5 inch Full HD Android smartphones are coming! Should we be happy?

by: Mike AndriciNovember 21, 2012

As any smartphone aficionado already knows, one of the most important aspects of choosing an Android smartphone is its display. But while the technology behind the displays varies from one display manufacturer to the other, a pair of intertwined trends have distinguished themselves as of ultimate importance in the smartphone display market: size and resolution.

Smartphone displays getting bigger and crisper

In the early days of Android smartphones (think back when the Google Nexus One was released), everyone wanted a “bigger” display on their smartphone, for very much the same reasons why everyone wants a “bigger” TV set. And since the displays were getting bigger, resolutions had to be improved as well in order to maintain (or improve) the quality of the images and videos.

The best way to characterize the crispness (a major factor in the overall quality) of a display is the Pixel Per Inch (PPI) ratio. Some of you might think that pixel density is given too much importance in reviews and comparisons, but the reality is that the PPI ratio is a very good indicator when comparing the crispness of displays of various sizes.

For your reference, what follows is a list of all four Google Nexus smartphones released thus far, along with their respective size, resolution, and PPI ratio:

– HTC Google Nexus One – 3.7 inch display – 480 x 800 resolution – 257 PPI
– Samsung Google Nexus S – 4.0 inch display – 480 x 800 resolution – 233 PPI
– Samsung Google Galaxy Nexus – 4.65 inch display – 720 x 1280 resolution – 316 PPI
LG Google Nexus 4 – 4.7 inch display – 768 x 1280 resolution – 318 PPI

(Note: the Galaxy Nexus used the much criticized PenTile pixel arrangement, meaning the total number of sub pixels is 30% lower than in a display that uses an RGB matrix)

Size and resolution have evolved simultaneously to offer larger pictures of better quality. However, a lot of people seem to agree that a smartphone with a 4.7 inch display is a bit difficult to properly wield with just one hand, meaning that smartphones are now getting to the point where the size of the display cannot be increased without unpleasant side effects.

If you think that smartphones are already too big, you better learn to like them, as it appears that the mobile industry is preparing for a new jump in smartphone size and resolution (I may be wrong, but I’m thinking that the huge success Samsung had with its Note series has played a major role in this).

While the fall 2012 lineup of flagship Android smartphones mostly use displays that measure 4.7 inches across the diagonal, it looks like 2013 will bring us an avalanche of Android smartphones with 5-inch displays.

The 5-inch 1080p madness

As it turns out, most smartphone display manufacturers out there are currently planning to begin or have already started mass producing 5-inch displays with a 1920 by 1080 pixel resolution, accounting for an impressive 443 PPI ratio.

Sharp has already begun mass producing its 5 inch 1080p LCD panels, and some of them have already made their way into HTC’s Droid DNA, the Oppo Find 5 or Sharp’s own Aquos SH930W.

Japan Display (a company where Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi are stakeholders) is the other major manufacturer that has already begun shipping 5-inch 1080p LCD panels. Despite showcasing the same size and resolution as the other displays discussed here, JDI’s panels make use of the IPS-NEO technology (for higher contrast ratios and wider viewing angles). Another differentiating factor is the White Magic technology, meaning that besides the red, green and blue subpixels, JDI’s displays also have a white subpixel added, translating into higher brightness levels, especially useful in the outdoors. Some HTC Droid DNA units already use JDI’s 1mm thick panel, while the rumored Sony Odin phablet is likely to use this panel as well, given Sony’s stake in the company.

The largest display manufacturer in Taiwan, Chimei Innolux has also announced a 5 inch 1080p LCD panel of its own, although chances are that its product will not end up in Android flagships, but more likely in entry-level Android devices, and other, more specialized hardware units.

Back in June, LG was the first display manufacturer to reveal its 5 inch 1080p LCD display prototype, although it has yet to announce mass production of such panels. The unique element in LG’s panel is the introduction of the AH-IPS (advanced high-performance in-plane switching) technology, one that should account for extremely wide viewing angles. Among other, LG’s 5 inch 1080p panel will most likely end up in LG’s phablets for 2013 (probably part of LG’s Optimus Vu line of phablets).

