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.

27 comments
laurel
laurel

It seems to me that when you have first found the right size screen for reading, then automatically you have also found the right size of your phone

DavyPaul
DavyPaul

It's good to have a choice.

For some, a slide-able keyboard would be a good choice.

Personally, I favour the Xperia S/T/Z1-compact form factor.

Although, the Xperia Z1/Z2 seems to be a good compromise size and I've seen quite a few youngsters/hipsters using the Z1, bizarrely .

Perhaps they've come to their senses and realize there's a better choice away from the fruity form factor!

In terms of input, I favor swype or grafitti input - I've never 'got' the 2-thumb approach. Stylus is also good for me. Let the manufacturers vary from 4in up to 10/11 in and see what works.

sysupgrd
sysupgrd

This, as well as everything else, should be market driven.  If consumers are buying large smartphones then there's a proven market.  Smartphone manufacturers obviously cannot make strategic decisions based on someone's comments on a techie site.


I personally prefer large screen phones.  Notice the use of the term "personally".  I understand some people would prefer otherwise.

pethers
pethers

Look - stop telling Smartphone manufacturers what you personally want, and ask others what they want!!!

I like bigger screen smart phones and that's what I and many others want. I personally feel the iPhone is too small for me and my hands, and I am quite comfortable using my HTC One with a 5 inch FullHD screen. I am considering going bigger... But that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be an option for those that prefer a 4 inch screen as well. Pick what size best suits you - end of story. We are spoilt for choice!!!!

ejmfoley
ejmfoley

Here's the way I see it.  My first cellular phone (they weren't called cell phones yet) was the size of a WWII walkie-talkie, and all you could do was call.  No texting, no internet.  Most people carried pagers instead.  By the way, why do carriers insist on not providing paging with smartphones?  As time went on, cell phones shrunk to the point that you could fit 20 of them in a man's pocket.  But now, cell phones are really computers with phone capabilities.  You're working with a screen.  So phones have grown again to provide more screen real estate.  So to me, it boils down to how you use your phone.  If you use it mostly as a phone, then go smaller.  If you use it as much or more as a computer than a phone, then go as big as you personally feel comfortable with.  I have a Note 3 and love it!

techracer7
techracer7

I also like bigger. I have an M8 and considered a Samsung alternatives that are larger too. I have this for the compute functions more than the phone. Trying to use small screens for reading long emails or document attachments, or checking web sites is just painful. Typing on small screens is also more error prone. You can always use hands free devices either bluetooth or wired for phone conversations.

JLogan3o13
JLogan3o13

These are the kinds of articles that I dislike. Jack makes statements that are very obviously geared toward the devices HE uses and is most comfortable with, but he puts them out there as if they're forgone conclusions...


"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."


...Look at the number of Note II users below that have already commented, just a short time after this article was posted (I am sure there will be more). To say that these users are not the norm because they don't possess your delicate hands that can't grip a larger phone is absurd.


I keep reading Jack's articles, hoping to find some pearl of objectivity one of these days. I would settle for a well researched and thought out piece, but as yet the search goes on.


tsadowski
tsadowski

I add another vote for bigger is better. I have the Note II as well, and it is just shy of perfect in my mind. I have big hands, and I cannot stand to try and type on the smaller phones. the iPhone keyboard and screen size is an utter joke to me.


I can fit my Note 2 in my pocket just fine. Even with an Urban Armor Gear case on it. I like the fact that I can use it to RDC into servers at the office and reboot them. I am not sure I would go much bigger, but a little bigger might be nice. Despite the jokes and derisive comments I get from others, I love my big phone!


I guess my point would be, different sizes fit different folks. Don't tell me phones are getting too big, and I won't tell you yours is such a cute little toy. We need a full range of sizes to fit different peoples needs.

Malleable69
Malleable69

I have the Samsung Note II.  Its decent sized, but I wouldn't mind going bigger.  I can watch a movie with it.  I can type without too many errors.  I can read my email and surf without too much difficulty.  So a large screen size is important.

