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We are stuck in the middle of an imaginary race amongst manufacturers to deliver increasingly thin smartphones upon the release of every new device. In the process, we've seen features shed and discarded like they mean nothing to the consumer. We've even seen design push the envelope at the detriment of repair. There have been quality control issues. And while manufacturers are obviously taking pleasure in pointing out eachother's flaws in design, the idea that a slab of thin plastic (or metal) is better if its thin has become an unjustified prelude to a device's feel. But they continue to get thinner, and I'm starting to feel like there could be no end in sight.

The thinnest smartphone I've ever owned is the iPhone 5. It clocks in at 7.6mm in thickness, so its far from being the thinnest, but it's svelte nonetheless. From then on, I have owned smartphones with more heft. I have subconsciously chosen smartphones that are in the neighborhood of 8 and 10mm in width. And I like to believe my choices have not been influenced by the marketing of the smartphone maker, but who knows. My current device, a Nexus 4, tips the scale at 9.1mm in width and it is far from perfect, but it is at least comfortable to hold. I don't feel like it will slip out of my hand, and I can actually feel it resting in my pocket. It's big enough to spot from a distance, and still manages to be portable.

I prefer devices which are not as thin as paper, and at 7.6mm thin, the iPhone 5 is far too cold a document for my tastes.

Looking back at the thin smartphone track record, it's difficult to find out why they continue to get thinner. I liken the thinness race to an imaginary game amongst OEM's for bragging rights. "Anything you can do I can do better..." as the saying goes. But why?

There were thinner phones at the time, but in the Summer of 2010 Apple announced the iPhone 4 to the world. By voodoo magic, it was instantly recognized as a benchmark for build quality, and at 9.3mm, also set the thinness proclamation into motion for years to come.

Motorola followed suit with the DROID RAZR at 7.1mm thin. And then Huawei figured thin is what the people want, such was the birth of the Ascend P1 S at 6.68mm. Then a company by the name of Oppo released the 6.65mm thin Finder sending the obese Ascend P1 S back to the drawing board. And that brings us to 2013 where Alcatel has released the One Touch Idol Ultra at 6.45mm. Yet, rumors continue of an unreleased smartphone by Oppo that would clock in at 6.13mm. And you can't forget the feature phone Samsung Ultra Edition 5.9 measuring in at 5.9mm in width, but its hardly up to today's smartphone standards.

Someone please explain how consumers benefit from a smartphone that neglects removable batteries, ports, and expandable storage for the sake of shaving off a few millimeters in width.

There is no doubt there is immense design and engineering prowess required to conceive an impeccably thin smartphone. But manufacturers should not make silly sacrifices in the process.

Samsung's Galaxy S 4 is a solid example of shaving girth without delivering a limited product. At 7.9mm, the S 4 is in iPhone 5 territory in terms of thinness, but with its array of ports, storage options, and removable battery, it's everything Apple's offering isn't. Even the HTC One checks in around 9.3mm at its widest arch albeit with a non-removable battery.

But that's as far as we've come in 2013. Apple has traditionally pushed the envelope of design, but we have some time before we'll be hearing about the proportions of a new chassis, if Apple changes it at all.

It's important to mention that the smartphone is not the only technology trimming away at width in the hopes of consumer appeal. The MacBook Air spawned the full-fledged and compact computing experience Ultrabook craze. Smaller internal hardware bits and pieces have naturally ushered in more technology making thinner computers a by-product of anorexic smartphones. And with rumors of a compact ARM-based processor for new MacBooks, you can be assured we haven't seen the thinnest of either device.

And that's where I'll leave you, Dear Reader. As smartphones are shrinking to the point of invisibility from the side angle, many consumers who prefer expandable storage and removable batteries are left high and dry. If I were a betting man, I'd say we have yet to see the thinnest device yet.

How do you feel about the trend of increasingly thin smartphones? Does a smartphone's width add to its aesthetic appeal? Or should OEM's keep devices at a static width so features like expandable storage and battery accessibility remain an option?

Images via iPhone4jailbreak and Ubergizmo.


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55 Reactions to this post

"Is a thin smartphone worth the sacrifice of removable batteries, expandable storage, and additional ports?"


