Dear Android manufacturers: Please sell me the phone that I want

Dear Android manufacturers: Please sell me the phone that I want

Summary: Unless Google has a 4.3-inch trick up its sleeve for Monday's big Nexus announcements, Android fans who want a moderately-sized yet powerful smartphone are left with no options. Why is this the case?


I really want a new Android phone with a powerful processor and moderately-sized yet pixel-packed screen, but no one wants to sell me one.

I know I'm not the only one to complain, and I'm pretty certain that Google and its Android ecosystem are ceding a significant chunk of the smartphone market to Apple for no good reason. Size matters.

Samsung Galaxy Note II
Devices likes the Samsung Galaxy Note II have screens that are just too big. Image: Stephen Shankland/CNET

First off, let me establish my wish-list of specs. I'm hardly asking for the world here.

Most important, I want a quad-core processor. I believe this is the point at which the rapid evolution of mobile chipsets starts to taper off — think of how an Intel Core i-series processor from a few years ago is still beefy enough to handle today's software.

I also want HD screen resolution, and microSD storage expansion would be nice too — that feature is one of the clearest differentiators compared with the iPhone.

As long as I ignore screen size (and, for now, expandable storage), there look to be many options out there from major manufacturers. But how big are those screens? The Samsung Galaxy S III? 4.8 inches. The Galaxy Note 2? Don't go there. The HTC One X+ and the LG Optimus G? Both 4.7 inches.

Why so big?

There are several possibilities as to why these devices are, in my opinion, oversized. First off: the bigger the phone, the bigger the battery you can put in it without having to make the device too thick. But that doesn't quite work, as larger screens also suck more juice.

Every time I go into a phone store and pick up the Galaxy S III, I just shake my head and walk away

The second is that big numbers are useful marketing fodder. Again, I don't quite buy that — by the same logic, Google and Asus should turn the Nexus 7 into a phone.

I suspect the real reason is that the industry is still trying to figure out how to make mobile advertising work, and the bigger the screen, the more space they have for ads without crowding out the useful content that people are trying to see. Just like on a monitor.

So that takes care of the possible motivations on the part of the industry. But what about reasons for keeping the phone small-ish?

In praise of moderation

When Apple launched the iPhone 5 and acted, in typical Apple fashion, as though it had just invented the 4-inch form factor, it was a bittersweet moment for Android fans.

Sure, Apple was late to the game — my ageing Nexus S is a 4-incher — but it was right about the easy one-hand stretch and pocketability, and there are no longer any high-end Androids for it to compete against in this regard.

I don't have tiny hands, but they're not very big either (I conveniently blame this fact for my poor lead guitar skills). The Nexus S is a great phone for me, size-wise. I could comfortably stretch to 4.3 inches. But every time I go into a phone store and pick up the Galaxy S III, for example, I just shake my head and walk away.

The other issue is the explosion in the 7-8-inch tablet market. I have a Nexus 7, and if I'm going to indulge in on-the-go gaming or reading, chances are I'm going to use that device. I simply do not need a very large smartphone screen. The same, no doubt, will go for all those picking up an iPad mini in the coming weeks and months (as I will be doing).

So what's the solution?

Well, the obvious solution is for the likes of Samsung and HTC to wake up and realise that not everyone who wants a powerhouse phone wants it to be huge, and not everyone who wants a smaller phone will settle for a soon-to-be-out-of-date dual-core processor and (most likely) an older version of Android.

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I'm a big fan of the Nexus series of devices, because they get timely Android updates (my Nexus S is smugly running 4.1.2, albeit not at the greatest of speeds). I was really hoping that the upcoming Nexus phone would be a 4.3-incher, but no, the Nexus 4 will have the same 4.7-inch screen as the LG Optimus G on which it is based.

That leaves me with limited options. One possibility — and it feels kind of wacky — is to go for one of those Chinese brands that we barely hear about in this part of the world. Yes, I am seriously considering trawling eBay for a Xiaomi MI-2 (partly for the unintentionally hilarious model name).

