Frogs in boiling water: how smartphones became so huge – Android Police

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Frogs in boiling water: how smartphones became so huge – Android Police

At 142mm tall, 70mm wide, and 8mm thick, 2011’s Samsung Galaxy Note was smaller than today’s Galaxy S24, now widely considered one of the best small phones. The first note received generally positive reviews – as well as criticism for being “positively gargantuan”.



Fast forward about eight years, and esteemed outlets around the world (us included) have been speaking out on the borderline-ridiculous girth of the new Galaxy S20 Ultra. It was about 4.5mm taller and 3mm thinner than the latest S24 Ultra, indicating that the size of high-end phones hasn’t changed much since then.


Source: Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Mega 2013, in all its 88mm wide splendor

What happened in the meantime? Technology was advanced, consumers demanded performance, companies met the bottom line, and we found ourselves stuck with oversized phones.


How we standardized the phablet

It was probably meant to happen like this

Some ingenious visionaries surely foresaw the arrival of massive edge-to-edge displays, but smartphones certainly didn’t start out that way. The original iPhone, released in 2007, measured 115mm tall and 61mm wide, which is practically microscopic by today’s standards.

A still from the Zoolander movie showing Derek Zoolander holding a 2-inch flip phone to his ear

Source: Paramount Pictures/Village Roadshow


Derek Zoolander is sad because he knows phones will never be small again

But back then, phones didn’t have to be huge. Super-simple mobile websites, an ever-burgeoning streaming environment, and the relative non-existence of remote working and video conferencing have left no one clamoring for a 6.78-inch screen with well-rounded pixel density. beyond what the human eye can detect.

In the years before the smartphone was born, engineers delighted in the ability to make everything smaller, more portable and also faster. But 3G connectivity was emerging around the same time, and when the iPhone combined a phone, a music player and relatively a large touchscreen with reliable internet access, the design and development was on point.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro phablet compared to Pixel XL

Source: Android Police


The Pixel XL vs. the 180mm × 87mm Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, featuring a 6.4-inch display

Soon, the pressure began to push the limits of what each new generation of smartphones could do, which meant a continual increase in size until the market determined the happy medium. Smaller semiconductor nodes, more complex architectures, and increasingly efficient instruction set architectures have no longer made phones smaller, but rather allowed developers to get more out of larger devices exponentially.

A step by step enlargement

On the road to where we are today, cellular infrastructure, software versatility, and component efficiency continued to grow during the first generations of smartphones, but the subsequent increases in size did not. made without user resistance. The remarkable Galaxy S3, measuring 137mm tall, even had experts wary of Samsung pushing the form factor boundaries too far.

We voted with our wallets

Editorial: 5 million Galaxy Notes sold in 5 months says a lot about the future of smartphones

But when the impressively mature S8 and S8+ hit shelves in 2017, the demand was clear. The two have sold over 41 million units combined, and guess what? The 160mm tall S8+ was more popular. Big phones were here to stay.


Big phones are really useful

Money talks, and Samsung has followed suit with bigger phones. People didn’t want to carry a bigger device in their pocket for no reason. Consumers demanded hardware, batteries, storage and displays that couldn’t easily fit into small packages. And rather than people changing, the content and its interactivity had evolved.

My little old Xperia XZ1 Compact served my needs just fine, but mobile websites eventually became difficult to read. And banking apps, online ticket purchases, multifunctional social media accounts, and countless fun mobile games barely existed more than a decade ago, when screens smaller than 5 inches were the norm. You can’t use what you can’t see, and a 4.6-inch screen doesn’t show you much.

A photo of the iPhone SE held in one hand, facing the screen

Those most willing to compromise can always upgrade to an iPhone SE


Of course, you could theoretically fit less-than-flagship hardware into a 142mm-tall body like that of the Galaxy S5. And if you don’t particularly like playing complex mobile games or editing spreadsheets on your phone (and small phone enthusiasts generally don’t), you might be OK with the tradeoff. But today’s big players make significant revenues on huge flagship products, while less successful models lose popularity and profit margins.

A big screen means more than just FHD streaming

As modern applications become much more versatile and efficient (consider today’s sophisticated AI capabilities), many require considerable power that entry-level hardware cannot provide. A quality camera needs space and a single lens will not cover all photographic needs. As great as the XZ1 Compact was for taking photos at its size, it certainly couldn’t compare to the excellent smartphone cameras of today.


The death knell?

Samsung’s Galaxy S25 could truly be the death knell for small phones

The Korean giant’s next compact flagship could pack a larger 6.36-inch display

The high-power chips and bright displays demanded by consumers also produce waste heat that must be disposed somewhere. And the power that powers these chips comes from batteries based on slowly evolving technology. In the end, we got what we wanted: big phones that do everything, even if our thumbs can no longer reach the notification bar.

Why no one is making small phones yet

The bottom line is that manufacturers stopped making small phones because they stopped generating significant profits. If the XZ2 Compact had made money for Sony, it could have developed an XZ3 Compact. The Galaxy S10e was fantastic, but why would Samsung replace it without covering enough R&D costs? The 2021 iPhone 13 Mini still works great, and current owners have no reason to upgrade now that the line is gone. And the Galaxy S Mini died before it really caught on.

We’ve been saying this for a while

The Pixel 5 makes me wish for a Pixel 6 Mini

Size matters

In addition to the absolute crampedness, the overall selection has strongly shifted towards larger dimensions. According to GSMArena, the market saw 377 smartphones under 145mm released between 2016 and 2020, including some of the best phones of each year. Between 2020 and today, that number drops to 28, and you’ve probably only heard of six: two Pixels and four iPhones. Today, only the Zenfone 10, Galaxy S24, Pixel 8, and iPhone 15 are nearly 150mm tall among new phones, and they’re all quite expensive.


Do small phones have a future?

I recently spent a few pages complaining about the demise of compact smartphones, and I thought I was the only one who cared. Since then, the growing voices of small phone enthusiasts have shown that there is a growing demand for something we can use easily with one hand.

Even popular names like MKBHD are lamenting, for example, the potential disappearance of Asus’ little Zenfone. Internet media outlets are spending more and more time talking about the size of today’s phones, and readers continue to speak out in favor of them. It may not be likely, but it’s more possible today than it was two years ago for a brave manufacturer to reintroduce a truly compact smartphone. My pockets are ready.

We are not alone

The Pixel 8 seems small after the Galaxy S24 Ultra, but I want a really small phone

Google and Samsung convinced me: smartphones are too big

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