07
Nov
samsung-galaxy-note-image-23

Android has a mysterious case of gigantism, and I'm not entirely certain why manufacturers keep feeling the need to have a bigger phone than the next guy. The size war (all male anatomical euphemisms aside) is on, and we're not sure when it's going to end. Take a look at these device charts for the three major Android manufacturers in (pretty much) chronological order of release:

HTC

samsung

moto

High-end phones only. No QWERTY devices. Phones ordered by release date - more or less. Data from GSMArena.com.

Somewhat ironically, Motorola has shown the slowest rate of touchscreen device size-creep of any of the major manufacturers, having started out pretty big with what, at the time, was the gargantuan DROID X. However, both Samsung and HTC have released significantly larger devices than Motorola's biggest handset yet, the DROID RAZR (the Galaxy Note, Galaxy Nexus, Infuse, and Sensational XL, respectively).

Do we really need such big phones? It seems that many Android fans go wild when a new milestone in screen size is announced (as was evidence by the excitement around the Galaxy Note), but how long can this go on? The Galaxy Note has most recently taken the crown as the largest Android phone to date, eeking out a narrow victory over the original Dell Streak, which measured 18.7 square inches to the Note's 18.9.

In all practicality, you can't stick the Note in your pocket. Even putting my DROID BIONIC in my pocket, which is smaller than the RAZR, feels a bit unnatural. I loved that my old Nexus One was so easy to use with one hand free, and that it never felt unwieldy. I don't want to use two hands to reach the opposite end of the display.

Bigger isn't always better. Apple has had huge success with the iPhone's 3.5" display, but it seems Android manufacturers are targeting a perceived demographic of consumers who want even more screen real estate. While phones will inevitably top out at a certain size, will they then contract back to smaller form factors again? Many of you agreed that 4-4.3" was the "ideal" size for a phone display, though it seems 4.5" is rapidly becoming the new standard. What's next, 4.7"?

Phone thickness has, on the other hand, begun plummeting. Samsung's Fascinate, based on the Galaxy S, was 10.5mm at its thinnest point, but the upcoming Galaxy Nexus is a mere 8.9mm - clear progress. Motorola's 7.1mm RAZR has set the thickness bar particularly high (or low?), and perhaps this could make carrying such a large device a little less annoying - though numerous reviewers have commented that its unusual width makes the device uncomfortable to hold. Without much phone for your thumb and forefinger to pinch, this could actually make holding the phone a worse experience than if it were thicker.

The solution? Well, it depends on whether or not you see a problem. I always thought the Nexus One was the ideal form factor, and though the Nexus S was comfortable in-hand as well, I still like the idea of a small, powerful phone. I understand why many want devices with larger displays for gaming, video watching, eBook reading, and less squinting, but to see that manufacturers have all but given up on making smaller flagship devices is a bit disconcerting.

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Owen Finn

    Why doesn't anyone acknowledge the HTC Aria (or Liberty)? It exists!

    • Ross

      The Aria was never a flagship device.

      • Mesmorino

        What about the Desire HD then? That WAS a flagship device. Oh wait, in Europe. ¬_¬

    • Darius_bd

      I have it! But it's hardly a top phone when it was launched. Much less now, even when it rocks CM7.

  • Lewis

    Agreed!
    But the release of slider/qwerty android phones seems to have slowed to a halt. There doesn't seem to be a new high specced sequel to the HTC Desire Z either :(
    (Motorola Droid 3 doesn't count for me, it's bootloader locked :(

  • http://www.twitter.com/teamROU Phil Oakley

    4.3-4.5 is perfect for me.

    Although with ICS, buttons are on screen, so 4.5 is the new 4.3. Can't wait to go into The Carphone Warehouse and compare the Galaxy Nexus to my Sensation!

  • Kam

    Can we see one for the iPhone next?

    • chriskin

      the iphone is always at the same - rather small - screen, isn't it?

      • jake

        I think that's the joke.

        • bppump911

          That "joke" continues to sell more handsets than ANY Android device.

        • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody

          bppump911: That's only accurate if you don't take into account the assortment of contributing factors. Both Samsung and HTC are outselling Apple in total handsets per year, but since both companies produce several models while Apple only makes a single model at the most, Apple gets to claim they make the #1 handset model each year. Comparing Apple's handset screen size that also comes with it's own OS, and ecosystem they created, history, etc against all of the other OEMs who are selling their hardware with a different set of all of those factors within a larger ecosystem...frankly, it's comparing Apples and Oranges.

