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Oppo's under-display camera means we can finally stop arguing about notches

Oppo's new under-display camera technology means the notch debate will finally die. And frankly, I'm relieved.

Published onDecember 11, 2019

oppo under screen camera december 2019

OPPO just finished showing off a few different concept products at its Innovation Day in Shenzhen. The highlights were focused on new AR Glasses, simply called AR Glass, and a new 5G CPE hub. But when we visited OPPO’s offices after the Innovation Day press conference, it was clear the under-display selfie camera was the real star of the show.

People seem incredibly excited about this feature, even though it wasn’t supposed to be the focus of the Innovation Day event at all. AR glasses and 5G hubs are cool, but an under-display camera might be the most practical innovation we’ve seen in years.

And here is the @oppo under-display camera. It’s very well hidden, you can only see it at specific angles with glare
— David ImeI (@DurvidImel) December 10, 2019

From OPPO’s perspective, this tech isn’t new. The company first showed it off back in June at MWC Shanghai. At the time, though, the device was hidden in a thick black case. At Innovation Day, we were able to use the device out in the open.

How does it work?

oppo under screen camera december 2019 1

The technology uses an ultra-thin transparent material and a new pixel structure sitting above the camera, which allows light to pass through the glass and into the lens when not in use. OPPO says a wider aperture and sensor are needed to capture enough light after being filtered through the layer. As bigger and higher-resolution sensors become more popular, this shouldn’t be a problem for long. During my time with the prototype, the selfie quality looked great.

With the wrong color wallpaper at the wrong angle, it’s definitely possible to see the camera housing, which is currently taking a strange square shape. In most conditions though, the cutout is almost completely hidden, and frankly, that’s amazing.

While I can’t wait for this technology to make its way to the mainstream, I’m really excited for everyone to finally stop arguing about notches.

End of conversation

HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro notch focus on AA webpage

It seems like we’ve been arguing about selfie cameras for years now. Ever since bezels started to vanish and we went full-screen, we’ve seen a ton of different housings for front-facing cameras. Notch designs have arguably been the most divisive topic in the tech space for a while now, and I’ll be so glad for that topic to die.

Early notch designs, propelled by the notch in the iPhone X, were pretty ugly. They were big, intrusive, and broke the symmetry of a smartphone. In fact, they were so ugly that companies like Google eventually backtracked and brought back bezels in the Pixel 4.

Other companies resisted and tried new designs. We got the Infinity-O display from Samsung, pop-up cameras from OnePlus and Vivo, and even a shark fin design from OPPO. While these designs are fun to see, they all seem to dance around the key problem, not solve it.

A hidden selfie camera means we can finally stop having this debate. No more bickering over notch vs Infinity-O, no more arguing about moving parts. We can finally re-focus the conversation towards something actually important.

Looking to the future

OnePlus 7T selfie camera macro
A smaller notch on the OnePlus 7T

Clearly, we’ve still got a ways to go before the selfie camera can be completely hidden while in use. When using the prototype, the phone put large black bars at the top and bottom of the display to hide the cutout. If you wanted the image to fill the screen, you’d have to figure out a way to filter out the pixel color being illuminated above the camera.

If you’ve ever done a video call, you know how killer this feature would be. Currently, you’ve got to decide if you want to look at a person’s eyes or seem like you’re looking away from them. If manufacturers are able to hide the selfie camera in the center of the phone, it would satisfy both these problems.

Regardless, it’s nice to see the tech start to mature. The more people start talking about this, the faster we’ll see the tech materialize in smartphones. OPPO couldn’t give me a hard date for when we’ll see the first phone using the technology, but I hope it’s not far away.

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