It’s a common refrain: “Oh, I LOVE the large screen on this phone. I could NEVER go back.” It’s also, in my opinion, one of the silliest ideas you could ever have.
A while back, I penned a piece here at Lifehacker looking at whether there was a big difference in shifting from a small screen phone up to a large screen one. Large screen phones, so the popular theory goes, are life-changing experiences, and the claim is that once you’ve gone large, you can never go back. So that’s what I did; for a full month, while I was testing other phones, my day to day calling, emailing and twittering device was a very nice Samsung Galaxy Note II. In those heady pre-CES days, it was the largest screened Android phone you could buy. Actually, it still is, even with the spectre of even larger models on the horizon.
The Note II is a cracking phone. It works well on 4G (so it was my baseline for Adelaide 4G network testing), and it has a solid processor and quality display screen, and a stylus that, if I’m honest, I didn’t use outside core testing all that much. I know the S-Pen is meant to be the Note II’s secret sauce, but in my case, it was more like secret squirrel; seldom seen.
At the end of that month, though, I switched back — sort of. In order to make the comparison on screen size more equitable, I didn’t immediately flip back to the iPhone 4S I’d been using previously; instead I opted to use a Motorola RAZR M.
Why the RAZR M? Because there’s a problem with Android phones in a more hand-friendly size, and it’s this; they’re often very ordinary in a hardware sense. Yes, you can get cheap 4G Android phones, such as the ZTE models that Telstra sells, but you get what you pay for, and you don’t pay much. The RAZR M is a rarity, in that it’s got almost everything the large screen phones have, but in a small form factor — and I could switch near seamlessly from the Note II to the RAZR M and run the same core applications in the same way I had for the last month.
What struck me, and quickly, was that while the larger display screen on the Note II is nice, I didn’t miss it all that much. You can display more of a web page on a larger screen, or, in the Note II’s case, multi-task with two apps running at once, but that is a slightly fiddly process, and the list of suitable apps isn’t that long. It’s not as though a smaller screen instantly plucks out your eyeballs, making it harder to read slightly smaller text, or appreciate smaller icons. Equally, having to swipe up a page a little? That’s not an onerous chore.
There are all sorts of reasons to adore the Note II for what it is, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of phone experiences. Judging a phone purely on the dimensions of its display ignores everything good and bad that also goes into making it up. It’s a concern that there are relatively few genuinely powerful smaller Android phones — or perhaps an opportunity for Microsoft, RIM and Apple to jump on — but from a utility point of view, I don’t find using a phone with a smaller screen such a terrible experience.