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How much thinner can bezels get?

With side bezels becoming increasingly thinner, just how thin can they get? Will they pose issues or solve them? Read on to find out.
August 31, 2013
LG G2 Bezel

Smartphone display sizes have been increasing steadily over the past several years, and it’s easy to see why. The display is the main way we interact with our smartphone, the deeply intimate, always connected device that we have with us at all times.

It’s telling that in 2013, smartphones with 4.3-inch displays are considered “mini” (the Galaxy S4 Mini and the HTC One Mini come to mind). Just a few years ago though, a phone was considered “mini” if it had a 3.1-inch screen (the Samsung Galaxy Mini).

My, how things have changed.

The appeal of ever larger screens will likely continue for the foreseeable future, but phones can only get so large before they become unwieldy.

The thin bezel bonanza begin with the LG Optimus G Pro, launched at MWC 2013.
The thin bezel bonanza began with the LG Optimus G Pro, launched at MWC 2013.

That’s why, in order to maintain growth, manufacturers have focused on making the bezels around displays ever smaller. By decreasing the size of the bezels, larger screens can fit in smaller frames, thus enabling better handling. For example, despite having a larger 5-inch screen, the Galaxy S4 is narrower and thinner than the 4.8-inch Galaxy S3.

samsung galaxy s4 vs galaxy s3 button layout aa
Samsung Galaxy S3 (left) next to the Galaxy S4 (right).

The question is – how far can manufacturers push it? Just how thin can display bezels realistically get? Good question!

When borders disappear

Motorola was the first to promise a bezel-free display (okay, they used the words “edge to edge”) with the Droid Razr M. Unfortunately, Motorola didn’t deliver on it completely, though the Droid Razr M did have very thin bezels (for its time).

The aforementioned Galaxy S4 has very thin bezels, but, at just 2.65mm, the recently announced LG G2 one upped it. But it’s another Korean manufacturer that holds the record – the Pantech Vega Iron, which has side bezels of just 2.4mm, bests the G2 by 0.25mm.

Then there’s the upcoming Galaxy Note 3, which is rumored to have side bezels that measure just 2.2mm.

Earlier this month, LG showed off a 5.5-inch display with a display resolution of 2560×1440 (that’s 538 PPI for those of you keeping score), and an insanely thin bezel at 1.2mm.

LG Quad HD Display
LG’s 2560×1440 5.5-inch display has insanely thin bezels at 1.2mm thick.

It’s only a matter of time before smartphone side bezels disappear completely, but that’s not without issue.

Borderless could be an issue

On increasingly large smartphones, reaching for the edges of the display could cause the palms of your hands to make contact with the display. It’s easy to forget that these bezels actually serve a purpose, and it’s that they are also there for us to grab onto.

At 5.2-inches the LG G2 display is quite large. Will the thin bezels cause a problem?

When Apple announced the iPad Mini, the thin bezels (at least for a tablet) could have caused problems for some users. Unlike smartphones, tablets are too large for most people to grip in one hand completely. The side bezel is there for you to grasp onto when you’re slicing your way through a barrage of fruits, right?

The iPad mini (left) has thin bezels, for a tablet.
The iPad mini (left) has thin bezels, for a tablet.

A nifty feature of the updated iOS 6 which didn’t get as much limelight, was that it offered palm (and finger) rejection, so that you could hold onto the screen and still use it. The software automatically recognized that you were simply resting your finger on the display. This is similar to the palm rejection found on laptops although a lot of them aren’t that good.

Currently, Android doesn’t support palm and finger rejection, so a bezel-free smartphone could potentially introduce issues for some people. Of course it would be easy for OEMs to add support for it, but making it actually work is a whole other issue (the Apple implementation isn’t perfect either).

Bezel-free smartphones are coming, whether we like it or not, and it’s only a matter of time before they are launched. Although, just as food for thought, what if the bezel was also the screen? It’s likely that combination of great hardware and software, at the OS level (listening, Google?) could alleviate or even eliminate any issues brought about by having bezel-less devices. What remains to be seen is how it will be implemented, and when.

samsung youm flexible bezel
A Samsung YOUM concept device.

With the current crop of next generation mobile devices likely to have sub 2mm bezels, what will this mean for consumers? Are devices with little to no bezel actually something to be excited for? What do you think of bezel-free smartphones?