Will A Larger Phone Really Change Your Life?

Will A Larger Phone Really Change Your Life?

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.


  • I hate my 4.7″ phone screen. It’s FAR too big. It’s a pain the the ass to fit in my pocket, I can’t reach the entire screen with one thumb (I’ve got quite large hands as well). I’d happily move back to a 4″ screen if given the option. The trouble is, no-one is giving me that option!

    • What device are you running? It’s my experience that larger screen phones hold their value quite well. If you are running something mainstream like a Galaxy Note, I reckon you could ebay yours and pick up something newish with a 4″ screen with little or no cash spent.

      • Can’t ebay my phone, It’s a One XL, with a busted screen. Gorilla Glass, my ass.

        The other problem is there’s no comparable 4″ phone. They’re all crappy low end or if you’re lucky, mid range phones. None with LTE.

    • Screen/device size is relative to the user. An iPad mini to me is probably about the same as an iPhone to many others – the latter fits fully in the palm of my hand. A smaller screen generally translates to smaller keypads and other UI elements, at which point I feel like I’m trying to do microsurgery with gloves on.

    • I’d hate to see what kind of pants you’re wearing if you can’t fit a 4.7″ phone in your pocket. The pockets on both my jeans and suit pants can fit two Galaxy S3’s side by side, comfortably.

  • This seems like one of those “no right answer” things. I’m happy with my GNex (4.6″), although every now and again I catch myself wishing it was just a touch bigger (The S3, with it’s 4.8″ screen, is probably ideal).
    You do definitely notice the difference when you pick up a smaller phone. I still don’t know how people use iPhone 4 or 4S, even the 5 feels tiny. Maybe it’s the downside to having big hands?

  • I am completely and entirely the opposite to you.

    My Note 2 fits fine in all of my pockets and now doubles as a wallet, so really I am taking up less pocket space than before.

    Even when I had my iPhone 3 and Galaxy S I very rarely used them with just one hand. If you are typing it is impossible to do anything else, so you might as well stop and use two hands. The only time I used it one handed was to check the weather, or skip a song. I can operate my Note 2 one handed to do these still (however only just becuase I have small hands), but now I just use Svoice to do these tasks anyway.

    I have found myself using my Note 2 twice as much as my smaller phones. I cringed everytime i pulled up a browser on my tiny phones, but now I have no problem browsing.

    Also the handwriting recognition on the note is Amazing! I have never used such an accurate handwriting app.

    But the best thing is the massive battery. That is definately one thing that has changed my life. Not having to seek out a power point each day is awesome.

    • ” If you are typing it is impossible to do anything else, so you might as well stop and use two hands”
      Maybe for the small of hand, but for us “well-endowed” I regularly and easily type one handed on my galaxy S 4″.
      But the s3 would be too big.
      Nexus 4 is tempting me but for the 16Gb limit! (Why didn’t they go with 16 and 32Gb options?)

      • so you can type on a smartphone without looking at the screen? What I meant was that because you cannot feel the keyboard buttons on a smartphone you have to look at the screen when typing. If you are focusing on the screen and typing with one hand why wouldn’t you use the second hand and type faster? I cannot think of a situation where I have used my phones keyboard in one hand while simultaneously multitasking with something else in the other hand…

        • Cause I’m holding something (ie a bag, drink, food etc).
          I can walk and type just fine whilst holding something in my other hand.
          Maybe you can’t imagine doing that because you have small hands?

          • So you are one of those people that are constantly walking out of shops without looking and bumping into people on the street! I cant stand people that are walking in crowded places with their head buried in their phone forcing everyone else to try and determine their path. Aside from that, the Note2 (and im sure other big phones) allow you to set your keyboard to the right or left of the screen for one handed use, so really this shouldn’t be an issue for people who walk, text and hold shit all at the same time.

    • If you are typing it is impossible to do anything else, so you might as well stop and use two hands.

      I certainly type with 2 hands already, but doing something like reaching the settings button in the notification drawer with my left thumb is a painful stretch.

  • i sort of agree with the sentiment here, bigger screens ftw but for me 4.5-5 is the bigger screen and where i like to be, i remember when 2-2.5 inch was the huge bomb but moving from a galaxy5 (3inch i think) to the gnex at 4.6 was amazing, anything bigger like the note etc whilst great devices just feel pointless to me, sure they can make calls, although you look a bit of a tool, i just feel if your going to have a 6inch devices just go the extra mile and get a tablet, use a 5inch screen phone on the go and a 7-10inch tablet for all those times the bigger screen is prefered,

  • I used to find the 3GS screen too small and I always wanted something bigger. Then I got a tablet and I find that all the things I wanted more screen space for on the phone I now do on the tablet and I’d be happy to go back to a smaller phone again if it had high quality everywhere else.

  • I have an original Motorola Defy from 2010 (the world screams, “Get with the program, Barb!”), which is 3.7inch. My next phone will be about an inch larger so that it’s easier to read and type on.

