Phone screens: Why Bigger Is (Almost) Always Better

By Tracey Dowdy

When it comes to your phone screen, size really does matter.

A phone isn’t just a phone anymore, we’re moving into the age of the “phablet” – a phone/tablet hybrid. When cell phones were introduced, most of us still relied on our desktop computers, so the idea that a phone could one day replace that desktop never occurred to most of us.

When Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007, other manufacturers scrambled to come up with phones that modeled Apple’s design – including the 3.5 inch display. Apple more or less dominated the market until 2010, when the Galaxy S and Droid models finally introduced some real competition. Before 2011, the majority of screens were between 2.5 and 4 inches, but since 2013 screens less than 4 inches have pretty much disappeared.

With that larger display it now makes sense that phones are becoming the primary computer for a significant part of the world’s population. Individuals in third-world countries may be unlikely to own cars and laptops but more and more are buying cellphones. For the rest of the world, our phone is how we do everything from pay bills and make dinner reservations to how we start our car or check on the baby.

So why is bigger almost always better?

The most obvious advantage is that larger display allows more text to be displayed, especially convenient if you’re browsing online. A small screen is fine if you’re texting or making a call, but once you try to read text on a website, that tiny screen is suddenly a big inconvenience. Small screens work for quick tasks, but if you’re using your phone for media, you’re going to want a bigger screen.

  • Camera and photos – A larger display won’t improve the pixel quality of your photos but it will definitely improve the composition.
  • Video-chatting and Face Time are better, since the whole point is to make you feel like you’re actually there.
  • Games – You can follow the action more easily and the larger screen also means your accuracy will improve, since it’s easier to see where you should be tapping. Also, icons are more spread out, so you’re less likely to hit the wrong button.
  • Speaking of spreading out, that larger screen means more accuracy with your touchscreen on and offline. Whether it’s the keyboard or closely packed URL options – think Facebook’s Tag Photo, View Full Size, Make Profile Picture – all crammed together, bigger definitely translates to more accuracy.
  • Movies – If you’ve ever tried to watch a video on your phone, this one is self-explanatory. We don’t go to the movies for the grossly overpriced popcorn; we go for that giant screen.
  • Android users have a distinct advantage over iPhone users in one area – split screen display. Users can download an app enabling split screen functionality, allowing you to view two apps at once.

As a side note, in addition to the advantages of a larger display, a bigger screen also means a bigger battery. As screen size has increased, so has battery life. Compact phones meant compact batteries, which was fine when we used our phones for talk or text. The battery of my old Motorola Razr would be completely inadequate for an iPhone 6 Plus or a Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

One of the problems with a bigger screen is that one-handed use is more challenging. Depending on how big you go, you may not be able to reach the whole screen when typing but that’s where Siri and voice dictation come in handy. Besides, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus include a one-handed mode. When you double tap the TouchID button, everything onscreen scoots closer to the bottom making it easier to reach. Android phones feature a similar “Reachability” mode, so that the top of the screen is accessible with one hand. A keyboard configured for one-handed typing is also available. In addition, there are a multitude of third-party keyboard apps to choose from in Google Play, iTunes, and the Windows Phone store.

Larger displays don’t necessarily mean a bigger phone. The Sharp Aquos Crystal and the Samsung Galaxy A3 are millimeters apart in overall size but the screen of the Aquos Crystal is nearly bezel-less, meaning it features a 5 inch display compared to the 4.5 inches of the Galaxy A3.

If you’re still on the fence about whether to go for the bigger screen, the best answer is to go into a store and see for yourself. There’s no better way to see if it fits in your pocket comfortably, is too heavy, or if a bigger screen is more trouble than it’s worth. My guess is once you see the options available and how much it improves your overall experience, you’ll understand why bigger is almost always better.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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