Are there actual benefits to the 18:9 aspect ratio on the iPhone X and Note 8?

LG V30 is one of many recent flagships to come with a 2 to 1 screen aspect ratio.

LG V30 is one of many recent flagships to come with a 2 to 1 screen aspect ratio.


Ever since the iPhone debuted in 2007, signaling the proverbial Big Bang of the smartphone sector, we've seen a lot of different trends come and go. Instead of seeing devices becoming smaller and smaller, they started getting bigger and bigger to accommodate larger displays in what was increasingly becoming a pocket-sized personal computer. Ten years after the first-generation iPhone, Apple launches the iPhone X, an impressive device as well as Apple's first foray into a new trend for smartphones: the 18:9 aspect ratio.

Whether you're a so-called "Apple fanboy" or an Android loyalist, if you're using a 2017 flagship there's a pretty decent chance the smartphone that's currently in your hand features this elongated display orientation. Although there have been OEMs to dabble with unconventional aspect ratios, this wasn't a mainstream feature until the LG G6 and Samsung's Galaxy S8/S8 Plus, released in March and April 2017, respectively. Since then, we've seen numerous other flagship devices launch with extra-tall displays, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Google's Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, the iPhone X, and even OnePlus' mid-cycle refresh, the OnePlus 5T, is now sporting the 18:9 aspect ratio.

As the number of flagships with the 18:9 aspect ratio continues to grow, consumers must ask themselves an important question: Are there any actual benefits to having an 18:9 display?

Usability


Before the mainstream introduction of 18:9 to smartphones, the trend was to make displays bigger. At the time, virtually all smartphones had a 16:9 aspect ratio.

The measurement of a smartphone's display represents its size when measured diagonally from corner to corner. But if you were to measure the actual dimensions of a smartphone with a 5.5-inch display and standard 16:9 aspect ratio, the display would actually be about 4.79 inches tall and 2.69 inches wide (assuming we are rounding to the nearest hundredth). However, in terms of usability, the width of a display is particularly important in that it can have the most immediate effect. For instance, a device's width will determine whether it requires just one hand to use comfortably or whether you'll need to use both hands. Obviously, if a smartphone has a large display, the actual body of the device will have to be wider to accommodate that display, which can make the phone unwieldy for individuals with smaller hands. With most users wanting bigger and bigger displays even though larger displays are harder to use, how do we address this conundrum? The answer is by changing the aspect ratio.

The iPhone X is Apple's first handset with an extra-tall display.

The iPhone X is Apple's first handset with an extra-tall display.

If we take that same hypothetical 5.5-inch display mentioned previously, but we create it in a 18:9 aspect ratio rather than 16:9, the actual dimensions of the display change to 4.92 inches tall and 2.45 inches wide. In other words, the display becomes twice as tall as it is wide with about a quarter of an inch shaved off the width. It may sound like a trivial difference, but it can be pretty significant for usability.

As you've probably noticed, the devices with 18:9 aspect ratios tend to also be "bezel-less" with the displays reaching all the wide to the sides and coming much closer to the top and bottom. With an 18:9 orientation taking a little off the sides while extending the display toward the top and bottom, you're able to essentially incorporate a larger display with minimal to no gains in terms of overall footprint. In some cases, we're seeing this aspect ratio make larger displays than we've ever had on flagship devices possible, which is the case with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and its 6.3-inch QHD display. Then there are cases where the elongated aspect ratio allows for a bit more screen real estate on a more compact device as with the iPhone X.

The takeaway from this is that the 18:9 aspect ratio has been introduced largely for practical purposes. But aside from usability, there may be some other benefits, too.

Multitasking


Dual window functionality greatly benefits from taller displays.

Dual window functionality greatly benefits from taller displays.

Anyone who's tried to use the multitasking capabilities of modern smartphones will know that having such a limited amount of screen available is extremely prohibitive to smartphone multitasking. On Android, multitasking exists with the split-screen mode that became a native feature of Android Nougat, but it had been available via OEMs' skinned versions of the mobile operating system for a while at that point. Essentially, it's exactly how it sounds: You divide your display between two apps, allowing you to essentially use them both at the same time. Unfortunately, iPhones don't currently have the same type of multitasking abilities you see with split-screen on Android or even the multitasking features on the iPad, so this topic is mostly pertaining to recent Android devices.

The drawback to split-screen multitasking is that you're essentially take a single full-screen app and trading it for two half-screen apps. In other words, you're seeing far less of each app, which is the trade-off if you want to use them both at the same time. This can be even more difficult if you happen to be typing as the on-screen keyboard will likewise require some screen space. While the 18:9 aspect ratio certainly doesn't remedy this issue altogether, increasing the height of the display can only help. Anyone who uses split-screen multitasking on Android would likely enjoy the feature even more on a smartphone with an 18:9 display.

