technologies in use across a range of smartphones, especially when you compare old and new models, most modern devices which support multi-touch are built using capacitive touch screens. Essentially, this means that inside the display there are rows and columns of capacitors which will alter their charge when you place your finger on or near them. Electronic devices, like Samsung’s S Pen, can also affect the capacitors’ magnetic fields, and “touch-less” features, like Samsung’s Air View, make use of more sensitive capacitors to achieve the same results at greater distances.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 jet black S pen stylus aa 8

Anyway, the important thing to note here is that all of these touchscreens make use of two separate capacitor layers in order to accurately detect the location of your finger, one in the X plane and one in the Y plane. This is especially important for multi-touch features, as you can detect multiple changes in capacitance at points on both the X and Y axes quite easily. Resolution (accuracy) can be increased by adjusting the number of columns and rows. In order to detect current changes in these planes, additional circuitry is required around the edge of the capacitive display, which is where bezel limitations start coming into play.

Capacitive Screen How Stuff Works

Additionally, when it comes to manufacturing, this method of recording data from two separate axes is not ideal. Current designs require the use of two capacitive layers (X and Y), plus an insulating layer between them to avoid crosstalk between signals. After that, there’s the protective glass screen and wiring layers too. Considering that a malfunction in any layer would ruin the entire device, yields are a really important for current display technology.

Single Layer Manufacturing

This brings us to the key difference with CrucialTec’s technology, named matrix-switching touch screen panel (MS-TSP). CrucialTec touchscreens are built using a single capacitive layer, rather than two plus a layer of insulation. (It should be noted that other developers are working on this technology too, but CrucialTec is currently the most forthcoming with information about how it works.)

A single layer presents problems of its own, the biggest one being how to tell two parts of the screen apart effectively. Rather than creating a matrix of x and y locations, CrucialTec’s single layer technology uses a cell by cell grid system to detect location. This has essentially the same effect for the user as the X and Y system, but instead of collecting data from two points to create a coordinate, each grid is assigned its own location which is then interpreted by a direct connection to an integrated control circuit. One of the biggest challenges with this technology is accuracy, especially when dealing with potential noise generated from other components.

cell by cell control

The control IC becomes much more complicated and has to be robust enough to interpret the locations accurately, hence why development has been slower than X by Y touchscreens. If this all works well, you’re looking at a touchscreen that has an even easier time of locating multiple finger placements, with excellent control over resolution, sensitivity, and size, as each cell can be controlled and calibrated individually.

The immediate benefit here is that you’re instantly cutting down the number of components that can go wrong, resulting in better production yields and less wastage. Current designs are based on a 4 mask process, ITO-X, ITO-Y, as well as a metal layer for each, whilst CrucialTec is using just a single ITO-XY layer. The company puts its yield rate for this technology at over 90% for the whole display, whilst the 4 mask process has a similar success rate for each component. This works out at around a 30 percent cost saving for CrucialTec, which could end up making its displays cheaper than the current crop.

ITO XY combined layer

There are a couple of other benefits to this manufacturing method too. Obviously, fewer layers also makes for a thinner display — under 0.5mm compared with just under 1mm for traditional multi-layer displays, which will result in thinner handsets for consumers, or more space for smartphone manufacturers to fit larger components under the display, such as bigger batteries.

Speaking of battery life, using a single layer also means that more light can pass through from the backlight to the top of the display and the user’s eyes. CrucialTec suggests that the maximum light transmittance of the older design is around 88%, whilst its own technology can pass around 94% of light produced from the backlight. So your displays could end up a little brighter, or even better yet, you could turn the screen brightness down a notch and still receive the same perceived brightness, which would make for a healthy battery saving, especially on larger devices. As we know, the screen is one of the biggest battery drainers in modern smartphones.

