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? 

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31 Reactions to this post

"Do you think big displays on smartphones offer enough functionality, or do you prefer to see additional software features?"

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Robert Urriza I think the Max for a phone is 5. everything under the hood is up to the company. 4.5-5 is perfect.
Tony Martens I would rather have all the bells and whistles and a moderate size screen
Jude Fils-Aime waiting for the XPERIA Z OR ZL
Dave Bourque the size of the Z10 i'd say is perfect and manageable for any size of hand.(assuming not incredibly small or humongous)
Murtaza Rzv s4 size is great
Matt Pankey Why do you have to call someone an idiot? Perfect civil conversation going on and then comes the name calling for no reason.
Duncan Wynn Jr. Big displays and features don't necessarily go together . Just look at my current phones , the Blackberry Torch 9810 and the Nokia 700 . Both have 3.2 " screens , commonly considered unusable , e.g. Too small , yet I have no trouble typing n and I have large hands !They r chock full of features as well ! That said , the perfect screen size for me is 3.7 - 3.8" +or - about .2 " , just right IMHO !
Brandon Holley Bigger screened phones have bigger batteries to deal with the screen size, and the added power needed to power the phone, you idiot.
Jason Vargas I think Samsung reached its limit at 5.5. I think once you get to that range u should focus on Software. Then again I remember a lot of people saying that 5.5" was waaay to big and they weren't gonna buy it but they still did when they saw what it could do. I personally hate the screen on my iPhone 5. I'm coming from a GS2 though.
Charlie Black Why not both?
Nole Lazaroff 4.7 inches is the screen limit for me,5 and beyond is useless as there are tablets for that. Phones should be pocketable!
Joel Diaz I think 5 inch shud be the cut off. I too have the droid DNA and its amazing. I think if ur going higher than 5 inches, it shud have even more features.
Huey Liggins Software. Screens were important but now that they are big enough with 1080p there's almost no reason to focus on them. Improve the technology within the phone now
Renko Usami The larger phones get, the more I realize it's a gimmick and I care more about quality/DPI. More software? How about BETTER software/less bloat?
Jeffrey Hanes There's no right answer as to everyone has their own preferences. I love my Note 2 and think it's perfect, but any bigger is a bit ridiculous.
Brandon Cromer As long as the bezel size is drastically reduced, I don't mind the larger screen size. I'll be swapping out my Galaxy Note for a GS4.
Rok Vrtacnik 4.7 is a sweet spot for me anything bigger like the Z is a bit to much moar software!
R.j. ONeill Phone/Screen size is severely overrated, in my opinion. People act like the massive phones make such a 'huge' difference, but in my case it's rather irrelevant; actually, I can deal with huge phones like the Note 2 just fine, which is not what I originally expected... but then again, my favorite non-Android phone is the HP Veer, if that says anything crazy about my tastes. I've recently upgraded to a Nexus 4 and while I can generally appreciate the screen size, I would like it just as much if it was 3.2 inches instead, especially if it had the same DPI and screen quality. I could still use my Veer fine today if I wanted to live on T-Mobile 2G and go back to using my tablet for media consumption. Additional software features is kinda right, but I'll change that to "better software" - it's more important that the core OS (Android, WebOS) is strong and runs fluidly/extremely well than extraneous software features (or what I call "bloat") or even MOAR COARS/hardware capabilities. I'd rather have WebOS style multitasking (essentially a massive core UI overhaul based on productivity) on Android before yet another gimmicky way to access apps or yet another niche widget feature, and I'd rather have full framerate smoothness over fancy graphic effects (not that I mind those, but priorities!). Nexus 4 gets the latest software updates, and I've been loving Android since ICS and it just keeps getting better... that's one of the main reasons I got the device.
Angel Brown-Zmek I think I phone should be compact so when u carry it you can put in your jeans and it stay there! Which is why I love my iPhone 4S. The size is perfect for me. Wish they would make some of the samsungs that size again for people with smaller hands and preferences of that sized phone.
Adrian Salazar I think having options is great but i wonder where the line is where you have a phone or tablet. The note 3 screen size was leaked at 6.3 and the note 8.0 can be used as a cell phone if you wanted!
Herwin Torres I enjoy all these things!
Andrew Fleming I think the cut off should be 5" for a regular smart phone. I personally like my 4.7" screen on my nexus
Luis Robles Figueroa Bigger displays are easier to type.
Steven Basso I got the original note and I want a smaller screen kinda like 4.5-4.8 inches, I think that's perfect
Matt Cain I think 5" should be the cutoff point. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't want to have to carry two tablets around. Give me a phone with a great display and features I can use daily.
Camar Green Note 2 is big enough... I wanna fit it in my straight fit jeans
Anthony Lasam Shouldn't bigger screens mean better batteries? Who give a sh_t about software features if u can't get the device to turn on!
Jesse Huertas I want a phone that has boinicle arms and legs and is own mind. When I turn the phone on, I give it a name and a life. The device functions with my my causal conversation with her
Jordan Williams Phone displays need to stop getting larger. The GS4 is now less than a half inch away from the original Note. My favorite phone( Size wise at least) was the G2x. It was just big enough to not feel cramped but it wasn't oversized.
George Cruz Tele transportation!.

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