Samsung is also rumored to join the 5 inch 1080 club, although the top smartphone manufacturer in the world will use the Super AMOLED technology (Samsung basically owns the SAMOLED market). Previously, it was rumored that Samsung has encountered difficulties in cramming in so many pixels in a 5 inch space, but fortunately, this rumor claims that such issues have been resolved and that these new panels will end up in the Samsung Galaxy S4 (expected to be released in mid 2013). Why do I say fortunately? Because the SAMOLED technology has much better power consumption and enhanced contrast levels. Power consumption is the primary negative side effect of such high resolution panels, as we are about to discuss.

Full HD: the Good and the Bad

The Good

If the HTC Droid DNA is to be taken as an example, 5 inch 1080 panels are a noticeable improvement over 720p ones: text and images are crisper and make up for an overall better picture quality. 5 inches is also a lot of screen real estate, so that watching movies (preferably in 1080p resolution) on such panels should translate into a very pleasant experience.

The Bad

Besides the fact that Android smartphones with a 5 inch display are uncomfortable to use with one hand, not to mention hard to pocket, there are also a couple more drawbacks for these panels, given the current state of the mobile industry.

First, there’s the fact that 1080p panels draw a lot more juice from the battery than 720p panels. There are 3 times as many pixels to power, but improvements in the battery industry are few and negligible in the grand scheme of things. Plenty argue that the quality difference is not worth an even shorter battery life than that of current Android smartphones (which, by itself is mostly regarded as unsatisfying). Add LTE, power-hungry quad-core processors, and some manufacturer’s uninspired decision to equip flagship Android smartphones with a low-power battery (it’s even worse if that battery is unremovable), and mobility is greatly reduced.

Samsung’s SAMOLED panels might be able to reduce the power consumption problem by a certain degree, but we’ll have to wait and see if this will actually make a real-world difference.

Then there’s the fact that since there are three times as many pixels to show (when compared against 720p displays), the GPU has a lot more work to do. This does not only translate into even greater power consumption, but also in reduced frame rates. Given that the Android ecosystem is already known to have problems with maintaining consistent frame rates, this is another major drawback that you should consider.


Like it or not, this is where the Android smartphone industry is heading: large displays with amazing resolutions, but lower frame rates and reduced battery life.

I’m one to argue that 4.5 inches is more than enough on a smartphone, and also one to believe that PPI ratios above 350 are not what the smartphone industry needs right now. Feel free to disagree in the comment section below!

  • Przemek

    i agree with the point that phones with too large screens are not comfortable to use.
    why do i need a phone with 1080p?
    when i want to watch a movie or something else there are 7″ tablets.
    i want my phone to fit in my pocket and hand. and the battery should last for at least one day!

    • arcwindz

      That’s it! That’s why we named it a mobile phone, not a tablet or phablet…
      And the battery department needs serious improvement, everything else is going leaps and bounds.

      • Steve

        Chemical batteries overall are a dead end… what we need is better manufacturing methods for super capacitors to replace them.

    • Yet the Galaxy Note II fits in pocket and hand and has a battery life over a day and its the biggest so far. Each to their own like small buy an iphone like big get an Android. Well over 3 million sold and it’s only just come out, Like I said on other sites all will follow with 5 inch screens being the hotspot and it’s already happening.
      Not comfortable? Depends on what you define as “use”, If you are just talking and texting then maybe yes its probably too large for your needs and you are better off with something else, If you are using the phone more as a tablet for browsing/gaming/youtubing/texting then larger the better as you spend more time looking at screen rather than having it to your ears.

  • Roberto Dominguez

    GPUs/CPUs (More A15s coming this year like Tegra 4) are getting more powerful and conserving more battery at the same time that displays are increasing their resolution, so I think it ends up being about the same battery life. Also, I prefer 1080p just to have everything I look at on the phone crispier. Not necessarily movies. I only watch movies either in a theater or on bluray in a home theater. I don’t like to reduce the experience of films by watching it on small screens (tablets or phones), with extremely compressed sound.

    • Steve

      The other issue here is PPI… after you reach the limit for your eyes to distinguish pixels, the rest is simply wasted.

      1080p on a 4.7 inch screen exceeds that limit by a significant margin…

    • Yeah but the point is we’re not there yet. The Nexus 4 is already pushing the limits of its processor with a 720p resolution (the response time is slower than the iPhone 5, and it has lower framerates). Pushing the Adreno 320 to 1080p is not a smart move.

