Have a look at the sparkly new Samsung Galaxy S8. No need to argue; it’s a really nice phone. Just the screen is quite a marvel of engineering in itself. It covers nearly the entire front of the phone, plus it has those curved edges too. The front of the S8 looks almost entirely covered by screen. Bezels (aka those borders around the screen) are really, really tiny.
The S8 has a brilliant 5.8-inch screen, which for some of you may seem “too big” for a phone. Just looking at that number, it makes sense – it’s just slightly bigger than, say, a Galaxy Note 3, which was 5.7 inches. In 2013, this was considered gigantic for a phone. And indeed, the Galaxy Note 3 (as well as the rest of the Note line) was big. You just could not use it one-handed. And with the included S-Pen, it felt more like a mini-notepad than a phone.
Yet why is the Galaxy S8 slightly smaller than the Note, despite having a slightly larger screen? The answer lies in a metric known as screen-to-body ratio. The higher this number, the smaller the bezels are.
As an example, a 75% screen-to-body ratio means that the front area of the phone is 3/4 screen, and 1/4 bezels. That means the actual size of the phone is more than 5.7 inches (diagonally, because that’s how screen size is measured). As in the case of the Note 3, whose screen-to-body ratio is about 75%, its actual size (again, measured diagonally) would be a little over 6 inches.
Compare that with the S8, which has the same screen size of 5.7″, but a nifty 84% screen-to-body ratio. That makes the S8 physically smaller than the Note 3 (and the rest of the Note phones as well). And comparing the S8 to the last-generation S7, the S8 has a larger screen. But as you can see, the S8 is almost the same size as the S7. The much smaller top and bottom bezels of the S8 allows more screen to fit into its body.
Smaller bezels allow phones to have bigger screens without having to be physically larger.
That’s the idea. For modern phones, many of us seem to prefer the bigger screens. It makes sense – there’s more space for reading and watching videos, for instance. Also, there’s more space for the on-screen keyboard, so typing is easier, especially for people with big hands. As screens become bigger, the portability should not be compromised as well. Therefore, the only physically possible thing to do is to increase the screen-to-body ratio, making those bezels ever smaller. In fact, in the S8, there are practically no side bezels that you can see. Some, like the Xiaomi Mi Mix pictured above, almost have no bezels at all!
And this trend will not be going away soon.
With people doing more and more media-centric tasks on their phones – watching videos, mostly, and now VR – big-screen phones are now the standard. But of course, users also don’t want to sacrifice portability. The only solution is putting more screen, and less bezels, into the phone.
Perhaps a few years from now, we’ll be seeing a phone whose front is all screen. I wonder how using something like that would feel like. I’m quite sure it would be really cool, though.