How big is too big for a smartphone?

How big is too big for a smartphone?

Summary: With Huawei showing off a 6.1-inch screen, are we blurring the line of smartphone and tablet too much?


I've been using the Samsung Galaxy Note II, courtesy of, for a couple of weeks now. If you're not familiar with the smartphone, or "phablet" as this type of device is being called, the Note II features a number of features, most notably a 5.5" HD Super AMOLED screen and a stylus or "S Pen", as it's known. The reason it's being called a "phablet" is because it's a phone and a tablet--some would argue it's more tablet than phone, but that's another discussion.

I'll be sharing my impressions of the Samsung Galaxy Note II in the coming days, and in the interim, you can read Matt Miller's review.

The reason I bring up this discussion, though, is that when we first started with the Palm and Pocket PC, we couldn't wait to get all of that power into the size of a phone. I remember using the Pocket PC Phone (with stylus) from T-Mobile, and while I had a ton of power, I wished it would be smaller, and couldn't wait for Microsoft to come out with the "Stinger". Fast forward to 2013, and we've got a tremendous amount of power, constant connectivity, and arguably a portable computer in our hands, but at what cost? Instead of a sleek phone, we're carrying around 4-5.5" displays! I don't mind the display size, but we're getting closer to the iPad mini, Nexus 7, and other 7-inch tablets now, not to mention that Huawei is showing off a smartphone with a 6.1-inch screen at CES this week, known as the Ascend Mate!



So, can you really be productive with a phone the size of a tablet? Will they continue to get bigger? Will the lines continue to blur, or will we see a return of the smaller smartphones?

Perhaps it's time for some advances in flexible and expandable displays? We're certainly seeing a number of them being shown at CES this week. Or maybe we return back to the idea of modular phones, and we can snap in whatever screen size we want at the time? Then again, a friend argues with me that we just haven't found that perfect sized smartphone yet. With the 6.1-inch now being a reality, I'm not sure what sizes are left to try.

In the meantime, I'll continue to carry around my phone, during the day, use my tablet on the couch, and get in front of my 22-inch display when I really need to get serious work done. It's definitely sounding like the modular concept could work well for me, given my work flow.

Share your thoughts below.

Topics: Smartphones, Google, iPhone

Joel Evans

About Joel Evans

With more than 15 years of mobile, Internet and wireless experience, Joel specializes in taking existing brands and technologies into the mobile and wireless space. Joel is currently the VP of Strategy Integration for Mobiquity, an enterprise-class mobile solutions provider.

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  • 4.3" is the top and that is cumbersome.

    The 5"+ screens jump the shark.
    • You don't use anything over 4"

      So how would you know?

      Seriously, don't comment on things you have no experience of just because you 'think' you know.
      A 4.8" is not cumbersome, it fits in any of my pockets with ease and is easy to hold and use.
      Little Old Man
      • You don't know that

        "You don't use anything over 4in"

        How do you know he doesn't have a tablet?
    • Sweet spot

      I agree that 4.3 is the top end. However, that is nothing but my personal opinion. My hands are small and I like manipulating the screen with one hand using my thumb. YMMV

      However, if you like a particular model phone, say the Note II, you don't get an option on screen size. If you think the screen is too big you have to get a different model phone. Personally, I'd like to see more options in that regard.
    • Such a tired line of reasoning...


      It's about the user and what they want. 2 million people want 5.5"? Great, give them some. 60 million people want 4"? Wonderful, they have some too. Tired of this big versus small argument. It's about choice.

      We all don't wear the same size pants and drive the same car. Why should phones be any different? If Shaq wants an 8" phone because he has huge hands who cares? Make him the phone and shut the hell up.
      • Thank you

        Nothing is too big for a phone...if someone wants it. Choice is the value, and all the pundits should just shut up.

        I don't care what Joel Evans' opinion is, or Sam Biddle's (the resident big-phones-are-stupid idiot at Gizmodo). Now, to be fair, Joel just asked the question, and so I do not consider him an idiot...Sam Biddle on the other hand, walked down Stupid Lane a long time ago.

        What will the market bear, that is all that matters.
      • Aw, now you have gone and done it!

        That made entirely too much sense, and you know most of the people on here cannot abide that! After all, if there isn't any conflict, why, whatever would they write about?
    • been using 5" phones for 2 years

      started with Dell Streak 5 then moved onto Galaxy Note 1.
      can't go back to anything smaller. I still own an iphone4 and several 4-4.5" android phones.
      weapon of choice is still the Galaxy Note.
  • Get Bigger Pockets

    What is "too big" the reason there are different phones is so that people can choose what they want. You can't have it all. If manufacturers are going to put all the power into phones with a large profiles and you want a sleek small phone, that is the trade-off.
    • exactly!

      iPhone offers ONE size to its customers. if its too big or too small, Apple says F-U- ...
      Android offers varying sizes from 3.5" all the way to 5.5"... if one phone is too big, get a smaller phone... if that phone is too small, get a bigger phone. but for all that is holy, [to author] quit b****ing about how phones are getting bigger. no one is making you buy them... and as @jessemcgee said, you're going to trade size for power and capability. something you're going to have to live with.
      • Re: making you get bigger phones

        "no one is making you buy them... and as @jessemcgee said, you're going to trade size for power and capability. something you're going to have to live with."

        Yes, they are. OEM's have stopped making high end smartphones; the GS3, Note II, and CES showed this.

        And no. Motorola has shown you can pack high end specs into a smaller package; See the Razr Maxx HD.
      • Variety is great

        My co-worker got the note because he needed a way to remotly view his security cameras. It having a phone also it just bonus for him.
    • don't need bigger pockets

      people always ask how well a galaxy note fits in pocket and I let them try it.
      Even a friend with skinny jeans manage to fit it in the front pocket.
      Those that put their phones in their shirt pocket, I predict 1 of 2 things: broken screen (from dropping out of shirt pocket) or lost phone.
  • All about the software

    Like you, I have multiple devices and use the one that is most convenient at the time. As long as the software is consistent across your devices and data stored in the cloud, you can switch between them.
  • The smartphone size has no bearing on size... IF..

    If it's to big to hold normally, you blue-tooth an earpiece/headset.
    NOW you're holding nothing and the smartphone can be as big as your desktop.
    Only question is, how far can you walk away from your base and still be connected?
    • Bluetooth head phones are uncomfortable

      Might just be me though. I have never had a bluetooth head phone that felt good or nice to put in your ear.
    • phone too big?

      I have been using 5"+ phones for over 2 years.
      I don't use a bluetooth headset. I simply hold it up to my ear like any other phone and I don't care or notice what other people think, I'm talking on it.
      Only superficial people worry about talking on a large screen phone.
  • The answer is so easy

    Take whatever size the current iphone is, add 0.00001". That's too big.

    You can also take whatever size the current iphone is, subtract 0.00001" and that phone has a screen that is way too small to be usable.

    Why is this answer so easy? Because it also applies to resolution, weight, gigaflops, megapixels, the amount of glue that is used between screen layers, etc.
    • You forgot

      that the official definition of acceptable size has recently increased. I forget when, I think it was early september. I can only presume it was a global change in pocket sizes that prompted the re-evaluation of the perfect screen size.
      Little Old Man
      • Also evolution has happened

        steve jobs stated that the iphone screen size was perfect because anything bigger required two hands. The blogosphere went nuts with images of screens and the reach that the human thumb had on those screens. Quite amazing that the human thumb, pre-2012, was only just long enough to reach across a 3.5" screen, nothing more. Then, in 2012, humans evolved longer thumbs and suddenly, they could comfortably reach across a 4" screen.