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The 5-inch smartphone: is this the end of the screen size race?

The 5-inch smartphone: is this the end of the screen size race?
Give people a phone with a 3.5-inch display in 2007 and you’d hear oohs and aahs about how big that display is, and that it might just be too big. From then on, every year it’s the same story over and over again, screens get bigger and everyone keeps on reconsidering how big a thumb actually is and how much of a hand gymnastics he or she can actually do.

With the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Note and its huge success the answer was clear - a lot.

But while the Galaxy Note set the stage for extremely large displays, for the first time it was no longer just a smartphone, it was now about phablets. A name that would both show how awesome having a miniature tablet is and how much of a pain everything above 5.3-inches is.


From 3.5 inches to 5 inches in five years

The evolution of screen sizes from the 3.2-inch G1 to the 4.7-inch Galaxy Nexus

The evolution of screen sizes from the 3.2-inch G1 to the 4.7-inch Galaxy Nexus

And looking back at history, after the initial shock from the 3.5-inch iPhone lasted a good three years or so with others reluctantly moving to match Apple, around 2010 the breakthrough started happening. It was first 4 inches in 2010, then 4.3 inches in 2011, then rapidly 4.7 inches in 2012 and now 5 inches in 2013.

Driven by leaps in what was perceived as stalled screen technology, display resolution quickly became the hottest topic of conversation with the arrival of AMOLED screens.

But now we have some reasons to believe that we’ve arrived at the final stop of the “who has the biggest display” race this year with 5-inch smartphones.


Four reasons why 5-inch screens might be the final stop

First, phablets. There is a reason why a 5.3-inch smartphone created this new category - it was considered too big, people had to be warned. This was the setting of a border.

There is little perceptible improvement for the human eye in 1080p screens on smartphones

There is little perceptible improvement for the human eye in 1080p screens on smartphones

Next, we’ve reached the 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution in smartphones. On a 5-inch screen, that’s a pixel density of 441ppi, enough for your retina to be in a state of happy oblivion when it comes to the existence of single jagged pixels. You simply cannot discern them.

We have argued it makes no real sense to jump to 1080p smartphones in the first place, since 720p already delivers enough detail for your retina to think the picture is perfect. But maximalists claimed that under some extreme circumstances there is still a tiny amount of perceptible improvement, and it was too much of a buzzword for anyone in the industry to miss. So it went to this new height, and jumped to 5-inch screens to try and argue the case of better image quality.

But there is just nowhere further to go, at least it won’t be an improvement that a human eye can see.

Apple remains conservative in the screen race

Apple remains conservative in the screen race

Next, the bezel has almost disappeared. At least it has become thin enough to almost ignore, which means that any change to the display size would trigger impractical changes in the width and height of the actual phone. In other words, if Samsung could increase the Galaxy Note II size from 5.3 inches to 5.5 inches without making it wider, a bigger screen now means a bigger device.

Lastly, there is finally agreement among absolutely all phone makers about 5-inch 1080p screens. There are no 5.1-inch displays, nor 4.9-inch displays released this year, no fluctuations in high-end smartphones - everyone sticks to 5 inches and 1080p, from Alcatel to Samsung (well, Apple is always an exception!).


Conclusion

With all this in mind, it seems we have finally settled. And that’s a good thing. Variety would still be there - we’ll have 6-inch smartphones like the Huawei Ascend Mate (but those would just be ridiculous), and we’ll have all sizes you can imagine below 5 inches. But the border for a smartphone seems clearly defined now - 5 inches.

And that’s a good thing. Settling on the screen size will move the debate from size and pixel density to things that matter more to the eye like screen calibration that has been far from perfect on most mobile devices (except Apple’s again, of course!).

We will finally move away from focusing on the specifications and get used to the smartphone as a tool and not a wonder machine. And it’s about time we got started on using those extremely powerful tools to better connect, eat, walk, think, live. It’s all in the future.

154 Comments
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posted on 08 Jan 2013, 07:38

2. mydi.maus (unregistered)


yes indeed,...

