Is a thin phone really that important?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| August 24, 2013

Phone manufacturers always produce their phones based on what they think will sell, and the trend is always changing. 10-15 years ago the important thing was to keep the phone small. The next fad was to make sure the phone had a QWERTY keyboard. Shortly after the QWERTY keyboard fad hit, we wanted touchscreens. With the introduction of touchscreens we wanted to get rid of the physical QWERTY in favor of virtual QWERTY keyboards, both for usefulness and more space. Now we want bigger phones, which can certainly make sense to a degree; however, along with bigger phones we also seem to want thinner phones. But why?

In a recent report from Digital Trends, Chinese manufacturer BBK, who also owns Oppo, released the world's thinnest phone, the Vivo X3. This phone measures in at just 5.75mm thick. Compare that to the previous king of thin devices, the Huawei Ascend P6 that measured in at just 6.16mm thick. Even for such a thin phone, the device doesn't exactly skimp on the specs: 5-inch display, 1280x720 resolution, a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor and an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera all running on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. But then you have "the compromise", and of course with the device being so thin it's no surprise that such a compromise comes in the form of battery life. The device uses a mere 2,000mAH battery.

I understand the appeal to thinner phones. It's smaller, in a way, so it would seem like it would fit in more places like pockets, purses and even in the hand better, and maybe for some people it does. But there comes a point where being too thin just becomes a cosmetic thing, and not necessarily making the phone any better. The fact that this phone only shaved off .41mm of thickness looks like they did it "just because". And the strange thing is, I'm willing to bet this phone is going to sell fairly well using that fact. There's nothing game-changing about the phone other than it's just "the thinnest". The company behind the phone even poses it in a humorous photo shoot, acting as a knife. I mean, maybe I'm missing something here; is this what having a thin phone is all about? So we can use it as some form of alternative cutlery in case we find we have dirtied our last knife before the dishes have been done?

Girl 1: Oh, pity. It seems I am out of clean knives. I guess we can't enjoy this eggplant after all.
Girl 2: Don't worry! I brought my phone with me!
Girl 1: Is there an app for that?
Girl 2: Nope!

Commence vegetable chop with the world's thinnest device.

But on a more serious note, I think thin phones definitely have a place in this world, but for the time being I feel like we should hold off trying to make the thinnest phone a big issue. Nobody is going to remember this by the time the next thinnest phone is released either; they're all made with similar materials and there's nothing to make the phone stand out other than the fact that it's... well, thin. I feel like in order to make thin phones really work, we need to wait until we have thin batteries that last for a crazy amount of time (which doesn't seem like it's that far off, if graphene batteries hold up to what they claim to be) and for a material that won't break so easily. A big issue with thin phones is that they don't have as much room for a solid construction, in turn making the phones more fragile than smartphones already are.

Don't get me wrong, I find thin phones to be beautiful, but I'm not willing to trade functionality in for a beautiful phone before we really have the technology available to us. Batteries are getting better, but at a very slow pace and certainly not enough to provide superb battery life in a 5.75mm thick smartphone, as we can clearly see. And it's not like we can't have thin phones, but there comes a point where "thin" becomes "too thin", and it really just starts to lose functionality in the name of cosmetic appearances. It's kind of like when big phones become too big; they can get to a point where the design becomes impractical.

What are your thoughts, readers? Would you rather have a thin phone over a phone with better battery life, or would you rather wait until thin phones can last as long as other phones on the market? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Images via SoyaCincau, Digital Trends