The midrange Galaxy A80 has a camera that pops up and swivels. Why not one of Samsung’s premium phones for 2019?
What if the Galaxy Note 10 or next year’s Galaxy S11 had a slide-out camera with lenses that take your selfies before swiveling around to snap a portrait of your dog? Thanks to Samsung’s launch this week of the Galaxy A80, which has just that camera setup, the possibility is no longer the stuff of pure fancy.
After all, if Samsung thought this slide-up, swivel-around camera is good enough for a midrange phone, it’s certainly good enough for the brand’s most advanced Android device, right? Truth be told, I’m curious about the design, which I’ve been salivating over since I first saw it in 2014 on the Oppo N1, an innovative camera-swivel phone for Asia.
It’s been years since phones that swivel, flip and otherwise move have been envogue, but all that’s changing.
Foldable phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Huawei’s Mate X are both raising and reflecting an interest in movable design. Cameras, too, are becoming more mechanized to rise out of the belly of the beast in various ways.
Both sliding camera and foldable trends serve the demand for ultimately giving you more screen to work with. In the case of a slide-up camera, that’s to solve the problem of sensors crowding the screen. If the “notch” didn’t win many fans, maybe a slider camera array will.
Here are four reasons it could make sense to see Samsung bring the Galaxy A80’s slide-up swivel camera to a more premium Samsung phone like the Note 10 or Galaxy S11, and three reasons it might not.
Better photos, smarter design
I’ve been intrigued by (ahem, obsessed with) the camera swivel since the Oppo N1 days because it struck me as an elegant solution.
Why double up on cameras, or use a subpar front-facing sensor for your selfies, when you can use your best cameras to take a self-portrait too? What if, instead of a company buying half a dozen cameras for the front and back, they only bought four to do the work of six.
More importantly, if the camera does double duty, your selfie image quality, and the number of things you could potentially do with a selfie, could also increase, since Samsung would no longer save its best cameras for the back.
Samsung is starting a pattern
The Galaxy S10 phones weren’t the first to get the punch-hole camera “notch,” using a display that Samsung terms its Infinity-O design. Neither was the Galaxy S10 5G the first Samsung phone with four rear cameras. Samsung saved both those milestones for phones in its midtier Galaxy A series.
It was the Galaxy A8s that served as a practice run for the Galaxy S10 notch, and the Galaxy A9 that integrated four rear cameras four months before the S10 launch.
The question is: Why would Samsung use these more affordable devices as a test bed for more premium phones? Perhaps the company is trying to be more careful introducing new technology after the Galaxy Note 7 disaster, in which reports of self-combusting batteries led Samsung to recall the device twice.
Of course, it’s extremely unlikely that a screen cutout would lead to flames, but there’s a possibility that the brand is keeping an eye out for early issues so it can course-correct, or push back the launch of a flagship phone if need be.
Pop-up cameras are so hot right now
It’s also possible that Samsung’s interest in pop-up cameras has everything to do with the trend among other smartphone makers in Asia (remember, Samsung hails from South Korea). Funnily enough, the three main proponents of mechanized cameras — Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus (rumored) — are all Chinese brands owned by the same corporation, BBK Electronics.
The Oppo F11 Pro and Vivo Nex both feature a small, square pop-up selfie cam (but not the Nex Dual Display Edition). The OnePlus 7 is rumored to get the same.
Then there’s last year’s sexy Oppo Find X, whose entire lid lifted up like the Galaxy A80. And
Oppo F11 , whose 16-megapixel front-facing camera pops up at a tilt “like a shark fin,” my colleague Katie Collins said colorfully, “or a wedge of brie.” (Mmmm, brieeeeee.)
Note that none of these pop-up designs swivel.
Samsung’s largest competitor, Huawei, also from China, doesn’t have a pop-up camera yet. But its foldable Mate X does use its camera array for both types of photos, having you turn the phone around to take a selfie or a photo, and using one of its two exterior “screens” as a viewfinder.
(Technically, there’s really only one 8-inch screen that bends around the outside, but when the Mate X is folded closed into phone mode, you get active screen windows on the front and back).
Could Samsung’s first foray into an all-in-one camera array be its way to innovate against Huawei’s relentless approach? If so, it would sure want a feature with the most wow-factor on its top phones.
Mechanized parts risk one more thing to break
Not every argument for a swivel camera to grace the Galaxy Note 10 or Galaxy S11 makes sense.
The more complexity a phone has, the greater the opportunity that something could go wrong. What if something happened to the motor driving the action? Could the mechanism budge if something gets stuck or wedged inside?
Or what if the phone falls when the camera’s popped out and has a hard hit that keeps it from retreating? And what if the mechanism slows down over time?
Of course there will be concern over wear and tear, and of course Samsung will have tested the slider camera within an inch of its life. But yes, bad things do happen to good phones on occasion and unflattering reports are a risk.
Do 6 cameras sound classier than 4?
At a time where more cameras are marketing to make a phone appear better — or at least more capable — could there be an issue where Samsung would have to reeducate the public that the same camera on the front and back (I’m arbitrarily picking four) could be just as good as six, the total number on the Galaxy S10 5G?
Note 10 vs. Galaxy S11: Which would be more likely?
When it comes to actually thinking through which phone would be more likely to get a swivel camera, the Note 10 or the Galaxy S11, this is when my “pro” arguments break down.
We’re about four months away from the Note 10 launch, if Samsung keeps it August time frame. Wouldn’t a leak as significant as a swivel camera have surfaced by now? And would Samsung want to put a slide-up camera on a phone that already has its own identity with that S Pen stylus?
On the other hand, the Galaxy S series is more the bread-and-butter family that’s been the “safer” choice while Samsung reserves some of its more interesting experiments for the Note series or for other phones.
However, with four Galaxy S10 devices in 2019, it could make sense for Samsung to release the most expensive Galaxy S11 variant of 2020 with a pop-up camera.
There’s just one more possibility of where a swivel camera could appear in a high-end Samsung phone, and that’s that foldable. It’s rumored (and also logical) that Samsung will make other foldable phones.
I’m not sure how the design would need to look in order to make a slide-up swivel camera wok, but I’m sure Samsung’s designers and engineers have toyed around with everything.