You’ve probably heard a ton of talk on “bezels” in the tech world. For example, smartphone reviews often talk about their effect on the user experience. Here’s what a bezel is and why they’ve been shrinking in the last few years.
Bezels on Displays
In the tech world, bezels are the border between a device’s display and its physical frame. Bezels have become one of the most important considerations when it comes to designing electronics. Depending on the device, bezels can be made of glass, metal, or hard plastic, and can serve the function of making a device easier to grip without accidentally touching the screen. They can also improve a device’s durability and protect glass displays from damage.
Historically, the word “bezel” referred to the rings around watch faces. Bezels would often contain decorative gemstones or were constructed with materials such as gold and silver, which is why bezels became an integral part of watch design. Conversely, since the mid-2010s, tech companies have been in a race to reduce the width of bezels on electronic devices as much as possible, especially with mobile phones.
A Brief History of Bezels
When smartphones and tablets arrived on the market, many of them had enormous bezels. This was pretty standard practice at the time. Other displays, such as laptops, computer monitors, and televisions, typically had thick bezels that held necessary connectors and wires. Many of you likely had enormous CRT televisions with gigantic black or grey bars around the actual screen.
Manufacturers have invested a lot of engineering resources in reducing the size of the bezels. This is all to achieve a better screen-to-body ratio, which measures how much of the device’s body is taken up by the screen. For example, a 60% screen-to-body ratio means that the bezel takes up a relatively significant portion of the device’s front. On the other hand, a 90% screen-to-body ratio indicates that the bezels are very thin.
There are a few reasons why tech companies are pushing to eliminate the bezel. First, as displays continue to improve through technologies like OLED, manufacturers want to increase the screen sizes on devices and improve activities like video-watching or gaming. However, they don’t want devices to be significantly heavier or be harder to hold in hand. By reducing the bezel, phones can be kept at reasonable sizes while having enormous displays.
The other reason is that having thinner bezels can make the experience of looking at a display more immersive. For example, if you’re watching a movie at home, having an incredibly thick, black frame around the film can break your immersion. If you use multiple monitors for productivity, bezels are also a significant consideration. If you use monitors with thin bezels, then switching between them will be less jarring.
How Bezels Are Getting Smaller
How exactly are device manufacturers reducing the size of their bezels? For big displays such as TVs or monitors, companies reduce bezels through improvements to the manufacturing process. Whereas bezels used to be a way to add structural integrity and keep the displays in place, modern strides in engineering have made it possible to cram gigantic displays in TVs with bezels that are barely an inch.
For touch-focused devices like tablets and smartphones, engineering a smaller bezel tends to be more complicated. These devices have many physical elements—cameras, fingerprint scanners, facial-recognition scanners, and speakers—that may get in the way of minimizing the bezel.
In recent years, tech companies have tried all kinds of methods to remove these from the front of a device, from putting fingerprint scanners under the screen to adding “notches” and “hole-punches” that minimize the space taken up by the front-facing camera. Some premium phones from Samsung and Google also use curved displays that wrap around the sides of a phone.
Another product category where bezels are getting smaller is laptops. Recently, Apple added the iconic iPhone notch to the newest line of Macbook Pros—a move that was met with mixed reactions. Since the Macbook Pro had a large HD camera module, Apple used the notch design to get the space needed for it.
Some laptops have gotten creative with their camera module. Most laptops need to have an integrated webcam, so many laptop manufacturers opt to add a small camera module onto a thin upper bezel. A few laptops, like the old XPS 13, had a “nosecam” below the display. Some even hide it underneath a key on the keyboard.
A Bezel-less Future
We’re likely headed towards a future where devices essentially have no bezel. For example, there are many “edgeless” monitors with bezels nearly invisible to the eye. With the rise of technologies like under-display cameras, we may also see almost bezel-less phones in the future.
While there are some concerns about shrinking bezels, such as making devices harder to grip, many people seem to be on board with the growing screen sizes. As people consume more content on their phones, better and bigger screens will remain top-of-mind for consumer electronics companies.