/ Technology

How big is too big when it comes to smartphones?

Cartoon of big phone and little man

It seems that, when it comes to smartphones, size matters. Apple’s on the precipice of announcing its next iPhone, but where it’s previously stuck to its small but nicely formed guns, the iPhone 5 is rumoured to be bigger.

How big is too big? For me, anything beyond 4 inches is stretching it when it comes to smartphones. That’s how big my HTC Incredible S’s screen is – any bigger and my little hands might struggle to hold on.

It passes the one-handed ‘thumb test’. That is, when I’m holding my phone in one hand, I can reach the opposite corner with my thumb. That means I can use the phone’s full functionality with just one hand. Surely that’s important?

When is a phone not a phone? When it’s a tablet

It’s a design philosophy that Apple seems to have been sticking with, as discussed by designer Dustin Curtis. Apple has been as reluctant to increase the size of the iPhone as a cat is to take a bath – 3.5 inches has been the magic number for the iPhone since its launch in 2007.

However, since then, smartphones have been growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk. When once HTC called its 4.7 inch phone ‘XL’, that screen size is now just a standard measurement for this manufacturer’s range (the 4.7 inch HTC One X). And Samsung’s Galaxy S series has grown from the comfortable 4 inches to the straining 4.8 inches.

Surely that’s too big? Not everyone has colossal hands the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ll be back to what this has do with Apple’s iPhone in a moment, as I want to talk about another Samsung product; the Samsung Galaxy Note.

Now, some people call this mammoth device ‘part phone, part tablet’. I refuse to. I won’t even be kind enough to give it its catchy description of ‘phablet’. With the original Galaxy Note having a 5.3 inch screen, and its younger brother a 5.5 inch screen, I will only ever call it a ‘small tablet’ and I won’t hear another word of it.

How big will the iPhone 5 be?

Of course, there’s no getting away from the fact that a bigger screen does mean you can fit more (and possibly do more) on your phone. Which brings me back to Apple – the iPhone 5 is rumoured to grow from its stubborn 3.5 inch screen to 4 inches. Too big? I don’t think so. As Goldilocks has said about porridge, that’s just right.

Plus, even though phone screens are growing in size, the borders around these screens are getting narrower – if Apple takes that design choice, the new iPhone could still pass the ‘thumb test’ comfortably. Here’s hoping, otherwise a plague of hand-cramp could overcome smartphone users worldwide.

How big do you think the iPhone 5 should be?

Bigger than previous iPhones (47%, 91 Votes)

The same size as previous iPhones (38%, 73 Votes)

Smaller than previous iPhones (15%, 29 Votes)

Total Voters: 197

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I don’t struggle with my screen at all – 4.65 inches. Wouldn’t want much bigger, mind… 🙂


I “downsized” to a Blackberry Pearl for this very reason, oh and a whole host of others. It basically stems from the fact that when I am out and about, I don’t want to carry a computer around with me, I want a phone, that works best as a phone and not a big bulky battery to power the touchscreen
that doesn’t last very long.

The whole tactile stroking thing is beyond me, I prefer reliability from a old style keypad and trackpad


The reason I have not updated from an ordinary mobile phone is because I find iphones too big to carry – but too small to view.


I have to confess – I’m a lover of the ‘larger’ mobile. I’m currently using a Samsung Galaxy SII with it’s thumb-stretching 4.3″ of screen, and I find it perfectly comfortable to use.

Despite its size, it weighs practically nothing! It fits into a pocket because it’s so slim, and it’s easy to find in my bag. I find that the user interface is designed in such a way that I rarely have to stretch to the top-left hand side of the screen anyway – but when I do, it’s not a difficult manoeuvre.

In fact, the smaller size of the iPhone was one of the few reasons I was put off from buying it. I think moving up a size grade is definitely the right step for Apple to take!

MetalSamurai says:
12 September 2012

It’s not just size, you’ve forgotten to mention *shape*.

The current iPhone screen has a ratio of 1.5:1, which is awkward for watching widescreen video (usually one of 1.77:1, 1.85:1 or 2.35:1). The rumours (and we’ll find out in a couple of hours) are that the new iPhone and iPod touch will have a slightly taller screen, but keep the same width. There should be no reason for the phone itself to be any bigger either.


So the new iPhone should be just as thumb friendly as the old one and not be playing the ludicrous “mine’s bigger than yours” game that the Android makers are playing to get their products to stand out. Most of them require two handed use as a result. Why does anyone buy them?


Yes, it will be interesting to see what they come up with. I’m sure Apple will want it to pass the thumb test. BTW remember you can follow the iPhone 5 launch live on our sister blog Which? Tech Daily: http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/smartphones/apple-iphone-5-launch-live/

Michael Mason says:
17 September 2012

Because Android users have two hands?


I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Note since last November. Prior to that I used an Orange San Francisco (3.5″ screen) for a little over a year. Two major reasons for the upgrade – screen size and performance. I’m almost 50 and I have no time for a pathetic little screen with microscopic text or barely four words fitting onto it. I have no regrets about my decision. The phone, for that is what it is, fits into any pocket into which I care to put it and the screen is glorious. It also saves me having to lug an iPad or alternative everywhere I go.


I go by the “does it want to break in half when I put it in my jeans front pocket and sit down” test. I wish there was a company that would make custom cell phones. My phone is 4.5″ long, and that’s pushing it for me. But, I’m a “form serves function” kind’a guy when it comes to most things, and I don’t even want to watch a movie on my cell phone, much less in 16:9 format. Just a big enough screen for me to see and qwerty on. Too bad for me.


Perhaps a larger size or sensible trousers are what you need. 🙂


Well, the iPhone 5 has been announced and it has a… 4 inch screen as expected. It should still fit nicely in the hand, just like my 4 inch screened phone.

New features here on our Tech blog http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/smartphones/apple-iphone-5-key-features-explained/ and a round-up of everything iPhone 5 related here: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2012/09/new-apple-iphone-5-has-4-inch-screen-21-september-uk-release-date-295715/

Steve Jobless says:
13 September 2012

let’s skip everything and come to the following conclusion:

any size decided by apple is the perfect size, at least that is what all fanboys claim.


Might be something in that. In this skit, interviewers went out with a current iPhone 4S telling people it was the new iPhone 5. Their responses are quite amusing:


Why dont they make the new i-phone 5 the same size, but use both sides of the , the main screen and the back, which could also be a screen. One side could be kept for the basic phone, camera, msn etc, the rear-sdie for inter-net/TV etc.