Check out those specs: 720p 4.3-inch screen with a Retina-display-busting pixel density of 342ppi. Quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor, Jelly Bean and up to 32GB of storage. No microSD, sadly, and of course there may be support and warranty issues, but this ideally-sized powerhouse will retail at less than £250.

I should not have to be considering this option, but right now not one of the significant brands here in the West — not Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG nor Sony — is offering me something comparable.

Maybe Google has a moderately-sized trick up its sleeve for Monday's big reveal. I certainly hope so.

Topics: Android, Google, Smartphones

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Exactly my thought - why does everything have to be so big

    I've been looking for a new phone for a ages and everything I see just feels too big in my hands and requires the user to resort to using two hands. If I want a big screen I'll use my tablet.
    I need to replace my aging HTC Desire, with it's modest 3.7" screen and 4" is the sweet-spot for me (like David I'll stretch up to 4.3"). I already have Jelly Bean on my Desire, but to be honest it struggles a little - but it is trying to run the latest software on a phone that is over two and half years. Hopefully there'll be something good in the next couple of months.
    Tom Watney
    • Sample Current Devices

      Go and check out current devices. Get a "feel" for them.
      It's not all about size but ergonomics.
      I had an SGS2 (ATT) at 4.3 and bought the gNexus at 4.65. I found that even though a bit bigger, it was easier to use and hold. It felt better in my hand. Even comparing to my iphone 5 it still feels better.
      Size is a factor, but it is ot the defining measurement.
      • The solution is simple

        A keyboard that always is a given size or splits, depending on if you use swype or tap ap tap like an iPhone junky.
    • Also noticed the same trend with WP8

      After seeing the announcements for the coming WP8 from Nokia, HTC and Samsung, I noticed the same trend to keep high-end models with big screens.

      I'd like to have the power of the Nokia 920 but in the size of the Nokia 820. I'm carrying my phone on my belt bigger than 4" or 4.3" makes this uncomfortable, sitting in the car and putting the seat belt with a huge phone at the belt... annoying... having the feeling of putting a tablet on my head when I call... annoying, reminds me of the early 90s when phones were brick size!

      And being able to touch the full screen with only one hands
      • Nope

        Have you tought that the problem isn't the phone size.... but that you are wearing a belt case like Nokia engineers at 90's?

        (I as well own belt case but I use it only when I have a suit as you don't want to keep anything else than credit card in your pocket as otherwise it ruins your suit).
    • "phones" are bigger because they're not just phones anymore.

      I've been using a Dell Streak 5" for two years and I love it. And because of the size of the screen, I've put off buying a tablet. I use my 4 year old Macbook Pro 15" when I need something bigger.

      The beauty of a large screen phone is that it works as both a phone and mini tablet. I'll be moving to a Galaxy Note II next month. I use my phablet more like a tablet than a phone and that's why these mobile devices have gotten bigger.

      You don't need a 7" or 8" tablet like the iPad Mini if you have a superphone.
    • Sorry. Can't agree with you

      Actually, Samsung IS selling me the phone I want. My wife too.

      I have hands the size of dinner plates. So a larger device doesn't bother me. In fact, because I use my phone mostly as a media device, I like 5" tablet. Jealous that my Galaxy S2 is only 4.53".

      My wife is an average sized woman with average size (leaning more to the small size) hands. She wants a Note 2.

      But it sounds like you haven't considered the Galaxy S2 Mini. Seems to be exactly what "you" want.
    • Impromptu Survey Surprise

      On my recent trip, I decided to keep a count of folks I noticed on their smartphones and see how many were using one vs. two hands. Turned out I also found a third option.
      One hand - 21
      Two hand - 136
      Physical keyboard - 65

      The two handedness was not a surprise, but the keyboard was.
      A lot of folks with iphones and SGIIIs ..... Also a lot of BBs still out and about.

      Either way, it sort of confirmed what I have been doing all along, iOS or Android, using two hands.
    • are you joking?

