The first large under-screen camera


ZTE Axon 30

Photo: Sam rutherford

Smartphone screens have evolved from notches to perforated cutouts on the way to the final destination: an all-screen phone. And surprisingly, Samsung isn’t leading the way. It is ZTE, a smartphone maker that was hit with various punishments and prohibitions.

Older smartphone enthusiasts can remember ZTE Axon 7 as one of the most under-beloved handsets of its generation, offering a sleek design, dual front-facing speakers and solid specifications for a great price. Fast ahead of 2021: the ZTE Axon 30 is very different, with the company concentrate more on eliminating the distractions of the phone’s massive 6.92-inch AMOLED display.

ZTE Axon 30

YesYou would never know there was a selfie camera hidden under there.
Photo: Sam rutherford

TAxon’s rear quad camera module may get your attention at first, but its real marquee feature is what you do not see: a 12 megapixel selfie camera tucked under the top edge of its screen, which is virtually invisible unless you know exactly where to look (and how to hold it).

ZTE uses what it calls a special pixel matrix, along with algorithms to optimize image quality and a seven-layer screen construction, to create a phone with a camera that can capture selfies without the kind of compromises you get on devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3. Samsung’s latest foldable flagship also has an under-display camera, but after testing both, Samsung’s implementation clearly lags behind ZTE’s.

ZTE Axon 30 vs. Galaxy Z Fold3

Even if you let go of the Z Fold3 a bit due to its flexible display, itIt is clear that the Axon 30 has a head start.
Photo: Sam rutherford

TThe pixel density for the display section above the Axon 30’s selfie camera is an impressive 400 PPI, compared to just 144 PPI for Samsung’s Z Fold 3.. The end result is that ultimately, there’s no sacrifice in screen quality or anything that could take away what a lot of people really want from a phone: a large, unblemished slate for watch movies, games or whatever you want to do on a phone. And while we might be able to give Samsung a bit of wiggle room to fit an under-display camera on a phone with a flexible display, the Axon 30’s implementation still feels more refined.

Comparison between Axon 30 UDC and Z Fold3 UDC.

Click to see the photos in more detail and it is clear that the photo of the Axon 30 is much sharper. And that’s before considering that I had to crop the 12 MP photo of the Axon 30 to match the size of the Z Fold Low-resolution 4 MP sub-screen camera of 3.
Photo: Sam rutherford

WWhile not everyone will care, kudos to ZTE for finding a way to make an under-screen camera properly, especially since the rest of the Axon 30’s specs are more than solid. There is a 120Hz refresh rate, a Snapdragon 870 5G chip, 8GB of base RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 4,200mAh battery with 65-watt fast charging. The prizespies at only $ 500, and unlike many other Chinese phones, the Axon 30 is technically available for sale in the US You’d expect to see a high-quality sub-display camera in an experimental flagship phone, not a mid-range one.

What about the photos? Well, the selfies you get from the Axon 30’s underscreen camera aren’t half bad, especially compared to what you get from the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The photos are relatively crisp, and although I have the impression that ZTE’s special algorithm does not help the fine lines on my face, it does seems to greatly reduce the effects of the shot through an OLED display with all those circuits and pixels in the way.

Return ZTE Axon 30

Photo: Sam rutherford

Going forward, this will be the standard that most smartphone manufacturers aim to achieve for an under-display camera. Credible rumors indicate that even Apple will phase out the Face ID notch in favor of a hole-punch camera, although some iPhone fans have speculated as to whether Apple will (or should) keep the notch or not. Tthink about it : Iif the smartphone maker can hide all the front cameras and sensors on a phone without any major inconvenience, why would you ever want to keep the notch? Imagine if gadget makers started to put notches on laptops and TVs just because they liked the way they seems ridiculous, law?

The question is not whether smartphones will go under-display cameras or get rid of the notches. TThe question is, when will the technology be good enough to take the leap?. Right now, Apple doesn’t want to compromise on the accuracy or functionality of Face ID, which is fair enough. Apple is hardly ever the first to a technological innovation, but rather adds a feature once it has been refined and perfected. T‘Axon 30 is a step in itself, but perfection, it is not.

ZTE Axon 30 under screen camera

The only time you can see the notch is if you hit it directly with bright light then the view is at a sharp angle.
Photo: Sam rutherford

Part of why it may seem like Samsung is lagging behind is simply because the company didn’t release a new Galaxy Note or other inflexible screen flagship this fall. Considering the level of tech ZTE has put in the Axon 30, I would expect Samsung to hit back hard with the Galaxy S22 (or whatever called) early next year.

With the Axon 30, ZTE has shown that not only is it still kicking, but also still has some impressive cards to play.. The phone Uneven tape compatibility and uncertain software support could make the Axon 30 difficult to sell in the US, but ZTE has cleared one of the final hurdles in modern smartphone design, and it deserves to be celebrated.

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