Remember when going smaller and smaller was the big phone trend? Tired of the bricks and bags, the cellular industry starting putting out some pretty teeny tiny mobile phones over time, even spawning parodies like the Zoolander microscopic wonder.
Boy, do things change, especially when it comes to smartphones. The single, stunning aspect of the now-retired Dell Streak was its near tablet–sized 5-inch display, a feature that had inspired much curiosity and numerous headlines when it debuted. Now we have the will-it-be/won’t-it-be nature of the Moto Droid Bionic‘s rumored 4.5-inch screen, which has been tearing its way across the webs for months. (Our bet is on “won’t” — we’re calling it at 4.3 inches.) And now there’s word that Samsung could be working on a new 4.65-inch Ice Cream Sandwich device.
It’s like the smartphone vendors all got together and agreed that “bigger” must mean “better.” No doubt, for some people that’s true. But why are they assuming it works for everyone?
Now granted, for stuff like videos and vodcasts, it’s a no-brainer. Nothing like watching Chef Ramsay tearing a new one into Hell’s Kitchen competitors on a beautiful, roomy screen. Gordon’s red face and wrinkled forehead are half the reason I tune into the show, so I don’t want to miss a single pixel of this chef in all his vein-throbbing, gobsmacked glory. But how often do I tune in via my phone? Not often. It’s not because I fear a data cap (as many do), but because streaming over cellular is like eating low-fat ice cream — it will do the trick if need be, but it’s rarely anyone’s first choice. If I’m not out, then I’m obviously in, where I have my home computer, tablet and actual television.
Productivity then? Well, okay — except who does any hardcore word processing or spreadsheet editing on a mobile? This is primarily for lighter tasks or quick emergency tweaks, so for me, display size hasn’t really been an issue one way or the other yet. If I needed to do something more in-depth, then yeah — I probably would want as big a screen as possible. But more likely, I’d power up my laptop or wait until I got home.
Well, there’s gaming. Can’t argue that having a bigger environment is handy for slinging pigs or mining gems, right? And if I spent a ton of time leveling up on my phone, maybe it would be worthwhile. But as it is, when I get the bug, I just use my tablet. It simply makes games like Infinity Blade look stunning and immersive.
Maybe I’m unusual, but I don’t really partake in the big screen benefits all that often. What I do spend most of my time doing is figuring out diferent ways to stuff a gargantuan mobile in my pockets or skinny purse without looking like I’ve nicked a cafeteria tray. Or pulling it out/pushing it aside when I’m digging around, looking for something else. (I almost lost a phone this way once. I took it out of my purse, placed it on the counter, paid for my burger and strolled merrily out the door, as the waitress stranded her hungry diners to chase me down the street with it. Needless to say, I gave her a huge tip.)
And then there’s the all-important call — which has me rushing to try and yank this monstrous phone out of my pants or bag. And after successfully excavating the gadget, I usually discover that the caller has hung up. This happens at least once or twice every time I leave the house. Battery life’s another issue — it takes a lot of juice to power a big screen. Of course, phones like the Droid Bionic are attempting to address that, but in this case, it’s by stuffing a bigger battery into the already mammoth-sized phone. Oh great.
I also oddly experience more face presses on a big capacitive screen — likely because my small hands are constantly adjusting their grip on this Godzilla, causing it to hit my face more. I’m also constantly nervous, being a klutz running around with a slim, expensive device fronted by a big sheet of glass. I spend far more time dealing with, worrying about or coddling the phone than enjoying that large, lush screen.
Now, I know my usage case might not apply to everyone. Take my pal Ren, for example. He has no problem with the 4.3-inch goodness of his HTC EVO. Of course, he’s a bigger guy, with bigger hands and pockets. But that’s the whole point — where’s the variety to cater to different users? We’ve seen small smartphones hit the market, but thanks to sub-par hardware, unfinished-looking UI or other issues, most were fairly boring mid-tier devices that failed to really set the world on fire. Would a small smartphone, perhaps one with decent specs and performance, be so much to ask?
Last year’s HTC Aria generally received good reviews, but in no way was this an advanced smartphone (and it got totally overshadowed with the hugeness of EVO-mania anyway). The Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini and Mini Pro got some looks, but not much in terms of market share. Now we’ll see the reboot for this set of Xperia devices in Q3, and this might be my only chance to have a decent compact smartphone this year.
Version 2 of the Xperia X10 Mini Pro, in particular, grabbed my eye — its 3-inch screen technically makes it a compact device, but it also has a keyboard that is nothing less than necessary for texting on a small phone. And it will come with Android Gingerbread (2.3), 1GHz processor, Sony’s four corner UI, dual cams, 720p HD and battery boost (up to 30 percent).
I’ve never been a Sony Ericsson fangirl, but these specs look adequate, especially for a category of product with so little competition in the U.S. But could the new Mini Pro actually challenge the industry’s unofficial definition of “compact” as “mediocre”? I hope so. I would love to see more contenders with decent options in this petite space. In the mean time, there’s this model to look forward to, as well as seeing what Google might do with all those patents it picked up last May from the component-clicking phone gurus at Modu.
What do you think? Is there such a thing as too much phone? Are you wishing for a handset that can satisfy your pocket AND your tech snobbery? Or are small phones “so over”?