      I have a HTC one X and I can navigate the screen One handed. And I'm now where near the size of a soccer goal keeper.. texting is so much quicker using 2 hands and more comfortable.. hope you guys aren't texting while driving.. LOL @ author. Big screens don't cost a few hundred dollars... A small screen and under 250 Lmao wake up..
    • forgot to say

      Why would you want a quad core if you can't see what's happening on that damn small screen of yours
  • samsung note ii

    I currently have a Samsung galaxy III and it is a great device, but am thinking about upgrading to a Galaxy Note II. Yes, One reviewer said it is like holding a waffle to your ear (one of the great tech product review lines of all time!) but I use a smartphone as an internet device more than a telephone so it is perfect for me ( and my job requires me to carry a corporate blackberry 24/7, so I use that as my primary talk phone)
    • Exactly

      That's exactly how I've been using my Dell Streak 5" for the last two years. The Streak, btw, is the original phablet not the Galaxy Note. Though I am moving to the GNII next month. Sadly, Dell discontinued the Streak and never really supported it which I blame on the return of Michael Dell.
    • waffle to your ear?

      you haven't got a Bluetooth earpiece yet????
  • big screen lovers

    you're the minority,if android doesn't suit you then i suggest you to go buy an iphone,leave the big screen for us.
    A samsung galaxy note II happy custumer
    • But, isn't Android about choice?

      Sorry, couldn't resist.

      But in all seriousness, the Android OEMs have fallen into this bigger is better mentality. While some people might like the large screens that typically come with the top of the line Android models, I think you underestimate the consumer interest in smaller screens.

      There are many people that are not holster guys, so that means we're carrying them in our pockets. I don't want to feel like I'm carrying a brick in my pocket and I know many others who feel the same way. Thinness is fine, but if the width and height are too large, it still feels bulky in my pocket.

      It's kind of humorous that the same crowd (Android fans) who make the argument for the 7" tablet is the same crowd that thinks the phone should be larger. So you're telling me if you're going to have two devices with two different use cases, you only want them to be 2" or less different in screen size? Personallly, I like my phone to be on the smaller side and my tablet on the larger side. The phone serves largely as communication and to kill dead time when on the go, while a 10" tablet provides a more desktop/laptop like screen experience. And while some may say the Note kills too birds with one stone, I just can't see a Note sized phablet being as enjoyable to use as a 10" or even a 7" tablet.
      • Correction:

        Personally, I like my phone to have a picture of a fruit on the back. Anything else is just inferior in my eyes and I can't find any usage scenario for it.
        Little Old Man
        • Correction:

          so you like blackberries then?
          • Love em

            Great business tool. Far more productive than an ipad.
            Little Old Man
          • Little Old Man

            While I can't make too many claims about the productivity level of an iPad I can argue that an iphone is in fact a far more productive device than a Blackberry. Blackberry's advantage is that it is the most secure device available. As far as enterprise funtionality and indeed basic functionality it pales beside an iPhone or an Android device. As far as phones go I've owned 5 different Blackberry devices, 2 Android devices, 3 iPhone devices, 2 WM devices, and several feature phones prior to getting smartphones and based on my experience the iPhone works better for me. Android - given the right hardware - is an excellent platform as well.

            Most of my coworkers have Blackberrys I have both an iPhone and an Android device - I get emails 15 minutes faster on my iPhone than they do on their Blackberrys. I get work tickets 10 minutes faster. IOW my response time is at least 10 minutes faster due to using a - how did you put it? a " to have a picture of a fruit on the back..." Cry, whine, b1tch, moan, complain, insult all you want however that fruit on the back phone is far faster and far superior in almost every way to the Blackberry with the sole exception of security.
          • That's All Well and Good but...

            The Note II demolishes the iPhone in terms of productivity. It takes the best of a phone, tablet, pad of paper, and EVEN some of a desktop (cursor, to be specific). And Samsung adds some security, if I'm not mistaken.