Home' LAPTOP Magazine : September 2010 Contents There's a new breed of tech one-upmanship in
town: smart phone screen size. Although Apple
has decided to focus on quality and higher
resolution with the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch Retina display,
other handset makers are pushing the boundaries of
what's pocket-friendly with screens that measure 4,
4.3, and even 5 inches. There certainly are benefits to
having extra real estate on a phone, but consumers
have to wonder whether it's worth the trade-offs. What
is the sweet spot? How big is too big?
The HTC HD2 from T-Mobile was really the first
ginormous smart phone out of the gate in the U.S.,
sporting a 4.3-inch display. To help justify that size,
the carrier preloaded the phone with Transformers 1
and 2 and a Blockbuster app for downloading more
flicks. Next came the Android-powered Evo 4G for
Sprint, and just recently the Motorola Droid X for
Verizon Wireless, both with the same size screen.
These devices play up the entertainment angle as
well, the Evo 4G with YouTube HQ and Sprint TV and
the Droid X with its own BlockBuster and NFL apps.
Having a billboard in your pocket means surfing
the web feels much more desktop-like. Touchscreen
typing is also more comfortable; I've been making
much fewer errors on the Droid X than I did on the
3.7-inch Droid Incredible. Interestingly, switching
to the 3.5-inch iPhone 4 has felt claustrophobic at
times, especially when trying to type in portrait mode.
Having that extra space also comes in handy when
using your smart phone as a GPS navigator. Games,
lution (800 x 480 pixels) as its smaller competitors.
Meanwhile, the 3.5-inch iPhone boasts a pixel count
of 960 x 640. My guess is that consumers will warm
up to these tweeners more once Google rolls out
Android 3, which is rumored to support 1280 x 760
pixels. This higher resolution will mean being able
to see more content from your apps, documents,
and web pages.
So what's the sweet spot? For me it could be 4
inches, the size of Samsung's Epic 4G (also 800 x
480), part of the company's Galaxy S series. Granted,
I'm biased toward the dazzling Super AMOLED technol-
ogy. It's almost like having an HDTV in your pocket.
Though some might consider this device's slide-out
keyboard overkill given its 4-inch screen, it weighs
only 5.5 ounces. Last year's 3.7-inch Motorola Droid
weighed 6 ounces. That's progress.
As smart phones gain in size and capability---
1-GHz processors are becoming the norm on the high
end---consumers will likely gravitate toward models
with displays that are the biggest and brightest when
they're in the store, not unlike what occurred with
notebooks several years ago when glossy screens
first hit the scene. Then again, no one seems to be
complaining about Apple's super-sharp 3.5-inch Retina
display (with the exception of early reports of yellow
bands, which we haven't noticed). I say bigger can
be better, but a large screen needs to be paired with
more pixels and easy access to premium movies and
video to make the extra bulk worthwhile.
too, tend to be more immersive on a larger screen,
though Android's selection pales in comparison to
the iPhone thus far.
I've shown the Droid X and Evo 4G to friends, family
members, and coworkers, and the reaction seems to
be split down the middle: half of those surveyed really
like the larger display, while others say they wouldn't
want to hold one of these supersized phones to make
calls, nevermind have one in their pockets.
All of the devices I've mentioned measure a svelte
0.4 to 0.5 inches thin, but they're significantly taller,
wider, and heavier than old-school smart phones.
For instance, the Droid X has a 5 x 2.6-inch footprint,
compared to 4.3 x 2.4 inches for the BlackBerry Bold
9700. It's about as tall as a soda can. Weight differ-
ence? 5.5 vs. 3.7 ounces. A 4.3-inch--screen device
isn't ridiculous-looking, but you definitely know it's in
Fared Adib, Sprint's vice president of product
development, told me the 4.3-inch size chosen for
the Evo 4G wasn't random. Based on focus groups
and Sprint's own research, the carrier says this is
the upper limit of what consumers will accept---at
least for now. This comment makes the arrival of
the Dell Streak even more intriguing. It features a
mammoth 5-inch display, and tech pundit Walt
Mossberg quipped that it felt as though he was
holding a waffle to his head.
Dell is positioning the Streak as a tablet for a
reason. My biggest beef is that it has the same reso-
HOW BIG IS TOO BIG?
The pros and cons of supersized smart phones.
LAPTOP | September 2010
NEWS & TRENDS
by Mark Spoonauer
Editor in Chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content. He has been covering mobile and wireless technology for more than a decade.
Read his weekly SpoonFed column at www.laptopmag.com/spoonfed, and follow @mspoonauer on Twitter.
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