Are regular smartphones on the cusp of getting too big?

Aurelius

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With rumors of the LG G3 coming with a 5.5-inch screen, I'm starting to wonder if everyday smartphones (not the phablet class, like the Note 3 / Xperia Z Ultra) are getting too big. Do you share that concern?

I know, I know. We've seen those arguments about phones getting too big that seem quaint now (I remember when LG's 4.8-inch Intel phone prototype seemed huge). However, this time it's a bit different. A mainstream flagship phone is supposed to appeal to as many customers as possible. Even if you have super-thin bezels, a 5.5-inch screen is a lot to handle for many people. I'm worried that manufacturers are so locked in the Bigger Numbers Are Always Better school of design that they'll unwittingly exclude those of us in the middle, who want something mid-sized.

To me, the sweet spot for a phone is around the 4.5- to 5-inch size. Occasionally, you can work with something a little bigger (like the G2). As long as it's designed well, that's large enough for most tasks to be done one-handed, and for the device to fit in most pockets. But 5.5-inch and larger? To me, that's appealing more to a specific kind of person, the one who's either a power user or for whom a phone will be their only real computer (this is why phone-capable tablets are relatively popular in China and India). I'd rather see phone makers focus on improving the experience for mid-size phones than trying to engage in "larger than yours" oneupmanship.
 

Rizen

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Until there aren't any phones available in the 4.5-5" space, I'd say no. I don't want a 5.5" phone, but I know some people - especially larger guys with big hands - who like the bigger form factor. I don't think there is anything wrong with offering different form factors. And even if one manufacturer launches a mainstream phone with a very large screen, that doesn't mean others will. And if the size is truly unpopular, sales #s will play that out and manufacturers will revert.
 

MrCrispy

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When the Evo 4G came out, everyone said it was too big - now 4.3" is tiny. Then Apple said anything bigger than 3.5" was 'unusable' and of course they were lying and knew it.

It's a smartphone, its meant to consume/create content, hence screen size will always be more important than portability. Its why every year we have the same debate and every year screen sizes go up.
 

CHANG3D

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I preferred something between 4.5-4.7". That's an easy to use one-handed size with a big enough screen. There is just no reason for me to get a phablet. The HTC One M8 is no where close to the comfort level to use compared to the original One (M7). The Nexus 5 being smaller than the M8 is also better for that reason. I wonder why phones are getting bigger and bigger when back in the day it's a race to which is thinnest and smallest.

Speaking of thin, I think phones to to stop being thinner already. What are they aiming for? Razer thin? I want something ergonomic.
 

Skripka

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I preferred something between 4.5-4.7". That's an easy to use one-handed size with a big enough screen. There is just no reason for me to get a phablet. The HTC One M8 is no where close to the comfort level to use compared to the original One (M7). The Nexus 5 being smaller than the M8 is also better for that reason. I wonder why phones are getting bigger and bigger when back in the day it's a race to which is thinnest and smallest.

Speaking of thin, I think phones to to stop being thinner already. What are they aiming for? Razer thin? I want something ergonomic.

Because smart phones are no longer phones first and foremost. They're internet terminals. For that usage a larger screen is much more desired than being tiny.


/Note 2 owner
 

SirMaster

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I prefer the iPhone 4" screen. I really don't want anything larger.

I have trouble reaching the corners with my thumb on any phone I tried that had a larger screen.
 

CHANG3D

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I'm currently using a couple of phones, an hardly ever used Nexus 7 tablet, a Surface Pro, and a desktop (see sig). One of Android's weakness is the lack of developer support for tablet-specific apps. As for phones, I just want something that works and focused on its phone abilities and then the "smart" things. As for using a phablet, I don't want something that bulky in my pocket. It's not like I wear tight jeans or anything. It's just I don't want to look fat.

