How top tech reviewers feel about the biggest change to smartphone design in years

Apple Notch
is a drawing for the upcoming iPhone included in Apple-released
code. See the notch on the top of the device?


Since the first iPhone came out in 2007, all smartphone displays
have been perfectly rectangular. 

But that’s starting to change. Because of current technical
limitations and the need for smartphone companies to distinguish
themselves in a crowded and competitive market, some phones this
fall will be sporting “notches” or “cutouts” in their

essential notch

The Essential Phone

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business

The redesigned iPhone that’s expected to come out in September
has a notch, according to an image included in recent code
released by Apple.

A notch juts down into the top of the screen, dividing
the status bar with cell signal, battery life, and the time into
two. This is so there’s room for a selfie camera on a phone
with an edge-to-edge screen.

But Apple won’t be the first company to release a phone with a

The Essential Phone, by Android creator Andy Rubin’s new company,
is the first phone with a distinctive status bar cutout. It’s up
for pre-order now, and the tech industry’s top reviewers and
critics (including
Business Insider
) have already had a chance to try the phone
out and see what they think of the concept of a notch. 

Turns out, the notch isn’t actually that big of a deal, according
to early reviewers. Here’s what people are saying about the
Essential Phone’s cutout: 

Dieter Bohn,
The Verge

“There’s a cutout at the top for the selfie camera (and a couple
of sensors) shaped like a little U, splitting the status bar in
half between notifications and your radio status icons.

That cyclops eye seems like the sort of thing that would be
distracting, but in my experience it becomes invisible almost
immediately. Ninety-five percent of the time Android doesn’t put
anything of value in that particular part of the screen anyway,
and the phone is adept at keeping apps that go truly full screen
(like video) letterboxed in. Every now and then you will have
something like an image that will be full screen and cut off by
the camera, but it’s rare.”

essential google maps 2Antonio Villas-Boas/Business

Chris Velazco,

“The notch cut out of the top for the 8-megapixel camera is a
little peculiar too. The important thing to note is that it never
really gets in the way, thanks to how Android fills up the
notification bar from the sides in. Not every app takes full
advantage of this unique screen, though.”

Nicole Nguyen,

“One weird quirk with this phone is that it has a notch on the
top of the screen for the front-facing camera. 

The phone is designed this way to allow for as much screen real
estate as possible. For the most part, it’s not obtrusive. It’s
where most notification icons live. But Essential’s software team
is reaching out to the top 100 apps in the app store and
proactively working with them to make their apps friendly to the
front-facing camera nub.”

essential chrome app notchAntonio Villas-Boas/Business

Joshua Vergara, Android

All that really breaks the immersion is the 8 MP front
facing camera, which has been given its own cutout at the top
that peeks through the top of the screen. But that little bit of
interruption in this very pleasing display only adds some more
uniqueness to the Essential.”

Dave Lee, BBC: 

“The front-facing camera sits “inside” the screen, creating
a little notch that I thought would be distracting, but actually
makes a great deal of sense.

It uses up screen space currently wasted by most apps, and
means icons showing battery life and signal are tucked away
neatly. If you’re watching a video, or an app which needs that
particular bit of screen (most don’t), everything moves down by a
quarter of an inch so the picture isn’t


“Not every app looks its best while working around the camera
cutout. Essential says it’ll reach out to the top 100 Android app
makers to help them optimize for the phone’s screen layout. In
our tests, apps didn’t look completely cut off.”

essential videoAntonio Villas-Boas/Business

Blair Hanley Frank,

“While the upper part of the screen can be used to display the
icons that typically occupy a smartphone’s status bar, apps don’t
take advantage of the added space.

In portrait mode, it’s possible for the upper cutout to show the
top of some apps, with varying degrees of utility. In order to
show off the icons of applications that have generated
notifications, the PH-1 applies a lampshade effect to that area
of the screen. This can slice the upper parts of some compatible
apps in half (see: Snapchat), while others just ignore it
entirely (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Lyft, Pinterest,
Instagram, and a host of others that I tested).

In landscape mode, Hearthstone just squares off the U-shaped
upper cutout and ignores it entirely. The same thing goes for
YouTube video and most other programs. That’s better than the
alternative of having a camera-shaped bite taken out of the side
of some footage, but it makes the iconic display feel less

Chris Davies,

With the iPhone 8 widely expected to have a notch of its
own at the top of the screen – albeit in a different shape – I
was curious to see how intrusive the Essential Phone’s cutout
would be in everyday use. Turns out, after the initial
wow-factor, you don’t really notice it. Android’s status and
notification bar naturally spreads its icons and alerts to either
side, and since it’s usually black the section that isn’t screen
simply blends in.”

“It gets slightly different when you’re watching
full-screen content, but even then not as much as you might
predict. Since the Essential Phone’s screen has a 19:10 aspect
ratio, but most widescreen video is 16:9, there are naturally
black bars either side: enough, certainly, to obscure the notch.
The phone’s own camera records in 16:9 too.”

Karissa Bell,

“There’s really no way around it: the “notch” looks weird. Rubin
has said the unseemly camera cutout is a necessary concession for
the edge-to-edge display since putting the front-facing camera on
the bottom bezel would be even more awkward.”

“Still, it looks odd. It might even be a dealbreaker for some
people, though it really didn’t bother me. More importantly, the
cutout itself didn’t noticeably interfere with any apps. That’s
because most apps don’t actually wrap all the way around the
“notch.” Some do (mostly Google’s and other native apps like
Android Messages and the Play Store), but the vast majority still
had black bars on top as if there was a bezel.”

David Pierce, Wired: 

“And that tiny notch at the top, around the camera? I couldn’t
stop looking at it for about an hour, then promptly stopped
noticing. I like it more than what I’ve seen in renderings of the
next iPhone, and I’d rather have it than the wonky camera
placement in something like the Xiaomi Mi Mix. Until
manufacturers figure out how to remove the camera notch
altogether, this feels like the best answer.”

essential app drawer 2Antonio Villas-Boas/Business

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