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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!).


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.

  • Options

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 07:38

2. mydi.maus (unregistered)

yes indeed,...

posted on 08 Jan 2013, 07:46 4

3. No_Nonsense (unregistered)

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 (banned) (Posts: 1574; 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: 963; 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: 449; 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: 1099; 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: 58; Member since: 28 Oct 2011)


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: 37; Member since: 11 Jan 2013)

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: 161; 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: 1999; 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 :-)

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: 539; 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: 14605; 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: 539; 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: 1515; 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: 785; 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: 14605; 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: 1515; 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: 785; 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 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: 14605; 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!

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