Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In defense of small phones

One of the things that mobile technology enthusiasts (like me), have to deal with is always wanting new phones. And one of the things people with little children (like me) have to deal with is not being able to afford new phones as often as we'd like. So that almost always means selling the old phone on eBay to be able to afford the new one. It's just standard procedure.

Sometimes I can time it so that the new phone arrives before the old one needs to be shipped out. Those are the good times where things are happy, and I can immediately switch from old to new. Other times, though, the timing doesn't work out that way, and the old phone has to be mailed out before the new one arrives. These are the sad times, where I use an old phone from the junk drawer during the overlap period.

I recently went through just such an overlap. The old phone, a T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide, had to be mailed out before the new one, a Sony Xperia S arrived in the mail. During the overlap period, I used a broken, old HTC Aria. The Aria, if you recall, was only the second Android phone AT&T ever carried. It was released in June, 2010 with a 600MHz processor and a tiny 3.2" screen. Read that last part again...three point two inches diagonally. In a world where the smallest phones are 4" and the largest as high as 5.5", that is a ridiculously tiny number.

Aria, iPhone 4S, and Galaxy SIII
And indeed, the Aria is small. It's easily the smallest smartphone I've ever used and was in stark contrast to the Xperia S I was replacing it with, which has a 4.3" screen. The crazy part is that even 4.3 is on the small side based on today's standard. Samsung's Galaxy SIII is the best selling phone the company has made, and it has a 4.65" screen. And before you start giggling about the innuendo of making size comparisons, rest assured; I won't go there. Others have already done that.

I really expected my experience with the Aria to be bad. It's an old, slow phone with a tiny screen. I expected it would be a challenge to even read news articles. But that's not what happened at all. Instead, I almost started to prefer it.

There was a time when every new phone got smaller than the previous in a race to be the most petite device possible. Remember the RAZR? Or the Chocolate? All of these attempting to be tiny, and yet still sexy looking. Then smartphones came along and the trend reversed. Now we are seeing increasingly larger and larger phones, and consumers are continuing to demand it. Even the iPhone this year bowed to pressure and got a screen size increase.

Using a small phone for a week made me realize just how big these new phones really are. The Aria could be in my pocket and I wouldn't even feel it. I could use it for hours without feeling like it was getting heavy. I could easily use it one-handed. It was a really nice experience and one that not many people seem to care about anymore.

Some people still care, which is why Sony makes made the Xperia U. My wife has this phone and it is even smaller than the Aria in some dimensions, while having a higher quality screen, dual-core CPU, etc. The Xperia U only has a 3.5" screen. Whenever I use her phone, I am reminded of how nice small phones can be. It's also an example of a phone that has a small screen without sacrificing other features.

I have no idea how many smaller phones Sony has sold, but all of their rumored phones for 2013 are large, so it's likely they are following the industry in making bigger devices. It's a shame, really, because I think small phones have a place.

Part of the initial appeal of Android is that it used to come in so many different hardware varieties. Phones with keyboard, without keyboards, big, small, more buttons, less buttons. But that's not the case anymore. The sad truth is that if you want a phone with a screen smaller than 4.3" now, the iPhone is your only option. That really sucks.

So here's to small, without being low-end. No more of this "entry-level," or "budget device" crap. Let's have some solid, high-quality, desirable phones in the sub-4" range. Please.