Mar 15 AT 3:44 PM Dustin Earley 71 Comments

Big does not equal premium

tiny cell phone

Something has been really bothering me lately. You know those nights, when you’re trying to fall asleep, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get comfortable? That’s the relationship I have with my phone, a Nexus 4. No matter what I do, I feel like I can’t settle in with it. Because size does matter, and bigger isn’t always better.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the software; it’s all about the hardware. I love stock Jelly Bean. I don’t love how gigantic the Nexus 4 feels in my hands. Or in my pocket. Or in the little cubby under the radio in my car. Make no mistake, the Nexus 4 feels like a premium device. But a phone doesn’t have to be big to be premium. Pocketable, more manageable phones can most definitely feel like flagship, top of the line devices. But only a small handful of manufacturers are acknowledging this.

Apple, who crafts what are arguably some of the best designed handsets in the world, has yet to top 4-inches in a premium hand-held device. Meanwhile, every other manufacturer under the Sun is scrambling to make 5-inch-plus cellphone displays. Every flagship device to be detailed so far this year has been gigantic. The HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy S 4. I simply don’t want to spend my money on phones that I think are too big anymore. But if I want a premium quality experience, I don’t have a choice.

Android handsets that aren’t 4.5-inches or bigger are sold as mid-tier devices, more affordable options. Take the Motorola RAZR M (and I). It’s a great, smaller handset. It looks and feels fantastic. But it suffers from mid-level specs and a sub-par display. Will I ever be able to buy a 4- or 4.3-inch smartphone made of high quality materials with an HD display running Android?

The technology is there. A 720p display could easily be stuffed into a 4- or 4.3-inch screen. Even at 4 inches, the PPI tops out at 367. The HTC Butterfly, or Droid DNA, has a density of 440 PPI. The demand is there. At 3.5 and 4 inches, the iPhone is still the number one selling smartphone in the United States. Obviously screen size isn’t everything. Why do Android manufacturers continue to ignore this gaping hole in the market?

At this point, my only hope is the Motorola X phone that’s been extensively detailed recently. In the original leak video (which has now been pulled), it’s placed next to an iPhone 5, and it looks to be almost the same size. I just about jumped out of my seat when I saw it. I absolutely cannot wait to see what comes of this device.

One of the biggest perks about Android is that it’s all about options. Unfortunately for me, I feel like when it comes to finding a phone that ticks all the right boxes, I have none. Am I the only one out there who wants a high-end Android phone with a smaller screen? Or am I just crazy? Some days, it really feels like it.

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

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  • halo0

    I could not agree more. The Galaxy Nexus was near-perfect IMO as far as size and shape go. It is not much smaller than the Nexus 4 but it does feel much smaller. The curvature of the edges has a lot to do with that. Love the speed of my N4; hate the way it feels in my hand.

    • vforvortex

      Yes, i too like the curve form factor. makes it feel like a good grip holding it. Also i like the rubber feel the original G1 began with for the back cover. Ergo i.e vis-a-vis Ergonomically Correct.

    • tmihai20

      I don’t know, I’ve had 2 Galaxy Nexus in my hands (from 2 colleagues) and one Nexus 4 and I love the Nexus 4 because it doesn’t have that curve-like shape. I do think that 4.7 or 5 inches is as much as I would go on a smartphone. They need to stop the race for “mine is bigger, therefore is better” race. I am still using my Evo 3D (4.3 inches) and people used to tell me it’s large. They are not commenting now,

  • Ruperto17

    I used to feel the same way. I used to think that 4.3″ was the largest I could go. But then I got the Nexus 4 and its size hasn’t bothered me at all. I definitely don’t see myself going any bigger than that, though.

  • William Hester

    I agree entirely. With every phone I’ve had starting with the Nexus One, I have told myself “I will not get a phone with a screen bigger than this. This is perfect.” I proceeded to get the Atrix 4G with a normal screen with a size of 4″ and now a Galaxy Nexus with a whopping 4.7″ screen. It’s too much. Don’t get me wrong, the display is beautiful, but I want a normal-sized phone, but I also want a phone that is top-of-the-line. It’s an impossible-to-solve dilemma (for the consumer) that current handset manufacturers have created.

  • Alberto

    I totally agree with you, I have a Nexus 4 and its already a big phone, thats the top size of a phone 4.7″ if u compare it to the Galaxy 4, that 5″ lool enormous, I dont hace a pocket that big on my jeans

    • Monk

      Your hand is bigger than a 5 inch phone. So if your jeans can´t hold an S4, you can´t also put your hands on your pockets…
      What is important is the external size and not the screen size. The S4 exterior is smaller than the S3.

