Smartphones with curved displays that cascade over the edge like a waterfall have been with us since 2014, when they were popularized by the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge.
That phone used its display to show extra information and notifications on the right-hand edge of the chassis and led to phones, particularly from Samsung, featuring displays that curved over both sides.
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The trend for these screens ebbed and flowed over the years, with manufacturers seemingly unsure what to use the extra screen real estate for, and how to make the areas useful without them being prone to accidental touches from the user's hand.
More recently, the trend has come full circle and handsets like the iPhone 12 have returned to screens that are completely flat.
But there is still life in the waterfall display – at least according to Chinese technology firm Xiaomi and its new smartphone concept. For the first time, this is a phone that has a screen on its first which curves over all four sides, at the top, bottom, left and right. Only the rear of the phone does without a screen.
Announced on February 5, the concept has only been shown off as a render for now, but the company claims the concept is real and does actually work. Promotional footage published on YouTube today shows how the phone puts information like battery charge, signal strength and Bluetooth status on the edge of the display, leaving the front free of a status bar.
Writing is seen scrolling upwards, over the bottom edge of the phone and onto the front. It's a neat trick, but means the concept phone has nowhere for any ports at all – no headphone jack, no USB connection. This suggests the phone can only be charged wirelessly, something Apple is rumored to be considering for at least one model of iPhone due out later in 2021.
The corners of the Xiaomi concept are left blank, likely due to it not being possible to curve a display to such a shame. Xiaomi describes the concept as a "quad-curved waterfall display", and says how the edges are curved to 88 degrees.
While undeniably a cool concept, we have serious questions about the functionality and practicality of such a phone. Samsung learned years ago that curved screens don't offer up enough extra space as to be useful, and owners learned how easy it is to accidentally interact with the curved screen with their palms. We also dread to think what would happen if the Xiaomi phone was dropped onto a hard surface.
So, while it is fun to see technology companies push the envelope on what's possible, in this case we'd rather see Xiaomi focus on its Mi Air Charge system, shown off a week ago and claimed to wirelessly charge smartphones and other devices from across a room.
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