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What is a notch on a smartphone?

Notched up: modern iPhones have a 'notch' at the top of the screen

You’ll often see smartphone reviewers refer to the ‘notch’ on a smartphone. What the hell is a notch, you may well ask yourself. Well, let me explain.

Notch meaning

The notch is a small black area at the top of the screen that often houses the front-facing camera and other sensors.

The bezels on smartphone screens have become so ridiculously thin that they often don’t provide enough space to accommodate the camera, the proximity sensor and so forth. So smartphone manufacturers have taken to building a black notch into the screen to give these essentials a place to live.

notch on Huawei Mate 20 Pro
The ‘notch’ is the black area shown above

This, of course, leaves two awkward gaps on either side of the notch. These can be filled with notifications and the clock, like they are on conventional smartphones, but the notch leaves less space for these items, meaning notifications often get buried.

If you’re not going to lose any sleep over losing a few millimetres of screen space at the top, then most handsets let you switch the notch off – or black out the strips of screen to the left and right of the notch. This gives you a slightly shorter screen, but with the full width of the screen to play with for notifications.

Apple is – as with all things – the notable exception here. There are a few third-party apps that will make a ham-fisted attempt to hide the notch on certain screens, but I wouldn’t recommend them.

Phones that do allow you to switch off the notch in settings include the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the OnePlus 6 and the Google Pixel 3 XL – although on the latter you need to dive into developer mode to banish the black bit.

If you really hate the idea of the notch altogether, it’s far from mandatory. Top-end smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S9 (now less than £500 on Amazon) still manage to squeeze the camera, sensors and speaker into the tiny bezel at the top of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy S9 - no notch

Now read this: How can I recycle my smartphone?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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