Finally, the entire point of the article was bezels, and the single layer production method can, on paper, lead to devices which do away with the need for bezels. As the diagram below shows, the MS-TSP method does away with all of the external circuitry around the edges of the capacitive layers. All of the connections simply come out of the bottom of the display, which is connected to the driver control IC elsewhere in the handset.

No need for circuity bezel

Bezel-less smartphones

Now whether or not we really want truly bezel-less devices is up for debate. After all, portable technology is likely to encounter the odd accidental drop from time to time.

LG-1mm-bezel-prototype

Perhaps truly bezel-less will be saved for monitors or TVs; even so, the technology has several other benefits for our smartphones. As well as thinner bezels and devices, this display technology could help reduce battery drain, free up room for other components, such as a larger camera, or allow manufacturers to release handsets with even larger displays.

With devices looking to ship as early as the first half of this year, we could soon have our first look at an ultra-thin bezel, super-slim handset, that’s lighter and more battery efficient than other smartphones on the market right now. Don’t forget about the integrated fingerprint scanner technology too.

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Comments

  • Jaime

    I have a strong feeling of deja vĂş…

  • arcwindz

    A bezel less flexible display, that will probably solve the odd drop :)

    • Brian Dong Min Kim

      Samsung says: “I got this.”

  • http://www.AndroidAuthority.com/ Darcy Alexander LaCouvee

    The fact remains that the thinner the bezel, the higher chance of not withstanding the realities of life, gravity and pavement. While bezel-less devices look absolutely amazing, they have real world implications. Give me a Z2 compact / G3 mini / S5 mini without a bezel in a similar form factor, and fit a 4.6+” display in there, and I’m sold for life. Waterproof too.

    • Two-Ton-Wonton

      I like you, why don’t other members of AA comment as often? *cough*Josh*cough*

      • http://www.AndroidAuthority.com/ Darcy Alexander LaCouvee

        Let me ready me whips and chains. Josh is busy pumping out quality reviews and much more. I’ll ask him :) Especially for the reviews. Stay tuned for our Find 7 coverage guys!

    • M3D1T8R

      Mmm, yes. That Z2 Compact that you describe sounds perfect. Give me all the specs including large battery and functionality of the Z2 in a bit smaller, skinnier form factor, slim side bezels, maybe 4.7″ display instead of 5.2, and I’m sold. Oh and I need it on Verizon. Not too much to ask right? Seriously though, I’ll be overjoyed if just the Z2 comes to Verizon, to give me another upgrade option this year along with the new One, and maybe G3 and new Moto X later on.

    • THatch

      If we free up the room, you could put a protective layer in where the bezel normally goes. You could use the extra space provided by the thinness to put in a rubber (or whatever works best) padding under the body material (and around the screen).

  • namesib

    What an awful idea.

  • Android Developer

    minimized bezels is a good thing, but where are the microphone, camera, and speakers?

    • jeddo45

      I think its just the sides for now.

  • Jusephe

    “…we could soon have our first look at an ultra-thin bezel, super-slim handset, that’s lighter and more battery efficient than other smartphones on the market right now. Don’t forget about the integrated fingerprint scanner technology too. ”

    This reminds me of something I read on an Apple forum I even remember it was iPhone 6 !

    • Dylan

      The iPhone 6 is going to have a bezel its apple innovation is lacking from them since Steve jobs died look at iOS 7 its a rip from all the major mobile os

  • MasterMuffin

    “Electronics devices” “Additionally, when i comes” “The has essentially” “touch screens” >:))

    • http://AndroidAuthority.com/ Bogdan Petrovan

      Sorry about that, hope I caught them all.

      • MasterMuffin

        Just small mistakes :)

        • http://www.AndroidAuthority.com/ Darcy Alexander LaCouvee

          Thanks MasterMuffin, sorry about that. my precious

  • rubber chicken

    awesome even less to hold on to!

  • http://blog.sachinkraj.com/ Sachin Kumar Rajput

    This should be the next thing coming into smartphones after 4K, Octacore, 16MP+ etc features…waiting for it….

