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.

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23 Reactions to this post

"Is an edge-to-edge smartphone display (with no bezel) something manufacturers should be focused on with each new flagship? Is it worth the trade-offs?"

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Lee Warnock
Lee Warnock I would not want that. I hold my phone by the bezel... I don't wanna hold my hand over the screen which would obstruct my view of it. Stupid idea
Jose Calderon
Jose Calderon Well that's what they're getting dude.
Kat Pappas
Kat Pappas Phones are not sexy, what a ridiculous concept. How can they reduce the size of the sides of the phone anymore. It's where they are putting all the buttons so you can't pick up or hold your phone without touching all the buttons, and freaking the phone out.
Chase Ros
Chase Ros You think people who have Android devices are asking for compromises? Pretty weak logic.
Chase Ros
Chase Ros Razr M is a good example, but you're not going to find a flagship smartphone with a screen that size in 2013.
Kevin Joel
Kevin Joel Less bezel looks more modern and better. On screen keys FTW
Jo Jo
Jo Jo Less bezel is better
Thomas Boehnlein
Thomas Boehnlein I have a bigger problem with this idea of real thin bezels on a tablet. Apple has to do it because they use a fat 4:3 ratio. But having played with awkwardly balanced 16:9 Microsoft tablets, it would be a huge mistake for Android manufacturers to follow Apple's lead. 16:10 is a great aspect ratio and they shouldn't go mucking it up. Plus, it makes the tablet look like a giant phone which looks so incredibly stupid. Kind of off topic but I think it's a much more important design debate topic.
Haldi Kuniqi
Haldi Kuniqi No bezel = better phone
Luis Robles Figueroa
Luis Robles Figueroa Yes if they make it right from the get go.
Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas Edge to edge would be a big mistake. Displays would break alot easier and it would be hrd to make a case to protect it
Brandon Johnson
Brandon Johnson At some point the bezel being gone will start takin up screen real estate when you hold the phone. As well as the capacitive/virtual buttons.
Jose Calderon
Jose Calderon Because android lovers prefer big ass screens which compromise many functions.
Paul Battle
Paul Battle Well design wise, the no bezel idea would look so much better!!!
Jason Sug
Jason Sug my oh my.......pantech vega iron looks SEXY
Sam Eltringham
Sam Eltringham Thats what i like to see
Walter White
Walter White you see nick, i disagree with the points you make. everyone phone should have bezels around the entire circumference of the phone. its a comfort thing. if they werent there, then your hand would block the phone when you hold it so you couldnt read it. stop being a stupid idiot
Nick Catelli
Nick Catelli Can't say I agree with the points made in the article. There's no reason the bezels should be as large as they are on modern smartphones. The Razr M is a perfect example of how well an edge to edge screen works (and the usage scenario that makes the most sense, taking the form factor of a small phone and giving it a larger screen). Edge to edge screens aren't the gripe I have with manufacturers, it's this constant need to be thinner. Who cares? That's where we start having issues (battery capacity, etc.), not in the screen's size to chassis ratio. Motorola can make the Razr Maxx HD with slightly less bezel if they wanted, and that's got a 3300mah battery. There's no reason they can't do that in the future.
Nattawat Veerajintsiri
Nattawat Veerajintsiri not just smartphone tho, i also want android tablet to have small bezel as well.
Bobby Harvan
Bobby Harvan No because when your hand wraps around the phone your fingers and palm touch the edges, and that can cause false touches, or block content. Also no because full sized protective cases will cut off some of the screen as well.
Faseeh Pervaiz
Faseeh Pervaiz it looks good but on the other hand its less safer !
Sambo Chao
Sambo Chao um..can't they create a virtual bezel with no touch sensitivity? You can have content all the way to the edge but no touch sensitivity on the edges..I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, only allow scrollability on those edges via software.
Nattawat Veerajintsiri
Nattawat Veerajintsiri that's what i put in my decision as well

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