I'm still waiting for the day where we consolidate all devices into one. Wi-Fi Direct and miracast need to get stable and fast enough for delivering video onto a wireless display. Hopefully MU-MIMO will be a huge step toward solving that problem. Right now to get uninterrupted video from my Surface to a display using Netgear Push2TV PTV3000 the tablet would need to be like 2 feet away at the most. 6 ft is decent for non-video work. The dream is to have one smartwatch sized device and push to up to 4 wireless 1080p displays or one 4K display with uninterrupted video at 15 ft.
 

FiveFig

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I <3 my LG G2!
Then again I have big hands (12.5 ring finger)
If I had smaller hands I would still <3 my G2 and it would probably still be easy to use.
 

MrCrispy

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I'd like to see stats on just how many people use their phone one handed. Most people I see use 2 hands.
 

paperwastage

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hopefully Sony will step up to the plate

it's Z1 compact is as high end as you can get @ 4.3" (other than 720p screen - 20 mpix camera, snapdragon 800, 2GB ram)

better battery life than the Z1 bigger brother too...
 

Aurelius

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When the Evo 4G came out, everyone said it was too big - now 4.3" is tiny. Then Apple said anything bigger than 3.5" was 'unusable' and of course they were lying and knew it.

It's a smartphone, its meant to consume/create content, hence screen size will always be more important than portability. Its why every year we have the same debate and every year screen sizes go up.

Never attribute to malice and conspiracy what can be attributed to something simpler.

I think Apple believed it was telling the truth... in the late 2000s and (to some extent) 2010, when limited display technology and energy efficiency made it harder to do a big phone that wasn't a behemoth. Remember the Dell Streak? It was only a 5-inch phone, but it was comic to watch someone try to shove something so bulky into their pocket. You can now get larger phones that fit into smaller spaces, and the GS5 feels downright compact next to the Streak.

Apple's problem was more that it didn't react quickly enough when it was clear that phones could get bigger without being unwieldy. The iPhone 5 was a step in the right direction, but a half-hearted step. Based on the flurry of rumors, it sounds like the company finally got the hint.
 

Thuleman

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If it weren't for the lack of apps on WP I'd Lumia 900 till the battery dies. 4.3" is a good size for me and I don't have the hots for a 5+ screen. Sadly there really aren't viable new options in the 4.3" space which rival the quality, battery life, and functionality of new flagship phones.
 

Rattle

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I don't put phones in my pocket so i don't care although m7 is kind of the sweet spot for me personally size wise.
 

mi7chy

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To me, the sweet spot for a phone is around the 4.5- to 5-inch size.

3.5" to 4" no longer the sweet spot?

The sweet spot is definitely not one size fits all. It's like asking what's the best shoe size is? Well, it varies from person to person and even for the same person it can vary depending on what it's used for.

As far as screen, the industry is on the right track increasing screen size while minimizing bezel and keeping phone dimensions the same if not making it smaller. Plus, more prevalent use of hands-free voice control like on the Moto X minimizes the size-to-hand argument.

I can only speak for myself but what works is the convergence of multi-devices into one device with the largest usable screen size that fits comfortably in my pants pocket so 5.7" is fine and better if they can further minimize bezel and increase it to 5.9".
 

MrCrispy

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There's no reason to have any bezel on a phone. Its trivial to detect and ignore accidental palm presses on the edge, this is already done in software on all laptop trackpads. Manufacturing processes can easily make a phone strong enough that doesn't need a bezel.

Make a pure slab with glass front, 0 bezel on all sides with no physical buttons and reinforced back and sides. That's the future. Everything can be done with gestures and voice, including power on/off (KnockOn)
 

NoxTek

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There are plenty of powerful handsets with a screen size under 5".... so if you don't want a big phone, don't buy one. Simple.
 

mi7chy

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I sense this is going to be Apple's refreshed ad campaign for new 2014 line up of iPhones.

