Smartphones: How big is too big?

Alright guys, it’s time to have a serious discussion about our expectations from our smartphones.

All the hubbub over the Galaxy Note II is understandable. Too big for my tastes, but after using a friend’s, I can honestly say that I see the merit and understand how the Note line claims a whopping 8% share of the Android user-base. The 5.5 inch display is hard to manage at first, but after acclimating, as long as you have somewhere to stow it when not in use, it can make sense for certain needs. At that sweet-spot in screen size I can also understand the desire for a stylus. The display is big enough to do some serious art or photo editing but still small enough to be portable and need something with a fine tip to be accurate. For heavy media consumers and creators, the Note line just makes sense.

Now, even being an artist myself, I prefer the size of the Galaxy S III, 4 and Nexus phones. But would honestly consider getting a Note were I to start creating more with my phone. Why don’t I? I have a tablet.

Lately the social sphere has been abuzz with news about 5.8, 5.9, 6.3 and now a ridiculous 6.44 inch display Sony device.


Come on now… Enter Nexus 7 stage left:

IMG_20130530_152305So, for argument sake, let’s say your only devices are a dumb-phone and a desktop with nothing in between. Here are your options. Buy a brand new, top-of-the-line phablet, those types of devices usually start at $299 with a 2-year contract at release. Or you could pay $99-$199 for the latest, normal-sized, high-end device and order a Nexus 7 from the Play Store for $199.  If you do the latter on the right day, you could actually get out for less than you would buying the brand-new phablet.

I realize that the original Galaxy Note is cheaper now, and the Galaxy Note II has seen a slight decrease in price with the release of the S4, but let’s look at this seriously. Why do you want a phone that big? The bigger the screen is, the more likely it is to break. Also, I foresee issues with men carrying anything much larger than the latest Note in their pockets.

Okay, depending on the size of the bezel, these rumored 5.8 and 5.9 inch sizes of the Mega and the third Note might also fall into the same sweet spot as the Galaxy Note II, although I doubt it.

Here’s how I feel about it. I don’t care if a device makes phone calls or not, if it’s less than an inch smaller than what is arguably the most popular tablet on the market right now, It’s a tablet.

What I would like to see is manufacturers racing to see who can pack the most power and battery life into 4-5 inch devices as possible and giving us more form factors than the normal 16:9 aspect ratio slate phone.

Here’s what this would accomplish

  • Give the consumers a wider range of devices from which to choose.
  • Help manufacturers develop identities and find what they’re best at.
  • Help more devices from each manufacturer remain relevant for longer.

Not that I’m a fan of physical keyboards, but I know people who won’t buy a phone without one, and to my knowledge, there isn’t a single high-end device with a physical keyboard available. I know the Kyocera Echo wasn’t a huge success, but at least they took a chance on a new form factor instead of just asking “how big of a phone do you think people would be willing to buy?”

All that said, I do understand why manufacturers are doing this. 8% is a huge market share for a single device and I get other OEMs wanting a piece of that. But can they do it right? The LG Vu line has been a fantastic failure, the Dell streak had it’s fans, but still, nothing compared to how well the Galaxy Note family has done.

Any phablet owners out there find yourself actually using the stylus? If so, do you think you would need it were the screen any bigger? How big of a device are you willing to buy? Can other manufacturers strike the same gold as Samsung? Let us know what you think about adding so many more phablets to the market in the comments below!

  • bob

    If you think it’s wrong for any reason, it’s simply not for you. Now leave it alone and let us who DO get it have what we want.

  • Derekwolfee

    I went from iPhone 4 to gs3 then to note 2.. I thought the note 2 was huge at first but got used to it and my s3 looks puny now. I couldn’t imagine using a phone with a bigger form factor than the note 2. So If it had a larger screen but was the same size as the note 2, ie smaller bezels… I would Def consider it. Also I rarely use my stylus.. But do find myself reaching for it at times to handwrite notes or draw. Also the note 2 does fit in all my pockets fine and I’m a guy.

    • Tony McAfee

      In regard to fitting in your pocket, that’s exactly my point, I just imagine we would start having problems with anything much bigger than the Note II.

      • Derekwolfee

        Yes.. I really hope the note 3 is no larger than the 2 in form factor.

  • Nihilist

    new rule: if its over 5″ screen, its a tablet. [thats what she said]….

    • Open_Cathy

      Does that 5″ *SCREEN* rule apply… regardless of a device having a massive bezel… average bezel… or none?

      Only the *OVERALL* size matters… not the screen.

      Take a ruler and measure even a small iphone device from corner to corner. If a company wanted to… even a 5″ screen could be fit into that tiny package.

      Instead they are all too busy making pointless “higher pixel cameras” and “uselessly high screen resolution”.

      • Nihilist

        Take a ruler and measure , thats what she said.

  • nmw407

    I have a note 2 and I’m a 5’2″ and I love my note 2. The first week it felt big and unwieldy, but after that, everything else is absurdly small. I watch a lot of videos and the 5.5″ screen is amazing, and I use the stylus quite often to take notes during meetings which I then sync to OneNote.

    I couldn’t imagine going to a smaller screen, but I can see myself with a bigger screen as long as the form factor of the phone doesn’t get any bigger.

