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Mini, Ultra, oh my! Does (phone) size matter?
On this edition of the Friday Debate, we’re talking phone size! This past week we saw the review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and are eagerly anticipating the release of the teeny HTC One. Personally, I found the Mini very refreshing with its easy form factor and liked how it reminded me of the days of smartphone past. So, we ponder on these miniaturized phones and also wonder if our phones are getting too big – like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra.
Join us in the discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments!
I’m definitely in favour of the more the merrier argument, products like the Galaxy S4 and HTC One Minis cater to a significant demand in the smartphone market. Likewise, larger handsets like the Samsung Note and Xperia Z Ultra are perfect for those looking for a larger screen size.
But rather than rehash that old argument, there’s another aspect of this emerging trend that I particularly like, and that’s much more sensible naming policies.
I remember browsing my local phone store several years ago, trying to figure out the subtle differences between various HTC and Sony handsets, each with names that had no discernible link to the spec of the product. It wasn’t the easiest of shopping experiences.
But, with tagging systems like Mini and Ultra, you know that you’re buying a slimmed down or beefed up version of the same product. It makes products instantly comparable, and that’s a big win for the less informed consumer. Samsung, for one, is notorious for having copious ranges, and although generational naming is quite obvious, even I’m not quite sure why the Ace exists when there’s the Galaxy Mini.
But Samsung isn’t the worst culprit, there’s certainly still plenty of room left to slim down the naming process across the wider smartphone market. Especially at companies like Sony, where name selection, or should I call that letter selection, seems almost random at times.
We’d have to look at Samsung, and their myriad of screen size offerings, to get a strong base for this argument. They offer something at just about any screen size, and clearly do well from a sales standpoint. So, different screen sizes are definitely profitable for the manufacturer, and even if they’re a loss-leader, it strengthens the overall lineup.
I feel that manufacturers produce mini or smaller versions of phones as a way of revitalizing the brand. It also seems like they’re cycling out of the device, and gearing up for another.
As for larger devices, I do feel it’s a bit out of control. I like Sony’s effort to release the Xperia Z Ultra with that bluetooth device, because it shows a bit of humility on their part. They know we don’t want to hold a gigantic device up to our face to chat.
I’m much more concerned with software at this point. The Moto X is interesting from a contextual perspective, not a hardware one. If that device were 5.5-inches, I’d still be as interested as I am at 4.7-inches, or whatever it will end up at.
Part of me wants to say there really isn’t anything to debate here. I mean is anyone really in favor of less choice?
That said, the problem at this point is people are beginning to just assume that there are going to be a few versions of a phone. That’s fine, but if this is so commonplace, why stagger the release of the phones? Why not release, for example, the Galaxy S4, S4 Mini and S4 active all at the same time.
The most likely culprit here is that companies are dividing their customer base into two sections: those who want the latest and greatest just so they can have the latest and greatest, and those who know exactly what they want and are willing to wait for it.
Personally, I still say push them all out at once and let consumers decide from day one. After all, there is always Android Authority to help you make your decision.
In my mind’s eye, the release of phones like the Note 2, the S4 Mini, and the HTC One Mini aren’t causing phone sizes to get out of hand. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they’re rectifying this problem. Phone sizes were already out of hand and the release of a “family” of phones, as it were, is actually putting a stop to all this.
Here’s what I mean. Look at HTC last year. They released their flagship phone, the HTC One X. Unfortunately, the phone never showed up anywhere in the US except AT&T. To compensate, they released the smaller One S to T-Mobile, the EVO 4G LTE to Sprint, and the DNA to Verizon. All three out of the four devices had different screens sizes. I’m pretty sure the One X and the EVO LTE were the only two with similar specs.
That was when the screen size problem was in full swing. Everyone was doing it that way. This year, though, it seems HTC and Samsung (and even Motorola to an extent, with the new Droid line up) have decided to release a family of phones to everyone instead of just tossing darts at a dartboard to see who gets what.
Now everyone has the options to choose from the regular size, which is around 5 inches give or take, the smaller size which is around 4 to 4.3 inches, and a large, which is usually larger than 5.5″. This has taken the chaos and brought it to order. Instead of releasing a myriad of devices to a myriad of carriers, everyone is doing three (or fewer) devices and releasing it everywhere.
So I don’t think they’re getting out of hand, but rather coming closer to being under control. In the next few years we’ll see people getting used to having a 5 inch, a 4 inch, and a 5.5 or bigger inch device to choose from.
The exception, of course, is the Xperia Z Ultra. That is the Andre the Giant of phones. The Zdeno Chara of phones. The Yao Ming of phones. It is the exception, not the rule and it is definitely out of control huge.
While I personally watched the phone size wars of 2011 and 2012 with fanfare, I knew there were others on the sidelines hoping for high performance in a small package.
The fact remains that everyone has their ideal size. For some, the sweet spot is sub four inches. For others, it’s 4.3 inches.
Today, all the flagship devices we have from major companies (excluding Apple, of course) hover anywhere from 4.7 – 5.2 inches.
Manufacturers have learned that consumers love choice, and love continuity of design. Samsung pioneered and perhaps overstretched themselves a little bit here, but it’s arguably been a great approach for them.
Ultimately, choice is what consumers want. Choice is what we all crave. And manufacturers have to listen and produce smaller phones with higher end specs. Good luck finding a Snapdragon 800 in a sub 5 inch device.
Either way, I’m lusting like a retired vampire for the Galaxy Note 3, and that’s that. Big phones for this guy, all the way.
What I really dislike about the smaller form factor race is that the manufacturers label their phones “Mini”. It’s like an OEM telling everyone “Hey, we took out all of the stuff you liked in the real Galaxy S4 and created an S4 Mini. Which still has the same name, but is worse.”
I think it’s arrogant from manufacturers to assume that people who prefer the smaller form factor don’t want high-end specs either. The fact is that none of these OEMs (besides Apple) are catering to this market. How much production costs are you really saving by dropping the RAM from 2GB to 1GB. RAM costs peanuts, but hey wherever we can cut corners we will, right? That mentality is the problem, and if you are taking your flagship name then you should be creating a flagship device with a smaller size.
With an OEM as big as Samsung it can probably afford to carry two lines of smaller form factor devices like it does with the larger-smartphone size. The Galaxy Mega line is the budget line, and the Galaxy Note line is for people who want the latest and greatest specs. Samsung could implement the same strategy for the smaller form factor. While everyone is running off pushing the boundaries of bezel and screen sizes, a few of us are being left behind on the battlefields of the Size-wars (not to be confused with Star Wars). What ever happened to never leave a man behind? Not cool man, not cool.
Are phones getting too big?
Join us in the comments and vote in our poll.