80

The year of the 6-inch smartphone: How big is too big?

CESdayone-28
It’s hard to tell the scale of the above photo, but the device on the left is 6.1-inches, dwarfing the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II to its right. The Huawei Ascend Mate is huge: too big for most pockets and absurd to hold up to your ear.

But it seems that manufacturers plan to break the 6-inch barrier this year. Samsung’s rumoured Galaxy Note III will almost certainly bigger than its two predecessors, a natural reaction to an industry that seems to value screen size over portability. The trend seems to have been cemented by Apple’s tacit acknowledgement that the 3.5-inch screen it once deemed perfect for one-handed use was too small for its millions of users.

Android manufacturers have taken this oneupmanship to a whole new level. The Galaxy series is a perfect example of this: the 4-inch Galaxy S ballooned to 4.3-inches and then to 4.8. The Note went from 5.3 to 5.5 and may broach 6 by the end of this year. Huawei’s introduction of the Ascend Mate introduces yet another hand-busting form factor to contend with.

But at what point will manufacturers stop the madness? Will small devices with have to become “retro” to be introduced to the market? There are certainly benefits to larger screens and sharper displays but the game of “who first?” has become a little bit ridiculous. Refer to the Galaxy S III mini which, at 4-inches, is a midrange device. It would appear that manufacturers are no longer interested in making high-end smartphones under 4.7-inches.

CESdayone-27

The issue boils down to more than screen size; when the first 720p displays were being sourced, screen manufacturers like Sony, Sharp, Samsung and LG were limited by the size of the panels they could produce. While the Windows Phone 8X eventually got 720p down to 4.3-inches — which some would say is an ideal form factor — the first 720p panels were 4.65-inches or bigger due to manufacturing constraints. The same thing appears true of the first Sharp-, LG- and Sony-made 1080p displays; until the manufacturing process is optimized, the devices will be 5-inches or more. The HTC M7 is purportedly going to be 4.7-inches and have a 1080p display, but that’s yet to be confirmed.

The other issue is battery life: higher pixel count translates into more backlight LEDs and higher GPU clock speeds. Physically larger devices accomodate more capacious batteries, the one area in smartphone design lacking true evolution. Cortex-A15 is going to complicate the situation by upping clock speeds and increased wattage; the reference design can push peak output to 11W (though it will never reach more than a couple Watts when it eventually comes to smartphones).

This has an unfortunate side effect of normalizing untenable year over year increases in smartphone size. I’m not denigrating the ‘phablet’ — which is a terrible moniker — but at 5.5-inches the Galaxy Note II is just too big for the average consumer. Even the Galaxy S III, with its markedly reduced bezel, errs on the side of awkward for one-handed use. It may not be long before 5.5-inches is the new normal.

We’re at a point now where the industry has to decide whether it will continue supersizing its smartphones or, whether at 5-inches we’ve plateaued and can now concentrate on differentiating in more productive ways. I don’t think anyone thought the 6.1-inch Ascend Mate was necessary — not even Huawei itself. It merely transcribed its interpretation of the ‘successful smartphone’ cheat sheet: more inches, more cores, more stuff. 

At some point soon there is going to be pushback from consumers against the growing smartphone footprint. Flagship devices can’t get much bigger than 5 inches without a clear delineation between regular and extra large.

  • SL

    Seriously? I’m still using my 4″ Nexus S and have never once thought “Now if only it were half again as large…”

    • JUST SAYING

      The Galaxy note 2 have a good dim even beter than the note 1

      if they go to 6.3″ buy just reducing the bezel it will be perfect

      its to hard to watch or play games on a 4.5″ or less, 4.8″ or 5″ is a perfect size for people want to carry a good smartphone

      5.5″ or 6.3″ is a phablet

      7″ is a tablet

    • DC

      The BB10 phones are a perfect size, I reserved 3. 2 for myself and one for my friend. Can’t beat the form factor or the space-age software.

    • Ron Mexico

      6″ is not too big. I think it’s close to ideal for a phone. So long as it fits in my bag I’m good to go.

      Probably the only time in my life I’ll settle for just 6″. I can handle much bigger than that :D

    • Darth Paton

      @DC: why do you need 2 of the exact same phone?

  • Shushwap

    That is getting a little big for me

    • Mexico Ron

      That’s what he said

  • Michael

    I think 4.7″ is a good size now that manufacturers have been able to cut down thickness and bezel size, and even that’s pushing it a little. I can understand people wanting 5 inches, though that’s a bit much for me. 6 inches is ridiculous though.