"Forget when we told you 3.5" to 4" was optimal and the rest of the industry was wrong. Now, 4.5" to 5" is optimal and the rest of the industry is still wrong."

iphone-4-5-inch-displays.jpg
 
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MrCrispy

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If everyone has feature X and Apple doesn't, then everyone is wrong, X is useless, and Apple is right.
Until next year when Apple 'invents' X and has the 'best ever' X.

This has been their SOP forever. All lies and bs marketing.
 

SirMaster

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I don't care if they make a larger phone so long as they also make a mini 4" version as well. Otherwise they lose a lot of customers who choose to use the iPhone now because of the size. It's one of the primary reasons I like the iPhone so much.

A lot of power and great specs and physical build quality in a small form factor. Nobody else offers that.

I know I am not alone in this preference.
 

QwertyJuan

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I don't care if they make a larger phone so long as they also make a mini 4" version as well. Otherwise they lose a lot of customers who choose to use the iPhone now because of the size. It's one of the primary reasons I like the iPhone so much.

A lot of power and great specs and physical build quality in a small form factor. Nobody else offers that.

I know I am not alone in this preference.

Until Apple makes a larger phone. Then you will say the larger one is the best. Mark my words.
 

chrcoluk

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they already are too big.

I own a nokia (i think 6420) as a phone its very nice. small and portable, decent battery life and good audio quality, reliable. although for sms messaging compared to smartphones is poor and of course for internet/multimedia type use obselete. but for call purposes its probably the pinnacle of mobile phones.

I also own a galaxy ace, which at the time I got it seemed huge as was used to tiny nokia, but the ace is still small enough that it can be gotten used to which I did, similiar sized to a traditional iphone. The build quality of the ace is ok, size wise its ok to fit in pocket and to hold during calls. Audio quality defenitly inferior to the nokia, better for sms messaging tho and better for multimedia/internet use (although its a basement level smartphone).

Galaxy s3, this thing is nice for sms, internet, multiedia, used it in a hotel about 3 weeks ago to watch f1 qaulifying and some netflix. But as a phone its too big, I feel awkrawd using it in the street, it barely fits in my pocket, and if holding it too long hand aches. Friend of mine who owns a s4 says he has same feeling, he wont drop the phone but says for calls and carrying around too big.

Now currently if I go somewhere for few hours (basically for short time) I take the ace with me especially if its in public places, its a better calling device, the s3 is better for places like hotels tho. I even think s4 mini, s3 mini are too big (they bigger than ace and traditonal iphones).

What we need is a phone that has 2 forms.

Small form for calls and portability.
Large form for when more suitable use, for playing games, netflix, internet etc.

Now phones seem to be going to how they were in 80s and early 90s. Large brick type devices.

Also the obsession with slimness, rounded edges etc. doesnt help either, makes them harder to pick up and hold.
 

rudy

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There are 2 ways to look at this, one is to try to force the phone to fit your hand, the other and smarter way is to try to get the best of both worlds. Samsung with the note 3 offers a gesture which makes the whole screen smaller in for 1 hand use, then you can make it larger for 2 hand use. Software can solve problems. And rather than complaining that phones are too big I think we should be complaining that big phones do not have enough quality software to make them work well. I imagine at some point some nice person will write software that can track your eyes and you can control your phone with your eye movement.

For me any phone no matter how big is fine and perhaps preferred so long as it can fit in my pocket. When it cannot fit in my pocket anymore, at that point it becomes a tablet or a laptop and to me both of those are the same device. They have the same physical impracticalities that ultimately limit how often I will have them on me.

The other angle is that smaller phones need to also start figuring out how they can better compete with larger phones through software. Personally apple has done a poor job of this and IMO its a big part of their slip in popularity.
 

Trimlock

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HTC, Samsung and Nokia make models of phones in all sizes. In just about every case neither is a terrible performer, minus the HTC phablet last year.
 

Thuleman

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It's one of the primary reasons I like the iPhone so much.

