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Samsung's next phones will have scratch- and reflection-resistant cameras

That's thanks to a new lens cover from Corning that combines glass and coatings to improve durability and image quality.

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Corning's new Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus will make smartphone cameras more durable. 

Angela Lang/CNET

You can say goodbye to lens scratches and lens flares when using your smartphone camera -- at least if you're planning to buy a higher-end Android phone in the coming months and years. 

Glass maker Corning on Thursday unveiled its new Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus glass composite covers for smartphone cameras. DX and DX Plus, thin layers created by fusing glass with coatings for antireflection, sit atop camera lenses to make them more durable and improve image quality. Designed to work with lenses that use Gorilla Glass as the top cover layer, DX and DX Plus feature "superior" scratch resistance and also let in more light than glass on its own.

The aim is to make smartphone camera lenses that use glass as durable as those that use sapphire -- but also make the lenses much better at avoiding lens flares, ghosting and other issues caused by light reflection, John Bayne, the head of Corning's mobile consumer electronics division, said in an interview ahead of the news. 

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"Materials matter ... especially when the number of cameras is going up, the size of the lenses is going up," he said. "You have to believe, going forward, people are really going to start paying attention to the quality of their photos and how to make them better and better."

Samsung again will be the first company to use Corning's latest glass technology in its upcoming smartphones. The company will hold a virtual Unpacked event on Aug. 11, where it's expected to unveil new foldables, wearables and possibly a Galaxy S21 FE smartphone. 

To consumers, Corning is probably best known for its Pyrex glassware in the kitchen. But it's also a major supplier of glass displays for smartphonesTVs and other electronics. Phones from Apple and Samsung use Corning's latest technologies, and Apple in 2019 invested $250 million in Corning, on top of a $200 million investment from 2017, for the development of glass for the iPhoneApple Watch and iPad

Gorilla Glass is the ultra-strong glass that prevents your phone display from getting scratched up when you toss your phone into your purse or shove it into your pocket. And it's built to resist drops and other damage. Corning has released new versions of Gorilla Glass nearly every two years since its introduction. The most recent version, Gorilla Glass Victus, arrived in devices a year ago. Like Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus, Gorilla Glass Victus first shipped in Samsung phones. 

This year, Samsung is expected to introduce a new Galaxy Z Fold 3 and an updated Z Flip 3. The former device is expected to feature a front-facing camera embedded beneath the screen, refined rear-facing cameras and support for a special version of the S Pen, which has gradually moved beyond the Note to work with other devices. The Z Flip 3 could have a new two-tone color scheme and a larger exterior screen for when the phone is folded shut. 

Along with foldables, Samsung's Unpacked is expected to include a new Galaxy S21 FE 5G phone, adding a second device to the less expensive FE lineup. The Galaxy S20 FE, which hit the market in September for $300 less than the S20, proved to be popular with buyers. A Samsung executive told CNET in March that the company planned to introduce future versions of the device

Scratch-resistant glass

Smartphone camera lenses today are composed of many different layers, including sapphire or glass and antireflective coatings. The coatings improve light capture, but they tend to scratch easily. That's especially troubling the longer users hold onto their smartphones and as phone camera modules get larger and more complex. Corning's Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus combine coatings with glass to avoid scratches and make the image quality crisp for much longer.

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Corning's new Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus will reduce lens flare and other issues, like in this photo taken on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. 

Lexy Savvides/CNET

"Day 1 out of the box, you'll get one experience, but you don't want a different experience one or two years down the road," Bayne said. Because people are keeping their phones longer, it's more likely their smartphone cameras will get scratched by the time they're ready to upgrade to a new model. Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus aim to change that. 

In the case of Apple's latest iPhones, the lens cover material is sapphire. The material is stronger and more scratch-resistant than glass. But it's also more reflective, causing users to see lens flares and ghosting light lines on images. 

With sapphire, roughly 8% of light gets lost, Bayne said. 

Samsung's Galaxy devices and most other high-end smartphones use glass as the material for the camera lens cover. About 50% of all smartphones use glass as the material on their camera lenses, Corning said. Glass isn't as reflective as sapphire, but it also isn't as durable. About 4% of light is reflected with glass, Bayne said. With the new Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus, the amount of light reflected drops to 1%. 

Corning designed Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus to work with smartphone cameras that include Gorilla glass as the lens cover material. It likely won't be used with sapphire or plastic smartphone camera lens covers, Bayne said. 

"Typically on sapphire, you wouldn't use a coating, because it's so scratch-resistant already," Bayne said. "But the problem is it's not only expensive, but it also has very high reflection." The goal with Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus is to be the best of both worlds -- scratch-resistant and anti-reflective.

Corning's Gorilla Glass DX and DX Plus already are used in wearables. Since DX and DX Plus arrived for wearables three years ago, they've been used in over 30 million such devices.