Smartphone Comparison: Screen Sizes

One of the key considerations in making any smartphone comparison has to be the model’s screen size.

Just over five years ago, in the pre-touchscreen era, we contented ourselves with 2-inch (diagonally measured) screen sizes on candybar phones, such as Nokia’s N70 in 2005.

Screen sizes gradually grew larger with the 2.6-inch Nokia N95 in 2007, followed by the 2.8-inch N96 in 2008. Around this time, Apple released the first iPhone, which sported a 3.5-inch touchscreen, in 2007.

While Apple has amazingly kept this same size even up to the latest iPhone 4S in 2011, the most recent years have seen larger sizes coming out—such as the 4.3-inch Samsung Galaxy S II, the 4.7-inch HTC Sensation XL, and even the 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note.

With all these different screen sizes emerging, how would you choose what’s best for you?

Size Matters—But So Does Resolution

The key lies in understanding how screen size developed alongside screen resolution, since this directly affects image quality, and therefore in meeting your individual needs in using a smartphone.

The earlier smartphones around year 2005 had smaller 2-inch screens on average during the pre-touchscreen era. What mattered more was having a handy keypad or even a full QWERTY keyboard—which is still currently found on the BlackBerry Curve and Bold devices to this date. Screen resolutions were also lower at that time, at around 176×208 or 320×240, so image quality was decent at those screen sizes.

As the years went by, the demand for larger screens became increasingly apparent, as smartphones started to grow larger into the 3- to 4- inch range. This was fueled mainly by the developments of capacitive touchscreen technology, which allowed multi-touch, pinching, and swiping. This can be easily done today on the iPhone and many others. (The earlier smartphones and PDAs which were using resistive touchscreens typically required a stylus, since they were not as sensitive and could only respond to single touches.)

At these larger screen sizes, screen resolution had to improve at the same time to maintain or even improve image quality as well, otherwise you would be seeing blown-up pixelated images.

In the area of image quality (measured in pixels per inch or ppi), the iPhone reigns supreme with its Retina Display resolution of 640×960 (326ppi on 3.5 inches), followed by 720×1280 on the larger 4.65-inch Galaxy Nexus (316ppi), 540×960 on the Motorola Atrix 2 (256ppi on 4.3 inches), and 480×800 on the Samsung Galaxy S II (217ppi on 4.3 inches).

As you can see in the above examples, larger screen sizes do not always equal better image quality. The screen resolution needs to be correspondingly increased to keep up the ratio.

Physical Considerations of Screen Size

So now with the image quality aspect covered, let’s look at the physical aspects or ergonomics of screen size.

Smartphones today tend to have full-sized touchscreen slate form factors, minus the keypads of the earlier candybar, flip phones, or slide factors, as the trend now is to take full advantage of a full touchscreen. This maximizes your viewing pleasure and the touchscreen functionality. The most obvious tradeoff in choosing screen sizes is in balancing viewing size versus portability.

Apple iPhone 4S: Good Balance

In making your smartphone comparison, if you’re looking for portability and the best image quality, the 3.5-inch iPhone 4S is unbeaten as a package. It fits snugly in pockets and bags, boasts the sharpest image quality, and is good to use for Internet browsing or ebook reading for short durations at its size.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus and HTC Sensation XL: Larger Screens, But Less Comfortable to Use

If larger 4.3- to 4.7-inch screens are your preference, you’ll be sacrificing some image quality and portability for the increased viewing size. This can be more enjoyable for some users who need that bigger screen for viewing pleasure.

Smartphones below 4.5 inches will still be comfortable enough to use in one hand for most users. At larger sizes, though—such as the 4.65-inch Galaxy Nexus and 4.7-inch HTC Sensation XL—single-handed use might make it more difficult to reach the corners, though larger viewing could be a pleasurable tradeoff for some.

Samsung Galaxy Note: You’ll Need Large Hands

At the largest end, we have the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, which also identifies itself as a mini-tablet. At this size, you will need fairly large hands to hold it up comfortably as a phone. Or you could use a Bluetooth headset instead. Otherwise, this size works best for those who really want to see things big, with a larger touchscreen to play with.

All in, smartphone comparison in terms of screen size is quite an individual thing, and it would be best for you to experiment with the different sizes before committing to any particular smartphone.

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