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Tuesday, 11 October 2011 13:04

Why smaller is sometimes better



There's a meme spreading that says Apple was right to stay with a 3.5in screen for the iPhone family despite calls for more real estate. The argument is that you can't easily reach the opposite corners when using a 4+in device one-handed, but I call shenanigans.


The opinion of Dustin Curtis that a smartphone with a 3.5in screen (specifically the iPhone 4) can be operated one handed but a 4.21in screen can't, has been spreading. The argument is based on the idea that the larger screen size has a significant area that's unswept by your thumb during single-handed operation.


Since I currently have the use of an HTC phone with the larger screen, I thought I'd put the theory to the test. While it probably depends on exactly how you hold the phone, I found practically the entire screen surface was in reach of my thumb.

If anything, it was harder to reach the corners of the screen that were closest to my thumb (ie, the left corners when holding the phone in my left hand). If an admittedly non-scientific survey of my iTWire colleagues is anything to go by, my thumbs are of normal length!

But how often do you want to use a phone one-handed anyway? My normal habit - with conventional and touchscreen phones - is to hold it in one hand and operate it with the other. The main exception is when I'm entering text on a touchscreen phone in landscape orientation or on a QWERY handset, in which case I tend to hold it two-handed and use both thumbs.

While I take Mr Curtis' point that you'd use it one-handed "while you're walking down the street looking at Google Maps", I don't see that there's much need to do anything other than swiping the map in order to see the next part of your route. Adjusting the scale with a pinch is an inherently two-handed operation.




While I can see the advantage of a plus-size screen while the phone is actually in use, I find the additional width and length makes it an uncomfortable fit in a trouser pocket. The dimensions of the iPhone 4 (and therefore iPhone 4S), not to mention my trusty old Sony Ericsson 'candy bar' phone, are much more pocket-friendly.

That might not be an issue if you keep your phone in a jacket pocket or briefcase/handbag (or perhaps on a belt clip, but they seem about as fashionable as pocket protectors), but my recent observations are that most smartphones - at least among those owned by men - are slipped into trouser pockets.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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