Why are smartphone bezels going the way of batteries?

Chase Bonar
 from Winter Springs, FL
Published: May 5, 2013

Every new smartphone concept has gradually shed features to highlight design. There's a certain sense of sexiness that manufacturers strive to achieve with each new form factor. The most popular trend is a large display which takes up most of the smartphone's face, all the while using higher quality materials for the rest of the chassis. But I'm not ready to forego additional ports, battery capacity, or touch input accuracy just because OEMs want to compete on such trival matters. 

Smartphone bezels are the latest example of a trend that makes as much sense as a small battery powering a huge display. An edge-to-edge screen is an achievement many manufacturers are trying to claim as a feature of their device, and I really wish it wasn't a topic of discussion.

Present day devices like LG's Optimus G Pro and Samsung's Galaxy S 4 have bezels in the neighborhood of 2.5mm, and glancing at the device, it's hard not to be impressed. As compared to any of the iPhone's released over the years, or even HTC's new flagship, the One, both LG and Samsung are clearly leading the bezel disappearing act. Most recently, an image posted by @evleaks depicts an unnamed LG smartphone with a near bezel-less 5.5-inch display. It's quite a looker and really highlights LG's determination to be taken as a serious contender in the smartphone arena. But why no bezel, LG? 

To me, the bezel disappearing act is equivalent to the "thin smartphone war." It seems manufacturers are creating an imaginary race to erase smartphone bezels in the same manner they're shedding features to make a thinner device. Though I might prefer the look of a device without a bezel, the display is an important part of a smartphone to protect. And don't even get me started about thin smartphones because I'll take a thicker device with a larger battery eight days out of the week.

There are a few reasons smartphones need bezels, and one of them isn't because it makes smartphones look sexier. Looks aren't everything, OEMs.

Much like a picture in a frame, a smartphone's bezel balances the face of the smartphone while providing structural rigidity. Technology is partially responsible for the aforementioned bezel disappearing act, and it's likely we haven't seen the end of it. As smartphones become more a showcase of design rather than a product of practicality, OEMs shouldn't forget that there's nothing worse than a cracked screen. And considering smartphones with unibody designs tend to be much harder to repair, a chassis which is less rigid becomes a serious flaw when you can't repair a broken display without shelling out a kidney as payment.

After watching a drop test of the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the iPhone 5 conducted by TechSmartt, it's clear that the bezel plays a role in keeping your smartphone's display intact. Likewise, the iPhone 5's screen with its thicker bezel faired much better in the drop test. But the Galaxy S 4 isn't the only device which isn't as strong as it looks. Pantech also released the Vega Iron which has a "zero bezel display" with a "world beating" 75.5 percent viewable-to-total area ratio. This means 2.4mm separates the 5-inch 720p display from the frame of the device and less than 25 percent of the face of the smartphone is not display. But what for, Pantech?

To top it off, a bezel is a functional addition in one-handed operation. Try this: grab your smartphone and cup it in your hand like you normally would while reaching across with your thumb. On a device without a bezel, your palm comes into contact with the near-side while the thumb is also in contact with the further side. The result is a device registering two points of contact. Input errors occur. I sometimes have this issue with my LG Nexus 4, though it's easily avoided and not much of an issue if I try hard not to touch two points at once. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't somewhat of a nuisance when holding it with one hand, and I can't imagine the unnamed LG device above, the Pantech Vega Iron, or the Samsung Galaxy S 4 won't suffer from the same issue in daily practice.

Lastly, a smartphone's display is outlined by the bezel for the same reasons photos are put into picture frames - it highlights the foreground as the central point to focus on. Displays are no different than pictures within frames. The purpose of any image is to highlight its importance by putting it front and center. A smartphone without a bezel loses the "picture frame effect" and looks incomplete. Imagine a car with no bumpers, a plane with no wings, or a chair with no arms. Each shape is rounded out by the frame of the object in the same manner bezels house the visual information of a smartphone's display. The result is a better looking image which is easier to differentiate from whatever is in the background.

Even though I might think a smartphone looks better without a bezel, it doesn't make sense not to have one. I prefer more accurate touch inputs, the "picture frame effect", and the rigidity a bezel provides. LG, please make the smartphone above strong enough to withstand a subtle drop. I'd hate to give up a limb to replace that enormous display.

What say you, Dear Reader? Do you think smartphones need bezels? Does a bezel detract from a device's appearance, or is it a worthwhile characteristic? Let me know in the comments down below!

Images via @evleaks (Facebook)Phone Arena and GSMarc.