For the last four years, give or take, smartphones have done nothing but grow in size.
They started as small, palm-sized devices with a surprising amount of power which now, comparatively, is laughable. Early models like the T-Mobile G1, HTC Hero, and iPhone 3GS were fantastic in their own right, yet too small to comfortably use at length for any serious work. Naturally, as we started using smartphones for more intensive tasks, we longed for more real estate to do our tweeting, emailing, mobile browsing, and, of course, gaming. Phones like the HTC EVO 4G and Motorola DROID X, which were rather large and bulky, emerged as a result.
A few months later, those were followed by even larger phones.
Since 2008, the average smartphone display size has grown from around 3.5-inches to around 5-inches, though much larger and smaller phones are not uncommon either. We’ve now seen smartphones as big as 6.5-inches, and the smallest of today’s phone displays usually measure 4-inches, diagonally.
My personal use has been all over the spectrum. To date, I’ve tried almost every smartphone size imaginable, from the 3.2-inch HTC Aria on AT&T to the 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra. I used an HP Veer and Palm Pixi, was head over heels for the original Galaxy Note, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the HTC EVO 4G or DROID X and the time of their respective launches. I welcomed all the newer, larger phones and continued to respect smaller phones like the Nexus One or, more recently, the Moto X.
Ever since, though, I’ve gone back and forth between loving smaller phones and hating oversized phones to not wanting anything smaller than a Galaxy Note 3, feeling normal-sized phones were cramped. I’ve swapped SIMs, sold old phones, bought new ones, and could never fully settle with extremes.
The iPhone 5 I carry every day is entirely too small. Yet, the Z Ultra made me cynical towards anything remotely oversized, while the Galaxy Note 3 felt great for the several weeks I used it.
Finally, I ended up with the Nexus 5. It was perfect – not too big or too small. And my current daily carry is an HTC One M8. Though a hair taller (8.5mm) than the Nexus 5, it’s still just the right size to use one-handed. It’s still large enough to comfortably use, browse the Web, play games on, etc.
Going back to the Moto X makes me feel a bit cramped these days. The 4.7-inch display isn’t all that much smaller than the M8’s 5-inch display, but it’s enough to make me feel constricted, especially using it after reviewing larger phones.
I’ve been loosely following the One M8 Prime rumors lately. The phone is seemingly shaping up to be an impressive handset. The renders, albeit rough and elementary, make the phone look gorgeous – save for maybe the obtrusive way the camera hump just juts out. It will allegedly keep the Duo Camera, but the lower, higher-resolution image sensor is raised, meaning it could be more than 4-megapixels or even optically stabilized – two things many are disappointed are missing from the M8.
It’s said the M8 Prime will feature a nice bump in RAM – to three from two gigabytes – and an improved LTE radio, said to pull faster data speeds. The other rumor is one I’m not very fond of: size. The M8 Prime’s display will allegedly measure 5.5-inches and bear a QHD resolution.
This is exactly why we can’t have the best of both worlds.
For whatever reason, OEMs seem to only correlate a bigger physical footprint with better internals. Case in point, the G2 mini is hardly an actual miniature G2. The same can be said for any “mini” version of a 2013 or 2014 flagship.
To OEMs, smaller means low-end; larger translates to high-end. The One M8 Prime sounded perfect until the size was rumored. And those of you who think the One M8 sounds amazing but find its physical size too big for your personal tastes, you’ll have to sacrifice a lot in the form of specifications to get a similar device – at least as far as appearances go. The same is true of Samsung devices. The Galaxy S5 mini will not be simply a scaled-down version of the S5, but rather a “lite” version. And to get the absolute highest-end hardware from Samsung, you’ll need to hold out for the Galaxy Note 4.
As such, we’ve been driven, as consumers, into this rut where we have to choose the quality of our phones based on size.
It makes some sense, considering the targeted users who might buy a giant phone, or likewise, a small phone. And of course internal space is an issue on smaller phones, even if Sony has proven smaller phones without compromised specifications are possible. By that token, we can assume HTC’s decision to fit the One M8 with 2GB RAM and a 4-megapixel camera were likely choices made based on costs and other factors, not size constraints.
It’s unfortunate and it makes for a poor buying experience for consumers. There’s no reason every smaller phone should be low-end or mid-range while every average-sized phone is great and all oversized phones are excessively overpowered.
All of this brings me to my question: next time you go to purchase a phone, are you looking for a smaller or bigger phone?
Personally, I think I’ve been around the block enough to know that a 5-inch display is the sweet spot between enough display real estate and still being small enough to use and hold one-handed without too much trouble. Much smaller than that, I begin to feel cramped, and much bigger, I get aggravated with how often I either a) nearly drop the phone or b) have to use two hands.
What say you, folks? Take our poll below to tell us whether you’re content with your current phone’s size, and take to the comments to tell us how you feel about the correlation between smartphone size and quality.