A lot of power and great specs and physical build quality in a small form factor. Nobody else offers that.

I know I am not alone in this preference.

I don't think that the iPhone is even in the same universe as the new Android phones when it comes to battery life. That's the primary reason I wouldn't buy an iPhone 5s at this point, you can't even make it through the day on a single charge.
 

CHANG3D

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iPhones are also extremely space limited. A larger iPhone hopefully means a larger battery. From what Apple is able to pull from such a measly small battery compared to android flagships, let's say a 2300mAh battery could dominant battery life.
 

Aurelius

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There are 2 ways to look at this, one is to try to force the phone to fit your hand, the other and smarter way is to try to get the best of both worlds. Samsung with the note 3 offers a gesture which makes the whole screen smaller in for 1 hand use, then you can make it larger for 2 hand use. Software can solve problems. And rather than complaining that phones are too big I think we should be complaining that big phones do not have enough quality software to make them work well. I imagine at some point some nice person will write software that can track your eyes and you can control your phone with your eye movement.

For me any phone no matter how big is fine and perhaps preferred so long as it can fit in my pocket. When it cannot fit in my pocket anymore, at that point it becomes a tablet or a laptop and to me both of those are the same device. They have the same physical impracticalities that ultimately limit how often I will have them on me.

The other angle is that smaller phones need to also start figuring out how they can better compete with larger phones through software. Personally apple has done a poor job of this and IMO its a big part of their slip in popularity.

Software definitely helps, although I don't think it answers everything. When I was using the Note 3, it still required a bit of a balancing act if you were using it one-handed. I've also used the Mega 6.3 and Huawei's Ascend Mate... they both have one-handed modes, but they're just ridiculous at that point.

All-around one-handedness is useful if you're holding something in the other hand, like a shopping bag. I'm used to using a lot of phones two-handed these days, but there are times when it's nice not to drop everything just because you want to check some important email.
 

SirMaster

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I don't think that the iPhone is even in the same universe as the new Android phones when it comes to battery life. That's the primary reason I wouldn't buy an iPhone 5s at this point, you can't even make it through the day on a single charge.

Really? In my experience the iPhone's battery life is great. I easily get through 2 days on a single charge.

The iPhone's battery has always been a strong point in my book compared to the Android phones that I've tried.

http://images.anandtech.com/graphs/graph7335/58202.png

I mostly attribute the great battery life to Apple's push notification API. I can have as many services be set up to push me data instantly as I want with no impact on battery life since they all use the single push daemon that is already always running.

I typically have AIM, MSN, Google+, Skype, Steam, Facebook, Twitter, Google Voice, Reddit, Gmail, Work Email, IRC, and some more services all signed in 24/7 and there is no impact on battery life.

I had both these setups on an iPhone and a GS4 and through an 8 hours workday of the phones just sitting on my desk where I don't really use them and just let the notifications come in the iPhone 5s drained only 5% in that 8 hour timeframe. The GS4 drained 40% in that same time.

I typically see about 8-10 hours of screen-on time on my iPhone 5s and the GS4 was only getting about 6-7 hours of screen-on time.

I know there is an Android phone or 2 that have huge batteries and are made to last really long and those probably beat out the iPhone (Droid MAXX and LG G2 think?), but again they are to large for me to comfortably operate one handed. And as I said, I only charge my iPhone every other day so it lasts more than long enough.

After a full work day I am usually down to 80% on my iPhone and then if I do a lot of stuff after work that night I might used up to another 50% bringing me down to 30%. Otherwise most days are 20% during work and another 20% in the evening so by the time I go to bed I'm at about 60%. Over the whole night when the phone is in do not disturb mode it only loses about another 2-3%.

I've never had my phone die in the middle of the day/evening at all. I have to really try to get it down to below 25% by the end of the day even on a busy weekend.
 
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SirMaster

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Until Apple makes a larger phone. Then you will say the larger one is the best. Mark my words.

