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

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?
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

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.

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.

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