  • Sean

    I use a Nexus 4 which has a 4.7′ display and i find that to be a really good size, it feels a little big like i would be fine with 4.5 but it is not that big of a difference that I notice it. I truly view around 4.5-4.7′ as the perfect size.

    • LW81

      Apple is right, 3.5 is perfect.

      I used to think that too until I got used to my 4.7 Nexus 4. Now a 3.5 screen feels too small for me.

      I wouldn’t buy anything bigger than 4.7 to use as a phone.

    • Dirk Diggler

      Until you get a 5″ phone, then your 4.7″ will feel small and you’ll say the same about 5.5″ phones. Maybe we’re just conditioned as human beings to want bigger all the time.
      Tell you one thing, that’s why I don’t let my wife go to strip clubs :)

  • Alex

    I people buy them, why not?

  • Alex

    *if

  • Eric Leamen

    I think we’ve already passed the point of “too big”. 5-inches was too big. I think the largest phone screen I’ve ever used that I found comfortable was the Galaxy Nexus at 4.65-inches.

    At this point, it does seem like nothing more than a pissing contest between OEM’s to see who can make the biggest phone, the fastest phone, the phone with the most pixels per inch. They’re not focusing on usability at all.

    I wonder though if consumer pushback will be enough to change course? I doubt these “phablets” are selling in any meaningful quantity (and I agree – horrible nickname). It seems to me that consumers aren’t demanding screens in the 5 and 6-inch range anyway, so maybe it will just take time for manufacturers to figure it out on their own?

    • babablacksheep

      That’s because the whole problem is SHEEP and GREED.

      Stupid fandroids who are sheep who keep buying massive screen devices.

      The other part of the problem is carriers and manufacturers. Manufacturers have become delusional, and don’t care about usability in the real world. They’re just making bigger phones for the sake of it. They’re obsessed with greed. Carriers, also obsessed with greed are shoving these devices down people’s throats, and the fandroids just accept it all without question it or more importantly, without fighting back or pushing back.

  • Piff

    its one thing if people buy them but if your only giving one option and not looking and various sizes then your making a mistake. HTC did great with the One X and One S in terms of screen size.

    • SL

      That’s part of the problem. I don’t want a phone bigger than 4.5″ but apparently it’s either that or get something that was outdated before my current device came out. It’s really frustrating.

    • BIll Murray

      One S’s screen size..Yes. Screen quality? NO. I once counted all 540×960 pixels for fun, jk. But its a disgusting screen to look at. Thats the problem with all these small android phones, there just s**t. I wish the HTC 8X was android and not windows, great screen.

  • BIll Murray

    Theres alot of girls who cant get big phones into there pockets. There goes half the market to the iphone…

    • andy c

      the girls put the big phones in there purses.

      hence why big phones are so popular in Asia, guys and girls carry purses/bags

    • some guy

      You know how many girls I see with SGS3′s?
      I’ve seen more small girls with Note 2′s than men, as women generally have a purse with which to carry that beast of a phone.

  • Caldera

    I’ve already pushed back – I found my Galaxy Nexus at 4.7″ too big to be easily pocketable and also for one-handed use. 4.3-4.5 is the ideal size for phones in my opinion. I went with the HTC One S because I love the form factor, and it’s one of the few higher-end phones of that size. I just wish in the future more manufacturers would offer the mid-sized choice with high processor power and RAM.

  • Luc

    4.2″ is ideal!

    • thisiscjay

      Blackberry 10 anyone? (4.2″) :D

  • freedomispopular

    I’m looking forward to the possibility of the Note 3 dwarfing my Note 2. I only use the phone call capability maybe once or twice a month, so portability or being able to use it one-handed really don’t matter to me.

  • freedomispopular

    Though I do have to say that I find it absolutely astonishing that absolutely no one has been willing to cram a high-end smartphone into a 4-4.3″ screen size. Apple has that market completely cornered just by default, and looking at the sales numbers of these larger phones, I’d have to think that a small high-end phone would sell like hotcakes.

    • boojay

      Xiaomi Mi-2: 1.5 GHz Quad core Qualcomm S4 Snapdragon Pro, 2 GB ram, 342 ppi 4.3″ display, removable battery with barely thicker 3100 mAh extra battery available, 32 gigs internal storage, 8.0 MP rear camera and 2.0 MP front cam.

  • Rodolfo Lopez

    I think that the 4.8″ of the S III are enough or 5 inches in the same bizel maybe as an excess the 5.5 or the Note II but 6 inches it’s so big what it’s the sense of that? In the future what, 8 Inch Phones they should put a limit on phones and when it start to be a tablet..

