This is how Samsung’s under-display camera tech could work

galaxy s20 colors
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As phone manufacturers try to minimize the bezels as much as possible, the front-facing camera still stands awkwardly in the way. It’s too popular a feature to simply ditch, and the solutions so far — be they notches, pin holes or even pop-up cameras – all have their drawbacks that make them an imperfect solution.

The current Holy Grail is the under-screen selfie camera. If the camera can still be present, but invisible to the eye, then it’s out of sight and out of mind. To date, just one phone has shipped with under-screen camera tech, although Xiaomi also showed off the technology in prototype form back in 2019

It shouldn’t be surprising that Samsung is also beavering away at under-display cameras, and a patent uncovered by Let’s Go Digital gives us a clue about how it might work in practice. The patent, filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and simply called “Display Device”, imagines a phone with two separate panels — one for the main body of the screen, and a second for the selfie camera to hide underneath.

Why the need to split into two? Well, the panel with the selfie camera underneath would have a higher light transmission and could also have a lower resolution, which would allow the lens (plus, potentially, a flash module and infrared blaster) to work through the screen.

The image below, via Let’s Go Digital, shows a number of possible positions for the second screen. While highlighted here for visibility, obviously in a commercially available phone, the screens would appear seamlessly as one.

How Samsung's under-display camera may sit

(Image credit: Let's Go Digital)

We would imagine, however, that Samsung would be looking at the smaller footprint seen in the image on the right, at least initially. If the second screen is lower resolution, then the company will want it to take up as little space as possible, otherwise it risks giving the game away.

Of course, even an area of screen with a noticeably low resolution is preferable to Samsung’s solution now, where the screen is replaced by a camera lens, making a perfect circular hole in whatever film you’re watching. 

The million-dollar question is when we’ll see this technology arrive in a Samsung handset. It won’t be in the Samsung Galaxy S21, due to launch on Thursday, if the current rumors are to be believed. We’ve previously heard that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 could have an under-screen camera, so that’s a possibility, as is the Galaxy Note 21, now it appears to be back on

Then there’s ‘none of the above’. After all, Xiaomi demoed similar tech 19 months ago, and it still hasn’t made its debut. Fingers crossed we see something in 2021, but it wouldn’t be wholly surprising if Samsung decided it needed a little more time before it's ready for show time.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.