          No pun intended, but honestly, I do much prefer Oranges...but the coincidence is uncanny ;)

  • Mastermind26

    I always thought the EVO 3D was slightly smaller than the EVO 4G. :s

    Can we conclude from this that we are not being able to compete with crapple in making things better but keeping a smaller form factor?

    • Simon Belmont

      It's not as wide, but it's slightly taller. My wife has the Sprint HTC EVO 4G and I have the Sprint HTC EVO 3D and that's how it looks when I view them side by side. :)

      I believe they reduced the bezel size to shrink it down slightly. It took a little getting used to coming from a Sprint HTC Hero though. ;)

  • Matthew Johnson

    Fascinate reference FTW

  • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody

    I've got fairly large hands and I'm extremely happy with the screen size of the Desire HD (Inspire). I would be fine with going as high as 4.5", but any larger is too unwieldy in one hand. Given that the Bezels keep shrinking, it's even harder to use one-handed without accidental touches on the edges.

    I'm actually getting really irritated at the constantly shrinking depth of the devices when the number one sacrifice is battery life. I don't give a crap that the RAZR is going to be 7mm thick when it means the battery won't be more than about 3.75mm thick at best (remember, battery shell will consume some of that size too). Give me a slightly thicker phone with a battery that holds at least 50% more than most phones on the market. Don't forget, the other benefit is, we can have better cameras again too! All because we add 2-3mm in thickness, which is still really thin!!! :)

  • http://twitter.com/phillij8 PhilliJ

    Funny you mention this when the first specs of a quad-core phone were leaked and its an htc device with a 4.7" display...

  • glenn

    The note easily fits in my pocket, I'm not a giant, 6ft. I think you need to ditch the skinny jeans ;-)

    • Tee

      To me the limit has already exceeded a long ago. Even Nokia E51 was too big to be kept in the jeans' pocket.

      And the pockets have got smaller too...

  • Rastor

    I note you didn't chart Sony... Are the Xperia Ray and Xperia Mini the only saviors from the onslaught of giant phones? :)

    • http://twitter.com/phillij8 PhilliJ

      The only reason they keep raising the screen size is so they can beef up the resolution to 720p without waiting for the higher pixel density screens to be developed.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesmoore80 jamesmoore80

    I just read this on my soon to be gone Nexus One and I will surely get a larger phone. What about roll up phones that you can adjust? Looks like the flexible screens are hitting in 2012.

  • Ian

    Kinda funny how the dots are ALLLLLL over the map on the HTC but you draw a line straight through them. LOL!!!!

    • repilce

      .... Ever heard of an average curve?..

      • Mesmorino

        You mean a trendline.

  • Dev

    While the freakishly large DDDs are nice once in a while, most of us would be perfectly happy with Cs (a la 4"screen on my inc2)

    • blue horseshoe loves…

      ^this...the DInc2 is form ideal (imo).

  • repilce

    HTC needs to develop a new naming scheme for their phones. Almost every one of their flagship devices have a name that is synonymous with !!REALLY F'N BIG!! Maybe that's why it doesn't seem to make sense to them to make a more powerful compact phone.

  • ocdtrekkie

    I feel 4.3" is ideal, but 4.5" sounds reasonable if that extra 0.2" is vertical space for the now-on-screen buttons.

  • Lazarus Dark

    I'm still on the OG Droid till I'm up for upgrade in January. I am disappointed in the lack of rootable high end qwerty sliders, I will miss the qwerty but I'll be getting a Galactus. I have medium size hands I guess so I'm not worried about the 4.65 screen, actually I look forward to not having to squint at the phone. My eyes stay blurry for half an hour if I use my Droid for 15 minutes. That can't be good long term.

  • The Thing

    Hey, did anyone noticed the error?
    The article states they are sq in. This chart must had been made in sq centímeters, but.. someone "converted" its original units to sq inches just by dividing by 2.54. That would be right if they were lenght units, but an sq in is a surface unit, so the convertion was wrong, and to obtain sq cm, they must have divided by 2.54 twice! As a result, the chart doesn't have "sq in" nor "sq cm". Divide by 2.54 the values on the left to get the right numbers.

    My HTC Sensation 4G is about 13 sq in. I can't imagine myself carying a mobile phone that's about 3 times bigger. I would have to have hands like "The Thing"!