Productivity


Although the two concepts are certainly related, productivity has some key differences from just multitasking. While the latter represents a way to achieve the former, productivity is a broader term that can apply to many different functions. For instance, you might find multitasking to be the ultimate form of mobile productivity, but some who does a lot of digital art might find multitasking to be less crucial to his or her productivity.

It goes without saying that having a larger display is better for productivity. For example, many laptop users have monitors that they plug into their laptops because it provides them with a much larger playground for things like graphic design, video editing, writing and research, and even just browsing the web or streaming video content. Similarly, having a larger display on a smartphone opens up the potential to be more productive.

A prime example is the digital artist I mentioned just above. While something like an iPad or Android tablet would certainly be a better choice for an artist, you lose some portability with such a dramatic increase in size. By comparison, the 18:9 aspect ratio can provide a digital artist with a slightly larger portable canvas.

Alternately, writers would surely appreciate the elongated form factor as it allows them to see more text on the screen at once. For people in a variety of industries, the 18:9 aspect ratio simply provides a more sizable workspace without sacrificing portability or usability.



Content consumption


Last but certainly not least, being able to squeeze a larger display onto our smartphones means that we get an even better experience when it comes to content consumption on the go. Of course, part of this is the cumulate effect of the 18:9 aspect ratio with edge-to-edge and nearly bezel-less displays, which offer a much more immersive viewing experience. On the other hand, the actual apparatus with which we view content on our smartphones is the display, but how does the 18:9 orientation factor in?

If you're currently using a device with an 18:9 display, you'll probably have noticed that most streaming video features some letter-boxing on the sides. When you hold the device in landscape orientation, the video playing on the device doesn't actually reach all the way to the sides. Instead, there's a black space between the edge of the on-screen video and the actual edge of the display; this is known as letter-boxing.

Most video will not fit a 2 to 1 display perfectly.

Most video will not fit a 2 to 1 display perfectly.

Most games are yet to be updated to take advantage of the new screen format.

Most games are yet to be updated to take advantage of the new screen format.


In short, letter-boxing occurs when the aspect ratio of the content you're watching doesn't match the aspect ratio of the device on which you're watching the content. So, rather than zooming into the content or arbitrarily cropping the sides, the video plays in the middle of the display and the rest of the display becomes black.

The fact that bigger displays are better for content consumption is almost negated by the fact that there's really not much 18:9 content, meaning that much of your streaming video isn't even going to take advantage of all your device's display real estate. On the plus side, the fact that there are quite a few popular devices and even an iPhone with 18:9 displays available means that compatible content is undoubtedly coming, but there's no question that this limits the value of 18:9 for content consumption at the moment.

It's worth mentioning, though, that there are usually some tricks that will allow you to zoom or crop the content so that it will use the entire display area. On devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the iPhone X, double-tapping or pinching-to-zoom while the content is playing may help to stretch the video across the entire display with very minimal loss of quality or warping. Depending on whether you're someone who values the mobile content consumption experience above all else, this may or may not suffice until there's more content available that's compatible with 18:9.

Now I'd like to hear from you. Are you using a device with an 18:9 display? If not, do you consider the 18:9 aspect ratio to be a strong sales feature? If you are using the Galaxy S8,LG V30, iPhone X, or one of the other flagships with an elongated display, do you consider the experience to be better than the previous standard? Let us know in the comment section below.

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36 Comments

1. bobby84

Posts: 595; Member since: May 13, 2016

Split screen and scrolling

4. bambamboogy02

Posts: 832; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

No real advantage. I like my bezel with speakers on top and bottom. Thank you very much.

5. black.inco unregistered

What does his post have anything with what you prefer? Lol

12. bambamboogy02

Posts: 832; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

Since the article's title is a question, I answered it after reading said article. My post of having bezels and front facing speakers in them pertain to the article stating devices with a 18:9 screen ratio, allow for "bezel-less" devices. But no real advantage. There is zero advantage of bezel less design. Maybe you didn't comprehend the article? Hence why you couldn't grasp why I posted what I did.

22. black.inco unregistered

My bad. Your comment was in response to bobby’s, so I thought you were responding to him. Otherwise I agree with you.

24. edduuuard

Posts: 11; Member since: Nov 21, 2017

Both poll on phone arena and gsm arena shows the people want 16:9 format a lot more than this stupid 18:9 format. The phone makers just ignore the customers and go with 18:9 or 2:1 in fact format, which is just very stupid thing to do. And this is just one thing phone makers ignore but are a lot a things a long with this: - ir blaster - radio - front stereo speakers (front, not bottom) - always OLED never LCD - waterproof - fingerprint sensor on the back (not on home button, in face of the phone, not on power button ,on the side) - front flash for nights selfies There are not a single phone which contains all at above. Not a single one. But every body will buy this kind a phone.

