What is The Right Display Size for a Smartphone?

The NOkia Lumia 920. With 332 pixels per inch, the display is one of the best out there.

I asked this question sometime back on Twitter and as expected the responses were varied.

Yes you have the cash and can’t wait to get that smartphone you’ve really been dreaming of but have you taken a moment to think of the screen real estate? The size of the display when buying a smartphone is becoming something most consumers have to consider each passing day. With the emergence of newer devices sporting pretty large displays, this is becoming a tough call. What would you consider the right size for your smartphone’s screen? It is said that size doesn’t matter. When it comes to smartphones size definitely does matter. Let’s sample some of the factors that would influence the display size of the smartphone you will go for.

1.  User and Usage

Are you an ordinary user or a power user? Do you have ordinary fingers or some of those that we get to see on TV shows? Do you just send IMs, texts, tweets and do a little emailing or always remote connect to your office machine and keep tabs with tasks that you left pending before calling it a day?

If the answer to any of the above questions (save for the social media hungry part i.e. texting, tweeting and instant messaging) is a yes then you really need a larger display. Anything below 4 inches is out of question. You just need a bigger display. For this you have a lot of options to choose from as far as the Android lineup is concerned. Otherwise you can grab the iPhone 5 which is the only iPhone that joins the 4 inch crew or the super impressive Lumia and ATIV line up on Windows Phone.

For the average Joe who just wants to snap photos and share them on Instagram with four or five letter captions then a 3.5 inch device isn’t that bad, the camera sensors and the optics behind it is discussion for another day.

For things like watching video, streaming TV shows et al you also need a larger display. There’s no compromise there.

If you talk a lot on the phone always then it is a good idea to get a good smartphone but one with a sizeable screen. A large display (like the 5 inchers) will tend to be cumbersome to always hold next to your ear for the lengthy conversations. Most mid-range Android smartphones and the indefatigable Blackberrys can do just fine as they have reasonable screen sizes.

2.  Your Current or Previous Device

Chances are if you used the first Galaxy Note then you’ll never desire any device that has less than 5 inches as far as display size is concerned. Heck, if you have the newly unveiled Galaxy Note II then you’re already hooked to the 5”+ device category. For those who never had a good experience with the first Note, there’s the large Optimus Vu from LG that will take care of you. Still, if your previous device was another gallant device with a large display like the Galaxy S III or the HTC One X then you’ll stick to that lane. You surely will feel disgusted holding a device with a smaller screen, say the Galaxy Pocket (has only 2.8 inches).

Once you use this, there's no looking back. The addiction to bigger displays only gets worse (better?) PHOTO: FILE

Still, if for one reason or the other you did away with your prized tablet then a phone with a bigger display will comfort you as you’ll be able to carry over some of the tasks you were used to accomplishing on that large display to a trimmed down display with a smaller on-screen keyboard. If you have a tablet already then you can decide to have just a small display on your smartphone for the basics since all your productivity tasks are ported to your larger display. It all depends on your current or previous device.

3.  Your Pocket (Back?) Size

This is crucial. For ladies, they can easily have their devices tucked away in any compartment of their complicated purses and handbags. For us men, you have to look at your back pocket and whether your device can fit in comfortably not to attract the wrong eyes that won’t hesitate to help keep your device when you’re not looking their way.

I’ve overheard conversations where people allude to their “phablets” not fitting in their trouser pockets. As much as it seems silly, you won’t want to overlook this.

4.  The Technology Behind The Display

You’ve surely wondered why all manufacturers are in a rush to release 1080p HD displays with their next generation of flagship devices. HTC has done it already with the HTC Butterfly J (the Japanese equivalent of the HTC Droid DNA) which has a resolution of 1080 X 1920 pixels (440 ppi), LG too has not been left behind and insider reports point to South Korean giant Samsung also working round the clock to ensure HD versions of its famed AMOLED displays go into mass production before the start of 2013 and probably feature in their 2013 flagship Galaxy S device, the S IV and the next phablet too.

There is also LCD, WXVGA, VGA, QVGA, OLED, TFT, IPS, PLS and many other terms used to describe the technologies that are used in the production of displays. Take your time to know each one of these technologies, what it brings to the smartphone and how it will affect your experience with your device. A good example is the PenTile display found on the Galaxy S III and the upgrade the screen got in the Galaxy Note II. While to most users both screens look just the same there’s actually a difference. The more you know about it the better. Most smartphones today offer almost the same specifications and the technology behind the display could be a real game changer.

5.  Pixel Density

Apple’s “retina display” is the darling of the tech press. You’ve probably wondered why there’s a lot of fuss about devices with retina display. Well it is because of the pixel count. The more they pack per inch the better. The newly launched Nexus 10 tablet beats everyone hands down when it comes to screen resolution. But the Nexus 10 is a tablet what about smartphones that we are focusing on? The retina display on the iPhones (4, 4S and 5) is one of the crispiest displays. Many Android smartphones too are really trying and are coping up well with the competition. My darling here is the Lumia 920 from Nokia (has a screen resolution of 768 X 1280 i.e 332 ppi). I’ve never used the device but the early reviews have left no doubt that it stands tall at the top of the table with the rest of the best displays.

The Nokia Lumia 920. With 332 pixels per inch, the display is one of the best out there. PHOTO: Nokia Conversations

6.  Your Wallet Size

A large display with a high pixel density and the best display technology obviously costs a lot to manufacture. Those manufacturing costs and the other costs incurred in research and development (heard of the hard work Samsung is putting in making sure there are AMOLED HD displays?) will surely be passed on to you the consumer meaning that a device with a very good display will also set you back some good amount of money. Your wallet must be able to rise up to the occasion. The bigger the better. Size does matter as I said before. And it is costly too.

Feel free to join in the discussion. What do you consider when deciding on the screen size of your next (or first) smartphone?






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