The bigger the better.

Sure I have my Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro (tablet) (with its 12" screen) (and is the best tablet ever), but sometimes I run out of the house without it - but I always have my phone.

And if people didn't buy large screen devices, companies wouldn't make them.

Mal

kerrij12
kerrij12

I have the Samsung Note II. I know it's huge but it fits my hand perfectly. I had the iPhone 4 before and it felt like I was holding a toy. I'm a 5'11" small frame female with extremely long fingers. I love the phone and the size!

Gisabun
Gisabun

The smartphones are getting too big. If it can't properly fit in a pocket and not look like it's sticking out [and badly at that], then it is the right size. To me, around 5" is the right size. Anything smaller and the screen is too small - can't see things sell. Anything too big and you might as well have a separate tablet to do things.

A smartphone isn't for constant "work", just the odd thing to check up on.

programit
programit

Its amazing how apple owner stated the original iphone size was perfect and the rest was rubbish. then Apple made a larger screen and all of a sudden the original iphone wasn't any good and the new iphone size is perfect?  

The galaxy note 3 is by far the best phone I have owned and  even though it is larger it still is relatively easy to operate one handed simply by a quick flick on the side of the screen and the input area resizes to fit your personal taste. Quick flick again and its back to full size. Its a good work around to handle larger screen sizes with one hand.  Innovative to utilise the larger display.

Browse the net or watch a video on a galaxy note 3 or similar larger phone and compare it to the iphone or other small phones etc and you realize just how limited they actually are in certain areas of modern tech lives!

Small phones are fine for basic phones, but unless you have 20/20 vision, and tiny pointed fingers, are next to useless for the majority of users trying to do anything more than a basic text and phone call.

Even apple, it appears, are retooling their way of thinking with a larger screen for the iphone 6, which of course will become the new "perfect" size for all the members of the iCult !


williamskleong
williamskleong

I just simply love Note 2. Because of its ability of letting you organizing any files and its big screen, it just do the like a laptop to me. I can even afford not to carry my laptop to Europe trip for 3 weeks. With the help of a good cover and one hand setting, it allows me to use hand when needed. No way I would go back to a small size. Not even for 5" type.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

I think 4.7-5" is perfect depending on thickness. Anything larger you will need to question your purpose or your handsize. Anything smaller, you will have a hard time texting (both reading and typing messages).


I don't think they are growing out of control but they are trying to fit in bigger batteries so that our phones don't run flat in half a day.


Personally, I think there are 2 close to perfect phone physical (Note: excluding firmware) designs, the Nexus 5 and Sony Xperia Z1 Compact.

Nitramd
Nitramd

Owned my Note 2 for 18 months & still finding more & more uses for it. Yes it is big for a phone, but does have one hand operational mode & bluetooth headsets for the self conscious! It is small for a tablet, but gains immensely from this over its larger cousins by being able to be where you want it, when you want it!

kiefabeb
kiefabeb

Jack - your opinion is your opinion. Lots of us have a different opinion on this topic. 

I prefer the big screen so I don't have to have a phone and a tablet. I've got a Note II and I am using my 

laptop a lot less. I think 5" - 6" is the perfect size for a phone. 


DesertPete9
DesertPete9

I've had a Note II for 15 months, and I got it for two reasons: its size and its stylus. It slides easily into my shirt pocket, or hip pocket, and is very convenient. I have very small hands for a male, yet I have no problem using it. I have never learned to "thumb type", but "swyping" works great. My arthritic 78-yr-old fingers prefer the stylus to help with typing accuracy. 


Despite the larger screen, I don't watch videos except for informational stuff, but I do read a fair amount, and find the screen a good size for that. I would prefer a real tablet (or preferably a real book) for serious reading, but for short periods my phablet works fine.


Off topic, Jack: I really enjoy following your posts. Thanks. 