36. Trex95

Posts: 2320; Member since: Mar 03, 2013

You can get these staff in mid range phones.

7. treypoundz

Posts: 65; Member since: Sep 05, 2017

And u can still get that with a longer screen. Azz whole. The iphone has this. Ppl that never had are scared of change so they complain. Ohh its to big. I like small phones. Shut up and try something new.

18. Deadeye37

Posts: 287; Member since: Jan 25, 2011

Amen. Front facing Stereo speakers FTW! My Moto X Pure may be getting old, but the sound is still great!

25. HugoBarraCyanogenmod

Posts: 1409; Member since: Jul 06, 2014

I like how Android fans laughed at apple for making a taller phone back then. Now they're doing the same. I foresee 22:9 ratio in future, all phones is going to be taller and taller

2. shield

Posts: 809; Member since: Sep 12, 2015

But S8 / + and Note 8 no 18:9 but 18,5:9.

13. worldpeace

Posts: 3092; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

And iPhone X ratio is 19.5:9 Article's title is just wrong.

3. bucky

Posts: 3771; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

Other than easier in the hands, no.

23. Klinton

Posts: 1408; Member since: Oct 24, 2016

1.The usable display of iPhone X is not such ratio. PA shouldn't mention it here. 2.Note 8 multi window has use of this ratio,

6. fyah_king unregistered

More screen real estate.

29. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4766; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Length wise only...the sides get smaller.

8. treypoundz

Posts: 65; Member since: Sep 05, 2017

Ppl that never had are scared of change so they complain. Ohh its to big. I like small phones. Shut up and try something new.

15. roldefol

Posts: 4744; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

But phones like the G6 and S8 are a great size. Long but narrow makes it ideal for one handed use. (That's what she said.)

10. Arashmahmoodi25

Posts: 128; Member since: Apr 07, 2017

I think phones should be for one hand use .

33. TerryD

Posts: 540; Member since: May 09, 2017

These longer phones make it harder to reach the top of the screen. Not too bad on android where you have the back button at the bottom but on iPhones you generally have 'back' in the top left corner. Gonna be a stretch on the iPhone X unless you do the one handed phone shuffle to reach the top, which is when you're most likely to drop your phone.

14. android1234

Posts: 203; Member since: Feb 09, 2010

I love the 18:9 ratio. For everything else, except videos, you get more content on the screen. More lines on websites, better split screen multitasking, a nicer, sleeker look. I usually crop the videos to fill the screen, and its not that bad. But the videos/movies that are native 18:9 ratio are great. This is the current and foreseeable future aspect ratio for phones going forward. Content will catch up.

17. Cat97

Posts: 1726; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

No, there are no advantages, but you have to realize that customers want bezel-less phones but you cannot have bezel-less 16:9 phones because the internal space for components would be drastically reduced. So the manufacturers simply filled the old bezels with screen and created a lie as to why 18:9 is better. It is only better because it reduces the dead space and provides more viewing area, not for aspect ratio reasons.

19. apple-rulz

Posts: 1875; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

On the Note 8 yes, on the iPhone X no. That gawd awful notch! :(

20. darkkjedii

Posts: 30786; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Easier one hand usage, more comfortable to hold, and makes the phone look cool. I wonder if the X would look cooler without the notch. It’s grown on me, and kinda looks cool now, but still intrusive at the same time.

26. roldefol

Posts: 4744; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

There's no doubt the X would look cooler without the notch. It would have better design symmetry for sure, something every iPhone before it had. I've said it before, I'll say it again - LG and Samsung did "bezel-less" right this year.

34. darkkjedii

Posts: 30786; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Apple did too TBH. The X has a slick design.

37. Trex95

Posts: 2320; Member since: Mar 03, 2013

The only thing don’t like about iPhone X size it should be 6 inch. Btw one of my ppl work in Samsung told me that iPhone X external desgin part of it made by Samsung !

27. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

I f**king love this.....Samsung, LG and others come with this first, but suddenly it's Apples iPhone that does the trending...omfg, this only happens on apple own fansite iphonearena. And back when Samsung and LG launched their new flagship with this new ratio it was bad. Then comes the new iPhone, bam, the ratio is suddenly great. You Apple boy writers are way up apples arse.....

28. roldefol

Posts: 4744; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

It's okay, the iPhone haters and Samsung fans in the comments make up for things.

30. Shubham412302

Posts: 550; Member since: Nov 09, 2011

People complaint of not being able to reach the top with the phones and now they are making the screens even longer.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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