Samsung, Oppo, and other manufacturers are making more and more phones with curved displays, and that’s a trend that should stop. Curved screens are more fragile, less compatible with cases, and don’t provide features worth the problems they introduce.
Blame Samsung—it started the curved screen trend with the Galaxy Note Edge. Back then, the phone had only one curved edge, which made it an extremely odd phone. But they improved on it with each new model, and now the Galaxy S and Note series are known for curved screens.
Other manufacturers followed suit, from OnePlus phones to Huawei’s P30, to Google’s Pixel 2 and to a lesser extent Pixel 3, and just recently Oppo’s newly announced “waterfall” phone. Oppo is taking the curved screen idea even further by wrapping the screen nearly all way around to the back. At first glance, it’s pretty. But when you think things through, curved phone screens are a terrible idea.
Admittedly, all “bezel-less” phones are fragile and prone to breakage from dropping. But curved screens exemplify that fact. The extended screen naturally means more glass area to fall on and crack, and less structure to take a fall. And according to iFixit, curved displays are more challenging to build and replace, making repairs more expensive.
SquareTrade performs drop tests of phones, and while they say S9 and S10 are more durable than S8 was, they still break the phones in a single drop. And being a curved screen, it can be harder to get a grip on as the device is thinner at the edges, so you may be more prone to drop your phone.
In the case of the Oppo “waterfall” screen, you can’t hold the phone from the sides without touching the display. So it seems likely you’ll run into issues with the screen slipping from your fingers or even putting it into a case.
Cases, alas, are also part of the problem with curved phone displays. Most cases work by grabbing onto the edges of the phone’s bezel to keep your screen visible. But a curved screen means less bezel for grabbing. That leaves case makers in the precarious position of choosing to either grab onto very little material or cover your screen.
You can see this issue even more with thin cases, which often can feel like they’re barely hanging on to the phone. And since they do grab what the small amount of bezel available, the screen can rise above the edges of the case. Thus, when dropped face down the phone may as well not have a case on at all.
If you like to have a screen protector on your phone, you’re going to regret that curved display as well. Making a plastic or glass piece that adheres to a flat surface is simple. But gluing plastic and tempered glass to a curved surface is much more difficult.
Early screen protectors only glued at the curves, leaving an ugly air gap in the middle. Other companies tried using Liquid optically clear adhesive (LOCA) glue and UV lights for a good seal. But it’s a difficult system to use, and it’s expensive. It took until early 2018 for Zagg to figure out an extremely aggressive glue that worked well.
But you still have the tricky job of correctly installing the screen protector. And once you do, you’re back to trying to find a compatible case that fits both the awkward display and your screen protector.
Overall, protecting your extremely fragile phone is difficult at best. That might be worth it if the phones picked up game-changing features, but they don’t.
Phone software and hardware is a delicate balancing game. You might accept less battery life if it comes with a thinner phone that fits in your pocket more comfortably, for instance. But for all the downsides of curved displays, what you get in return isn’t much good.
With a curved screen, you may get apps on the edge. For Samsung phones, that means Edge panels that you use to pull up commonly used apps and tools. But this Android, and that’s a redundant feature. You can already customize your home screen to feature just about anything you want, especially your commonly used apps and tools.
Another touted feature is edge lighting, which will alert you to phone calls and text messages when the screen face down. You already have ringtones for that, or vibrations when the phone is silent. Even if you do see the merit in edge lighting, there’s a distinct problem—cases. Put a case on the phone, and it will block any edge lighting, rendering the feature useless.
When you get down to it, replicating a feature you already have at the expense of durability isn’t a great choice.
We should applaud manufacturers for trying new and exciting things. Without taking risks, we may not have seen large phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note, or powerful camera software found on the latest Pixels. But sometimes those risks don’t pay off.
And when a “feature” compromises a phone without bringing anything substantial to the table, it’s time to rethink the decision to include it. Ultimately manufacturers like Samsung and Oppo need to ask, “Did people buy our phones because of curved displays, or in spite of it?”
If it’s the latter, then a new direction is needed. One that revisits the old and returns to a flat-faced phone. It may not be flashy, but it works and works well. And that’s all anyone really wants in a smartphone.