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 07:46 4

3. No_Nonsense (Posts: 826; Member since: 17 Aug 2012)


Not IMO. It's theoretically possible to increase the screen size while keeping the body size same. As in if the bezels are considerably reduced, a larger screen can be fitted in a smaller body. Speaking of screen resolutions, while anything above 1080p maybe futile for now, manufacturers may introduce higher res displays for better sales next year. It gives the consumer (the average Joe) a bragging right, despite there being no advantage of it until we learn to use the hardware fully.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:03

11. neutralguy (Posts: 1152; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


just what I thought! :D sorry if i posted a comment with almost similar essence.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 09:00 2

35. Nikolas.Oliver (Posts: 1340; Member since: 01 Jul 2012)


5 inch is the maximum size, stop increasing the screen size !!

posted on 09 Jan 2013, 00:42

132. bayusuputra (Posts: 941; Member since: 12 Feb 2012)


agree.. The industry should make a guidelines about screen size. X = 7 for tablets.

then it will be up to the people whether they would want to slap a 6.5" device next to their ear.

Unless of course OEMs can make true bezel-less devices where the entire thing is just a screen.

posted on 10 Jan 2013, 21:56

145. Larry_ThaGr81 (Posts: 294; Member since: 26 May 2011)


I own a Galaxy Note 2 and I it feels comfortable in one hand. I have average size guy hands. A lot of that has to do with the dimensions it sports. I've held the LG Intuition/Vu 2 and despite it's 5 inch screen, its 4:3 ratio dimension design makes it uncomfortable to hold in one hand. You won't feel that way with the Note 2 because Sammy managed to maintain the 16:9 dimension ratio.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 07:49 2

5. alterecho (Posts: 975; Member since: 23 Feb 2012)


I used the old Nokia 5800 the other day. I'd still choose the 5800 over other phones for its form, if it had a faster processor and would run on Symbian Belle and not that horrendous old Symbian it shipped with initially.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:04

74. ash29 (Posts: 55; Member since: 28 Oct 2011)


Really.

posted on 12 Jan 2013, 13:40 1

146. Bernoulli (Posts: 1401; Member since: 01 Sep 2012)


Would definitely have this nokia over an idevice

posted on 15 Jan 2013, 00:39 1

148. chasetorres125 (Posts: 22; Member since: 07 Jan 2013)


Try using 5110 its more responsive ang tough rock no lag hihi

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 07:49

6. MattGioff (Posts: 11; Member since: 26 Nov 2012)


I hope! Let me get an Experia Z in a 4.3 inch or even just a 4 inch screen size and I'd be happy!

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 07:51 4

7. Lawliet (Posts: 160; Member since: 02 Jul 2012)


Yes, goddamnit

4.2 ~ 4.8 is plenty enough if you ask me

posted on 24 Jan 2013, 05:43

153. alexvoda (Posts: 5; Member since: 11 Jan 2013)


agree.
4.3 would be the max for single handed use -> for a phone.
Evan the 4.5 of the Xperia T I have is just a bit to much to comfortably operate with one hand.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:00 8

8. lumialove (Posts: 75; Member since: 16 May 2012)


4-4.5inch is perfect :)

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 21:33 2

131. Mobilephile (Posts: 65; Member since: 25 Nov 2012)


I remember a few years back when everyone thought the 4.3" HD2 was humungus and too big....just sayin

posted on 15 Jan 2013, 10:56

150. __Toprak__ (Posts: 6; Member since: 31 Jan 2012)


yeah I exactly did that and look what I'm using now :D

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:00 2

9. neutralguy (Posts: 1152; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


I think, 5 inch displays are the not yet the last stop. It's just a matter of time where phone manufacturers will find ways to extremely reduce the bezels thus making the device smaller even with large screen. It would come to a point that the bezel on the sides of the screen would be similar to the top and bottom bezels. Maybe, a 6 inch screen with edge-to-edge display would be the final stop of the screen size race.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 09:51 1

50. andro. (Posts: 1927; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)


Agreed the screens will get bigger. I have a galaxy note 1 and i personnally think thats the max size a phone should be,now if they can get a much bigger screen into the same footprint as the gnote than I'm all for it,reduce those bezels! Take the Sony z for instance,next year if Sony can engineer less bezel they could have a 5.2 screen perhaps in the same over dimensions.

I for one would defo carry a huge phone screen if it came like this :-)
http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/look-kyoceras-foldable-phone-f-82240

Incredible prototype!!