Heh, we will see. I'm not sure what will change me mind. I tried larger phones already but ended up returning them.

I've tried Android twice now and Windows Phone once and so far the iPhone just gives me the most pleasant mobile experience so far.
 
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Putz

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just went from iphone 5 4" to M8 5", i dont mind it but i sure wouldn't want anything bigger than this
 

bds1904

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I use a galaxy mega 6.3 on a daily basis. The first week or so I though I made a bad decision; then I went out of town for a couple days. Before my mega I would take my tablet, laptop, phone and chromecast with me. Now I travel with my phone and my chromecast. Battery life is excellent, I use my phone regularly and by the end of the day I have 30% left or so.

A large phone paired with a bluetooth is the best of both worlds. Minimal need to get the "phablet" out of my pocket, but it's always on me when I need it. Fitting a 7" tablet in my pocket is a pita, but a 6.3 works good.
 

FiveFig

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I'd like to see stats on just how many people use their phone one handed. Most people I see use 2 hands.

I use my g2 one handed 90% of the time, except for when i am sending a long text or playing a game. that being said, I wouldn't mind just a little bigger like the Find 7 (NOT 7a)
 

mi7chy

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Really? In my experience the iPhone's battery life is great. I easily get through 2 days on a single charge.

The iPhone's battery has always been a strong point in my book compared to the Android phones that I've tried.

http://images.anandtech.com/graphs/graph7335/58202.png

iPhones are more middle of the pack for battery life. Here's a more complete list.

http://www.gsmarena.com/battery-test.php3


iPhones are also extremely space limited. A larger iPhone hopefully means a larger battery. From what Apple is able to pull from such a measly small battery compared to android flagships, let's say a 2300mAh battery could dominant battery life.

Everything is relative. iPhone battery is smaller but it's only driving a tiny display and lacks features like no 802.11ac, 1GB DRAM which is half of most phones, no IR, etc.
 

SirMaster

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iPhones are more middle of the pack for battery life. Here's a more complete list.

http://www.gsmarena.com/battery-test.php3

Yeah, those are some nice graphs. I find that 10 hours of real usage time is plenty to get through a whole day which is all most people really need.

The iPhone is near the top for web browsing time (rank 12 out of 151) which is what I mainly do on my phone, and play games and watch video (rank 24 of 151). I don't talk more than an hour a day on the phone so I don't need absurd talk-time stats.

I was mainly just replying to the guy who said the iPhone wasn't in the same universe as Android for battery life and that it couldn't make it through a day which is far from true looking at the stats you linked too.

Though from my testing also iOS is still way ahead in terms of standby power usage when having a dozen or so background notification apps running which is a really important stat to me personally. Because no apps actually have to run to maintain notifications from any number of servers. They all have to go through a single notification API with a single light-weight data connection.

Google has a similar API for some apps, but the problem is all apps don't use it and probably never will. Like Skype, Facebook, Steam, Twitter, IM services etc.
 
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mi7chy

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Though from my testing also iOS is still way ahead in terms of standby power usage when having a dozen or so background notification apps running which is a really important stat to me personally.

What do you get for standby? Note 3 does over six days with always on WIFI as a secondary VOIP phone.

Screenshot_2013-12-11-07-47-32_zpsbfed1820.png
 
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Aurelius

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In my experience, the iPhone 5 (I don't have a permanent 5s to try, alas) is... middling. It's better than the Nexus 5, at least when it comes to screen-on time, but something like the One M8 or Moto X will clobber it. Apple to me has done a decent job of wringing solid life out of a small battery, but its current phone size only gives it so much room to grow.
 

MrCrispy

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I wonder how much optimization Apple (and to a lesser extent WP) are able to squeeze out to improve battery life by having tighter control over hardware and software integration. Is it on the order of ~10% or a magnitude higher?

Android due to its very nature still has a lot of optimizations that can be made.
 
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