    • asd

      dont forget great battery :)

      • http://blog.sachinkraj.com/ Sachin Kumar Rajput

        Absolutely, I have edited my comment :) Thanks

  • Guest

    No. It is the kind of fetish that lives only inside the heads of tech freaks (the ones that go crazy over 4K/Megapixels/Ghz). Furthermore it looks kinda….weird.

    • K

      bsolutely.

    • bob

      Just because YOU don’t see the value in it doesn’t make it a fetishism. Just face it, being on the bleeding edge is not for you.

  • jeddo45

    I would love to see the HTC ONE completely bezel-less! that would be a bad phone right there!

    • Fred Chiang

      … well then you can’t have boomsound :/

    • M3D1T8R

      I would prefer a good phone to a bad one, personally.

    • Jaden Keuten

      that HTC Bezel..

  • mustbepbs

    Good luck putting a case on a bezeless phone. I have troubles with my TPU case on my Moto X. It’s hard to get to the side or swipe for menus.

    • Michael Samsara

      That was the thought I had too. What will the cases grip on to?

      and thinner? There is a certain satisfaction to holding a device in your hand that has a bit of heft and thickness to it that doesn’t make you feel like it will blow away with the next good gust of wind.

    • bob

      Why on earth would I want to put a case on a phone. Cases are ALL UGLY monstrosities. Ever heard of the phrase handle with care?

      • albab

        Ever heard of the phrase shit happens?

      • mustbepbs

        Oh I’m so sorry. I had no idea you were perfect and never had an accident in your entire life. My mistake.

    • Deonta Alexander

      they could make a case that just grips the top and bottom, but has a rise on the sides that hold the phone in place without covering up the sides

  • John Doe

    ‘Bezel-less smartphones are coming this year – ‘
    How about phones that last several days on a single charge?? Bezel-less displays … Meh ..

    • smokebomb

      My galaxy note 3 is at 12 hours 18 minutes with 75% remaining…but I do love the idea of moar milliamps!

    • Sooner

      We need portable fusion drive for smartphone! :D

      • dodz

        or an arc reactor

  • Luka Mlinar

    I would like to see them do the same ratio with a 5 inch phone like the one Alcatel did. What? Can’t do it? Pfftt

  • SAM124

    yuo totaly missed the TRUE bazelless phone….PENTECH VEGA IRON http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Pantech_VEGA_Iron.jpg

  • HenrynotHarry

    Where is the galaxy s4 in that list of small bezel phones? Im pretty sure it should be there.

  • Michael Samsara

    Hell of a job of research Robert; almost gives me a headache thinking about all the facts, figures and organization it took to background it; organize it and then make it both enjoyable and comprehensible so that we inquiring minds might know!

    One thing I would enjoy seeing though from yourself and others – and this doesn’t apply to just Android Authority but all sites it seems to a greater rather than lesser degree – is a lack of inclination to give us your personal pronouncement from on high after doing all this work. It seems to be that people these days are so concerned with not seeming to be “biased” that they think it is better to be politically correct and give so many sides of an issue that there is no time left for them to tell you which side they are on.

    For instance, if I went to a Doctor and told him, “I hurt here.” and he said, “Very interesting – see all of those books over there on the shelves – why don’t you start reading and see if you can figure it out – I’m going out for some coffee.” That Doctor would be incompetent.

    Well, when I come to you and Android Authority, though I am not looking for tips to cure gout, I am looking for solid, definite advice meted out with a fair, impartial attitude. Advice that doesn’t leave me with almost more questions than I began with and, from a remembering you – wanting to follow you and sit up and take notice of you when I see your by line standpoint – that will go a long ways towards helping me differentiate you from the “also rans”. sms

  • jack

    “Smartphone manufacturers are doing a good job at producing thinner..” While actually Scamsung keeps making their phones THICKER and heavier (7.9mm to 8.1mm, S4-S5)

    • Be Cool

      Still thinner and lighter than the “All New HTC One(lol)” and Z2.
      Right?