      • Roberto Dominguez

        Well, I wasn’t just talking about new Droid DNA. I’m talking about the next 1080p phones that will come next year with better cpus/gpus. This is only the beginning and yeah you’re right. IT IS a bad idea for the Droid DNA to have a 1080p screen with the specs it has. It just isn’t good enough yet.

  • aholsteinson

    I think it is just becoming a reckless race to have the biggest displays with the most pixels crammed into it. As you noted it seems to be leading into reduced performance and battery life as the processors simply can’t keep up with such displays and also the apps are simply not optimized. Frankly it is becoming like the PC industry where the likes of Dell and HP rush to have the greatest and latest technology but end up producing a subpar product. As opposed to Apple who takes their time to adopt the latest technologies and ensures everything works well together. I think that the ideal size is the Nexus’s 4.65″ up to the S3’s 4.8″. Anything bigger is just too much.

  • Dimitris Moraitidis

    I totally disagree with the first paragraph of the conclusion. The industry regulates itself by the desires of the cunsumers. I really doubt that people prefer 5 inch phones with inferior battery performance. If these 5inchers prove to be worse on battery, people just won’t buy them.
    Interestingly enough, i more than agree with the second one. I currently own an Xperia P. With this into perspective, i think i can get by with a 4.5inch phone just fine, even a 4.7 would be ok as i have a pretty big grip. 4.7 is just big enough. Manufacturers should focus more on battery performance first and then step to 440ppi phones…

    • Steve

      Well, they started smaller, and every time they increased size and resolution, they sold better…

      Can you blame them for assuming that people want a massive phone with imax resolutions?

      What will happen is that the market will control this trend… just as the market has rewarded low cost 7″ tablets, it will create a soft cap on screen real estate.

      Its an evolutionary process, and it works pretty well… if you don’t want a 5″ phone with 1080p graphics, and 4 minutes of battery life, then cast your vote by buying something smaller and more realistic… they will learn.

  • MasterMuffin

    4,5″ 1080p screen with exynos 5 and I’ll buy it :)

    • Don’t forget a huge battery

      • MasterMuffin

        3,500 mAh
        And actually what I really would want know:
        Good quad core (maybe exynos 5 or tegra 4)
        13mpx (pureview) back cam
        5mpx front cam
        4,5″ screen 1600×900 would be nice enough
        3,500 mAh battery (at least)
        Great sound (two speakers on front)
        As close as possible to vanilla android 4.2
        Nice look would be nice :)
        That’s pretty much all, totally possible to make and I would stick with that for the next 4 years :)

        • I believe that we’re at the point where resolution and ppi shouldn’t be the key deciding factor!
          I would gladly settle for only 720p over 1080p if it means the phone can sustain 60fps and quick response time during games and rich web browsing.
          As an Android fan, it makes me sad to say that Apple are the ones doing it right when it comes to displays. Better colors and better response time are worth more than some theoretical ppi or resolution victory.

          • That said, I hate that Apple decided “thinner and lighter” is more important than a better battery…They should really have 3000+mAh batteries on all smartphones.

          • MasterMuffin

            Yep, only 1,400 mAh battery in iPhone 5!? Finnish tech magazine did a test between the battery life of sgs3 and iPhone 5, they put screen on maximum brightness and played full hd youtube video on wifi and sgs3 got 3 hours more battery life!

          • MasterMuffin

            I said 1600×900 but you’re still right sadly :(

          • Ivan Budiutama

            Agree and disagree.

            1. larger screen means better two-hand, usage. In my experience, using previous ZTE Blade of 3.5″ vs Galaxy Nexus 4.65″ I can simply said, typing with both hands is much more comfortable and much faster.
            2. I tried a friend’s notes II. And simply said, the typing is even faster, and highly accurate.
            3. Much better experience on gaming, yes, I should rather go with Tablet, but some people like me prefer to hold 1 device for overall needs. and obviously larger screen means better experience and delight

            1. ppi hardly noticed, and totally agree with the statement, I would rather have a 720p but much smoother experience and quick response.

            in term of screen size let them both exist so people may have choices. As for me I preferred larger screen for various reasons mentioned. As for ppi, I think most will agree to keep the optimal ppi for better fps.

