The other day, Matt made a desperate plea: “Please don’t buy cheap Android phones.” To do so is a mistake, and the more you buy, the more cheap phones flood the market, and thus more people are walking around with crap up against their faces.
And after hearing that Samsung has sold 5 million Galaxy Notes, I think it may be time to make my own plea: Please stop buying giant phones.
Now, obviously I don’t take this request as seriously as the whole cheap Android phone thing. But I was actually musing to myself just last night that if people continue to buy phones with 4.5-inch + screen sizes, phone makers will think that’s OK. It’s not. It’s just as dumb as Motorola’s advertising, directed squarely at men with robots and cyborgs.
I totally concede that a large display, perhaps at 4.3-inches tops, is nice. Watching video and playing games on those honking Android phones tickles my fancy in a way my little iPhone cannot. It’s quite glorious.
But then I try to do something normal. You know… text a friend, send an email, browse the web, get directions, tweet, Instagram a pic… or whatever. Sure, I check out YouTube a handful of times a week to show a friend some crazy sexy Japanese beatboxing girl and if I’m really bored and away from all of my other devices, I’ll sit down and switch on an episode of The Office within the Netflix app on my phone. And of course, when I’m chilling at home and news is dead, I’m probably running through a temple or flinging birds or effing up Liberty City in a freshly stolen car.
But on the whole, I’d say that 90 percent of what’s done on my phone has nothing to do with video or gaming, which is where the larger screen really wins.
Of course, mobile gaming figures are up as more and more users buy smartphones and developers pop out better and better games, but gaming is still relatively low on the list of usage scenarios. comScore’s January Mobile report said that the most common activity on a phone was text messaging, with 74.6 percent of U.S. subscribers (aged 13+) using their smartphone to send a text. Moreover, text messaging is still on the rise. Nearly tied for second, the next biggest mobile activities were using an app and browsing the web, followed closely by accessing a social network.
And at the bottom of the list is gaming, with 31.8 percent of users saying they’ve used their phone to play a game. Meanwhile, viewing video on mobile didn’t even make the list.
My phone is first and foremost about utility. I’m connecting to work, I’m emailing, I’m texting, I’m checking in on my social networks, and I’m surfing the web constantly. It gets me where I need to go first, and as a bonus, helps me get through those bored moments.
The issue I have with the big phones is that it cuts off a chunk of the market, and at the cost of innovation.
Phones are mobile. You know… mobile phones. By their very nature, they must be able to comfortably fit in your hand and in your pocket. They must be relatively light, and in a lot of instances, they must be discreet.
The bigger the display gets, the bigger the phone gets. It’s just simple math. But the trade-off we’re making for it is weak at best. As I said, mobile video isn’t something that most of us actually do very often, and gaming (while on the rise) isn’t the priority of a phone.
Sure, a big display makes some games a bit more enjoyable, but let’s think through the actual quality of game play. The most shining example I can think of is Madden ’11. I’ve played the game on both my 3.5-inch iPhone 4S and on a Droid Razr. (To be clear, the Droid Razr has a 4.3-inch display, which is exactly where I draw the line between fine and too big.)
I concede that I could physically see more of the game when I played on the Droid Razr, but any improvement wasn’t all that significant. This is because there’s only so much accuracy you can have with touch controls, and whether the screen is big or not, mobile gaming is thus far crippled by them. If you really need the very best portable gaming option out there, go get a PS Vita or a 3DS, or better yet, go get yourself a really nice gaming console. Hell, most people play games on their phone at home anyways. (Seriously.)
Then we have the mobile video argument, which doesn’t really deserve a response. (Obviously, I’ll give one anyways.) For one thing, we don’t watch video on our phones enough to warrant carrying around something so uncomfortable for the next two years. But it’s more than that.
Soon Nokia will release the Lumia 900 into the U.S. market. It’s got a 4.3-inch 480×800 display, and while I’m impressed with how resilient the screen is under bright sunlight, I would never choose this phone to watch a movie on over my iPhone 4S.
Mobile video is all about the pixels and the processing power, and a large screen (once again) is just a bonus — a bonus that isn’t all that worthwhile. Granted there are giant phones out there with 4.3-inch+ 720p displays, and sure, watching video on them is swell. But would I trade everyday comfort for only a slightly better experience on non-primary activities? Absolutely not, and I honestly don’t think you should either.
To all of you out there with hands giant enough to honestly and genuinely feel comfortable with the Galaxy Note, first and foremost, congratulate your girlfriends for me. But secondly, I understand that you can and will want to take advantage of bigger screens. You have giant hands, it only makes sense.
But there are lots of us, especially women, who physically cannot send a text on those giant phones with one hand. Do you know what an inconvenience it is to be forced into using two hands on a mobile phone? Let’s add to that the fact that these phones don’t fit into any pocket of a girls’ pair of jeans.
So just to clarify, roughly half of the population can neither text nor comfortably carry around these phones. And yet phone makers think that a honking display is somehow en vogue, likely because they simply follow each other in terms of trends.
There’s a reason that phones became smaller and smaller back in the day, and there’s a reason why phones are getting larger today. Back when we had button-covered flip phones, portability was the name of the game. But once the iPhone hit the market, non-Apple phone makers were tasked with finding a way to persuade customers toward something different. To that end, we’re seeing LTE become a focal point of manufacturers, and larger screens are not only a by-product of that, but they are seen as an additional selling point.
An LTE radio requires bigger hardware, period. It’s a larger radio, to start, but also requires a larger battery. With that, displays get larger and since the iPhone has one of the most pixel-dense displays on the market, competitors need something (anything) that competes directly with that. It’s easier to go big than to build a more pixel-dense display, and the big screens mesh well with adding other features like LTE and extending battery, so that’s where OEMs are headed.
But if we keep encouraging them, phones will keep getting bigger. The Galaxy S III, a phone that I’ve been excited about since the day the S II launched, is rumored to have a 4.8-inch display. This nearly ruins it for me, and the phone’s only saving grace right now is that it’s the Galaxy S III and I can’t help but give it a chance.
If you have the hands for it, then by all means, go get yourself a Note or a GalNex or that giant Galaxy S III when it’s available. But for the rest of us, the 99 percent if you will, don’t feel suckered into getting a giant phone just because it’s a flagship.
HTC has some beautiful smaller phones coming out like the One V (with a 3.7-inch display) and the One S (4.3-inch), and the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900 are both very appealing options for anyone considering Windows Phone. Oh, and the iPhone is always a good choice too.
All I’m saying is that if we continue to get pushed into buying big phones, OEMs will only continue to compete on screen size, and we’ll all eventually be walking with tablet-sized phones to our faces.
And to me, that look is so over.