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Smartphones: Does Size Matter? How About a Stylus?

By Mark Devlin

April 30, 2012

Mobile Phones: One to Watch

Sure, we’ve occasionally talked about a few iOS- and Android-based phones here on The Blog, but we’ve resisted making it a regular thing. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, there are at least 20 well-known websites/ventures out there that cover cell phones. It’s their lives. It’s their existence. (How the cellular phone became that important is beyond me.) That said, we always try to keep an eye out for stuff that IEN readers in particular may find useful or interesting, especially in an engineering context. Secondly, we think you’re a lot like us: smartphones are not our lives, but it’s worthwhile to note and consider some new models.

BUT…here’s an instance where you might want a smartphone heads-up.

First, some background on phone sizing, an element of beauty which seems to be in the eye of the brand holder.

Is size everything? Maybe not. Some people love iOS. Personally, I run it on two of my devices and like it. I like it a lot. I don’t love it, however. I have big hands (you know what that means, right? Big gloves.), I’m older, and my vision has sucked mud throughout my entire life. With those things and no-line trifocals in mind, I’ve refused to buy an iPhone simply because I can’t work well with its small screen. I was hoping that the long-rumored iPhone 5 (which actually turned out to be a warmed-over iPhone 4) would finally have a larger, more workable screen for people like me; something along the lines of the 4.3-in screen of my Droid Bionic. It didn’t, but used the same 3.5-in screen.

These days, though, I’m pretty happy with the Bionic. I’ve been through several versions of the Android OS across two phones, and I find it more flexible, more customizable, more tweakable, and more intuitive than the vaunted iOS competitor. Plus, Android supports widgets; iOS doesn’t. I’ve got useful, productive, informative, regularly used widgets on a few of my Bionic’s home screens. I can’t imagine being hurled backwards into a widgetless world. So, previous iPhone-lust be damned, I’m now an Android guy—and proud of it. Oh. I forgot a biggie. The iPhone does its thing with 3G-only. Verizon 4G LTE on Android kicks major speed butt. The difference is truly stunning, though you’ll need a lot of battery for it. (Apple might release a 4G iPhone in the fall.)

(As a related aside, this article at MobileMedia comments in the context of the ongoing Apple vs. Samsung [and everyone else, for that matter] patent wars that Apple could have a 4G problem on its hands. Why?

Samsung holds the bulk of next-generation 4G patents, according to a study released by IRunway, a technology research firm specializing in litigation support.


Smartphone sizing is a funny thing. Until now (or soon, depending upon your wireless carrier), we’ve pretty much had a choice of 3.5”-ish or 4.5”-ish smartphone screen sizes. (I’ve actually had size arguments about Bionic vs. iPhone 4/4S. Every iPhone I’ve ever seen in the wild has a squeeze/stretch-on case. I use the Bionic in a holster, so I actually use the naked phone, sans case. I’ve seen very few Android phones in wraparound stretchy cases. They’re usually just thrown into a purse or stuffed into a pocket. So, a more accurate (no pun intended) Apples to Androids comparison, to me, would be a cased iPhone vs. uncased Android phone.

Here’s what I came up with. Subject A (top) is an encased iPhone; Subject B (beneath Subject A) is a naked Droid Bionic…


In the above, you can clearly see that there’s very little difference in width. I’d guesstimate an 1/8 of an inch.


You can also see that that there’s very little difference in the length of the two phones. I’d ballpark that one at 1/4-in.

Those minor differences hardly justify calling the Bionic a ‘huge’ phone. Making an even stronger argument for the Bionic, also notice in the above images that the encased iPhone is considerably thicker than both the slender side and flared-thickness, camera-end of the Bionic.

I’m not trying to sell Bionics here. (Its camera is atrocious.) Heck, the darned thing was kicked off of the Best Android Phone pedestal in only about three weeks. My point is this: as people seem to use these phones and cases, the extra screen real estate of a larger Android with the much more usable and brilliant 4.5”-ish screen seems a no-brainer to me.

Okay. Now that we’ve established that a typical Android phone is only slightly and marginally larger in terms of length and width than the typically stretchy-cased iPhone, let’s talk about a huge phone. No, really huge. The Samsung Galaxy Note


As you can see, the Samsung Galaxy Note on the left easily dwarfs the Lilliputian iPhone on the right.