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Vicki Figueroa S4 is thin & has a removable battery & SD card..
Curtis Owens Also having removable parts like a battery and back cover do a little more to help. In an impact they break off the device lessening the overall force the main board and screen are exposed to.
Curtis Owens NEVER will I buy a phone that prevents me from replacing its battery. Those things fail after enough cycles, and if you cant replace it, you have to replace the phone. Without being able to change out the memory card, I am limited by the designers economics in how much storage I will have. Both of these things are unacceptable to me.
Anonymous No of coz
Cameron Walton Yes. I love my LG Optimus G
Brandon Johnson Well since this is attached to my comment I'm gonna assume you direct this at me. I have real world usage with phone bigger than the standard 4.5 inch screen, and like I said there is nothing wrong with the phone screens that are out, however with Samsung continually making these crazy ass phone sizes they'll eventually grow to large to carry in a pocket. Tell me how that is whining exactly? The freedom of Android also does not allow you to buy a screen with a smaller phone if you're planning to get the high end ones, name one that is a flagship of the 15 months that is smaller than 4.6 inches.
Anthony Bailey Good thing the freedom of Android allows for MANY different options of phones. I don't get these little whiners who think that THEIR personal preference for a tiny phone, needs to be visited on everybody else. Conversely, a person can argue that these small screen toy phones needs to end, because they have lost their usefulness and practicality. Would those people be right? Personally, I actually have a use for a 5+" screen phone. I have owned both versions of the Samsung Galaxy Note, and the Note II is my primary daily driver. A phone with a screen under 5" inches is not acceptable for me. That doesn't mean that I try to visit my personal preference on everyone else. I also find that most people who complain about larger phones, don't have any real world experience using one. They see a number on paper, and automatically assume the phone is the size of a brick, not realizing that they aren't all that big.
Jordan Richman I would rather have a phone with a removable battery, more ports, and storage options instead of the thinnest device around. That said, I'm still going to get the HTC One because it's absolutely gorgeous and has great specs.
Paul Keefe Not at all the iPhone 5 is too thin and light and the iPod touch 5g is even worse
Andy Huynh Give me all that stuff
Nikolas Manuelides Give me more battery!!!!!!!! i dont care if it is removable, never used a secondary one, but I want a bigger battery!
Andrew Bissel Not at all. I don't want a 5 inch thick phone. But this is getting ridiculous. Nexus 4 is the thinnest I want a phone to be.
Jeff Griffith Too thin already, I have to use a case on my 4s to be able to pick it up of a flat surface, without a case it's hard to pickup and hold.
Dee Ross Because you're going to put your phone in an aluminum case to avoid plastic right? No. You're going to put a plastic screen protector on your glass display and a plastic case on your aluminum phone and you're going to LIKE IT.
Charlie Ebner Even though its kind of small, my previous phone, the Samsung Focus Flash, was a nice phone. Not too thick or thin, and the beveled cut towards the back made it extremely comfortable to hold. Phone designs like that or the Samsung Omnia 7 should be a model for phone designs. Just my opinion.
Marlon Milligan I have a car charger ...doesn't matter to me . I don't want a thick phone though
Jude Fils-Aime ummm no it does NOT NEED TOO STOP. What needs too STOP IS APPLE SUING EVERY ANDROID manufacturer
Ian Baylon The thing is iPhones never had any of these things, so Apple can suck it.
Debbie Kains-Coupal No. My Note 2 lasts all day but in case I"m planning heavy usage, I need to have my extra, back up batteries with me. Also, I am about ready to upgrade my Micro SD and glad that I have the option to do so. The Note is perfect and its plenty thin enough. Can't wait to see the Note 3!
Camar Green Lol Herp Derp
Arturo Atherly Im still looking for the perfect device.....that allows excellent battery life micro sd and GOOD FEEL in my hand....HTCcame close at one point and then came Sammy S3 but the S3 is all plastic.....losing some cool points!!
Matthew Swanson I used to think so. Right now I have a Galaxy Note II *with* the Mugen 6400 mAh extended battery. It is about the biggest, chunkiest, and heaviest thing I've ever tried to shove in my pocket, but the fact that I simply can't drain the battery in one day no matter how hard I try is amazing! I can run screen brightness to full, leave apps running all the time, use the GPS a lot, listen to streaming music, watch Netflix for a while, download stuff... and, well, you get the idea! Even with the stock battery, I have a hard time draining the phone in one day (though I did do it on occasion with lots of photo taking and uploading and weak signal). So now I would say NO, thin and pretty isn't worth being useless with battery life.
Ronnae Gray Nope, not worth it. I must have an sd card slot, and I prefer a removable battery. It's this reason while I probably will never have a Nexus device. For those who ticker and root, a removable battery is needed. Sometimes you need to pull the battery. I also love being able to pop out my sd card, and pop it into the next phone, and have all my stuff. I don't want to have to only save my stuff, on a cloud service
Alex De La Cruz Anyone that prefer non removable batteries and no SD cards is a derp.
Haldi Kuniqi the iphone 5 is 7.6 and has shitty specs the galaxy s4 is 7.9 it has a big battery removable sd card and everything a smartphone needs
Anthony Tat No. Let's not turn every phone into an iPhone now
Frederick Suleiman This is why I have a Galaxy Note 2.
Eric Dodds Nope definitely not
Josh Billingsley Prime example why samsung is leading the pack and has my family's business.
William Huang I won't mind more thickness if it had crazy battery life.
Kenneth Li FOOL! you can have it all! Thin, removable battery, microSD! example Samsung Galaxy S4.
Ryan Berding I am not sure I can like this any more! I would much rather have better battery life than the thinnest phone on the market. I have a GN2 and it is thin enough and has a massive battery that I hardly ever get under 50% by the end of the day. Industry needs to listen to what consumers want.
Pavle Lekic have to agree. i have htc one x and for me 4.7 inch is the absolute max. i was actually in doubt whether to buy one x or one s just because of the screen size..
Izzuddin Helmi If it has a large capacity battery and large storage space, I would say why not
Brandon Johnson I think the trend of making phone screens so damn big, they'll eventually grow out of your pocket needs to stop. There's nothing wrong with the screens now, but I don't see a cut off point in the near future.
Jose Be Julme No way. Removable battery and expandable storage is key for flexibility.
Frank F. Bona I have a cheap case for my note 2 to have a better grip..
Enes Nadir Çomoglu I've never owned a phone with an unremovable battery. All my phones had removable batteries, and yet not once did I feel the need to carry an extra battery with me, my phones always make it till the end of the day before needing to be recharged.
Mark Schmidt No it is not worth it
Yeap Jian Ming this is not revolutionary...if one of the companies manage to create a phone that doesn't need batteries, the whole world flocks to it :S
Francis Short Jr paper thin next :)
Martin Cota Except the Galaxy S4 didn't sacrifice any of that and still thin, so not really applicable.
CeeGii Borels FFS YES PLEASE, SD CARDs and REMOVABLE BATTERIES any day in exchange for Slimness
Jesse Ling It sure as hell aint ergonomic.




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