      Still I agree that some Android premium 4 to 4.3 inch phone should be available, anyone is attacking that big part of the market.

  • oddball

    I really like the larger displays and phones. I have an S3 and I easily use it one handed. I can also use a note 2 1 handed. My wife though far prefers the smaller phones. She almost bought an iPhone for exactly the reason you stated it fits her hand and pockets far better. One of the reasons android has been so successful is their adaptability and I believe handset manufacturers will start moving to 3 sizes in the next year. One in the each of the 4″, 5″, and 6″ ranges

    • reddragonman

      There definitely is not a one size fits all phone. I’ve known a few people that have gotten iPhones for the smaller screen size, and only because there wasn’t anything offered by android. I personally feel that 4.3 to 4.7 works out best for me. My Epic 4G Touch is right in the middle of that, and if you made the bezel smaller, I could see going to the 4.7. If Android truly wants to target the iPhone market, they will have to offer a variety of sizes, cause right now they’re just going after those who want a bigger display. For some, the iPhone size is just right. Very much looking forward to see what Motorola has to offer.

      • Ben

        I think the iPhone is exactly why android doesn’t compete in that range. They tried that range for several years and didn’t start to get any traction in the market until this tried two different strategies:

        1) cheap (most of androids market share)
        2) large premium phones

        I think that android had a very hard time competing with the iPhone at its own game which is premium mid sized screen. Now that manufactures like Samsung have more brand recognition maybe they can move back to that size but all the rest… Doubt it.

  • Michael

    fully agree. that’s why I bought the Xperia V, the most underestimated phone available. It’s the Xperia Z’s litte brother, but has the same camera, water-resistance, accessories etc. perfect phone for me.

  • taz88ny

    If Google could make Android more battery friendly, manufactures wouldn’t need bigger phones to house bigger batteries. Then, maybe we’ll get smaller phones again.

    • etche

      And don’t you think bigger screen consumes more battery?

    • rojo623

      I dunno why people are downvoting this comment. Bigger batteries are required for Android because it is a bit of a fuel guzzling OS.
      And although a larger screen does require higher more power, it’s outweighed by the amount of room it creates for a larger battery.

      -Proud owner of a GNote2.

  • Vinson

    I completely disagree. My phone is also my tablet, bigger is better (to a certain extent). I hope the X Phone is at least 4.7 inches. I also find typing on a larger phone is a much more enjoyable experience, as well as browsing the web with Chrome. To each his own.

    • mattcoz

      That’s the whole point, to each his own. The problem is that the people who prefer a phone that fits in their hand are getting left out.

  • jbcooley

    There are times when I think my Nexus 4 is bigger than I’d like it, but those are all times when I’m not using it. It’s a bigger slab in my pocket than my G2 that it replaced. It’s not as easy to place in my old arkon windshield mount. I can’t hold onto the phone and one of my kids at the same time.
    That said, I love seeing the big map on the screen when driving. I don’t feel at all awkward when talking on the phone with it. And almost every other use case is better with the bigger screen.

  • melloburger

    Its a small yet valid complaint. I love my Nexus 4 but often feel so clumsy with it. I drop it when trying to use it in bed and push things accidentally when trying to use one-handed. However its a gorgeous display.

  • maverick

    IMHO you’re just crazy.

  • raptor

    A and M, th site for teens should open Kindergarten Corner, you will be best editor for it.

  • tagstar

    I detect the hint in the air of an Apple-fanboy. Size does matter and bigger is still better. The tall-skinny new iPhone is not for me. I’ll looking forward to the note or another phablet phone because I want the screen big enough to read and send mail, and play games.

    The next game I’m installing with be Gravi on my phablet sized mega phone:

    • reddragonman

      The whole point is that one size does not fit all. I’m not saying they shouldn’t keep making bigger sizes, they just also need to offer smaller sizes of premium devices as well. Manufactures think bigger is better, cause the bigger the device, the more they can justify charging a lot for it. It would be nice to see a scalable platform, where all that really changes is the screen size, and battery(to support the bigger screen), and of course, the case(obviously). There has to be a way they can do it and e competitive. I’m hoping that this is part of what Motorola has in mind.

  • Finally

    Finally! I thought I was going crazy.. I miss the size of my original Mytouch.. it was perfect. I have a 7″ tablet when I need the larger size.. 3-4″ screen is all I want. I recently posted about this on HTC’s facebook only to be told “we have the perfect sized phone for you! 4.7″! ONE ONE ONE blah blah.. sigh.

