Big displays and software features go hand in handChase Bonar - Contributing Editor
Everything grows up eventually. Cars gain additional gears. College degrees evolve their requirements. Teenagers turn 21. All of these changes are only natural. They're reactionary pressed by causation. But in technology, there is hardly any reason for the changes we see. Specifically in mobile, smartphones are much more effectual and proactive than other gadgets. The same can be said of desktop computers and tablets, too.
But I am having a hard time accepting enormous screen sizes. Jumbo phones are here to stay, but so is the Rubik's cube, so let's think about it a bit before you release the next 7 inch Fonepad into the wild, Asus.
The general consensus among manufacturers is that consumers want bigger displays to touch. It used to be a feature of the latest flagships (think original HTC Evo 4G and iPhone 5), but now its just the opposite. You're going against the grain if you don't increase the size of your display (cough, HTC One, cough). And while I do like me a big slab o' glass to slide my finger upon, I just end up tapping it most days instead (unless I am using a gesture-based OS).
In short, my opinion of screen sizes has drastically changed over the past two years. Contrary to what manufacturers are delivering with 1080p panels and ultra vivid colors, the size of a display cannot be warranted without accompanying software benefits. Just because a screen grows does not mean it should.
I have zero hands-on experience with Samsung's new 5 inch panel, but I do know the 5 inch SLCD3-clad HTC DROID DNA on Verizon quite well. You use the phone like any other and it's a joyous occasion. The display is nothing short of phenomenal. Had I seen a 1080p panel a few months before CES 2013, I may not have argued against them in my first editorial. With that said, this is the breaking point for me. The DROID DNA is a great device with killer hardware, and it's just enough to make me feel like I'm still using a phone.
The smartphone category has evolved to encompass much more than its moniker. You don't simply make calls anymore. In fact, I choose to text over call many times a day. Texting is less cumbersome and distracting than a voice call. I understand when I need to talk to someone, and when I don't. Smartphones give me that choice.
The same can be said for the Internet and apps. We remain connected to educate and socialize ourselves. Thanks to data plans, we now have the ability to use smartphones to their full potential and kickstart the experience with 4G LTE and HSPA+. Our phones are a gateway to the information highway.
But while we're using our smartphones contrary to the suffix of their pseudonym, I'm beginning to notice just how useless a larger screen is in practice.
The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show brought along some devices we'd normally consider phablets. Huawei and ZTE touted their new 5.7 and 6.1 inch smartphones, the Ascend Mate and Grand Memo, as phablets, but it was a misnomer. Unlike the godfather of the phrase, the Galaxy Note II uses it's 5.5 inch display as a the tool for additional S Pen features. For this reason, the Galaxy Note II is still the best phablet, and I imagine the Note III will be just as useful. But Huawei and ZTE showed very few software tweaks of Android to optimize the device for the additional real estate. It was disappointing, and I consider them big phones, instead of phablets. Phablet implies phone and tablet functionality.
My quandary with increasing screen size lies in the total lack of acknowledgment of the real estate by manufacturers. Though 5 inches might be my sweet spot, what good is a 5.7, 6.1, or 7 inch phone without it also spotlighting additional software features?
This is my beef with large screens. Where Samsung developed TouchWiz to highlight the extra real estate with a dedicated page when the S Pen is withdrawn, we need to see more innovation in softwares. Don't get me wrong, I consider the TouchWiz interface to be a forsaken place and immediately vanish it from every Samsung device with a Vanilla Android ROM. But without it, we're just holding Asus Fonepads up to our face.
Super-sized or not, I'm inclined to believe that my smartphone is more than what it's name entails, which is why I'm left desiring more from Android, iOS and Windows Phone on a screen above 5 inches.
What do you think of increasing screen sizes? At what size do you draw the line between phone and tablet? Should manufacturers take the route of TouchWiz and add functionality? Or do you enjoy using dial pads that are blown up to Jitterbug proportions?