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 12:23

104. neutralguy (Posts: 1152; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


True. I gotta agree with you. Gnote 1 is a big phone and have a same thought that it should be the maximum size for a phone. I think, in the future, most phone would be all about screen. Reduction of the bezels would be the thing every manufacturer will consider. Motorola started it, and everyone for sure will follow. Besides, having a big screen is good, but it must be fitted on a smaller footprint.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 13:57

118. freebee269 (Posts: 497; Member since: 10 Aug 2012)


have you seen the new total recall? in that movie they have a phone that is basically just a screen with zero bezel and you can see through the screen. that would allow the phone's screen size to be bigger than 5 inches. thats where i envision cell phones heading.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 14:05

119. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


they also had phones imbedded in their hands.. heck naw McGraw!

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 14:22

120. freebee269 (Posts: 497; Member since: 10 Aug 2012)


lol. yea that idea i'm not cool with. haha.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:02 5

10. Slammer (Posts: 817; Member since: 03 Jun 2010)


I'm not sure whether Victor H is an antagonist or ignorant. Propping Apple up as an almighty product in articles, is always enjoyable, but also shows favoritism that renders it as opinion only. I have a question:

Where were all these cheerleaders were when Apple wasn't "Cool" and faced bankruptsy?

I often wonder how these journalists would percieve Apple if it were not as "Trendy".

John B.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:11 11

14. Victor.H (Posts: 381; Member since: 27 May 2011)


First of all, it is an opinion only since we are not oracles here. Second, I fail to see how mentioning Apple in a true-to-fact fashion is favoritism, maybe you could try and explain?

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:22 6

18. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


so... your not a hot chick dressed in linen drugged up by a bunch of fugly old perverts on top of a mountain?

Damnit.. and I was just about to march on over and ask about the fate of my army.. gaaawd.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 10:37 4

62. Slammer (Posts: 817; Member since: 03 Jun 2010)


First of all Victor, I don't have a problem with you liking Apple. It is your right and many of my colleagues like their Apple. However, you are a journalist on a tech blog site that possibly thousands like me see every day. You don't have to claim to be an "Oracle" or even denounce it. You are in a position that potentially controls a reader's impression. You didn't mention that it is "Your" opinion(even if perceived), so some people will observe your article as Bible. I don't belong to the wireless industry other than as a consumer. I depend on tech blog sites such as this one to learn more and more about a growing industry. I also depend on a great amount of experience through 27 years of watching this industry evolve pre and post Apple. Elevating a choice product up as a devine entity is easy, but can easily prop it up as a paper tiger. It can inadvertently trigger false expectations in what people are looking for(especially for those seeking info through these sites). I would hope the owner(s) of this site would want to make sure no offense is made to those that choose differently. Going out of your way in this article to list disadvantages of the topic at hand while injecting an exception toward a different product, does have the potential to insult. Also, I spent a good amount of years with Apple products in my life. So while you have an opinion, so do I. So, my question remains: Where were you specifically, when Apple was just a speck on the globe? This question is valid because it pertains to a company that hasn't changed its MO or DNA since its inception three decades ago.

Secondly Victor: Keeping in mind that technology has upsides and downsides, if you could list a number of known or unknown negatives that Apple has brought to this industry and its consumers, it might help me and others understand that you or this site are not showing favoritsim to Apple.

John B.

posted on 09 Jan 2013, 03:10 3

137. Victor.H (Posts: 381; Member since: 27 May 2011)


Again, my first remark about Apple's 'evolution' in screen sizes is obviously ironic and the second one is true to fact as I've explained in earlier comments. I appreciate you caring for balanced coverage (keep up that spirit!), but I can't really see the imbalance here.

posted on 12 Jan 2013, 13:48

147. Bernoulli (Posts: 1401; Member since: 01 Sep 2012)


Maybe in regards to apps for the iphone 4s being "incompatible"with the iphone 5 because the app wouldn't fit the screen size, ie angry birds in the iphone 5 sucked

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:44 2

27. kmik05 (Posts: 5; Member since: 20 Dec 2011)


See, I kind of felt the way he positioned Apple was mockingly, as they try to do their own thing, and instead of answering consumer demand, they try to dictate what demand should be... until now, and they're quickly going to realize that too many people are straying from the herd (my thoughts for the latter part of that sentence!)

