The Hole Punch Camera Is the Best Front Camera

The Pixel 4a on a white speckled countertop
Justin Duino

We talk a lot about phone cameras, but those conversations generally revolve around the rear camera. I want to flip things and talk about the humble front facing camera today—more specifically, the hole punch camera (sometimes also called a hole punch display). Of all the different types of selfie cameras on the market today, I think this one is the best. Here’s why.

More Screen, No Notch

Apple first introduced the display notch with the iPhone X, which served a practical purpose. The notch houses all the sensors and depth scanners required for Face ID—so it’s more about utility than aesthetics.

But then something weird happened: Other manufacturers copied this feature for no good reason. The notch was present on other phones without any sort of secure face-scanning technology. (I’m looking at you, Pixel 3 XL.) They did it for looks.

The Pixel 4a on a white desk
Cameron Summerson

But the notch is ugly, and adding it to a phone just for the look is even worse. Some manufacturers settled on a less obtrusive “teardrop” notch, which is slightly better but still not great because it creates a divot in the middle of the notification bar on most phones. This is the same issue with the centered hole punch camera—which is still better than a notch but not quite as good as the offset hole punch.

If a phone doesn’t have the need for a notch (because of face-scanning tech), sticking the camera off to the side is the way to go. With a hole punch camera, you get more screen for the size of the phone, minimized obstructions on the top of the display, and an overall cleaner experience.

The only type of front-facing camera that is less obtrusive than the hole punch is the popup camera, but that was only seen on a very few phones (like the OnePlus 7 Pro). Plus, that has a greater chance of failure (more moving parts) and costs more to manufacture.

They’re Small and Out of the Way

The Pixel 4a's hole punch camera
Cameron Summerson

If a phone doesn’t have a notch, the other most common placement of a front camera is in the bezel. That’s a fine place to put a camera because it’s just an open area where there’s nothing else going on. But with a hole punch camera, you can avoid the notch and upper bezel.

So, you end up with a higher screen-to-body ratio with a hole punch camera. That means the phone can have an overall smaller footprint with a larger display (compared to a phone with an upper bezel). You just get a small clean little hole in the upper corner. I actually think it looks really good!

They Actually Offer Some Utility

The Pixel 4a with Energy Ring showing the battery status around the hole punch camera
Apps like Energy Ring can show the battery status around the camera Michael Crider

Look at your current smartphone’s camera. What does it do when you’re not using it? Nada. It just sort of sits there. But with a hole punch camera, you can actually add a little utility to it.

For example, you can use something like Energy Ring to add a battery meter around the camera punch. You could then use something like the System UI Tuner on Pixel phones to hide the battery icon, making the whole status bar cleaner.

Of course, that’s really the only extra utility you can add to a hole punch camera. But it’s not all you can do with it.

And They’re Pretty Fun

The Google Pixel 4a with a hidden hole punch wallpaper
The hole punch is hidden in the wallpaper. Clever. Cameron Summerson

One of the more interesting things you can do with a hole punch camera is use a wallpaper that effectively hides the camera by blending it with the wallpaper. It’s fun.

Each wallpaper has to be uniquely designed to match a specific phone as hole punch cameras are found in a variety of placements, but fortunately there are apps available in the Play Store that make this easy. Google even got in on the fun with the Pixel 4a and included some pretty decent ones out of the box.

The Best Phones with Hole Punch Cameras

Okay, so now that we’ve discussed why hole punch cameras are the bee’s knees, let’s talk about some of the best phones on the scene right now that have hole punches.

Budget Champs: Pixel 4a and Galaxy A71

If you’re looking for a budget phone that packs a punch and has our favorite front camera array, look no further than the Google Pixel 4a and the Samsung Galaxy A71.

The 4a scored a perfect 10/10 in our review, making it one of the best budget phones you can buy today. But if you’re more of a Samsung fan, the A71 is hard to beat. There’s also a 5G version available, though it’s quite a bit ore expensive than its 4G counterpart.

Google Pixel 4a

Google Pixel 4a - New Unlocked Android Smartphone - 128 GB of Storage - Up to 24 Hour Battery - Just Black

The Pixel 4a is probably the best budget phone on the market today, especially if you're looking for an Android phone with a hole punch camera.

Samsung Galaxy A71

Samsung Galaxy A71 SM-A715F/DS 4G LTE 128GB + 6GB Ram Octa Core (LTE USA Latin Caribbean Euro) w/Four Cameras (64+12+5+5mp) Android (Black)

The Galaxy A71 is Samsung's entry into the budget market, and it's an excellent choice if you're looking for a 'Sung phone on a budget.

Center-Punch Powerhouses: Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20

If you’re into the flagship market, it’s hard to ignore the Galaxy S20 and Note 20 families. They both offer powerhouse phones ranging from $800 to a whopping $1450, depending on what you’re after. And while they don’t have the favorable offset hole punch camera, they both have a centered hole punch.

Samsung Galaxy S20

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G Factory Unlocked New Android Cell Phone US Version, 128GB of Storage, Fingerprint ID and Facial Recognition, Long-Lasting Battery, Cosmic Gray

Samsung's flagship phone from the S series, the S20 is a beast of a device. It comes in three flavors: the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Samsung Electronics Galaxy Note 20 5G Factory Unlocked Android Cell Phone, US Version, 128GB of Storage, Mobile Gaming Smartphone, Long-Lasting Battery, Mystic Bronze, SM-N981UZNAXAA

The Galaxy Note 20 is the newest thing smokin' from Samsung HQ. Both the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra feature Samsung's built-in stylus for on-the-fly note taking (and other goodies).

Lots of Bang for the Buck: OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro

If you’re looking for a flagship phone for not-quite-flagship prices, look no further than the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro. Both phones are packed to the gullet (phones have gullets, right?) with high-end specs including top-notch offset hole punch cameras.

OnePlus 8

OnePlus 8 Interstellar Glow, 5G Unlocked Android Smartphone U.S Version, 12GB RAM+256GB Storage, 90Hz Fluid Display,Triple Camera, with Alexa Built-in

The smaller brother to the 8 Pro, this more compact phone features a 90Hz display, 12 GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage.

OnePlus 8 Pro

OnePlus 8 Pro Onyx Black,? 5G Unlocked Android Smartphone U.S Version, 12GB RAM+256GB Storage, 120Hz Fluid Display,Quad Camera, Wireless Charge, with Alexa Built-in

This is OnePlus' flagship device. It has a 120 Hz display, 12 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, wireless charging, and more. It's a beast.

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and serves as an Editorial Advisor for How-to Geek and LifeSavvy. He’s been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. Read Full Bio »

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