Forget bezel-free displays, we want smartphones that don't need a case
Going bezel-less is shaping up to be one of the biggest smartphone trends of the year. Edge-to-edge displays are striking, and it's advantageous to have smaller devices with larger screens. But how alluring can luxury builds be if you need to stuff them in a protective case? We wish that smartphone makers would prioritize good-looking phones that can also stand up to everyday use.
Premium smartphone makers are racing to shave bezels down to nothing. Samsung led this effort with phones like the Galaxy S6 edge+ and Galaxy S7 edge, and the upcoming Galaxy S8 series phones are all expected to adopt their curved display that wraps around the front edges of the device. Rumors and leaks also indicate that the display on the tenth-anniversary iPhone, due out later this year, may cover as much as the entire front side of the device.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, we were duly impressed with the S7 edge and don't expect anything less from the S8 series. And we do hope that the next iPhone's looks live up to its hype (if that's even possible). But in a practical sense, we're mourning the need to cover up those attractive features with run-of-the-mill cases. And if the case doesn't add some kind of (ugly) bumper around the edges, that good-looking display is left vulnerable.
True, there are sleek, high-design cases out there, as well as tempered glass display protectors, but in general, the better-looking the case, the less protected and/or more expensive it is.
Glass backs are another trademark of high end builds, in both smartphones and tablets. The Google Pixel and Pixel XL, for example, add a glass back panel to an otherwise standard aluminum unibody build – which I broke within a few hours. The new Galaxy Tab S3 tablet, which starts at US$600, is entirely glass on the back. This seems like a strange choice for any device that's meant to be extremely portable and often held in one hand.
Color variants are also marketed heavily by mobile technology companies – consider Apple's special edition Project (RED) iPhone 7/7 Plus. Often times, these colors get covered by a case, and do not even extend to the front of the phone, the part you see the most.
A glossy finish is another selling point made moot by the way we use our phones. Jet black and mirror finishes look sophisticated until they devolve into fingerprint magnets, as we recently saw on the Sony XZ Premium.
What would we prefer instead of these impractical flourishes? Robust smartphone form factors that better take into account how we use them: That is, all the time, everywhere. We're not against lovely qualities like slim builds, big displays and good-looking materials, but we're willing to sacrifice exaggerated sexiness in favor of unfussy use.
To this end, we hope that last year's trend toward increased water resistance is here to stay – and we hope it catches on even further. For example, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were Apple's first phones that can survive an accidental quick dip. Their IP67 water resistance rating, combined with an austere aluminum build, actually make new iPhones some of the most rugged luxury flagships around. (Ditto for Samsung's flagships, which have an even better IP68 rating.)
We feel water resistance would have made a high-value edition to the newly released iPad as well, but since that train's left the station, we only hope that Apple doesn't abandon water resistance in the next iPhone in favor of impractically sexy looks.
We'd also applaud if any maker were to attempt sophisticated answers to shock absorption problems. While there are occasionally sporty versions of flagships like the Galaxy S7 Active, these seem to exaggerate protection instead of integrating it elegantly. And we don't need military-grade builds, either – just basic peace of mind for the average clumsy civilian.
We do appreciate Moto's efforts with phones like the Moto Z Force and Droid Turbo 2, which promise "shatter-proof" screens. Still, we're disappointed these priorities aren't more widespread in the mobile world. Plus, an unbreakable display is good, but one that's scratchproof too is even better. We want an entire phone that's both sturdy and attractive.
Considering the amazing amount of design and engineering that goes into our smartphones, and all of the things these devices are capable of, surely there are solutions to be had. It's 2017. Our phones can do everything from flirt with DSLR photo quality to measure fertility. Why do we need to worry about dropping them?