Android

Android smartphones: Oversizing trend disregards usability

What's the perfect size for a smartphone? Jack Wallen reacts to the oversizing trend in the smartphone market.

Smartphone size

The other day, I wanted to show my daughter an Android phone in hopes of wooing her from iOS. I was waiting on the HTC M8 to arrive, so instead, I handed her the HTC One Max. Her reaction? "Is this a tablet? It's huge!" She then held the HTC One Max to her head and laughed. Understand, my daughter is 5' 11", so she's not tiny.

The average human male hand length is 7.44 inches and the average human female hand length is 6.77 inches. I have hands just smaller than the average. If I grasp the HTC One M8 in my hand, my fingers do not touch. If I grab my Motorola Moto X, my fingers do touch. If I hold the HTC One Max... well, that's a joke.

For some reason, all manufacturers seem to think consumers have Dikembe Mutumbo-sized fingers and design their hardware around those specs.

Bigger is not always better. In the realm of smartphones, bigger often leads to a clumsy user experience and devices that cannot fit into pockets. Although women can tote the HTC One Max in their purses, unless men start carrying Murses or messenger bags around, those oversized phones are going to be homeless... and dropped... and scratched... and lost.

I get it. You want to cram as large a screen as possible into that device. Well, I have a better solution. Work with me for a moment.

From my experience, there are two devices that seemed to have hit the ideal middle ground between perfect size and perform form:

  • Motorola's Moto X
  • iPhone

In fact, the above two devices are almost identical in length, with the Moto X just a shade wider. Both phones are perfect for the average hand size and easily fit into pockets (both front and back).

So, you stick with that form factor, and you focus on what many call the "phablet." Create a middle-ground device that fills the gap between tablet and smartphone, and market that to users who need more screen real estate (or those with large lunch hooks). Make sure these new devices (let's call them "smablets" — for smart tablets) offer a phone's full functionality, with the flair and size of a small tablet.

This has actually already been done with the Samsung Note smartphone. It was far too large to really function well as a phone (for most users) and too small to function well as a tablet. If you were to enlarge that device a fraction more, I believe it would hit the mark.

My point is simple. In most cases, smartphones have become the only phones people have. To this end, the smartphone-as-phone must always be a top priority. Having oversized screens capable of viewing movies at a comfortable size is great — that is, when you want to watch a movie. But that same screen is frustrating when you want to place a call or carry that phone in your pocket.

Every smartphone manufacturer needs to re-tool their way of thinking. Bigger isn't always better. And I understand (as do most consumers) that most phone manufacturers are either building in obsolescence or designing in such a way as to lure consumers into a cycle of buying the biggest and best every year. Most of those manufacturers are slowly coming to a shrugging loss when having to re-design the next "big thing." So, in the end, they turn to bigger!

I've heard rumors that the Moto X-1 will be slightly larger than its predecessor, the Moto X. This is a clear move in the name of "different." In this case, there is zero need to modify the Moto X size. If you want to change anything on the Moto X, give it an SD card slot and a removable battery, and we'll all be good to go. In fact, those two simple moves would make the Moto X-1 even better than the flagship devices (that and make the Google Camera the default phone app).

For every user who is tired of trying to come up with the best way to transport that NBA player-sized smartphone, I say to the manufacturers — we want devices that can be held and pocketed easily. If we want a tablet, we'll buy a tablet. In the mean time, we want PHONES that are easy to hold, carry, use, and store.

What's your take? Are smartphones growing out of control? Is the HTC M8 the perfect size, or is it just a shade too much for your hand and/or pocket? If so, what is the perfect size for a smartphone? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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