Why are there so few high-end smartphones under 4-inches?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: May 7, 2012

Bigger is better. Or so the cell phone makers want us to believe.

Three years ago, smartphones larger than 4-inches were a rarity. By comparison, they were quite large in respect to the average-sized phones, which were anywhere between 3.2-inches and 3.8-inches. Back then, the 3.5-inch display of the iPhone was considered a "normal" size.

Almost overnight, though, manufacturers started pumping out 4.0- and 4.3-inch smartphones like they were going out of style. It all started with HTC. The HD2 was the first 4.3-incher, followed by the HTC EVO 4G. Then others chimed in: Motorola made the DROID X, Samsung outed the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II line and LG made the T-Mobile G2x. While all of those handsets may appear normal – or maybe even small – by today's standards, they were gigantic back then. Our hands and pockets weren't used to holding such bid smartphones.

Yet manufacturers continue to push the envelope with devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note and LG Optimus Vu. And the average smartphone size continues to grow with every new generation of hardware. Just last week, Samsung summoned tech journalists around the world to London to unveil the Galaxy S III – a seemingly normal device at 4.8-inches, but large in comparison to last year's Galaxy S II line, which ranged from 4.3- to 4.5-inches.

Despite all of the excessively large devices, 4.0-inch dimension has widely been accepted as the "sweet spot" in mobile displays. It accommodates most of the modern use cases for smartphones while also creating a balance between those with larger or smaller hands. That said, not everyone likes the 4-inch dimension. Some, like myself, find it too small to use comfortably. Others (usually those with very small hands) find the 4-inch form factor simply too large.

They may be the minority, but they most certainly still exist. However, it's almost as if manufacturers have totally forgotten about people with smaller hands, smaller pockets and smaller purses. That, or they have simply placed them on the back burner.

Aside from the iPhone 4S, what was the last high-end smartphone under 4-inches? Unfortunately, I'm not even sure. The best offering under 4-inches that comes to mind is the HTC One V, and I would hardly consider that high-end. It's a middle-of-the-road phone, no matter how you look at it. It ships with a 1GHz single-core Snapdragon S2 chipset, while its giant counterparts, the One X and One S, feature 1.5GHz dual-core S4 chipsets. It also features a comparatively low-res display at 480 by 800 pixels, while most 4-inch and larger devices tout high-definition displays. (Would it have killed HTC to use a qHD display?) And the camera is 5-megapixels, versus the 8-megapixel shooters of the One X and One S.

As Michael Fisher of pocketnow.com explains, this is the story across the board.

Don't get me wrong, I don't miss smaller phones at all. I love my 5.3-inch Galaxy Note and 4.7-inch HTC One X in all of their high-end, extravagant glory. To me, it would be regression to try to use a 4-inch or smaller phone again. But I will also be the first to admit that excessive display space isn't for everyone. Some people like smaller phones – ones that don't make their pockets bulge or their thumbs hurt after a few hours of stretching to type.

Currently, the best (and only) high-end smartphone under 4-inches that immediately comes to mind is the iPhone 4S. Otherwise, if you dip below the 4-inch threshold, you will be dipping your toe in a cesspool of cheap, low-end Android smartphones that reek of uninspired design and corners being cut just to get a budget-friendly device on the shelves. It's pitiful.

The mobile market is currently like a car lot that sells only large SUVs and a couple, cheap scooters. Maybe one Smart car. No mid-sized sedans or coupes. "Whether the blame lies on manufacturers or consumers, the bias is real, and it's ridiculous," says Fisher. He's completely right. And in the end, bigger is better. Manufacturers have made sure of it.

How do you feel, folks? Do you miss more modest, mid-sized devices with high-end specs? Or are you okay with your pocket-filling smartphone? What's the perfect screen size for you?