Over the past 15 months, the dominant design feature of many smartphones has been the score. The notch, which varies in shape and size depending on the phone, allows the phone manufacturer to install a larger screen in the phone and to include the necessary front camera and speaker for the earphones. However, one can say with certainty that the notch is not popular everywhere – in fact this may be the most polarizing design feature in years.
This year, phone manufacturers are trying to avoid the notch while still offering a large, borderless screen on their devices. We've seen hole designs, two-screen phones, and even phones that fold in half. In other words, the desire to avoid the hack has made the phone design go crazy, as Lauren Goode Wired noted last week.
One such design attempt is to bring back the slider, as Xiaomi did with the Mi Mix 3, which was announced late last year and recently launched in the UK and Europe. The slider design allows for a borderless screen without cropping because the camera's hardware is hidden behind the screen as needed. Once you've taken a selfie, you can hide the camera and enjoy the full, uninterrupted screen. There are rumors circulating that the next OnePlus phone will have a similar sliding concept, and I would not be surprised if a few more companies such as Oppo and Vivo appear this year.
At first glance the design of the slider addresses the problems of notch and even the hole display pretty well. The Mi Mix 3 has a fully continuous 6.4-inch screen that extends all the way up and to the sides of the phone and has a slightly thicker edge at the bottom.
To use the front camera, you must do this by sliding the entire screen down about half an inch. This will make the camera visible and the camera app will be launched in selfie mode.
The process is fast: press down the screen, the camera app launches immediately, and if you turn on the sound, there is some electronic sound effect. Flip the screen back up and the camera app will close automatically. You can even do it right from the home screen.
The Mi Mix 3 is a bit different from Oppo Find X or Vivo NEX, both of which have motor for raising and lowering the camera module – this is all manual. It feels a bit like the sliding keyboard mechanisms on old messenger phones or lately the BlackBerry Priv. Press it a little and a spring will help push the screen all the way down.
That sounds good, but in practice, pushing the Mi Mix 3 can be tricky. This is a big phone, and opening the camera with one hand without dropping it can be difficult. Since I have to push the screen down with my thumb, this is less natural than the Priv, which I push up to expose the keyboard. I must also clear my little finger out of the way so that the screen can actually move down.
When I touched the screen to push it up or down, I often accidentally select something and open the notification panel or move an icon on my home screen without wanting it. With a little practice, you may be well versed, but after a few weeks on the phone this is still very uncomfortable for me.
Again, there are other trade-offs. The slider mechanism makes the phone thicker and heavier than other phones, and you will not get huge batteries as you would expect from a thick and heavy phone. The slider is also a potential point of failure – it is not as petite as the Oppo or Vivo's motorized mechanisms, but it definitely has more moving parts than an iPhone, for example, and it could jam if you get enough dust or gunk there.
It also means that it's difficult to create a case that really completely protects the entire phone. Xiaomi has a simple plastic case in the box on the Mi Mix 3, but I would not expect that there are many other options.
Although this sliding design eliminates the notch compromise, it introduces many other compromises that I think are worse. Fortunately, MiCamera 3's rear camera is not hidden by the slider, and there's a standard fingerprint scanner on the back, so you only need to use the slider to take selfies.
But you still have to take care of it With a thick and heavy phone that only has an average battery life, you have to worry about whether the slider will eventually break or not. Similar to the hole-punching design, which just puts the cutout aside, or a foldable phone design that's thick and awkward, the pusher does not solve the notch problem, but also introduces other issues. I'm staying at the score now.