  • Fez

    I absolutely agree.
    4.3 is comfy, 4.7 gorgeous but pushing the limits on one hand typing.

  • Astranger

    There was a time I wanted no bigger than 4″ phone, but I think that changed now. I don’t think I would want a 4″ phone with software button. It would be like going to back to Nexus one.
    I use N4 and I wish it was a little narrower. I noticed just a couple of millimeters make a lot of difference in width. In fact, N4 could be narrower if it didn’t have extra 48 pixels horizontally.
    I am hoping somebody will make a top end phone with 720P with minimal bezels and top of the line internals. I really don’t want or need 1080P on sub-5″ screens. I would like the all the processing power to be pushing around 720P instead of 1080P, so I could have performance boost, lower power consumption and more manageable size phone than an “invisibly” better screen.

  • Angela

    I completely agree with you, Dustin. It’s time for the sizes to come down again. I had a Lumia 710 – bit small, but extremely comfortable for one-handed use. My Galaxy Nexus is the upper limit for me; unfortunately everything I’ve seen recently is bigger, so I’m not interested. Not trolling here, just telling the truth – I may have to go back to Windows Phone. Deficient though it may be in some areas, at least they make high-end phones that are closer to 4 inches than 5!

  • CJ

    Everyone is different and everyone requires something different from a phone. There’s no such thing as the best or perfect phone. There’s only best or perfect for you. I prefer the 5 inch and above crowd because it’s the best for me. As long as there’s a manufacturer producing a 5 inch or above phone that meets my requirements, that’s what I’ll buy.

  • clocinnorcal

    I love the bigger displays on phones and I admit I wish the N4′s screen was a 5″; however, I feel like the phone itself is a little on the thick and heavy side not to mention the screen seems wider than a 4.8″ S3, but I don’t want a smaller screen, I want a thinner phone.

  • thymeless

    And here I think the Note 2 is a thing of beauty and genius. Can’t wait to see the Note 3. I’ve got a cargo pocket in most of my pants that holds nothing but my phone. Plenty of room and comfort for phablets. Looking forward to more phablet choices this year.

    I think I’ll probably draw the line at about 5.8 inches though for maximum size and still call it a phone. If the watches or other “jewelry” start to take over the phone function via bluetooth connection to a host device then a 7″ cellular tablet starts to look really good as the host.

  • c1liu

    my friend, this resonates with me perfectly. i have been waiting for this article for a long time.

    • c1liu

      I would also like to add that “lighter is not always better.” I do feel that there is a “perfect” weight-to-size ratio, and that some devices are too light for their size and width. As a result they sometimes become easier to drop. Think of using a pen or pencil, or a fork or knife, there is an ideal size and weight for those, so why not for phones as well?

  • redraider133

    That’s why I’m hoping for edge to edge displays so you could get a 5″ device in shell no larger than current 4-4.3 inch phones.

  • Sean

    I have been looking for an Android device for over a year. All of the devices that meet my spec requirements are way to big. I call them “SUV Class”.

    Why do medium sized devices get economy specs. It’s not how big your device is, it’s what you do with it that counts.

  • osc707

    My first Android was the Evo 4g and I loved it. I owned it and used it until about a month ago. With my upgrade I decided to get the Note 2 and I can honestly say that unless Samsung ruins future Notes, I’ll alway own one.

    • tmihai20

      I’ve seen the Note II a friend of mine recently bought. It has a lot more features that make it worth buying, like the S-Pen and the large battery. I was blown away with all the features and the apps using the S-Pen, I’d love to see that on a normal phone (the S IV can already be used with gloves). A smartphone should not bet all its money on size alone.

  • Jeff

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    My new HTC EVO already has two dents and cracked glass because the stupid thing won’t stay in my back pocket when I sit down. Eating breakfast at the table – falls out. Sitting at my desk at work – falls out. Watching TV on the couch – falls out. Taking a dump – falls out, luckily (so far) only on the floor.

    I hate to admit it, but the iPhone has been catching my eye lately. Please hardware manufacturers, don’t chase me away.

  • etche

    Couldn’t agree more with you.
    I’m quite confortable with my galaxy nexus but whenever I start looking for muy next phone I get scared. It seems like they will never stop. Phones get bigger, tablets get smaller… When will they collide?

  • Chris

    I felt a bit like Winston in 1984 until I read this article. Glad to see I’m not the last sane person left.

