Redux: How thin is too thin when it comes to smartphones?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| August 8, 2012

Just shy of a year ago, I asked a question that had been pressing my conscience for a while: When it comes to phones and tablets, how thin is too thin? With slimmer than ever devices on the horizon, it's not hard to question where the line should be drawn, especially with durability the primary concern.

At just 9.3mm thick, the iPhone 4 was regarded as unbelievably thin in respect to its competitors at the time of its launch. But the internal components in smartphones are growing more trim, lightweight and compact without sacrificing power or functionality. And ever since the iPhone 4 launched, a plethora of super slim smartphones have graced the hands of consumers: the 8.6mm Galaxy S III, the 8.9mm HTC One X, the 7.1mm DROID RAZR and the 6.7mm thick Huawei Ascend P1 S.

It couldn't be put any more frank than how Anthony Domanico of IntoMobile put it, "Thin is in." Giving credence to recent reports that a redesigned 19-pin dock connector and nano SIM tray will slim up the next iPhone, Domanico reports a rumor coming from Apple Daily that suggests the upcoming iPhone will be a full 1.7mm thinner than the current iPhone 4S. In case you were wondering, that's a mere 7.6mm thick. No, it wouldn't make the next iPhone the thinnest smartphone to date – it's 1.1mm thicker than the Ascend P1 S. And the Oppo Finder is actually 6.65mm thick, for those keeping count. But it's most definitely pressing the issue of slim and trim.

Last August, my conclusion was that at 8.45mm thick, the Samsung Galaxy S II was borderline too thin. While it didn't exactly feel flimsy, it was so thin it felt at tad unwieldy, especially when holding it up to the ear for a phone call. Without a case, I feel about the same with most super thin phones of today.

However, extremely gaunt phones are all too common these days and there are some serious benefits that are hard to overlook. For one, a slimmer device means it will take up less space in the pocket, even with a case wrapped around it. Thinner also generally means lighter, depending on the materials used, meaning the device will be less noticeable in the pocket. Lest we forget it's all about how the phone feels in the hand and pocket.

And, just like gigantic screen sizes and phablets, extreme thinness is something many of us have come to grips with over the last year. Just as I once believed anyone who would want a 5.0-inch or larger device was clinically insane, I felt anything thinner than 8mm was entirely too slim to comfortably and confidently use and hold. That said, I quickly came to love the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note. And I'm slowly becoming more fond of cadaverous devices.

As such, I felt it would be a good time to revisit the pressing question. With an allegedly much slimmer iPhone on the way and a race for the most trim device underway, how thin is too thin?

Considering devices of today are much more slim than they were a year ago, the question definitely has quite a bit more prevalence this time around. But there are other concerns beyond just how thin and unwieldy a device is. Motorola showed us that a device can be both thin and sturdy, and the DROID RAZR was pretty easy to hold on to as well.

The question now is whether severe thinness is a fair trade-off when an extra millimeter could provide several more hours of battery life. Battery life has taken a pretty major hit over the last several years and shaving millimeters off the thickness of a device doesn't exactly leave room for more milliampere-hours. If 8mm is thin enough to keep the device's footprint light, why not trim the internals down and use the spare space for more battery? Motorola not only proved to us that trim devices can be durable, they also showed the world that a slim device, such as the DROID RAZR MAXX, can house a monster battery. At 3,300mAh, the DROID RAZR MAXX has no problem lasting an entire day on a single charge despite being only 9mm thick.

Having the thinnest device on the market is nothing more than a vain goal, especially when, in general, battery life for mobile tech is lacking and the extra (negligible) thickness can be put towards something more useful and even vital.

I have no problem with ultra thin devices anymore. I'm okay with a device like the Huawei Ascend P1 S, which is a mind-blowing 6.7mm thick. But why? Why does it need to be so thin? What sort of battery life does it have (in actual use, not on paper)? If it were 8mm thick with a 2,500mAh or 3,000mAh battery instead, would it not be a much more desirable device? It would still be trim and would last almost twice as long on a single charge.

The question should no longer be, "How thin is too thin?" Instead, we should be asking OEMs why they aren't as worried about battery life as they are about how thin and lightweight their devices are. HTC ran a study and found that people favor thinness over larger batteries. But I have my reservations about their study and the way it was worded.

My vote goes for bigger batteries. Where do you stand? Do you want the next iPhone to be 7.6mm thick? Or would you prefer it to come with a larger battery and, as a result, have better battery life? What about other devices? Battery life or extreme thinness?