4.65 Inches

I’ll have to admit, when I ordered my Galaxy Nexus, I was a bit worried that it would be too big. When the Evo first came out, it felt right at the edge of comfortable for me, partly because I was so used to my Nexus One (4.3″ screen compared to 3.7″). I knew I’d still love the Galaxy Nexus because it was a huge step up in both hardware and software unlike the Nexus S, but was I going to have to tolerate the extra size?

Very shortly after using the device, I knew it wasn’t too big (in fact, that was one of my early tweets about the GN). The thinness helped to eliminate the psychological feeling of bulk, but what about being able to touch everywhere on the screen?

Dustin Curtis posted a blog entry called 3.5 Inches about how Apple chose 3.5″ and that manufacturers who made bigger devices were “doing it wrong.” He claimed that Apple’s size choice is “one of the things that makes Apple products Apple products.” His simplistic images were enough to convince several blogs to do what they do best: reiterate without investigating. I didn’t see any major blogs that pointed out that his thumb would have to be only two inches long for the iPhone picture to be accurate. Not to mention that the Galaxy SII is roughly 66mm wide and the iPhone is 59mm wide, so there isn’t that much difference in the width. In fact, according to the images, his thumb actually grows when he uses an iPhone and shrinks when he uses the Galaxy S2.

Spontaneous genetic mutations aside, hands come in many different sizes and Apple has chosen to continue going the route of a small screen (at least, by today’s standards), whether due to historical reasons, profits, or simply their typical 80% targetting (3.5″ is probably usable by 80% of people, even if it isn’t an ideal experience for many of them). Meanwhile, other companies are varying their sizes, feeling out the market, and finding that the demand for larger screen sizes does exist. John Gruber suggested that Android devices only have big screens because LTE chips are big. Not only is the first part of his post wrong (Android has supported density specific assets for years), but the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G has an LTE chip and 3.5″ display and it’s only 2mm taller than an iPhone, 4mm wider, 2mm thicker, and weighs .67oz less.

So why do iPhone users create alternative explanations to why Android devices are the “wrong” screen size? Because…

They’re holding it wrong.

When holding a large phone, you shouldn’t hold it against the inside of your thumb; you should hold it with the tips of your fingers and press it against your palm. This gives you more flexibility and eliminates the need for a huge bezel because your fingers aren’t wrapping around it. As long as your phone is properly built to have a non-slick back, this works far better.

Here are some photos illustrating my reach with very average sized hands:

My Galaxy Nexus is not too large; in fact, other phones feel too small compared to it (besides beasts like the Note anyway). More importantly, when I am using the device, I am viewing the screen far more often than trying to tap the farthest corners with one hand. The reality is that, unlike Google, Apple has not designed their OS around flexibility. Launching a device with a 4.3″ screen would be a nightmare for them. Maintaining >300dpi means that apps would break. Maintaining the pixel count means everything on the screen would just become bigger and less clear.

In the end, like always, it comes down to what works best for you. Telling most NBA players that 3.5″ is the ideal size is as silly as telling people with small hands that 4.65″ is ideal. If your hands are average size, consider trying out a device with a 4.5″ screen; if it’s too big, work your way down. Don’t settle for a tiny screen because someone else tells you it’s ideal.

About Ian G. Clifton

Ian currently works as a Senior Software Developer at Vulcan, Inc. in Seattle, WA. Previously, he has worked as a Director of User Experience, Android developer, web developer, and even a Satellite, Wideband, and Telemetry Systems Journeyman in the United States Air Force. He created the Essentials of Android Application Development LiveLessons video series and wrote Android User Interface Design: Turning Ideas and Sketches into Beautifully Designed Apps. He spends his off time on photography, drawing, developing, and doing technical review for other Android developers. You can follow his posts on this blog or his ramblings on Twitter.
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