Laptop bezels are dead, and IFA killed them

In the past few years, IFA has become a laptop show. It may not be the place where companies like Apple or Microsoft show off their flashiest hardware, but when it comes to the midrange, workhorse laptops that dominate the shelves at Best Buy and desks at schools, IFA is where you’ll find them. That’s why it’s so interesting that there’s been what feels like an overnight revolution in laptop screens at this year’s show: bezels are dead, and IFA killed them.

This isn’t really a new trend in tech, either. The bezel-less revolution has been steadily rolling through smartphones for the past year. And where devices like the Essential Phone or iPhone X were once eye-catching, they’ve quickly become the norm across the industry. Practically every phone released this year has had some kind of notch or cutout with a bezel-less display. They’re so common that Android 9.0 Pie even added formal support for them. We’re already starting to see the next stages of slider devices like the Oppo Find X, Honor Magic 2, and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 that try to achieve a truly bezel-free future.

Now, that wave is coming to laptops: Acer’s Swift 7 and Swift 5, Asus’ new ZenBook line, Lenovo’s updated Yoga laptops, and even Dell’s midrange Inspiron computers are all getting their screen borders whittled down.

These new laptops are pushing the screen-to-body ratio higher than ever: the Swift 5 is 87.6 percent screen, while the newly teased Swift 7 checks in at 92 percent. And Asus’ ZenBooks feature a new ErgoLift hinge design, which is (in theory) to improve typing, but it also cleverly hides the lower bezel so that Asus can claim it’s up to 95 percent screen.

Removing bezels isn’t just about aesthetics. Yes, bezel-less screens look fantastic, but that’s only a piece of the puzzle. The real advantages lie in the fact that, suddenly, companies can fit bigger screens into the existing form factors we have now. Take Acer’s new Swift 5, which fits a 15.6-inch display into the old 14-inch form factor, resulting in what the company claims is the lightest 15-inch class laptop ever. On the flip side, we’re also getting computers like Asus’ 13-inch ZenBook. By killing the bezels, it’s possible to shrink the entire laptop down, giving users a dramatically smaller 13-inch class laptop than ever before.

 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

I’d be remiss to not mention Dell’s XPS 13, which kicked off the bezel-less screen design in laptops with its Infinity Display back in 2015. Dell didn’t sit IFA out this year either: the XPS 13 got a new Core i3 model at a lower price, and the company has started to trickle down its screen technology from the premium XPS family to its cheaper Inspiron line, making edgeless displays even cheaper. We’re not quite at the point where your average entry-level laptop is going to have an incredible screen, but it’s a welcome change from seeing this kind of display break out of the $1,500-plus ultrabook market where they’ve tended to congregate.

There are a few kinks to iron out when it comes to bezel-free tech. While companies have managed to reduce the bezel on the top and sides to nearly nothing, all the tech that powers the screen, like the hinge and cable connectors, needs to go somewhere. That means the bottom bezel is going to be tougher to get rid of. It’s a problem that we’ve encountered with smartphones already, and even companies like LG and its flagship G7 ThinQ have struggled to fully free their screens from protruding chins at the bottom.

 Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

There’s also the webcam issue. The top bezel is typically where the webcam goes, and if you kill that, you have to find somewhere else to stick the camera. Companies like Huawei and Dell have tried various solutions, like hiding the camera at the bottom of the screen or inside the keyboard, but there’s no great solution yet. The updated Inspiron models from Dell at this year’s show may be the best option so far. They sacrifice some thinness at the top for a new camera module that the company says is its smallest ever. But it’s something the entire industry will have to address, lest we end up with the horror that would be a bezel-less laptop with a permanent screen notch.

This year’s batch of laptops feels like it’s just the beginning of a larger shift in laptop design, but we’re already at the point that it should be the standard. Older laptops with full bezels look like bulky, cumbersome dinosaurs compared to their younger, slimmed-down cousins. It’s hard to imagine anyone looking at something like Asus’ new ZenBooks or Acer’s Swifts against last year’s models and not wanting the upgrade. It’s that significant of a difference.

We’re on the verge of a new era of laptop design, and if the smartphone industry is anything to go by, there’s no turning back now. The future has arrived, and it’s leaving the bezel behind for good.