Why a Bigger Cellphone Screen Isn’t Always Ideal

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Contrary to popular belief, bigger isn’t always better.

Despite the urge to always have the most advanced gadget around, sometimes there’s a point where it might all be too much for your own good. As manufacturers feel the urge to put out bigger and better gadgets, screen sizes are skyrocketing — and not necessarily for the better.

Fussy users can always opt for a bigger screen: The choice is certainly there. But it’s increasingly coming at the cost of comfort. Though many manufacturers have started experimenting with varying screen sizes, it’s curious to note that one manufacturer hasn’t. Apple’s screen on the iPhone has not changed since they launched the smartphone back in 2007: It has remained at a static 3.5 inches, though the resolution has increased from 320 x 480 pixels to 640 x 960 pixels.

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With that said, a Business Insider source alleges that an iPhone 5 prototype did exist at one point, and that it — surprisingly— packed a 4-inch screen. (Business Insider was also unable to confirm the existence of a prototype with a second source, so it’s possible such talk is right up there with flying pigs.) If it was true, Gizmodo attributes the reason Apple might have abstained from increasing its screen size on the device to design:

We know what Jobs worshipped: minimalism and uniformity were chief among them. So to create a branch in the iPhone family—many with smaller screens, one with a larger display—would be to end the lineage’s uniformity. The phones wouldn’t resemble each other. Apps wouldn’t look the same from a 4 to a 5. And most poignantly, the seal would’ve been broken; Apple would have signed off on differing designs, opening an aesthetic future of variance upon variance. A Jobsian nightmare.

While I agree with Gizmodo’s assessment, I can’t help but think that there is a more fundamental reason why 3.5 inches remains the perfect screen size. A blogger by the name of Dustin Curtis postulated a few months back that it has more to do with ergonomics and screen accessibility. He explained, along with presenting an easy visual, that:

Touching the upper right corner of the screen on the Galaxy S II using one hand, with its 4.27-inch screen, while you’re walking down the street looking at Google Maps, is extremely difficult and frustrating. I pulled out my iPhone 4 to do a quick test, and it turns out that when you hold the iPhone in your left hand and articulate your thumb, you can reach almost exactly to the other side of the screen. This means it’s easy to touch any area of the screen while holding the phone in one hand, with your thumb. It is almost impossible to do this on the Galaxy S II.

Curtis’ conclusion is important because it proves that, despite my freakishly small hands and girly height, this screen size is in fact ideal for the average human being. Indeed, through several unscientific surveys at the TIME office, most everyone agreed that 3.5 inches was comfortable enough: not too big, or too small, despite varying hand sizes and statures. Let’s face it: Not everyone can be Yao Ming.

Also, by increasing a phone’s screen size, browsing efficiency is simultaneously increased and decreased. It becomes easier on the eyes to surf the web, but it also becomes less comfortable for the hand to hold. Meanwhile, the device loses portability as it grows in width and height. There has got to be a happy medium somewhere.

Which brings us to the Samsung Galaxy Note, a cellphone of epic proportions or a miniature tablet, depending on how you choose to see it. The phone-tablet packs a 5.3-inch screen, which means it is definitely not small-hands-friendly by any means. CNET summed it up best with its verdict of the device: “The Samsung Galaxy Note’s huge size is both its biggest asset and its biggest drawback.”

I met someone once at a conference full of geeks (you know, where all the bloggers romp), who carried a tablet-phone with a whopping 7-inch screen. He told me, in not quite the exact words that I’m about to paraphrase, “You get used to it. Now I can’t go back.” To which I could only respond, that yes, a giant screen is great for browsing but at the end of the day, I still can’t quite fit it and carry it around in my jeans pocket. And he agreed.

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Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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