  • Andy

    Absolutely agree with this article. I flat out refuse to spend money on a 5″ “mobile” device. I’m a big guy, 6’7″ tall, but I don’t think I should be forced to carry a tablet sized phone around with me just to enjoy premium quality and specs in a device. Companies have lost their way. When the new GS4 comes out and the argument for mediocre spec bumps is “That’s what Apple products are like every year” you know it’s sad. To strive to be as bland as the next guy is a great way to be forgotten.

    • anon

      You do realize the actual overall phone size is the pretty much the same as the SGS3, and that only the screen portion increased, right?

  • Droid Smith

    I want the big phone, but I can understand the appeal of a smaller phone with the same horsepower. I haven’t heard of anyone else that wants a smaller screen until your article.

  • Mike

    HTC one s fits that description. Only available on gsm networks to my knowledge though.

    • ihatefanboys

      4.3 screen is still pretty big, its not THAT far from a 5 inch

      • anon

        It’s MUCH CLOSER to a 4″, which apparently is “perfect” this year, where 3.5″ was “perfect” last year.

        In reality, 4.3″ screen in today’s phones doesn’t make it as big a phone as a 4.3″ was 3 years ago. They now have much slimmer bodies and much slimmer bezels. The actual phone size will be smaller while maintaining the same screen dimensions.

  • MyTurnQuips

    Perhaps we should just transform these 7″ tablets (Nexus 7 and Mini) into cell phones and get it over with.

  • Vance

    It’s tough because the market, in general, appears to prefer the larger displays (your points about the iphone notwithstanding because I believe it sells so much on many merits besides size). The question then becomes one of ROI. If HTC were to release a 4.7 and 4.3 premium device, they’d both be priced in the top tier range, thus eliminating the price conscious demographic. So can the high end, high price tag demographic support the cost of developing, testing, supporting, and updating two phones which basically only differ in size. I think HTC, for one, is saying no, it can’t. Especially if they want to keep up in the race of against Samsung to release at least one flagship device annually. They tried it (sort of) with the One S, One X, and One X+’s unfortunate because I also agree that big can be too big. I think my One S is perfect tho and am looking forward to upgrading to the One in a few weeks

  • Vance

    PS I love the Zoolander pic!

  • Cody

    Have you ever thought that Android manufacturers are unable to give us the specs we want, in a small package with usable battery life? Also large phones sell.

  • donger

    It’s good that you don’t have the Samsung Note/2.

  • Raptor

    Kinders, stop posting here, mommy say go bathroom and sleep.

  • TY

    But the Nexus 4, with on-screen buttons, is essentially a device with a 4.3″ screen.

  • ihatefanboys

    Sorry to say I disagree with the author of this article. Ive only owned 3 phones since 2008, the G1, G2 and now the ONE S, and each phone has grown in screen size. All I can say is I cant go backwards on screen size. Movies look better, Games are amazing, and the touchscreen is more accurate when youre not trying to make sniper like taps on a small screen. Im glad the ONE and the GS4 have 5inch screens. I really hope the X phone does too, it will be a huge disappointment if it really is iCrap5 sized.

  • anon

    I would agree that premium devices need to come in smaller packages in addition to the nice, large display they come in now.

    To many, bigger is better. But to many others, 4″ would be a nice option. Let’s cover the entire spectrum of that particular preference, shall we?

  • CaptainDoug

    Totally agree. I’m not speaking against large phones, just the lack of smaller and medium phones. 4.5-4.7″ (Gnex) is perfect for me but the hardware just isn’t going to last much longer and I’m not a fan of Amoled displays. This leaves me with no options which is just not how Android should be. Android is options. The leak of that Motorola phone gave me a giddy feeling. I’m really hoping something comes of it.

  • Tudork

    you are so not the only one. I am the happy owner of a razr maxx at r.3 and I don’t want to go bigger than that. I would chop off my arm before I buy an iPhone but I definitely will explore jumping ship to windows or blackberry if android doesn’t give me the choice of a premium phone that I can wear in my tight european jeans and not in my trolley.

  • Ross Pendleton

    Do you have a case on your phone? Because that would make it chunkier. I have a Nexus 4 and it feels fine. Great. I think it’s the perfect size. Of not, check out Motorola’s edge to edge tactics. That’s the solution to all your problems.

  • SGB101

    I love the size of my note2 but it doesn’t feel ‘premium’ in the hand, now my one X, (shelved for battery life) feels so nice in the hand, and the screen is so nice compared to the note2/sgs3.