  • Fadil Karim

    I disagree, being a man Myself, my pockets definitely have enough room for a slightly bigger device. (My jeans are slim fitting jeans btw). I want my phone to be as big as it can possibly get as long as it fits in my pockets. The bigger the better. Sure, you can probably pick up a smartphone and a nexus 7, but some people just dont want to carry 2 devices. Some people would rather have one device that they can just use 24/7.

  • Lebo Peele

    The idea of buying a smartphone and a tablet is pointless to me considering they both perform the same function, and tbh a smartphone is better because it’s always with you. I’d rather have a big smartphone than a smartphone and tablet.

  • NuLLnVoiD

    This is very timely since I just bought a Note 2 at the beginning of May. It feels much larger than my Bionic did and phenomenally larger than my OG Droid. I have big old ham hands and wear glasses. The Note 2 is big enough that I can read a web page without straining my eyes, watch several videos and make out detail. I can use Sketchbook with the stylus to get fine detail that is otherwise impossible with just my finger. It’s the perfect device for me. However, I showed it to some of my coworkers who are women with small hands and the Note 2 would be just too unwieldy for them. I must say though, the size of the Note 2 does stretch my grip a bit and that could be an issue but the benefits far outweigh it. For my more diminutive friends, I would recommend the S4 or HTC One as a high-end phone of choice. I find that using a phablet is great for my everyday device but if I’m at home or on a plane and want to do a lot of content consumption my 10″ tablet is the better device.

  • Design_Droid_Honey

    This totally pointless article is like asking: How big is a big car?

    It’s different for everyone. And since countless companies make a huge variety of sizes… this article is even MORE pointless. You can buy whatever size *YOU* want.

    • Tony McAfee

      I was posing the question “when does a smartphone become a tablet?”

      Thanks for the positive feedback.

  • Dude 6 inches is not that big and fits into trousers quite easily. I would imagine 8 inches is and above would become a problem. Ask any lady and they will laugh at you if you had anything less. I am willing to bet those 8% owning these large devices are mostly men. I for one have the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and it is brilliant. The stylus in my opinion is a gimmick, I guess it could replace the finger if one didn’t want to leave fatty fingerprints on the screen. Let us know when you get one yourself.

    • Goldenpins

      Actually in Korea, the note phones are popular with the ladies more than men.

  • tmwfla

    I used to think “big” phones are just pointless as well. I’ve gone from 3.7″, to 4.0″, then 4.3″ (thinking that’s as big as I would want to comfortably use, etc.)…then the thinner bezels started coming out. Up to 4.5″ I went, without any real change to the overall size (good point by previous poster). I recently upgraded to the LG Optimus G Pro at 5.5″, due to it’s narrower frame vs the Note series. For me, the Note wasn’t as ergonomically useable, but the G Pro is perfect. Now, let me say that I am currently back to my though that this is the largest phone I can comfortably use, but we’ll see.
    I think some of the “size frustration” comes from the real lack of high-spec phones in the 4.0″ size range. That’s the grumbling I hear, personally, from friends/family/coworkers, etc. Currently, it seems that if you want a cutting edge phone, you’re basically forced to move up to a larger device.

  • roiji

    manufacturers should start reducing the bezel from their devices.
    samsung has achieved this with their s3 and s4 devices. they had increased the screen size of the s4 while keeping the dimensions of the s3.
    i am not particularly fond of the size of the s3/s4 though.

    for me, a 4.3-4.7″ screen phone is just right as long as the bezel is thin.

    for a portable tablet. the size of the nexus 7, only with an 8″ screen would be perfect.

  • sexydredlocs

    I am a note II owner and I find that I don’t use the stylus at all only because the screen real estate usually doesn’t require it. In terms if the next gene phablet, I probably could stomach a 5.8 or 5.9 anything beyond that is simply a tablet as you said. And let’s be clear who is putting a 6.3 phone to their ear and if you’re a power user the blue tooth that would need to be us3d with such a huge phone so you don’t look like a dork would for sure kill the necessary battery life needed for said ridiculous screen.

  • I’ve owned a galaxy note 2 for about 6 months now and would never go back to a smaller screen. I would definitely rock my cock with with a six+ inch screen phone (from samsung only of course) any day. I love the big screen and the stylus is so cool for writing real notes with Papyrus and making digital art. I think Samsung will prevail above all other phone makers with their big screen products.

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  • Bobby Wright

    “Smartphones: How big is too big?”
    Simple question.
    Simple answer?
    When consumers don’t buy it.

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  • NoleGirl

    To answer your questions “When is a phone a tablet?” I’d have to say “When it gets bigger than the Note 2.” I have a Note 2 and I LOVE it. BUT… when I went to buy a tablet and I compared my Note 2 to the 7″ and 8″ tablets, I went with the Note 10.1 tablet because my phone was so close in size to the smaller tablets on the market (this was seven months ago.) If I could have a 7″ or 8″ tablet that made phone calls, would I get it? Maybe. But then, I carry a purse. 🙂

  • Michael Orendain

    this is why apple would never lose its competition in the smartphone world, as the word smartPHONE…getting a 5inch or more sized phone in your head to answer a call is stupid..hmm few more years from now it would be like a folder size on your ear…just imagine that…

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