Friday, 28 June 2013

When is a phone too big to be a phone?

When is a phone too big to be a phone? Image: CNET
Over the years, we have continually changed our definition of what an acceptable screen size is for a smartphone. The original iPhone with a 3.5" screen was the gold standard in 2007, but in 2013 a 3.5" smartphone is just pitiful (sorry iPhone 4s-and-earlier owners). 4.3" was then the accepted size, then it grew to 4.7"-4.8", and now most flagships come with 5" screens and are well accepted. Samsung pushed the boundaries with the original Note, which surprisingly was a great success. Samsung proved that there are people who enjoy using large phones. As a result of this, many other manufacturers have joined the large smartphone market, most recently Sony. They recently unveiled the gargantuan 6.4" Xperia Z Ultra. That's just 0.6" smaller than a 7" tablet. If Samsung blurred the lines between phone and tablet, what Sony are now doing is borderline insanity. Has the smartphone market truly come to a "mine is bigger than yours" mentality? 

Ever since the original Galaxy Note, large smartphones have taken the smartphone market by storm.  First the 5.3" Note, followed by the 5.5" Note II. Samsung also have the Mega 5.8 and 6.3. We also have the LG Optimus G Pro, a 5.5" smartphone that looks almost like the Note II's long lost twin. We then have the lesser known giant phones like the 6.1" Huawei Ascend MateZTE's 5.7" Grand Memo and ASUS's 6" FonePad Note. As if large phones aren't enough, we now also have tablets that can be used as phones like the ASUS FonePad and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. But at least these two devices are clearly marketed as tablets with voice-calling capabilities and not phablets. The Xperia Z Ultra is the newest member of the large smartphone club and to me, is a sign that manufacturers are getting carried away with screen size.


The Xperia Z Ultra is too big to be considered a phone. Image: Google+
If I remember correctly, there was a time when manufacturers were trying to get their phones to be as small as possible, whilst still being completely usable. Admittedly, with the number of things we can now do with our phones like watching videos and editing documents, those small phones probably wouldn't survive a day on the shelves. My gripe is that screen size seems to be the one major criteria manufacturers use to market their products, as if whoever has the biggest screen has the best product. Now, there are certain tasks that are much easier and more convenient to do on a larger screen. Personally, I only play games on my Nexus 7 now instead of my One X. I also prefer watching YouTube videos and reading my Pocket articles on my tablet as well. But that's what you're expected to use a tablet for, media consumption. 


I understand that not everyone can or wants to own a phone and a tablet, which is why we have "inbetweeners" like the Note II and the Optimus G Pro. Devices that are a middle ground between smartphones and tablets for those who want the best of both worlds without having to carry around two devices with them everywhere they go. Note the term middle ground, implying that these "phablets" are supposed to be somewhere in between a phone and a tablet when it comes to size. Phones like the Note II and Optimus G Pro are fine at 5.5", and maybe a 6" phone is acceptable for some, but a phone less than an inch smaller than a tablet like the Mega 6.3 or Xperia Z Ultra? That's pushing it too far for me.

In my book, a smartphone must have two criteria; being small enough to comfortably use one handed (varies by person of course), and small enough to fit in regular pockets. If a phone can't fit in my pockets and I have to carry it around, I might as well just get a voice-call enabled tablet. Speaking of not fitting in pockets, the Note II has a reputation as a "womans" phone, maybe because it's too big and can't fit in most pockets, which is why women tend to buy it more than men since they just toss it in their handbags anyway. I don't agree but that's what I've heard. In any case, if it (a phone) can't fit in my pocket, I won't buy it. I don't like the size of HTC's Butterfly even at 5" because it just feels a little long for me, like the big brother of the iPhone 5. But a 5" phone like the S4, which is roughly the same size as the 4.7" SIII I can handle. So it's not only screen size but also the actual size of the phone that's important to me. 
Pocketability is a major factor for me when it comes to phones. Image: Android Police
If I had to classify mobile devices by size, they would be like this;
  • Smartphones - 4.5"-5"
  • Phablets - 5.5"-6"
  • Mini tablets - 7"-8"
  • Full size tablets - 10.1"+
These are just for my own personal standards, not something I expect to be universal for everyone. Having said that, what's your preferred smartphone screen size and what do you think of these super-sized smartphones? The future of smartphones, or just a passing trend?