  • Andrew

    My Gnex is slightly on the large side of “perfect”. Part of the issues is the slippery plastics that Samsung used. I do have a TPU case on it which helps make it grippier, but I don’t need the screen size. It’s nice to have, yes, but honestly I’d take the guts of the Note2, high res screen (720p would be fine) in a 4.3-4.5 size. I’d rather have a slightly thicker phone to hold a larger battery — which also makes a larger phone easier to hang on to then if it’s super skinny.

  • KL

    One of the most subjective smartphone topics. Boggles my mind for people to state what is too big or to small. If it sell, there’s obviously a demand. When the Note came out, people made fun, yet it sold millions. Note 2 comes out and again sold millions.

    • jrfox87

      Exactly! Clearly some people prefer a bigger screen like the Note 2 has, as is evidence of it selling millions already. I personally love the Note 2′s size, but I recognize I’m in the minority here as I have fairly big hands. There should be smaller high end android phones out there though for the people with small hands. Android is about choice, so there should be high end Android devices at various sizes, not just large and extra large.

    • Pat

      I have a Note 1, and I also bought one for the GF. They are ideal. I never carry a computer with me, and I travel a lot. Typing and reading e mails is easy,pictures show well. I am slim, and the beast still fits in my jeans pockets. Of course, it looke really cool here in Asia, phoning with such a big phone!
      The big phone is really the slow death of tablets.
      Seriously, I can sit on the john, and read the news…

  • mmathieum

    It’s unfair to call these devices smartphones since phone is not the most used feature of these ultra-connected mobile devices.

  • Awkward Turtle

    I think that 5-inches and above fall into a different realm of device – the palm pilot/galaxy note type. Six inches seems like a very awkward size, which can’t be used properly as a phone, nor as a tablet. Waste of pocket space, waste of battery life, waste of time.

    • Pat

      …and you probably think you look cool carrying a diminutive iphone in your pockets, and ipad under your arm…

  • jane

    if you’re going to buy a 6 inch phone, why not just go to a 7 inch tablet? what’s the point? i rather see better battery life and other updates on features than bigger phone sizes.

  • curtis

    Im using the note2 and 5.5″ is ok but 6.1 cmon???
    5″ is the right size. Just get a 7″ tablet

  • Donald

    Best size is the 4.3″ on the Galaxy S II. It’s also happens the size the RIMs BB10 phone.

    The bottom line is the phone has to effortlessly fit in your pocket whether standing or sitting without protruding because it is too big. Different people are different sizes, but a 6″ phone isn’t even going to fit in the pocket of a 7’5″ basketball player.

    The major problem isn’t they are making phones with bigger screen sizes but they are doing it at the expense of phones with reasonable screensizes. So instead of a 4.6″ flagship from last year it is looking like the flagships are 5″ this year. Are the main samsung, sony, and HTC phones going to be galaxy note sized next year? Does that mean only RIM and Apple will be offering reasonably sized phones with top of the line specs?

    • some guy

      Tee hee… you said “top of the line specs”, “RIM”, and “Apple” in the same sentence… *school girl giggle*

    • Paulie76

      I sell them for a living and from what I can tell, at least a part of Apple’s rampant success is that no one else makes a high-end phone in that size anymore.

      I see a lot of people who are trading in their Galaxy S and Galaxy S2′s because their contracts are up. They would love to stay with Samsung, but they go to Apple simply because it’s a comparable phone in a size that they want. If Samsung were to offer it, they would stick.

      These companies are shooting themselves in the foot, plain and simple.

    • John

      What kind of pockets do you have? Maybe a 6 inch phone wont fit into tinny swimming trunk pockets but my nexus 7 fits into my dress pants pocket. It also fits in the pockets of my winter coat from North Face. If I had a 3.5 inch phone it might fall out of a small hole in my pocket…

      I’m willing to bet money that a 7 foot + basketball player can fit 10.1 tablet in his pocket and grip both sides in one hand (in portrait like a phone)!

  • George

    4.5 inch hits the sweet spot for me. Anything below that (now) seems small, and anything above that forces me to reach too much at times, making the one-hand use uncomfortable.

    I still use my phone as a phone, but it also is a media device.

    4.5 is where I’ll stay for the time being.

  • Threecube

    The best size is a Zach Morris cell phone.