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 09:09

39. mrochester (unregistered)


People are straying from the herd? I was under the impression (with the sales figures to back it up) that Apple are selling more and more iPhones than ever before.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 09:55 1

52. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


only in america does the iPhone continue to be strong. Outside of america its relegated to a pretty distant second and even sometimes 3rd place after android and WP7. If you take American sales out of the equation, iOS is a blip on the sales radar for the rest of the world.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 10:58

70. mrochester (unregistered)


The iPhone is strong all over the world. I think you're confusing the iPhone (a model of phone) with iOS (a mobile OS) as you've mixed in Android and WP7 which are operating systems, not phone models!

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:03

73. gwuhua1984 (Posts: 1237; Member since: 06 Mar 2012)


The iPhone outside of US and compared to US is so much weaker. Of course, it still sells outside of the US, but it's just not the first thing on people mind. iPhone is only favored mainly in the US.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 13:44

117. Mobilephile (Posts: 65; Member since: 25 Nov 2012)


the iphone 4 and 5 have become very weak in sales in China, the biggest mobile world market.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:25

81. andro. (Posts: 1927; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)


Your right there Remixfa,stats wise android has something like 69% of the market share outside the US,Ios only around 20%.

Personnally I see the gs3 alone outselling the Iphone 5 at least 3:1,when counting in other android handsets into the equation then there isn't even a need to count continue the analysis anymore as the winners are quite evident

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:27

83. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


I dont even think its 20. Last I remember it was like at 17% or so and dropping with android's rise in china and india. What was it.. only a measly 5% of 2012 smartphone sales in china were iphones? It was a pretty seriously low number. It was competing for 2nd place with WP7.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:41

87. gwuhua1984 (Posts: 1237; Member since: 06 Mar 2012)


You're right, China is supposed to have a huge iPhone market share iPhones. Chinese people are crazy about the iPhones, that's the only thing they're asking for when they come to the States. Apple is an American brand, it gives them that sense of superiority. I still couldn't believe that Android market share is so much higher than iPhones there.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:58

92. tedkord (Posts: 3936; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)


And so are Samsung and Android in general, at a significantly faster rate in android's case. Thats the market growth you're seeing in Apples growth, but year after year, Android and Samsung grow more than Apple.

Apple hada huge head start in the smartphone wars, and it took Android less than 4 years to pass them and more than double their market share. Shortly after that, Samsung became the number one smartphone vendor worldwide and in Apples stronghold, the US.

If not for these facts, the iphone 5 would likely still have the same 3.5 inch screen. Much of what you see from Apple today asfar as change is reaction to Android dominance. The change will continue add they try to ward it off.

posted on 09 Jan 2013, 00:49

133. bayusuputra (Posts: 941; Member since: 12 Feb 2012)


I always see something good about apple as nothing more than sarcasms.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:10 16

12. jove39 (Posts: 1206; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


About Writer of article - Apple fanboy jealous of big screen Android phones.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:53 2

32. ray77 (Posts: 121; Member since: 17 Nov 2012)


an ur right

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 09:34 3

46. Victor.H (Posts: 381; Member since: 27 May 2011)


Nailed it.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:59 1

93. tedkord (Posts: 3936; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)


You get a +1 for that.

posted on 09 Jan 2013, 00:49

134. bayusuputra (Posts: 941; Member since: 12 Feb 2012)


so just ditch apple, go for the better. why settle for less?

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:11 5

13. marchels14 (unregistered)


I agree 5 inches is the limit and 1080p should be also, smartphone companies should start thinking about better build quality,viewing angles,brightness indoor and outdoor and making all phones water and dust resistant.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:14 5

15. marchels14 (unregistered)


That phone in the article picture looks stupid and ridiculous.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:20 5

17. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


This article is already rendered moot by the slew of phones coming out in 2013 that push the 5inch barrier and beyond. The new S4 is supposed to be 5 inches, the Note 3 will be close to 6 inches. HTC, LG, and nearly everyone else is throwing into the 5.5+ category this year.

The only change I see coming is a decrease in the use of the term "phablet" as there is no longer a real border between superphone and phablet. As bezels decrease, the size of the screen will increase along with it. Phablets were once considered at 5 inches and above. Now either every superphone coming out is a phablet, or none of them are. Maybe instead of phablet, we will start calling every phone under 4.3 inches a "mini phone" to better show the difference in the market.

As far as screen size, I'm holding my 4.7 inch Nexus4 (which is quickly becoming "average screen size") and seeing about another half inch of bezel that could be turned into screen without increasing the size of the phone.. so yea, as long as borders continue to shrink I can continue to go up in screen size to 5 inches and beyond... and they will continue to shrink, that you can count on.

