Living with a phone without a selfie camera (sort of) (2024)

"Vanity is the quicksand of reason," George Sand wrote 200 years ago. Human beings are narcissistic by nature, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It's part of a healthy ego. We can talk about obsession with ourselves and other borderline unhealthy behaviors, but the fact of the matter is that we love ourselves. And that's perfectly fine.

The above overly dramatic intro is here as a preamble to the smartphone selfie camera story. I won't bother you with a boring history lesson. All I'll say on the subject is that the first selfie camera on a phone was invented in Japan in May 1999, almost 25 years ago, and since then it has become an integral part of our smartphone experience.

Living with a phone without a selfie camera (sort of) (1)

25 years ago, the KyoceraVP-210 initiated the selfie revolution

It's called a selfie camera for a reason. By the way, the history of the word itself is quite interesting. The first use of the word "selfie" is attributed to Nathan Hope, an Australian who got drunk at his 21st birthday and posted a picture of his stitched lip with the caption “sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.” It quickly took off from there, and now we're buried in selfie shots from our selfie cameras. So how about living without one?

The Nubia Z60 Ultra and its obscured front vision

Now you see me, now you don't! When it's too bright around you, the Nubia will display a tiny little sun over the selfie camera. Cute!

Disclaimer. By now, you've probably realized that it's the Nubia Z60 Ultra I'm going to talk about, and yes, this phone technically has a selfie camera hidden under its display. But bear with me; I'll show you why living with this phone equals living with a phone without a selfie camera altogether.

What's the selfie quality on a phone with an under-display camera?

The short answer is "bad." It's getting a lot better, compared to the first prototypes from a couple of years ago, but it's still borderline unusable. Let's look at it from the vanity angle. The only way to get a somewhat decent selfie photo is to be in a uniformly lit, not too bright, not too dim room. And this is a big requirement, given that you're supposed to capture the moment with the portable device you carry everywhere with you.

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From barely usable to horrible

As you can see from the samples above, any lighting from behind makes the picture look horrendous. There's ghosting, blurring, strange rainbow glares (probably due to the polarizing filter on top of the camera), severe overexposure, noise when it's dark, and a lack of detail. I could go on. In the end, I ended up not using the front camera at all.

And by the way, this piece was supposed to be called "Living with a phone with an edge-to-edge display," but the experience kind of morphed into this one here. Using portrait mode outdoors may or may not end up producing passable selfies, but in the end, there's not a single front camera image from this phone I'm willing to post to my Facebook or Instagram.

Portrait mode makes things a little bit better

I can almost hear your thoughts now. "But the selfie camera is not only for selfies." True, even though people mostly use the front camera to capture their beloved images of themselves, there are such things as video calls and meetings. Well, I should report that these are horrible on the Nubia Z60 Ultra as well. So, how's life without a selfie camera?

Living without a (usable) selfie camera

Not that bad, actually. In my case, during my time with this phone, I only missed being able to catch the moments when I was with my friends and loved ones. And this could easily be sorted out by asking other people to take photos of you. You know, the old-school way, like carrying a point-and-shoot camera with you. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Video calls and video meetings are a lot trickier, and if you want to project yourself in the best light to the other side, both literally and metaphorically, this front camera won't cut it. So, if you do a lot of videocalls, you need to wait until this technology matures. But is it really worth it?

Is the edge-to-edge display worth sacrificing your vanity?

Living with a phone without a selfie camera (sort of) (10)

Watching this review on an edge-to-edge display is a pleasure! Do you like what you see?

Okay, we've established already that it's not about vanity, but it sounds so much more dramatic this way, right? What is it like to consume media and look at your everyday smartphone tasks on a phone with an edge-to-edge display? It's very cool; there's no doubt about it. The first couple of days, you get awed every time you look at the display. It's an all-display phone!

Living with a phone without a selfie camera (sort of) (11)

Okay, not as attractive (talking about the phone, of course) but is it that bad?

But being human means being adaptive, and you quickly stop noticing it. I had the chance to compare this phone with a couple of Xperia models, and I much more like the Sony phones. Not only do they have a 21:9 display with no imperfections, but they also come with working selfie cameras. And the top and bottom bezels aren't that much thicker. Are a couple of millimeters worth the trouble? No, not for me.

Final words (of warning)

Sometimes the tech industry slips into strange obsessions. Glass phones, curved displays—the quest for edge-to-edge displays. I'm really not sure if we need to focus on those things when we can try and solve our batteries, for example.

I'd rather have a smartphone with substantial bezels that can last for a week than a museum piece where hunderds of thousands of R&D dollars have been wasted to mask a selfie camera. But that might just be me. What about you?

Living with a phone without a selfie camera (sort of) (2024)
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