    • Techie01

      If you don’t know what the phone is don’t just call it the zack morris phone. its MotorolaDynaTAC 8000X

  • OgtheDim

    Given how many people use a headset, just how important is putting something to your ear anymore?

    • Keith

      You must be quite the coach potatoe.

  • freestaterocker

    My Ativ S, at 4 8″, is the biggest phone I ever want to own. If I ever want a bigger screen for media consumption or whatever, I’ll buy a tablet. I still think 4-4.3 inches is the sweet spot for most average-sized people… A co-worker get the note 2 recently and I held it up to the face of the biggest guy in our welding shop, who is 6’3″ and 275ish lbs, and he looked like an a*s-hat. If you can’t use it as a phone comfortably, it’s not a phone.

  • deltatux

    5″ phones are as big as I’ll go because I can barely operate my Nexus 4 with one hand with its 4.7″ screen.

  • boojay

    For those who want a flagship spec phone with a reasonable 4.3″ screen, Xiaomi Mi-2. You’re welcome.

  • pawn

    Bring on the Imax phone!

  • Keith

    For me 4.5″ – 4.7″ is the sweetspot. I’m not interested in anything that is more than a 1/10th below or beyond that range.

  • lorenzo l.

    Depends who’s hand ur talking about.I have the SGIII & its perfect for my 6′ 2″ large hand size, as well as for being a good size to surf the net

  • Graham

    4.5″ is pretty big for a phone. I want good quality phones in the 3.5″ (for my wife) to 4.5″ (for me) range. portability is important. if i want to watch a video or play a game, that’s what the tablet is for.

    • John

      I understand its what you want but why, would you want a small phone?

  • GlassbackBadIdea

    Ideal size for a smartphone is between 3″ and 4″, if you want it to fit normally in your pant pocket and operate it comfortably one handed. If you are crazy and don’t care about having the phone stick like 3″ out of your pocket and anything requires two handed operation, then go use whatever you like cause your logic is messed up and effectively you are a lost case. No need to discuss with you anything.

  • Miknitro

    My thought is, my phone is the one device that has to and does go every where I go, so it can’t be a burden to handle, carry, pack and use quickly.

    With that said my OneXL an it’s 4.7 screen which I can handle one handed fairly well, tells me that a 5 screen would my limit for a daily carry in this form.

    in any other scenario that I can prepare for, a tablet takes over as media/net/comm device. Though that is in my use, and I don’t say their beyond useful to others by any means an look forward to see how others deal with carrying an protecting their HD monster phones.
    As well, good article at the right time DB.

  • Mark

    This is why I use a Lumia 900,nice phone despite the WVGA screen. Amazing build quality also, really happy with it.

  • darknite

    tech reviewers are like popular kids, trashing anything they dont like and then agreeing when the market says otherwise.
    evidence:
    dell streak 5, 7 (too big!, now standard)
    toshiba excite 13.3 (scrapped because of outcry)
    fear of going over 10/11 inches because of the ipad
    let the market decide and stop imposing subjective standards/ groupthink!

  • Lucas

    I love the size of the One S, I think its about perfect. Even then it still sticks out in my pocket, how would I fit a 5 inch or bigger comfortably in my pocket? I always get excited when I see something like the GS III mini coming out but am them disappointed by its lower specs. What would it take to make a smaller high end phone, the market is there

  • caanda45

    I am getting rid of my SGS3 because I find it to big, came from a SGS2 and that was the perfect size imho……going to the BB10 all touch Z10, once I see the prices/specs etc. I do not really want to go above 4.3 inch screen again….Apple does have that right on the screen size.

  • Mike

    It has to fit in my shirt pocket.
    If not, I’ll pass.

  • Wes

    I won’t knock anything until I get my hands on it. Remember how everyone made fun of the Note for being absurdly huge? Remember how it turned out to be insanely popular and most users fell in love with it?

  • lol

    just buy the usual crappy phone if the good Samsung phones are too big for your hands, can’t you just use 2 hands and stop complaining for nothing?

  • cloakster

    A Nexus 7 is definitely way too big to be a smartphone. Based on how that size would be, I would say that at 6.0-6.3 is where they are going to stop making it any bigger. Only way they can make it any bigger is by going bezel-less.

  • screamer

    I have a galaxy s3 and I feel that I can drop it anytime because of the size of the phone. Had a razr before and never the problem. I think the galaxy is an awesome phone but if we still buying they will making them.