        • I’m hoping since Google owns Motorola that the next razr will be around that since most manufactorors love to put thick skins on

        • On a Clear Day

          But, that’s why they don’t build one like that! Because then you would stick with it and not feel a need to needlessly replace it! lol

  • Get me a 4.3 inch 720p with 3000+mAh battery.. and we’re good to go…

    • Razr Maxx HD.
      4.7 “. But you discounts ~0.3″ of virtual buttons and get ~4.4 ” of real screen.
      And 3300 mAh Battery…

      The down side is the camera and “only” 1GB RAM…

      • gokusimpson

        And no S4 Pro

        • Right… It have a S4 Plus Dual Core, 1.5 GHz, Krait and Adreno 225.

          Not the best on the market, but is a good SoC… The Benchmarks are slightly better than the GSIII.

          In my country the Razr HD (We don’t have the Maxx HD yet), is between 100 and 150 dolars Cheaper than the GSIII…

          Don’t Have the 3300 battery, but have 2530mAh…

          When the Maxx HD arrive, probably in a couple of months, in the worst scenario, will be sold at USD 50 more than the SIII. In the best scenario, it takes the price of the Razr HD, and the RazerHD get cheaper.

    • Steve

      Then there goes ‘thin and light’… while I personally would prefer larger size and weight over crappy battery life, most people would consider it a ‘brick’, and it would sell poorly.

    • On a Clear Day

      Exactly – a nice big battery that I can forget about that runs about 12 hours. Let the people who are dumb enough to buy high power consumption, thinner than thing phones with teensey, weensey batteries in them enjoy themselves impressing their friends.

      At the very least – even on these svelte phones – make the batteries removable so we can buy a specialized extended life battery with an accompanying back.

    • Actually, anything with 2500mAh or higher would be gr8 considering what companies currently consider “standard” (except Motorola)

  • My 4.7″ is more than big enough for me so please no bigger than that

  • hadolin

    What is the iphone 5 using???? Just take a look, and get Android optimised better…. just imagine if iOS was running on Android hardware… nothing would have beat that.

    • Steve

      You miss the point… most people than run Android do so because they don’t like iOS… myself included.

      While it introduced the world, and myself, to smart phones… you just get tired of having to hack the phone to make it live up to its potential.

      And the reason that you can’t put iOS on an Android device simply speaks to the heart of this issue… you can’t because Apple has determined FOR YOU what experience you are allowed to have on their devices… which includes neurotic control of both hardware and software.

      I would far rather stick Android on an iPad… but that wold mean trading performance hardware for build quality.

    • Actually, the opposite is true. Most people would love to run Android on Apple hardware, and buy it at an Android price.

  • Steve

    Once you beat a retina screen, you can’t see the difference anyway… why waste battery and GPU power pushing pixels that can’t even be seen?

  • companyemails

    I would add that lower frame rates are not necessarily needed. Motorola has proven that shoehorning a massive battery into a smartphone case is feasible without drastically increasing the device’s size. That is surely a viable option for most device manufacturers looking to produce bigger screens.

  • Ivan Delev

    I agree that 1080p is too much for a phone right now, considering the not so satisfying battery life. On the other hand I don’t agree that 5″ is too much. For some people, like myself, enjoy a big display, like the one on the Galaxy Note II. It all comes down to preference. :)

  • I’ll have an opinion once by Note 2 arrives in the mail (hopefully today).

    I’ll be judging screen size and clarity of the display. Most reviews I’ve read have said that the lower PPI on the Note 2 is hardly noticeable because they ditched the PenTile matrix.

  • 5inch screen lover

    5 inches and 250+ PPI is already perfect

  • LeDerparooni

    5″ = Galaxy Note = Phablet… =/= phone.
    I think 4.7 is the ‘max’ for one hand comfort and carriability on a smartPHONE

    • snbd

      thats wrong: 5-7 inches is phablet, 5 inches and less is a smatphone

  • I can barely distinguish a 720p display from a 1080p display on a big television and, provided I’m wearing my multi-focals, my visual acuity is still good. For most people, the point of diminishing returns has been reached. Nonetheless, the best phones will have these super hi-res screens, so many of us will probably be using and paying for them. I just hope the engineering departments don’t get sucked in by the marketing departments. I dread the release of Apple’s iPhone 6 with “Retina Plus” display.

