Apple's new iPhone 13, revealed at Apple's California Streaming event in September, gets a tiny bit more screen real estate thanks to a tweaked redesign of the notch that houses the Face ID and 12-megapixel front-facing camera. The notch in the iPhone 13 occupies 20% less space than in the iPhone 12, with Apple touting that its TrueDepth camera system has been "reengineered to provide more display area."
In side-by-side shots, the notch is substantially less wide and appears to be slightly taller. It certainly takes up less space, but it's not nearly as small as the punchhole designs seen on many recent Android phones like the Galaxy S21. However, those Android phones don't typically offer face-scanning technology alongside a front-facing camera as the iPhones do.
Read more: CNET's iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max reviews
The iPhone 13 line redo reminds me of the much-maligned notch on the Pixel 3 XL -- which was a design choice I preferred over the wider notch employed by the iPhone XR and XS phones back in 2018. That design, in which the notch was labeled as a "Display Cutout" in the phone's settings, seemed to confuse and offend some of the phone-enthusiast community. It was chunky in comparison to the iPhone, while other Android phones of that year, like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google's smaller Pixel 3, were employing a slimmer bezel to include the front-facing camera and similar features. And on top of that, a software bug that was later fixed sometimes added a second notch into the display.
Yet the slimmer and taller design of the Pixel 3 XL's notch included a few obvious and less obvious benefits, many of which now apply to the iPhone 13's design.
We've asked Apple for comment about the new camera system to see if the reduction-in-notch footprint came with any other changes. Apple has yet to respond. In the meantime, let's go over the advantages a slimmer notch could provide on your iPhone.
More room for video
The most obvious change for anyone upgrading from an iPhone X or later is having slightly more space to the left and the right of the notch and less space will be blocked off when zooming a video to occupy the full width of the screen. The TrueDepth camera system's redesign might be most appreciated on the iPhone 13 Mini for small-phone fans that didn't already get the 12 Mini, as the notch on last year's smaller phone is roughly identical in size to all of the larger models -- consequently blocking out the most screen real estate. The redesigned notch will likely also be the same across the iPhone 13 line, so even that reduced shape will take up the most room on the Mini model as opposed to the larger screens on the rest of the line.
The Pixel 3 XL's notch had a similar trade-off: On one hand I enjoyed getting the option to watch videos on its 6.3-inch display all the way to the edges of the device. On the other, the thicker notch shape did mean it jutted out from the side, making it very noticeable on the left of videos that I stretched out. For myself, my gaze always focused on the center of the screen and so the notch became unnoticeable, but the option to "hide" the notch with a black border is also available in the phone's settings.
Notifications are particularly critical on iPhones and Android phones and a nice benefit to having the thinner notch on the Pixel 3 XL was being able to see more notification icons at the top of the phone's display. It's a small touch, but helpful to at a glance check if WhatsApp or a few news briefings are among the notifications I have piled up while using other apps on my phone.
Many iPhones that include the notch design currently have space to put carrier information, signal strength and a battery status indicator up top. By reducing the space the notch now occupies, it's possible that Apple may find a way to include more information up there in iOS 15 or later releases.
My favorite part of having the Pixel 3 XL's notch was how it allowed for the phone to include two selfie cameras. This would be particularly handy when traveling, as I could take advantage of that second wide-angle lens to include more of my surroundings.
Yet I wouldn't put much hope in having multiple front-facing cameras on many other phones in the next few years. Unless you are using the Galaxy Fold 3 and its two (or three) selfie cameras, most iPhones and phones running Android appear to be opting to improve the sole front-facing camera while packing on multiple cameras along the back.
While the iPhone 13 line has only one 12-megapixel camera on the front, iOS does include many software enhancements to sharpen up photos.
Notchless future ahead
It's also entirely possible that this year's iPhone 13 notch is a precursor to the eventual notchless iPhone. Days before the iPhone 13 event, a series of iPhone 14 rumors lit up the internet for suggesting that the 2022 device might remove it entirely. We already know the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro line won't have a notch and plenty of Android phones already implement a hole-punch design. Some, like the Fold 3, even experiment with under-screen cameras. Yet if your current phone is running on its last legs, I wouldn't wait a year to see if those reports are going to come true.
What are your thoughts on the iPhone 13's notch? And which phone do you think handles that display cutout compromise the best? Tell us in the comments.