Forget iPhone 12: New Android phone is first with this breakthrough

ZTE Axon 20
(Image credit: ZTE)

If the iPhone 12's rumored notch is making you wish for a phone that keeps its selfie cameras hidden beneath the screen, then ZTE's Axon 20 5G will soon offer an answer.

As ZTE has officially announced its new Axon 20 5G handset will be revealed in China on September 1. And the company claims it's going to be the first production smartphone with an under-display front camera.

ZTE has a tendency to aim for big smartphone 'firsts' when it comes to new features. For example, the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G was the first production 5G phone when it debuted in February 2019.

We've been expecting this news thanks to a reveal from last week. There, ZTE's president Ni Fei posted on Weibo that the company would be bringing this technology to market in the Axon 20.

ZTE being the first phone with this technology is a big achievement for the company. However, being first doesn't necessarily guarantee sales success; just look at how the first folding phone, the Royole Flexpai, turned out.

Placing a camera beneath the screen comes with several engineering problems to solve. The display needs to switch off in the area the camera is located when it's needed, but nowhere else so owners can still use the camera app. Also, taking images through the display will likely have an impact on their quality because the screen will absorb some of the light that normally would fall straight onto the sensor. 

Display maker Visionox thinks it has solved these issues, having announced the first production-ready under-display camera back in June. It's possible that this is the tech that ZTE is using.

At the Axon 20 5G's September 1 reveal, we'll still likely be waiting on Apple to reveal its iPhone 12, as well as Google to show off the Pixel 5. Neither of these phones are expected to use under-display cameras. So it'll probably be next year, in the iPhone 13 for instance, before we see these and other major phone makers make moves to adopt the technology.

Among the first of these will likely be Samsung. The Galaxy S30 is rumored to use an under-display selfie camera, although a rumor said that Samsung was just trying out the feature, not that it will be a guaranteed inclusion. We've known for some time that Oppo and Xiaomi have been developing under-display cameras themselves, but their efforts have yet to reach production.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.