T-Mobile USA says 77% of consumers prefer devices with screens larger than 4.5 inches. Where is the real sweet spot?

Eric Zeman, Contributor

July 18, 2012

4 Min Read

Samsung's Android Super Smartphone: Galaxy SIII

Samsung's Android Super Smartphone: Galaxy SIII

Samsung's Android Super Smartphone: Galaxy SIII (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Today, wireless network operators offer smartphones with screens ranging from 2.4 inches all the way up to 5.3 inches. Nearly every measurement in between is available, providing smartphone shoppers with an incredible amount of choice when it comes to screen size. Like 'em small? No problem. Want to carry around heavier artillery? Go for it.

Despite the large selection of screen sizes available, devices with larger displays are more popular, according to a survey conducted by T-Mobile USA. T-Mobile, in cooperation with Kelton, polled more than 1,000 Americans over age 18 between May 29 and June 5. T-Mobile and Kelton found that 77% of respondents would prefer a device with a screen measuring 4.5 inches or larger.

T-Mobile cited this survey as one reason behind its recent decision to offer the Samsung Galaxy Note, a "phablet" that has a 5.3-inch display with 800 x 1280 pixels. T-Mobile says the larger display makes "enjoying HD content and getting work done easier than ever."

Kelton's findings corroborate research published earlier this year from ABI. In particular, ABI Research said phablets have a bigger future than perhaps many believed they would. According to its data, more than 208 million phablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Note, will be shipped globally in 2015.

[ Apple tops the smartphone hardware market, but still Android Strengthens Lead Over U.S. Smartphone Rivals. ]

Samsung announced earlier this year that it had sold more than 5 million Galaxy Notes worldwide. The company is probably on track to reach 10 million Notes sold in the coming months. Now that it has added T-Mobile as a distributor in the United States, it has a better chance of reaching that goal.

Why is this device gaining acceptance? "One of the chief drivers for phablets is the amount of time people use their smartphones for Web browsing, reading articles, and newspapers on the go, or simply navigating their journeys," said senior analyst Joshua Flood. "The larger screen sizes make a significant difference to the user's experience when compared to conventional-sized touchscreens between 3.5 to 4 inches."

For the record, ABI Research defines phablets as devices that have screens measuring between 4.6 and 5.5 inches. This definition skews the numbers a bit, in my opinion. Many of today's top smartphones are shipping with screens in the 4.6- to 4.8-inch range. That includes devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S III, and the HTC One X and EVO 4G LTE. These smartphones are flagship devices for these companies that will sell in the tens of millions of units, significantly inflating ABI's predictions.

"New phablet-styled devices provide an attractive two-in-one device proposition and are beginning to see the competition between these larger smartphone form factors and smaller media tablets (less than seven inches)," said ABI. This is true. With screens so large, many lacking the means to purchase both a smartphone and a tablet can choose the phablet and get the functionality of both.

These two pieces of research will be tested thoroughly over the next few months.

The Samsung Galaxy S III has now fully launched across five U.S. wireless network operators. It has a 4.8-inch screen. The new Motorola Atrix HD has a 4.5-inch display and is available from AT&T. The HTC One X has a 4.7-inch display, also available from AT&T. All of these devices are at or above the 4.5-inch benchmark set by Kelton and T-Mobile USA.

The big test of the validity of Kelton and ABI's research, however, will come later this fall when the iPhone 5 arrives. Based on all the rumors and speculation so far this year, the iPhone 5 will have a display measuring four inches at the most. In fact, some reports suggest the iPhone 5's display will actually measure 3.95 inches.

This begs the question, can an iPhone with a 4-inch display compete with today's 4.5-, 4.7-, 4.8-, and 5.3-inch smartphones?

Speaking personally, I won't buy any device that has a screen smaller than 4.3 inches. What about you?

About the Author(s)

Eric Zeman


Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies.

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