  • max

    One of the best Android articles I have read in a long time.
    I’m still using an HTC HD2 (originally a WM phone) natively running Android.
    And money isn’t the problem…

  • Oflife

    I have always wondered why no one has managed to work out how to get Android to run on an iPhone. Imagine an iPhone 5 running Jelly Bean. Be superb!

    Or has it been done through jailbreaking and I’m clueless?

  • PhilH

    Bigger means you can type on it. You can use it. You can get a better video experience. It doesn’t really have anything to do with premium. Now might some people want a smaller phone because they have smaller hands? Yes…. although I see more women with Galaxy Notes than anything. The Apple argument is pointless because I see plenty of iPhone users that don’t want to use their phones for any kind of extended work and by extended I mean sending more than a few words in a message or email. Why? Because their screen is to small even on the 5. They only want to do things that require series of taps.

    Let the phones get bigger. Because honestly they stopped being “phones” a couple of years ago. They are handheld computers with cellular capabilities. The increased screen size is needed. There ARE smaller phones out there but most will complain that they are underpowered. Well again what do you want with all this power if you are struggling to do things on a tiny screen? It doesn’t make sense. You probably don’t do a ton of stuff on the device or use a tablet so get the underpowered phone and you should be fine.

    • jordan

      i totally agree with you. It is no longer just a phone. Android phones are more or less a computer. I was blown away with the functions and features when i first tried an android phone. Since then an android fan, and once you get used to the loads of features and functionality(personalization, customization and computing power), no other platform will work for you. So 5 to 5.5 inches are very ideal for an android phone (at least for me and i guess also for a lot of women here in India). More than half of all women in my office carry note II and looks like they don’t have any issues with the size of the display. I didn’t know women liked gadgets until the original note came out and Indian women are one of the main reasons samsung was motivated to come out with the second iteration. Note I did so well in the Indian market that Samsung was forced to come up with Note II and what a device it is. There is not a single mobile device(phone) that can match up to productivity that it offers. But it would not be the same had it been an inch smaller than 5.5″.

    • Vinciane Baudoux

      Hi Jordan, I totaly agree with you. No wonder you see many women around with Note phones: since we usually carry a handbag around, we don’t need worrying about jeans pockets size and other trivia ;)
      That said, I have a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 and when you’re over forty – which might hapen sooner than one believes, alas -, even with a screen that big, you need a pair of glasses to be comfortable.
      I am know considering the option of buying the Samsung Note 8 (tablet), cellular version, whenit comes out. Or else the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0, cellular version, if such a thing comes on the market.

  • Eben1277

    I considered buying an iPhone until I tried to use one. It felt like a toy with its little screen. Even on my GNex I fat finger shit constantly. I’d get a note 2 if I wasn’t so disillusioned with Samsung build quality after buying the GNex. I’ll be xing my fingers hoping for a big ass moto x phone… If not I’ll end up with either HTC or Sony probably, or depending on what this years nexus looks like maybe that.

  • kk

    It used to 3.5″ screen was the perfect size and then apple saw wisdom and increased the display size to keep intouch with the ever transforming and dynamic android. If u want a small screen fone stick with Apple. If you want premium fone with standard resolution jump to android and Windows and not have someone come up with marketing gimmicks about retina this or retina that.

  • Jehu

    I don’t want a phone with a screen bigger than 4.5 inches. Sadly, all the best phones are huge. I think I’ll go with it, as people don’t seem to mind and they get used to the size.

  • Mason

    Agreed! I’d love to buy a premium-spec phone with a 4-4.5in screen and a great camera.

  • paxmos

    I agree. Phones with 4-4.2 in screen size would be great. I have a Nexus 4 and an Xperia T and both are too big for my hand.

  • mrben

    I went from an HTC Desire to a Nexus 4 and barely noticed the difference in size. Couldn’t be happier with the N4.

  • jordan

    N4, I believe is just about the right size for a phone. but I will be never buying a phone that size because I can never be happy with that size. Any phone smaller than the Note II is a no no for me. I feel people should give it a try before writing it off. I wonder how do people still use smaller sized phones but i guess it is to each his own.

  • Ron

    IPhone 5 with Ios6 causing excessive data usage and it does not matter what carrier you are on?

    Apple needs to own up and get this issue resolved quickly instead of waiting months to get this resolve, because it is costing the consumer more and more each month.

    I sick and tired of Apple getting away with thing just because they are Apple and I believe Apple is starting to struggle to keep up with the changing world of technology to keep up with the other brands.

  • aykutb

    couldn’t have agreed more,that’s why i went for htc one s instead of one x,all my friends were telling me to get one comes down to choice really,i don’t like using both my hands just to do something on my phone,simple as that.