  • Tyrel ting

    Ppl manufacturers aren’t stupid phones are getting bigger because people want bigger phones b4 the thing was smaller phone phones back in the day as it goes they increase size and increase sales so I don’t think it’s crazy to assume that fully they’ll keep doing it but anyways Samsung has already said the size of the phone don’t change they just gonna push the phones screen to the edge

  • sten

    Thats so right like seriously all a consumer wants is a great overall phone that is thin and light.
    These fhd panels are good but lack in colour reproduction and brightness, they also make the phone heat up immensly and create a thicker and heavier phone.
    Personally i would like a 4.7 inch no bigger 720p+ screen with great brightness and colour reproduction because its not all about ppi, its about everything and if there isn’t good colour reproduction then sorry i am not buying a phone like that.

  • On a Clear Day

    I agree with you Mike re the size. Sure I enjoy a big screen as much as the next guy, but if we’re still talking about a device that is supposed to be a small, convenient hand held phone/computer that is easily carried around and used, then 5 inches is getting too big. I might watch a YouTube video on my phone – but a movie? Forget it – there’s a thing called a TV they invented for that.

    What we are seeing here, I think, and please give me some feedback if you agree (and even if you don’t!), is that the manufacturers are all trying desperately to keep up with each other and be able to offer some kind of perceptible differentiating factor that the prospective buyer can easily see (as opposed to invisible, operating system refinements that they’ll never use anyway) so that the salesman can point to it and say… “and by the way, do you know that this phone has a 5 inch, 1080 P, 440 PPI screen on it which is THE state of the art right now!”

    The fact that that huge screen will be a pain in the neck to use being a little detail left unmentioned.

    • I bougt my galaxy note because i buy a lot of the internet and browse, my battery life is as good as my mates iphone 5 he has to charge his everyday! so small and thin is not the way to go

  • Topcat488

    Sorry Mike, i’ll have to disagree with you on this one… With the new technology in India where batteries, which have the capability to last up to 70% longer, and new 8 core development, bigger screens are welcome… No need to carry around a laptop, in the near future. Preeeeeeeettttyy pictures.

  • Who cares im useing a galaxy note the largest phone on the market, Batteries are $3 each from china i never run out of juice anywhere. I could go for weeks for 3bucks a pop!

  • I have been useing a galaxy note for nearly a year i wouldnt use the small tiny screens apple push, the galaxy note is a multi meadia machine nothing comes close to it except a tablet, if you want a txt and phone based set go ahead and buy tiny screens but theres millions like me who want to use fully all that multimedia out there without squinting! i hardly use my pc anymore. And my flatmates iphone 5 is charged daily so is my galaxy note, so the smaller thinner dosent seem to work because it definatley needs a bigger battery!

  • companies should produce several sizes of each phones to cater for both people who want huge displays and those who want easily pocketable devices. say 5′ 1080p and 4.3′ 720p. also one thin, light version and one version with a huge battery.

  • Jason

    This is the great thing with Android though, there are so many to choose from, you’re bound to find a phone that’s perfect for you, granted it might not be the best, but none the less you have several options. Idk about most people but I usually have two hands on my phone when I’m using it, so thats not a problem, and I’m not very skinny so my pocket size can hold my nexus7 if i want them too haha, so yeah bigger is better for me.

  • memyself&i

    I feel so bad for the people who buy phones like the Nexus S or Evo 4G in early 2010 when they were high end, only to still be stuck on a contract now when phones are 100 times as good in basically every way. I feel like you can never buy a new phone because there will be something that much better a week later


    5 inch display smartphones are perfect.,having more than 400 ppi.Just only want one thing BIGGER BATTERY more than 3000mah.

  • Amy144

    Samsung Galaxy S2 user 4.7 screen. I like features-mem, 8MP camera, etc. but screen size is large & a draw back. My friend joked it was senior edition bc you can make fonts so large. I would never purchase anything larger. If unit not as slim would not have been considered. Love phone-really hate extreme battery drainage. What about add on mini-monitor (aka a tablet) when large screen needed for your Android *phone*. IHO after the 5″ screen madness there will be a movement towards high res 3.5″ pr smaller screens..”Shrinkage!” So aptly quoted in Seinfeld! LOL” Just my 4.7 cents

  • mike

    Increase from 4.7 to 5 is not that big, so if manufacturers can do it without increasing the external dimensions of the phones then I am all for it.