      • jack

        still thicker and heavier

        • Be Cool

          “thicker and heavier” than HTC One ? or than Z2????

  • Be Cool

    I love this expression:
    ” In fact, CrucialTec was rumoured ……..”
    ROTFL

    And the second best is :
    “something which the company(Samsung) now denies, and that has obviously not panned out.”

    P.S.
    By the way, no one company can compare with: Samsung and LG , at the display technology(both korean) . Even if this CrucialTec is also korean. Besides there is need of production capacity, where Samsung is the best too.
    So Apple, if really want bezel-less displays should wait, until Samsung or LG invent it , and than have enough to sell them.

  • pritish

    Bezels actually help save a device screen from shattering into pieces. For an instant, look at LG g2 drop test versus Xperia Z1 drop test.

  • Be Cool

    Do you really want as to believe that(example) Nexus 5 have better “body to screen ratio than S4?????? Come on:)

  • Fr0stTr0n

    My wallet is not ready, but willing…

  • Andrew White

    When I first saw an image of the proposed Samsung S5 with its curved QHD 2k virtually bezel free screen, I thought that this was the future direction of the ‘smartest’ phones. Guess what, it didn’t happen.
    Why is it important to reduce the size of any new smartphone’s bezel?
    As manufacturer’s continue to push these impractically large devices, which is fine if you happen to carry a handbag to carry them and make or receive calls with a handsfree set.
    When it comes to true portability and one-handed usability, physically smaller devices are better.
    Bottom line…..give us big screens (little or no bezel, top , bottom or side) on a smaller phone.
    I’m not talking rediculous sizing like the iPhone, but 4.7 to 5.2″.
    If you want multimedia on the go, buy a small tablet.

    • Michael Samsara

      You are quite right – almost.

      The other day on the bus I saw a fellow using a Note 3 – given I am thinking of a Note 4 when they come out – I asked him how he liked it; which could be, I suppose, like asking a Catholic if he likes the pope, but nevertheless.

      He said “So far, so good.” He said that it made viewing things – including movies – very pleasant and with its supplied magic wand – easy to even write notes etc. I also have a best friend who uses the Note 2 and has for over a year; carries it in his pocket and has no complaints about it being too big for his hand – which is not of a size that is very large.

      On the other hand, I saw someone using a Nokia – not sure of the model but he said it has a 20 Mega pixel camera – that was in my opinion too big; the fact it was running Windows and has a sealed battery case also militating against wise and prudent adoption of it as well.

      So, though I would be hesitant to go bigger for a phone than the Note 3 myself, I’m thinking that the applicable modus operandi to be applied by us might be/is/are:

      To each his own; vive la difference; different strokes for different folks and if it rocks your boat – go for it!

  • Toss3

    Isn’t the Sharp Aquos the smartphone to beat when it comes to small bezels?

  • missashi

    I would like a bezel-less phone, but as someone here already said, how would I put a case on it? I put fashion cases on my phone, not protective ones.

  • monkey god

    wont thinner bezels increase the problem of your palm screwing up the touch detection of the screen? It happens to me on occasion on my Nexus 5 because my palm digs into the side of the phone and barely touching the screen during a swipe.

    • K

      It does.

  • Brendon Brown

    Super thin bezel = hell yes
    No bezel and side screens = hell no

  • toboev

    I think your chart shows screen to body ratio, not body to screen ratio. Anyway, I have enough trouble holding my Note phone without nudging the screen by mistake. Handing it over to an over-65 to view photos is fraught with difficulties.

  • needa

    you do realize that the larger the screen… the better the percentage.

    • Be Cool

      Yes

      But even if you ignore the percentage and just measure the real bezel size, iphone is still the King Of The Bezels.

  • bob

    Yes I’m ready for zero bezel Devices, I have been ready since 1978

  • kirakira