    For me same galaxy with a 4.3 screen

  • Robin

    The iPad mini is about the largest you can go. Anything that will fit into a pocket. So with that footprint the largest should be around an 8″ tablet with phone capabilities. I for one can’t wait for them to get to that size. I’m not holding a tablet up to my head anymore than I would hold a phone to my head. Been using headphones before headphone were even cool to use. You will see an 8″ Galaxy Note with phone. You will see a Microsoft 7″ to 8″ RT tablet with phone from HTC. How many more I don’t know but I say bring them on.

  • Guest

    I’m planning to get a 55″ Smart TV and and carry that around as a phone to be ahead of the curve.

  • Gab

    It’s not that manufacturers are no longer interested in making phones under 4.7inches. It’s that the technology becomes difficult to get those resolutions. The first 720p phones all had to be around 4.7. The 1080p phones have to come in at 5 for now.

  • TP

    Gees..
    phones are getting so big that now we are back to two-hand operations for making a phone call.

  • meh

    Ok, I have a Note II and while it looks crazily big, I thought the same when I saw the pics of the SIII and Note II compared to my old SII. But after using it for a bit, I do not notice it being that big, except when I have to put it in my jean pocket. You get used to it and now every other phone on the market looks tiny. I saw my co-worker’s iphone 5 and can’t believe how tiny it is compared to my phone. My screen is bigger than the whole phone.

    There will be a market, but when you get near 7″, that’s a tablet…

  • hebdo27

    I use to want bigger size screens, tried may different phones from 3.5 to 4.2 inches…then I got my grubby hands on the HTC One X….NOW IT’S ALL ABOUT SCREEN QUALITY! I am still blown away by the quality of the IPS True LCD 2 screen. I’d be happy with up to about 5 inches max for a phone but I am never going to switch to anything else that is lower quality than the IPS LCD screen I am currently in love with. You can have your 6.999″ Superdupper Amoled screens Samsung!

  • Zod

    I’ve been pretty content with the 4.3″ on my Galaxy S2. I don’t think I’d want a bigger phone. The S2 did have some thick borders around the screen so I’m not sure how much bigger the s3 is over the s2 (maybe they were able to take advantage of that extra space to make a bigger screen?).

    I’ve still got 17 months left on my contract. When the new phones come out every year I grimace at the fact they keep getting bigger. It wouldn’t be so bad if they made various sizes of the top end phones, but all the high end ones all go for the biggest screens.

  • Pat

    Think about it. Having a phone big enough to do the e mails,phone calls, carry 32 GB of your files, all in your pockets! Nothing beats that. People who want small phones normally carry tablets with them, but they are always looking for Wifi spots, because they, due to a lack of a sim card. They then forget these tablets in bars, taxis, etc…
    One tool that does it all is much better. Like a Swiss knife!

  • lono

    I have a note 2 and the feature thats number 1 for me is the big screen. If they can reduce the bezel by perhaps removing the physical button then I’m all for a 6 inch screen. I say bring it on.

  • Tomatoes11

    5 inches is too big but surprisingly doable. If the Xperia ZL was just a tad thinner I would be fine with that.

    At this point, i am sticking with the Nexus 4 unless the GS4 manages to be be smaller than the ZL.

  • rich

    well i like the idea of the 5″ by sony zl, more screen real estate so overall the phone is still smaller than the s3, yet more screen.

  • John

    Q: How big is too big?
    A: When the avg. hand can not grip both sides of the device in portrait.

    Personally I can one hand grip a 7 to 8 inch tablet but the 10.1 inches are to large to hold both sides with one hand. I can also get the Nexus 7 in my suit pockets and in my winter coat so I wouldn’t push cell phone screen size past 7 Inch’s unless its a pico projector phone.

  • John

    Q: How big is too big?
    A: When the avg. hand can not grip both sides of the device in portrait.

    Personally I can one hand grip a 7 to 8 inch tablet but the 10.1 inchers are to large to hold on to both sides with one hand. I have Nexus 7 and can get it in my suit pockets and in my winter coat so I wouldn’t push cell phone screen size past 7-8 Inch’s unless its a pico projector phone.

  • Tan Chin Huat

    It is difficult to decide on a optimum size. But to me if the smart phone doesn’t fit into my shirt pocket anymore, it becomes a tablet. My 5.5″ note 2 with flip case fits nicely into my shirt pocket with room for my index finger to slip in. Anything bigger than 6″ may not fit.

  • Nokillya

    Appreciate the article, Nokia has a 6 phablet coming and I use to think of the pocket as the too large barometer. Now I see that it’s probably too big to hold next to your face for calls, reconsidering the 1020 now.

Trending News

Other Articles