    • David Ruddock

      Fixed! My excel equation was written incorrectly.

  • http://pdts.net PdtS

    Totally agree.
    Everything more than 4 inches is a damn laptop, not a phone.
    I just went back from a Sensation to a Glacier and I have a strong feeling that I'll never upgrade again, at least not to an Android phone.

  • http://www.weblogku.com Azam

    To me 4.5 is just nice. Bigger than that seems too big, but Galaxy Note seems really nice; maybe for note taking (that's where it got it's name...) :D

    • Josh

      this is what I said about 4".. now I'm gunning for a GNexus ^_^

  • Josh

    why is it plotted that the N1 had a bigger screen than the Incredible?.. they are both 3.8" or am I just reading that wrong?

  • http://theotherlinh.com Linh

    I'm with you 100%. The Nexus One was my ideal phone size. Hell, I actually really miss my Pre. I suspect the Pre3 would have been a great size as well. The Nexus S works too.

    Something in these sizes as a flagship phone would be nice. Or just one of may flagships maybe. Someone, please, do this. I was forced to get an EVO 3D because I wasn't going to leave Sprint and wanted a dual core phone to handle ICS. So I compromised. It's a damn nice phone, but it's huge and heavy.

    If they could cut the bezel on the sides in half of the EVO 3D and shrink the height by 1/3", and keep the 4.3" screen... I'd be game. Maybe cut the capacative buttons in half space wise, and make it space for the virtual buttons for ICS.

  • Don Gemus

    16:9 > 4:3, just sayin'

  • Sorin

    You can actually make a phone with a five inches diagonal and HD aspect ratio and still fit it nicely in your hands. The trick is that you have to get rid off the border around the screen which basically takes more than 25% of the entire surface of the phone.

  • Dara Parsavand

    Everyone is going to have a different breakpoint. For me, it is at about 125x75x14 mm. You can fit a 5" 1280 x 800 screen with 302 PPI in this form factor with reasonable bezels. The Note is a little too big for me (height and width) I suspect, but I would like to hold one in my hands to find out. Just because it is too big for me though, doesn't mean I'm not happy it's out there for someone else - isn't that one of the big points of Android - getting more variety? The Galaxy Nexus is 136 mm long - that's getting too long too, though the width is fine. That's why I'm hoping the 8x5 aspect ratio (not many besides the Note) is a big success, I find that AR quite pleasing and a 16x9 phone that is only 125 mm tall is wasting potential space by making it say 65 mm or narrower. I want that extra column of icons, bigger portrait keyboard, and bigger map, photo, and video display. Given you can fit a 4" screen easily on an iPhone if you go 16x9, I don't see anybody needing less than 4", but there are options.

  • Miann

    the bigger the phone the thinner they can make it.. simple

  • Freak4Dell

    I totally agree. I'm not a fan of the iPhone at all, but one thing they got right was the screen size. 3.5" is just about perfect.

    I could probably get used to 4" if I absolutely had to, but anything more is just ridiculous.

    I'm also not a fan of the whole thin trend. Thin phones are more uncomfortable to hold in the hand, especially since the thinner phones tend to be bigger in surface area, as somebody pointed out above. I'm not saying we should go back to brick phones, but this trend towards a paper-thin phone is a bit over the top.

    • glenn

      Right for who ? you perhaps but not me. 3.5" is far too small for me.

      This is the best thing about the range of android phone .. choice, we can have thin or thick, big or small in many different styles, to me they are more human , were all a little different and one size does not suit everyone.

      to me this is the major thing Apple got wrong

      • Freak4Dell

        Yes, right for me. The world revolves around me, so it doesn't matter what you think. :p

        On a serious note, I have no problem with choices. What I do have a problem with is that all high-end Android phones are getting bigger and bigger. So, while the choice may technically still be there, people who prefer a reasonably sized screen are increasingly being stuck with low-end phones.

        • glenn

          Not all, the Atrix is 2mm wider and 4mm longer than an iphone, its a pretty high end android phone.

  • http://healthcare.blogger.de Emmanuel

    I think the trend is to find something between a smartphone and a tablet. I say the future is 5 inch smartphones/tablets since we will all use video calling and not hold our phones next to our ears.

    Personally 4" is the absolute maximum for me though. I want to reach all buttons with one hand. The Galaxy Nexus with 4.6" is complete overkill.