Have smartphones gotten too big?

The other day, LG unveiled its new G2 smartphone.  Among its other top-notch specs, it’s packing a 5.2” display.

That’s almost half a foot.

Many Android smartphone manufacturers are subscribing to the “bigger is better” mantra these days.  I was unquestionably of that school of thought when I upgraded from a Droid Incredible with a 3.7” display to a Galaxy SIII and its glorious 4.8” display.  But is that the right perspective to have?  Sooner or later, there is a point of diminishing returns.  Have Android smartphone displays finally gotten too big?

First things first: I am not an anti-big screen guy.  There is clearly a point at which a screen can and should be bigger without seriously impeding your ability to use the phone.  Take the example I gave before the break: I found upgrading from a 3.7” display to a 4.8” display worth every penny.  Web browsing, videos, pictures, and basically every multimedia experience on the phone was way better.  I didn’t have to zoom in as much on a webpage just to read the text.  It was a much more immersive experience.  What’s more, it was done properly: the phone didn’t feel bulky; it was thin, light, and just felt svelt.  So, I’m definitely comfortable saying that, in general, more screen real estate is a good thing and makes for a better, richer experience.

But, screen size is only one variable, right?  I’m not a smartphone manufacturer, but if people complained that devices  I made were too difficult to use because they’re bulky or cumbersome, I’m not going to feel like I made a good phone; after all, more than anything else, people have to feel like they can at least use my phone, right?  Unquestionably, there comes a point where the size of the screen impedes your ability to comfortably use your phone as, well, a phone.  But where does one the draw the line?

Part of this debate has played out in what I believe to be the weird space between a tablet and a smartphone (some object to the term “phablet” so I’ll refrain from using it).  I’ll be blunt – I’m not a fan of these devices.  I want a device that fits comfortably in my pocket and feels comfortable and secure in my hand.  These devices fit neither of those requirements.  That’s why the apparent success of the Galaxy Note series is frankly confounding to me, but I guess people are willing to compromise on these things.  So, at least for me, a phablet (oops) is clearly too big and unwieldy.  You will not see me using one of these devices.

So, where does that leave us?  The LG G2 feels like a device that’s starting to push the envelope a bit for me.  We’re creeping towards phablet, but not quite crossing the line.  I’m sure I’d love the cutting-edge specs on this device, but in nearly every video I’ve watched of it, I’ve cringed as I see the reviewer twist and turn his hand to get it around the device just to tap the home button.  That doesn’t seem too pleasant.  True, you can squeeze a lot of display into a smartphone without making the device feel big and clunky (I think the Galaxy S4 proves that) but there’s a right and a wrong way to do it, and when you have to heave your hand and fingers around half of the phone just to press a button, you’re on the verge of crossing the line.

I don’t see any benefit in cramming larger screens into these devices just for the hell of it, especially if it’s just a sloppy attempt to differentiate one device from the next.  As surprised as I am to hear myself saying this, I actually agree with the Moto X approach – focus on creating a device that’s easy to use and hold in everyday use, rather than blowing the top off the spec war.  Stated another way, if you put the Moto X and the LG G2 in front of me and told me I had to chose one, I have to say, I’d probably go with the Moto X, smaller display and all, because it will just feel better in day-to-day use.

2 thoughts on “Have smartphones gotten too big?

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