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

Check the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.  It's a small phone with a beautiful big display.

junk
junk

This is the nice thing about Android vs Apple.  Android offers CHOICES.  If you like a large phone, you can have one.  If you like a smaller phone, you can have that too.  Your angst over this is beyond reason.


Personally, I have an LG G-Flex.  It fits in my shirt pocket just fine, it's a GREAT phone, and since I bought it my Nexus 7 has sat untouched.  Three years ago I bought a Galaxy S2, which was the largest phone available at the time. (The Note 1 followed about 6 months later)  I asked the dealer if they had a 7" tablet which was also a phone, and he laughed at me.  Obviously I wasn't alone in this as the 6+ inch phones are appearing from almost every manufacturer and they are proving popular.  But, as I said, if you don't like the phablet, there's a host of mini-phones out there too.  


Apple could learn a thing or two and diversify their lineup.

nepper
nepper

I've wondered the same thing - although I love my HTC One, I pulled my old HTC Incredible S out of the drawer last night, and immediately observed how much more comfortable it was in the hand.  Almost (but not quite) tempted to go back.

petin_y
petin_y

Just because the author and his daughter think that the ideal size is the smallish phone, it doesn't mean it's the perfect size. They're entitled to their opinion just as much as every one is. But millions have already bought phablets, and millions more phones bigger than the iPhone, and even the next iterations of the iPhone are rumored to be 4.7" and 5.5", could only mean bigger IS better and the way to go.

Robert.Dunham@interlectri
Robert.Dunham@interlectri

I have been using the Samsung Note since they came out.  Currently using the Note 3.  I carry it in my shirt pocket where it fits fine.  I have no problems using it as a phone and the larger screen makes all other use more convenient.  The extra real estate allows easy use without having to reach for a magnifying glass.  I also have a iPad and I don't carry it with me anymore as the Note does that work now.  I find this is the perfect size allowing real work with a size that can be carried with me easily. 

nrdesousa
nrdesousa

I think this is the first time I have to disagree with you. I've got a Cubot A6589 and I love it. Although I would like something a bit bigger with higher speeds. Ever since I discovered the world of Chinese Android phones (courtesy gizchina) I don't bother with the big brand names. It's been said that phablets became popular in Asia as people couldn't necessarily afford multiple devices.

DC Tricast
DC Tricast

I was an early adopter of the Galaxy Note one - because I only wanted to carry one comunication device- phone, texts, and email.

I purchased it with a leather pouch which clips on my belt. (or it does fit in my pocket)

I hardly ever use my laptop now. I am so glad I went this way inspite of the opposition all around. All the testers I have read would never go back to a smaller screen.-Just wish I could afford a Note 3!

os2baba
os2baba

Talk for yourself.  I don't doubt that many people may prefer a smaller phone and it's great that Android can give those folks a choice.  Moto X may be a great phone for my wife.  But I have the LG G2 and love it.  I'm 5'6" and I have no problems wrapping my finger around the phone with my fingers touching.  I think the problem is that signature Android phones are large.  The mini phones have mini specs as well.  Moto X, Samsung Galaxy Mini and HTC Mini all have mid level specs at best.  Perhaps there is a big enough market for smaller phones with high end specs, but certainly from the sales of the flagship products, it's clear that they are not too big for the vast majority of the market.

bhackbarth
bhackbarth

LOVE the size of my Verizon Wireless Samsung Galaxy Note II, and likely will move to the next Galaxy Note device when it's time to replace the Note II. I also have a Samsung Galaxy S4, which actually feels a bit small now that I am used to the Note II. Both still fit in the mini shoulder bag I use when I don't want to carry a full-sized purse; they also fit in my husband's inside jacket pocket when I don't carry a purse. As my eyesight gets worse, I find the larger sized devices make reading and typing so much easier. I use the one-handed settings on my Note II and have no trouble accomplishing tasks, even though it's one of the larger devices.

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