The world’s first under-screen selfie camera isn’t very good

In an ideal world, everything would be fine under the surface of smartphone screens. This has been the principle behind the phone’s design in the past few years, at least, since the iPhone X has stepped up the edge wars with its apparent notch. From in-screen fingerprint sensors to pop-up selfie cameras, we’ve seen phone manufacturers take creative approaches to achieve the highest possible screen-to-body ratio.

The latest development in the edge wars is the ZTE Axon 20 5G, which is on sale today and is the first phone in the world to integrate the front camera below the screen. While in-screen fingerprint sensors are now commonplace, doing the same for selfie cameras has proven more difficult. Companies like Oppo And the Xiaomi It had been browsing demos for years, but ZTE beat it up with its first commercial device.

In theory, the advantages are clear. You get an uninterrupted display that doesn’t need to account for notch or hole calculation, nor do you have to automate a popup camera module. Again, if the world were perfect, the camera would magically be located under the screen without compromising image quality from either end.

Readers, the world is not perfect.

Before we talk about the camera, we have to talk about the screen at the top. I doubt this has anything to do with the camera technology itself, but the truth is that the Axon 20 5G is one of the largest smartphones I have ever seen. The 90Hz OLED screen is a massive 6.92 inch diagonal, which means that 1080p resolution is less sharp than you’ll find on other phones. It’s not a problem with regular use, though, and the screen overall looks pretty good apart from some non-angular color changes.

What does not look good is the relatively massive ‘chin’ frame at the bottom. Although it would have been considered extremely thin only a few years ago, it really stands out in the Axon 20 5G given the supposed hacking nature of the device. I have seen Phones Which has managed to incorporate traditional selfie cameras at thinner edges than this, which somewhat undermines the single positioning point below the screen.

This feeling increases when you go through the Axon 20 5G setup process, which exposes the camera in the worst possible conditions. Bottom screen integrity is most noticeable on light backgrounds, like what you see on settings screens. There is a square swath of the screen that shows a clear reverb effect, making it look much less accurate than the rest of the panel. I will only say now that I think it looks worse than A grade.

In general use, this is difficult to notice. If you see full-color images or wallpaper, you can see the lower-resolution area if you look closely, but it’s not completely distracting. And as with other companies that have shipped slotted or hole Android phones, ZTE’s default software uses a black background for the top of the screen where status and notification icons are displayed, making the camera almost invisible. But really, if you need to resort to the same old notch-masking techniques to hide the under-screen camera, what do we do here?

The photos above show how visible the camera is on colored and black and white backgrounds.

Of course, the next obvious question is how the camera actually works. The news here is also not good. I don’t want to underestimate the technical achievement of having a camera running midway beneath an OLED screen at all – it includes new types of translucent materials, pixel filters, and demosaicing algorithms to understand light up to a 32MP sensor. The result, unfortunately, is a bad selfie camera.

In good lighting, the Axon 20 5G Selfie Camera captures soft and blurry photos with weak colors and highlights. Compare it to Pixel 5 below:

Pixel 5 (left) vs Axon 20 5G (right)

Just to illustrate, the Axon 20 5G image was captured with portrait mode and anti-aliasing filters turning off.

Pixel 5 (left) vs Axon 20 5G (right)

The contrast is quite stark in low light, with lots of noise and details blurred out. I turned off the Pixel 5’s night mode here to make it a fair fight, and it’s still squishing the Axon 20 5G.

The under-screen selfie camera just works, which is generous. It can take pictures through the screen, yeah, and it’s really a little miracle. But you probably don’t want anyone else to see it.

This isn’t the most dazzling compliment I can give for a phone with a supposedly great selfie camera, but the ZTE Axon 20 5G is actually a much better offering if you don’t care about selfies or video calls. It’s a reliable phone for $ 449, despite offering a dollar price tag, which ZTE says will not be available in the US or Canada at the moment. (It’s 449 euros in the European Union and 419 pounds in the United Kingdom.)

While the Axon 20 5G has a massive footprint, it is still thin at just under 8mm thick, and ZTE included a reasonably large battery of 4,220mAh. The processor is a Snapdragon 765G with an integrated 5G modem, such as the Pixel 5 and LG Velvet, and it can be configured with up to 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage.

Other specs include a well-functioning in-screen optical fingerprint sensor, 30W fast charging via USB-C, and a headphone jack. There’s a 64MP main camera and 16MP ultra-wide camera, along with 2MP depth sensors and depth sensors that you can probably ignore the main areas where ZTE has cut corners are the medium touch system and the not so impressive speaker.

The fact that ZTE finally got a phone like this on the market is a landmark, but I’m not really sure who the device is. The selfie camera at the bottom of the screen often looks worse and more distracting than not, and it’s clear that image quality is at risk. Ironically, the phone may be more appealing to an audience that isn’t actively interested in its main selling point, but that’s where we are with the Axon 20 5G.

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