Is it time to ditch the on-screen buttons?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: August 6, 2013

We talk a lot about screen size around here. And why shouldn't we? Considering there are so many different variations out there, all of which are hoping to find the sweet spot for a certain customer out there, we could go on and on about the perfect display size, resolution, type of panel, and the like.

Out of all those things, out of all the parameters and details and what not, I think it's the screen size that matters the most to a potential customer. For the person who walks into a retail store and looks at phones, the screen size is going to be the first thing that catches their eye.

Late last year, when my mom was in a store looking to upgrade her phone, she caught a glimpse of the One X+ and immediately fell in love with it. The first time she saw it, the display wasn't even on; it was just a big blank screen, but she knew she had to have it, thanks to the size. As a matter of fact, nothing else even mattered. What mobile operating system it was running, the amount of megapixels the camera had, or if the battery was removable or not didn't matter. She just loved the screen size.

So that was the phone she walked out with. That was probably the easiest sale for the representative all day.

Display size has never been a huge, pressing issue for me. I switch devices so often that I've never put a lot of thought into the "perfect size," simply because I know that I'm going to go to a different phone eventually. However, I know what's too small, and right now I can safely say that the iPhone 5's 4-inch display is too small. Yeah, it's bigger than 3.5-inches, and that's great, but for me I just want Apple to go bigger. Nothing above five inches, mind you.

And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I just kept going back to the HTC One. The One's 4.7-inch display is great. I love it. I love it in part of the 1080p display, sure, but I also love the size. And that's why I think I can say that 4.7-inches is my ideal screen size. That's what I'd like the next iPhone to be.

I had spent plenty of time with a 4.7-inch display with the LG Nexus 4, and I just wasn't all that pleased with it. Why? Because of the on-screen buttons. I think it was a great way to change up Android back when it was initially unveiled, but now, with displays looking so amazing and people craving all the space they can get, I think it's time to go back to the physical buttons. I'd rather have a 4.7-inch display that utilizes the whole thing, rather than lose any amount of it to buttons (that do admittedly disappear at times, but still).

Then again, maybe we don't need to get rid of them altogether. Perhaps manufacturers should just stick to using them on devices with larger displays, like with the Samsung Galaxy Note II (or the Note III coming down the pipe). At 4.7-inches, I want the full display. With a screen that's measured in over five inches, though, placing the software keys at the bottom of the screen isn't that big of a deal.

So, what say you? Do you prefer on-screen buttons, or are you an old-school cat and prefer your physical buttons below the screen? Do you think phones with larger screens should be the only handsets with the on-screen button options? Or do you think the smaller screens benefit from them as well? Let me know!