The next iPhone should have a bigger screen

Smartphone screen size matters, a lot.

I have been thinking about and playing with the gi-normous 5.3-in. Samsung Galaxy Note since it came out in February.  I reviewed it back then and raised concerns mainly about the digital stylus, and how it didn't always function properly. The handwriting-to-text software was also hard for me to master.

Since then, I've had a review unit for a few extra weeks to use regularly for short periods of time nearly every day.  I confess that I've been using it to play Words with Friends, sometimes managing 19 concurrent games with total strangers.  I'm an addict, yes, and have found that the chat function in Words with Friends is a great way to keep up with actual friends I'm competing against.  One is a lady who lives near my mother-in-law outside L.A., so she can give me wonderful "neighbor-over-the-fence" updates about my wife's mom.

Playing Words with Friends on my 3.5-in. touchscreen iPhone 4 was all I knew before trying it on the iPad, and then also on the Note, when it arrived.  The iPad is too heavy to hold for long to play the game, although the 9.7-in. screen is a luxury, as one moves letters to fill in blank spaces.  On the other hand, the iPhone seemed about right, until I got the Note and launched the game on it.  The Note's screen is kind of like the "just right" bed in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and makes playing Words with Friends just right.  Going back to the iPhone made me realize how small its screen is, for that kind of application at least.

Having more time with the Note, I've also noticed it's a good phone--perfectly good for speakerphone calls, and acceptable for calls with the device held to my ear.  People in public have laughed at me for using it, however, and some have stopped to give me their opinion about why anybody would want such a large phone.

My time with the Note has also included everyday activities such as browsing the Web, checking some email, and fiddling with weather apps.  Videos play nicely on the larger screen as well.

What the extra time with the Note has impressed on me is that such a large screen is actually pretty nice. The ability to read things quickly and easily is there, and it's not so heavy that I can't hold it up for long periods to tap commands. I've never been one to type one-handed with my thumb, so that's not something I have tried with the large Note.

As for input, I have avoided Note's stylus. My finger functions much better for most everything, although the button on the stylus makes it easy to capture a screen shot by holding the stylus on the screen.  I also discovered very recently that the stylus didn't even function on the four control buttons at the bottom of the Note's screen, the ones that take you to home and back a screen and more.  To activate those buttons, you use your finger, which is awkward if you are already holding the stylus.

Samsung advertises its Note as a combo tablet and smartphone, and they have begun running TV ads with young artists playing with the stylus, making onscreen drawings and writing messages.  I think that's the wrong marketing direction to take, since the large screen might be the bigger attraction just for being large enough to do all the things we need to do without a stylus.

BGR reviewer Zach Epstein in February said he hoped the Note would be the end of the "giant smartphone trend," but I take a different stance.  I think there's enough value in a larger screen that Apple would do well to bump its next iPhone to well above 3.5-in., although 5.3-in. would probably be too grotesque for Apple and its focus on sleek design.

 Rumors put the coming iPhone 5 screen at more than 4-inches, which makes total sense to me. I'm certain Apple has researched the matter thoroughly and will find many more iPhone converts (mainly those with feature phones) by adding more screen real estate.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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