In a smartphone context, the Galaxy Note is massive, with its 5.3-in., Super AMOLED display (vs. the iPhone’s 3.5-in. Retina display). Of course, an even larger display would be great for people like me. Easier keyboarding, easier to tap on the right thing, a much better and more readable browsing experience, better eBook reading, better multimedia and gaming and, according to most smartphone obsessed reviewers, it still easily slips into a purse or jeans pocket.

So destructively has Sammy broken the mold that the Galaxy Note isn’t called a smartphone, but a ‘phablet’ since its size makes it much more usable as a tablet—while it’s still a smartphone.

Remember how the late Steve Jobs said things like (to paraphrase), “If it has a file manager, they blew it” and “If it has a stylus, they blew it”?

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I think Steve was wrong on both points, especially the latter.

So, here’s the pièce de résistance: the Galaxy Note uses a stylus called an S-Pen.


A stylus’d smartphone could be a beautiful thing for many IEN readers. Why?

* Considering IEN’s demographic, I can’t help but assume that many of you are like me: it’d be easier, more natural, and more intuitive to quickly and seamlessly jot-down a note with a stylus than doing so with a virtual keyboard.

* Engineers have a lot of meetings—technical meetings—that sometimes involve equations and formulas. Noting seriously-technical stuff on this thing with a stylus would be heaven.

* Engineers are very creative sorts, always thinking, always coming up with the Next Big Thing. That large, beautiful screen would make it a breeze to take handwritten notes either on the go or while you’re relaxing, watching MythBusters.

* Engineers, like physicians, are universally known for scribbled handwriting. I’ve watched many demos of the Galaxy Note (There are dozens on YouTube.) and the phablet’s handwriting recognition seems pretty good. Hopefully, it’ll be good enough for all of us, even the Palmer Method-challenged. (Plus, it’s gotta be better than the old Palm OS Graffiti-style shorthand handwriting system, though I got really good at it.)

* Plant Maintenance folks are always walking through facilities and taking notes. The Galaxy Note will very likely make this a much easier task.

* Often, people in various manufacturing functions wear gloves for some duties—making a touchscreen completely and utterly useless. Neither the stylus nor screen should care if you’re wearing gloves, so glove-wearers, too, could happily and easily take notes with a stylus.

I’m sure there are many more day-to-day uses not included in the above; that was just off the top of my pointy head.

The stylus, of course, isn’t just for handwriting. With the S-Pen, users can navigate, select items (without a finger blocking the selection itself), and annotate pictures, documents, and web pages.

Interestingly, not a single reviewer that I’ve read or watched has complained about the Galaxy Note’s size—AFTER they’ve used the device on a regular basis.

Since this is just a heads-up, I won’t drag you through processors and specs and test results. It’s all out there, and easily accessed. (Here’s a more-than-decent article with specs and benchmark results.)

I think—finally—we might have a winner for Best Smartphone for Engineering and Manufacturing.

The Galaxy Note has been available for a little while on AT&T, at $299 on a 2-year contract. It’s said to be on the way—with rumored, maximum timeframes averaged to the end of this summer—to Verizon Wireless (not as the Note, but called the Journal), T-Mobile, and Sprint.

The Galaxy Note signifies the most significant jump in smartphone design and functionality since the first iPhone. It breaks all iPhone/Apple/Jobs rules, which might not be a bad thing. Thanks to earlier availability in other countries, the Note has already helped Samsung achieve a strong first-quarter profit (of about $4.5B). Despite AT&T-only availability in the U.S., Sammy’s already sold 5 million Galaxy Notes.

At least one ‘top analyst,’ George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, says there’s a decline coming for Apple, mostly due to the loss of Steve Jobs’ ‘star power.’

I have to agree, and—especially considering the Galaxy Note—would think that we should all watch Samsung. Closely.

Add a Comment



  • Mikael Eriksson on May 3 2012 2:23:40:000PM

    Hi, I agree that a bigger display is favorable. My eyes have also come to a considerable age. But when it comes down to typing letters and be responsive, I would loose my job if I cant use at least 2 fingers when writing. Anrdroid is sufficient for those who use their device as cellphone/browser primary. It can´t compete if you have to be productive on the run in the modern economy.