1080p is completely useless on a phone.. its a buzzword to get peeps excited, and nothing more.

BTW, am I the only one that noticed that in the pixel comparison between the phones' text displays that the iphone was much smaller than the rest. That skews results. tisk tisk.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:32 1

20. rickywinataa (Posts: 262; Member since: 05 Apr 2012)


i think note 3 will be either 5.7 to 6 inches in size with 1080P screen.

1080P is still useful for phones IMO, i still can see pixel in high density screen like iPhone though i need to really focus to see it, 1080P just makes pixel truly impossible to be seen with naked eyes

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:36 2

22. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


its already impossible to discern with naked eyes. Your eyes cant separate pixels after like 320ppi or whatever the magic number is.. Thats 720p on a 4.7 inch+ screen. I have to hold my nose to my nexus to even pretend I can see a pixel.

Its a buzzword and nothing more to get people excited.. a placebo effect. Its just like how they constantly ramp up clock speeds even though the newer chip sets are way more powerful than the previous generations and more than we will use in the next few years. Its all a placebo effect and part of advertising to get people to think product X is faster than product Y.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 09:56 1

53. andro. (Posts: 1927; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)


Its depends on a persons eyes,I can definitely say i can see that the dna's text above is much sharper. I can personnaly see the gnote 2 pixels being less sharp than the gnote 1 due to ppi,that saying visually my eyes are very sharp for pixels onscreens and tvs,as for audio however im probably as far from an audiophile as someone could be,it all sounds the same lol!

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 10:01

55. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


sure, anyone can see the text when its blown up 500%. However when going between a 320ppi screen to a 400ppi screen and looking at it from 1 ft away in real life (regular viewing distance), you will see no difference at all.

The Note1's screen wasnt exactly high pixel density.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 11:01

72. mrochester (unregistered)


Sadly, manufacturers like to take advantage of the gullible and easily duped people who think that bigger numbers = better. It's a trend that we saw in the PC market and is a trend we now see in the smartphone market.

posted on 09 Jan 2013, 07:18

141. rickywinataa (Posts: 262; Member since: 05 Apr 2012)


well maybe they just want to make people can't see pixel no matter how hard they try

posted on 09 Jan 2013, 11:00 1

142. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


One day we will be there. I'm not against furthering the tech... hell, I'm always for improvements. However there just isnt a "need" for it on a mobile display tech at this moment. It takes a lot of extra horsepower from the chip, which results in faster battery drain, to power a super high resolution screen... and for what actual benefit? Lower frame rates in games (eventually as they get more detailed)?

The display is all about what your eyes percieve. If the eyes cant tell the difference anymore, then its just a waste of money. Concentrate on better contrast, color, and sun visibility instead.

The only thing I could think of that could really use the higher resolution mega high PPI display would be those augmented reality glasses like Google Goggles and Virtual Reality head sets like Occulous Rift where the screen is literally millimeters from your eye.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 12:11 1

99. tedkord (Posts: 3936; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)


Its dependent on viewing distance. If you hold the phone a for and a half from your face, you can't see pixels even at 720p. I have 20/18 vision, and I can't see pixels on the SGS3 at average viewing distance.

Your average 1080p 55' TV has only like 50ppi or thereabouts, but if you're sitting 8 feet from it, its plenty.

No one used their smartphone an inch or two from their faces. 1080p isa gimmick.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 12:28 1

106. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


correct.

The only real use I could see for such high PPI is things like Google Goggles where the screen is literally on your eye. Then mega high 400+PPI would actually have a real benefit.

Speaking of which.. where's my Google Goggles.. I was hoping they would be out by now!! lol.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:37 1

23. TBomb (Posts: 76; Member since: 28 Dec 2012)


well put

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:55

33. jove39 (Posts: 1206; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


Yes...iPhone text size seems zoomed out!!!

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 08:34 4

21. _Bone_ (Posts: 2061; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)


I did fancy switching to a phablet one day, but fullHD 5" is the perfect combination of one-handed usage and very large screen, need not to go ~6" me thinks.

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 09:00 2

34. Tones (Posts: 52; Member since: 23 Aug 2012)


I agree. Think 5" is just small enough to use as an everyday phone, and big enough to use for your everyday surfing / social networking / media / gaming.

I wouldnt like to get anything bigger than 5", and i certainly wouldnt go back to anything under 4.5"

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