    I can’t type worth a whit on my phone, and never have been able to. My fingers are just too big for the keyboard. Autocorrect has decided that I’m German-French-Swahili in origin, and autocorrects more often to those languages than to English (why can’t it look at the display language on the phone and then ASK you the minute it thinks you frequently use another language if you’d like to make words in that language substitute with the same priority given to the phone’s default language, with the assumption being that that is not usually what someone would want?)

    I also find myself constantly having to enlarge web pages to read them on my phone, and getting quite annoyed when pages don’t support being enlarged. (FWIW, I am over 40.) I also like the idea that a larger phone might have longer battery life so that it holds a charge for more than 10 hours if I dare to use it for about an hour during the day.

    When I have my Asus Transformer tablet with me, I tend to use that instead of my phone if there’s wifi around, for anything other than phone calls. But there isn’t always wifi, and I don’t always carry my tablet.

    I hate Samsung because of prior experiences with a Samsung flipphone with bad emission characteristics and an electrical system prone to toasting batteries and chargers (in one case starting to smoke up my bedroom, thank god I was home to throw it out the window) and will never buy another Samsung product based on that history of poor engineering that is not immediately apparent to a user.

    I’ve heard less than stellar things about LG’s build quality, and this worries me as I tend to be rough on my phones. That my Defy made it through a trip in the washing machine – powered on – is one of the reasons I haven’t yet replaced it.

    Where to from here, for someone who DOES want a larger (but not super-sized) phone, and DOES NOT want a Samsung device? HTC? Asus PadPhone II? I’m thinking 4.6-4.8 inch display, probably.

  • I think generally when people talk about not being able to go back to small screens, they were generally talking about going from a 4.2, 4.3, 4.5, 4.7 inch Android back to the 3.5 inch iPhone. Maybe to a 4 inch iPhone 5 or similar-sized Android. Not so much going from a 5 inch Android to a 4.7 inch Android.

    Personally I find the Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note 2 to be too ungainly for me to use (I know that’s not the case for many other people and that’s fine, these things are not one-size-fits-all). I switched from the Apple side to Android two years ago and a big reason for that was moving up to a 4.3 inch screen. It made a real difference. But I don’t feel that a further move up to 5 inches makes anywhere near as much difference.

  • I prefer smaller phones I really do.

    It’s not that larger phones don’t pick in your pocket. It’s that they don’t fit in there with them sitting side by side with my wallet or without having an unsightly bulge.

    I really wish android and wp8 makers would understand this. I was excited with wp8 but I don’t want one because of its dimensions.

  • I eagerly await the day when the world stops caring quite so much about how thin a device is and how large its screen, instead opting for the far less quantifiable “comfort in the hand”.

    My old N97 Mini is a real clunker by today’s standards, and chubby at 14mm, but it’s by far the nicest phone I’ve ever held, bar none. Its “chubb” allows it to have a smaller footprint than an iP5, and provides for generous rounded edges that give it a pebble-like feel. Slipping it in and out of pockets is noticeably easier than my Lumia because of this. The design also makes it easy to tell what part of the phone you’re grabbing just by touch. It feels substantial without feeling heavy, and the sturdiness of the build is pure Nokia.

    There are other things to like, and plenty of flaws, but among phones nothing feels better in my hand. In 2013 I believe that a 3.5″ WVGA capacitive AMOLED, decent dual-core hardware, huge battery and good camera could all fit into that casing, especially if you remove the hardware keyboard. Give me that with WP8 and I’ll be on it like white on rice. The obsession with “thin” is IMHO far stupider than the idea that the biggest-screen phone has to be the flagship.

  • Went from an iPhone 4 to the Galaxy Note 2, love it in almost every way. The size is a non issue, I have not found it once to be limiting or cause of annoyance, in fact I have stopped using my ipad all together since purchase the Note 2, I know 5.5 isn’t 9.7, but for what I use iPad for, the Note fills perfectly. The screen is amazing, and being able to have 2 apps open at the same time is a godsend, no more switching between apps if I can help it!

    I tried using an iPhone 4 the other day, and my fingers felt too big, even though only 4 weeks ago, I was using the same phone perfectly fine. To me it parallels multiple monitors, some people have more than 1 monitor and can’t imagine life without them, where as some people see them as unnecessary space hogs. Personally, I can’t stand it when I use a PC with 1 monitor and try and work how I normally work, I love having Outlook taking up one monitor, another with Chrome for browsing, and another for active stuff, such as quotes I’m working on, code I’m writing etc.

    To each their own I guess? I know people who think the iPhone is too large and should be smaller, but for a bloke with big hands and bigger pockets like me, the larger screen wins hands down.

  • Got a Lumia 920 for the screen size (and no IOS, just to be different). Now I use other’s iphones and it seems far too cramped.

    I actually caught myself holding the phone to my face using an iphone, as opposed to resting it on my desk or holding my hand in my lap like I do now.

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