It's Too Big

Although I decided to toss out my general comments on the Apple keynote (given that there wasn’t anything to add regarding watches) there was something to be said on the matter of large phones, so here it is.

Of late, I’ve started looking wistfully at smaller phones. I miss the the Nokia 6120, the Sony Ericsson W880 and other marvels of ancient engineering that graced my desk (and hardly weighed on my pockets) back when I worked in mobile, and would certainly use my Xperia U more often if it wasn’t for the hassle of getting a “normal”-sized SIM card again1.

In fact, my notes on switching to the Xperia U make it plain that I wasn’t very keen on the 4” phone craze either, so there you have it.

Even granting that the screen size race is at least partially sustained by customer demand, one cannot deny that there is a) plenty of one-upmanship involved and b) a rather idiotic amount of revisionist history writing going on right now, especially in the Apple zealot camp.

Both are a dismal waste of time and energy as far as I’m concerned, so I’m just going to admit that larger screens are a regretful consequence of increased customer demand given that many people rely on their smartphone for everything. After all, a larger screen is indeed beneficial for most activities, and if you do your engineering right the battery life usually benefits from a small boost due to the increased volume.

The issue, as far as I’m concerned, is that sizes beyond 4.7” start becoming unwieldy and increasingly hard to use one-handed.

And since people don’t carry their phones in their hands constantly, those larger sizes also become unwieldy in other ways.

A Year With An iPhone 6-sized Phone

As it happens, the iPhone 6 (non-Plus) is very, very close to the size of my HTC One (M7), which I’ve been using for a year now.

Right off the bat I listed its size as the main downside, and I haven’t changed my mind since. The screen is great (it’s a 1920x1080, 468ppi screen, better than the iPhone 6 and equivalent to the iPhone 6 Plus), but even after a year the size is a constant, grating annoyance.

It’s a pain to insert into a trouser pocket, bulges awkwardly, requires constant adjustment to avoid tearing the linings and is a considerable challenge to merely extract from said pocket, whether you’re sitting in the car or standing in the office.

Even after a year of weeky near-misses, I still drop it on occasion when it gets caught on the edge of my pocket. Keep that in mind if you’re lusting after the iPhone 6 Plus.

What keeps me using it on weekdays (besides work) is that it is excellent for reading news and e-books while commuting. Otherwise it mostly just sits on my desk, propped up on a stand so I can glance at notifications2 and pick it up with ease.

I’d go nuts if I had to take it out from my pocket every time I get a call.

So every weekend I revert to my iPhone 5, which is markedly easier to pocket and use one-handedly.

And every single evening I put the HTC One aside and pick up a 3.5” Retina iPod Touch, which is – to me – exactly the right form factor for something I want to keep with me at all times.

So I would certainly buy a smaller, thinner iPhone instead of a smaller, voice-enabled iPad. And I’m positive I’m not the only one.

Addendum – The One Itself

I haven’t written anything about my long-term experience with the One, so I guess this is as good a place as any.

Largely thanks to its great screen, the thing is still the best Android phone I’ve used (and I’ve played around with quite a few in the meantime).

It’s fast, polished, and what few apps I use on it run fine. Audio is great (thank you, Beats! Oh, wait – thank you, Apple!). The only thing that keeps marring the experience is the absolutely horrid camera3.

On the software side, it bears noting that I’ve disabled most HTC customizations (especially all the Sense UI crap and its little flotilla of accessory apps) and turned it into a reasonable facsimile of a “normal” Android device by dint of installing the Google Now Launcher and changing the default keyboard.

The only reason I haven’t re-flashed the phone with a ‘vanilla’ Google Play image is that I rather like the extended power management features HTC added in the latter versions, namely the “extreme power saving” mode that disables most features except calls and SMS messaging – it’s especially handy when travelling, or when the mobile network goes out of wonk and the phone decides to drain its battery beaconing in unmitigated panic.

It also bears noting that HTC pushed out an OTA upgrade to Android 4.4.3 early this week, so they’re good on my book (although I suspect that’s essentially due to their having to update the Google Play edition as well). But at least that (and their statement that it will eventually run Android L) gives me even less incentive to tinker with the firmware.

  1. The U’s side slot makes it almost impossible to employ micro-SIM adaptors or other kind of shims, so I only use it on vacation these days. ↩︎

  2. Which are still far better than in iOS, and far more customizable↩︎

  3. HTC completely dropped the ball on the 4Mp UltraPixel sensor as far as I’m concerned, since I’ve yet to get a single photo I’m happy with out of it, regardless of which camera app I use. ↩︎