“Being able to separate the display with a fingernail should never be part of any design choice.”
This was a message I received from a reader about their Pixel 5, which has a gap between the screen and the body. If you have considered buying a Pixel 5, then you have probably read about the display gap issue. But, for the uninitiated: hundreds of users complained about a gap between the screen and the body, which raises questions about the phone’s IP rating.
Watch my video on the Pixel 5 screen gap below.
Google responded by saying that the “clearance between the body and the display is a normal part of the design of your Pixel 5”, and that “there is no effect on the water and dust resistance or functionality of your phone.”
This, of course, did not go down well with affected users, some of whom contacted me directly relaying messages similar to the one above. One reader I spoke with returned their device for a new Pixel 5, but the replacement had the same issue. Another reader detailed an arduous process of taking his Pixel 5 back and trying several new replacements at two different stores – all of the new handsets had the same screen gap. He also said that he’d noticed the gap on demo units inside those stores.
Make no mistake, this is a big issue. It appears to be affecting hundreds of users – if not more. There were 400 comments on a single Reddit post, alongside tens of other posts. The first complaint on Google’s support forums received almost 1000 upvotes and 612 responses, most of which are complaining about the same problem. It is, clearly, a wide-spread concern.
But is Google right, is it part of the design? I asked repair expert Ricky Panesar, CEO if icorrect.co.uk, to give me his take.
“[A colleague I spoke to] said that apparently the gap is used to relieve tension on the glass. So that could make sense. If you have a gap between the housing and the screen, then that gap is there to relieve pressure on the glass, meaning that when there’s an impact, there’s a gap that the screen can go into. That makes sense in theory.”
I asked Google about the gap reliving screen impact pressure, but it didn’t respond by the time of publishing. Panesar isn’t so sure about this hypothesis, which he says only makes sense if the gap is on all phones. That isn’t the case, many – myself included – don’t have a screen gap on their Pixel 5.
“Because some [have the gap] and some don’t, that points towards a flaw. And I don’t think it’s a design flaw. I don’t think it’s intentionally designed. I think it’s a manufacturing flaw. I suspect that production has been rushed. Only because they have deadlines to keep and Covid has slowed everything down.”
Looking beneath the phone, a teardown by YouTube channel PBK revealed that there are clips holding the screen to the frame, so it doesn’t look like the display will fly off one day. PBK speculated that the glue holding the phone together might have issues.
There’s an interesting twist to this story because it turns out Google’s phone isn’t the only with this screen gap. Previous Samsung phones, including the 2018 Galaxy S9 and even the most recent Galaxy Note 20 have had similar complaints from users. These weren’t recalled and I haven’t seen any significant issues relating to wide-spread water damage in either phone, so it may be a fairly common manufacturing issue that doesn’t result in real-world problems. When I asked Samsung about screen gaps in the Note 20 and Galaxy S9 it declined the opportunity to comment.
Apple’s latest iPhone 12, too, has a gap in the screen, which is large enough to slide the corner of a piece of paper into.
Panesar isn’t sure if this is a defect or intentional, but he raises a concern about how easily damaged Face ID components are by liquid.
“If you look at your iPhone, there’s a small earpiece mesh – liquid gets in through that. And it’s only a tiny amount of liquid that can get through to damage your facial recognition hardware. Through our research, if that’s the highest reason for the damage, then what about putting a small gap around the whole of your screen? We could be sat here in 12 months time saying hey, Apple are announcing that there is a recall but I don’t think that will happen. ” He continued: “The screen sits within the housing in a way which it never has done before, there was always going to be a gap around the screen.”
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment by the time of publishing.
So it looks like this year’s major phones from Google, Samsung and Apple all have screen gaps. It’s too early to tell if these will cause issues, or if they’re an issue at all. For now, Google is replacing units of affected users, which suggests it isn’t a normal part of the design. We will likely know more in the coming months. If you’re having an issue with your phone’s screen gap, get in touch with me.