For years we’ve been able to get a rough idea of how big a smartphone was by looking at the screen size. The original iPhone had a 3.5 inch display. The HTC Evo 4G seemed enormous when it first launched, thanks to its 4.3 inch display. These days there are phones with screens as big as 6 inches.

But that figure alone doesn’t tell you very much anymore. As Android Central posits, maybe we need to come up with a new number.

There’s a few reasons for that. The first is that some phone makers are slimming down the bezels, so a phone with a 6.4 inch screen like the Xiaomi Mi Mix might be about the same size as another phone with a 5.7 inch display.

The second reason? Not all phones have the same aspect ratio, so when you measure diagonally from one corner to the opposite, you don’t necessarily get numbers that are easy to compare.

Most phones over the past few years have had the same 16:9 aspect ratios you normally get with TVs and computer monitors. That’s true for phones with 1280 x 720 pixel display, 1920 x 1080 pixel displays, or 2560 x 1440 pixel screens, among other resolutions.

But the LG G6 has a 2880 x 1440 pixel display. LG calls it an 18:9 screen, but the mathematically gifted among you might realize that’s the same as 2:1.

BlackBerry is also going with a non-standard screen resolution for its new KeyOne smartphone. It has a 1620 x 1080 pixel screen that makes room for a physical keyboard below the screen. That’s a 3:2 aspect ratio (or 18:12, I suppose).

So while the LG G6 has a 5.7 inch screen and the BlackBerry KeyOne has a 4.5 inch screen, those numbers aren’t really telling you much about how big the phone is, how much surface area the display covers, or even how many square inches, square centimeters, or whatever the screen has.

The G6, by the way, measures 149mm x 72mm x 8mm and weighs 163 grams, while the KeyOne is 149mm x 72mm x 9mm and 180 grams.

In other words, the two phones are about the same size, even though one has a 5.7 inch screen and the other has a 4.5 inch screen.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix is a little larger, at 159mm x 82mm x 7.9mm and 209 grams.

I suspect many of us will probably keep mentioning screen size as a shorthand for phone size or display surface area for the foreseeable future. But it’d be nice if there was another single number that did a better job.

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll have to think about mentioning actual physical dimensions more often when writing about phones.

 

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13 replies on “Screen sizes don’t tell you how big a phone is anymore”

  1. It has NEVER been accurate to compare a single diagonal size. How much smaller was 3.5″ iPhone 4 compared to 4.3″ Galaxy S2? Have you discovered Blackberry in 2017?
    H*W*T – three numbers answering all your silly questions, kids.

  2. Listing the VxH dimensions is fine, but people have a hard time grokking number. Suggest using a visual size compare, using

    phonearena.com/phones/size

    and peg it to a popular phone model at the time, eg iPhone 7/7+ and/or Galaxy S7.

  3. Well, traditionally we have cm^2 to measure surface area. Or we can measure it in iPhones. Like, the Mi Mix is 1.28 iPhones.

    1. That still doesn’t get at the root of the problem. It’s kinda intractable, as you can’t reduce screens to just one measurement. Surface area has the same problems as the diagonal: it doesn’t tell you if the phone is a square (too wide to pocket), a narrow rectangle (hard to use with one hand), or something in between. We’ll probably have to stick with multi-dimension specs.

  4. Use area? I like comparing displays in terms of square centimetres or inches, for instance I may have a huge pile of monitors plus laptops, tablets and whatnot but their total area is less than a 50″ TV.

  5. Spec sheets display dimensions in mm ans inches and weight. Those are the numbers to look at.

    And that Xiaomi… 209 grams for a phone? Wow, that’s so heavy. I’ve got a 130 g phone since October and I miss the 116 g of my defunct Galaxy S2. Obviously my new Xperia X Compact is better by almost every other means.

  6. phonearena.com has a phone size comparison feature that I used a bunch looking for my latest phone. I was hoping for something smaller, that would run on T-mo and not suck. I ended up with a Pixel which is larger than I’d like but a nice phone. It’s fun to look at current phones and some from a few years ago to see the size difference side by side.

  7. I second the motion. Ever since I got my LG G4, I’ve been comparing phones to the screen size and body dimensions. I don’t want a phone physically bigger, or much smaller of a screen! Just as CPU became a multi dimensional purchase decision for desktops, I think phones are adding more aspects that must be considered.

  8. Hmm… New commenting system?
    Anyways, getting back to the article. I wish manufacturers would make smaller screen devices. For example the first moto x had a 4.7 inch screen and was similar in size to the iPhone 5s. The only somewhat high end compact device available today is the Sony xperia X compact and the screen is 0.1 inches smaller. So for people who want compact phones, what are they going with? IPhone SE?

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