For mobile devices, size does matter

Mobile phones started out as brick-heavy, full-sized behemoths. Then they were tiny candy-bar sized toys. Now we're on the grow again. How big is too big for mobile devices? And how small is too small?
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

It was funny when Will Ferrell pulled out his almost microscopic cell phone during a skit on Saturday Night Live and it's funnier still to look back at '80s sitcoms when the posh kids used the giant cell phones that were so cool. But for a moment, one has to ponder the question, "What has happened to cell phone size over the decades?" I find it puzzling that we would evolve from heavy, brick-type phones that would hardly fit into a brief case to tiny, palm-sized ones only to go back toward the brick days with slabs that are too large for pockets. Unless you wear cargo pants or cargo shorts, that is.

Are we trending toward larger phones because of their multi-functionality, or is it because we have an aging, presbyopic population on our hands?

Just how big is too big for a cell phone? How small is too small for a tablet? And, just as query worthy, how small is too small for a cell phone?

You might be asking yourself, "Why is mobile device size important?"

The answer to that question is simple: Mobility.

Yes, mobility. We do, after all, call them "mobile" devices. For a cell phone, I want something small and light, so that its presence isn't cumbersome or noticeable. For tablets, I'd like something portable, legible, and comfortable to use. Laptops need to be lightweight, have a long battery life, and be durable.

It's not too much to ask, considering that someone who's on the move might carry all three at the same time. Portability and durability are big issues. So size really does matter. At least for me.

I want a phone that slips comfortably into my pocket (front or back), so that I can still move freely, sit easily, and then retrieve it when I need to. I don't want a phone so large that it looks like a small tablet.

Tablets should be roughly the size of a small laptop's screen. The standard iPad pretty well fits this criterion. The Microsoft Surface is actually better sized.

Laptops cover the range from large, 17-inch+ grand pianos to the very slim and light ultrabooks. I prefer the latter. But if I have to choose a full-powered laptop computer, I want the lightest, thinnest one that I can find.

Carrying all three plus a camera or two can be quite a workout. So for me, a bag o' cameras and a bag o' tech should be as light as possible. And yes, I was around for some of the "good" ol' days when cell phones were quite large. I had a "bag phone" that was somewhat portable. An hour's worth of talk set me back about $79 per month. And that was on contract.

I was also around when so-called luggable computers were all the rage. A 40-pound luggable was no picnic to lug. Plus, it had very little computing power and a small screen — about the size of an iPad mini.

In fact, allow me to dwell on the iPad mini for a moment. I kind of hated the idea of an iPad mini when Apple first released it into the wild. But now, since my daughter and my wife both have one, I like them. They're cute. They're easy to handle. I can see just fine on them. And they have all the functionality and features of the standard-size iPads.

If tablets had more computing power, more capacity, and a keyboard, then guys like me would only need a phone and a tablet. But I have to say that I do love my standard iPad 4 for playing Trigger Fist. Yes, I play it and I'm good. I'm only mildly ashamed to admit it — the fact that I play, not that I'm good.

In all, I'd say that the iPad has good functionality and is of a decent size. My iPhone 5 is the right size, too. Although, I do wish that both felt more durable. I feel as if I need to handle both very delicately. Perhaps that's only my perception, but I can't help the way I feel about the way they feel in my hands.

For example, the iPad's size-to-weight ratio seems a bit off. It feels awkward. That's why when I'm not playing Trigger Fist, I have my iPad on the iProp stand. The iPad mini, for me, has a much better overall feel for its size than the standard one does.

Mobility is the operative term when I consider mobile devices. Functionality is really secondary to comfort, portability, and weight. If it's mobile, it needs to be mobile capable. Size does matter.

What do you think about the size and weight of mobile devices? What do you think is optimal? Talk back and let me know.

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