The first smartphone with in-display selfie camera fails to impress US tech reviewers

zte axon 20 5g design 1

Remember the ZTE Axon 20 5G – the first smartphone to offer a selfie camera hidden under the screen? Well, the phone is making its global launch later today and has recently reached the hands of Americal tech press. Even though the phone ships with quite a groundbreaking feature, it doesn't seem to have impressed them, bloggers.

Truth be told, this is hardly surprising because we predicted that this would happen. Don't believe us? Check this article from three months ago when the  Axon 20 5G first made headlines. That being said, the ZTE Axon 20 5G will go down in history as the first smartphone to offer an "under-display" front camera. For those unaware, this mid-range smartphone was launched last September in China starting at 2198 yuan, or nearly 240 euros (excluding tax).

But since it began its global launch at 449 euros, the hype has waned down considerably –  especially after it passed through American testers who were frankly not thrilled by the image quality it had to offer with the selfie camera.

zte axon 20 under display camera us reviews not convinced
The US tech press doesn't seem to be very enthusiastic about the Axon 20 5G ZTE and its selfies / © Screenshots: The Verge, Android Authority, Cnet

'Not so great' selfies to blame

It is pertinent to note that the ZTE Axon 20 5G is otherwise a pretty decent phone that gets a 90 Hz, 6.92-inch OLED display Many reviewers actually liked the display of the phone. Where the phone did not impress at all was when it came to the all-important selfie camera under the screen.

The Verge was particularly critical of the phone and warns "I don’t want to diminish the technical achievement of getting a halfway functional camera under an OLED screen at all — it involves new types of transparent materials, pixel filters, and demosaicing algorithms to make sense of the light that hits the 32-megapixel sensor. But the result, unfortunately, is a bad selfie camera."

At Cnet, the reviewer found that "In darker conditions, however, the under-display camera had difficulty keeping up. The pictures contained hardly any details. In fact, they were blurred, especially near the edges, and simply didn't have the sharpness required for a quality image."

Finally, Android Authority explains in its article "If you’re someone that needs to be able to take high-quality selfie photos or videos, you might want to look elsewhere. While images certainly don’t look terrible, it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of the glow cast on the final image coming from this camera."

The technology just isn't 'there' yet

Since NextPit hasn't been able to get their hands on the ZTE Axon 20 5G yet, it is nigh impossible for us to make a personal statement about the quality of the pictures taken with the under-display camera.  However, the opinions of my fellow American testers did not come as surprising to me.

 As with the first iteration of any technology or feature, launch failures are inevitable. This is all the less a surprise when you consider that other major players in the industry, like Xiaomi and Oppo, have been working on the same technology for years and have decided not to rush to market.

ZTE has certainly understood the advantage of being first to market when it comes to selling a new product or feature. In marketing jargon, we talk about TTM or "Time to market", which is the time it takes a manufacturer between the design and the marketing of a product. In general, the longer the TTM, the less likely it is that a product will be successful on the market.

But what's the point of being first if you want to set a bad example and allow your more patient competitors to trample on the first step you've worked so hard to take?

Antoine Engels

Antoine Engels

French tech journalist also fluent in English and German, I write and publish in French for a French audience, but I am based in Berlin, Germany. I'm the editor of NextPit France, the French-speaking department of NextPit GmbH, an online media specialized in tech (consumer electronics). Reviews, comparisons, buying guides, interviews and reports on the smartphone, wearables and AIoT industries.

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