Last week we traced the upwards trajectory of phone storage, let’s do the same but for screen size. Note that we’ll focus only on phones - that is no PDAs.
With that in mind, get ready for some Nokia domination. Hailing from the distant 1996, the Nokia 9000 had a 4.5" 640 x 200px screen and a graphical web browser to surf the web at a blistering 0.0096Mbps. It was a true smartphone (running GEOS, a predecessor of Symbian) on a 33Mhz processor.
This phone spawned a multitude of successors, all of which featured its unusual laptop-like design - easily accessible screen outside, big screen inside. The last of this fabled line is the Nokia E90 from 2007. It hid a 4” screen inside with 800 x 352px resolution. The CPU had a clock speed 10 times higher - 330mHz.
Okay, the Communicators had a fairly awkward form factor. We think the Sony Ericsson P800 was a brilliant idea - it seamlessly combined a big touchscreen and a hardware keyboard. It didn't need two screens to do it and the keyboard could be detached if you didn't want it. Its 2.9" screen wasn't that big, but it was still way above average for its time in 2002.
Anyway, back to 2007. After a decade of Nokia on top, HTC made the Advantage X7500. It’s squarish 5” screen made it fairly chunky looking - this was more of a micro netbook than a phone (but it did have phone functionality). Compare that to the Communicators, which tried to maintain the silhouette of a phone (meaning their screens were wide but not very tall).
A couple of years later, the fabled HTC HD2 came out (4.3” screen and slim bezels for the time). But for 2009 we want to focus on the LG BL40 New Chocolate. It’s screen only had a 4” diagonal, but it was big in other ways - an extra-wide 21:9 aspect ratio. Even the Galaxy S8 (18.5:9) can’t match that.
The following year we saw the Dell Streak “tablet”. Well, it seemed like a tablet with its 5” screen, that’s for sure. Okay, we still haven’t progressed since the 5” mark made by the Advantage, but at least the hardware keyboards have disappeared - phones were looking like phones again rather than mini laptops.
Even so, these were still outliers. Samsung was among the first to recognize the appeal of a huge screen and in 2011 the Galaxy Note debuted. Its 5.3” Super AMOLED screen supported S Pen input - the missing QWERTY was replaced by handwriting. But Samsung’s commitment to the large screen movement wasn’t 100% just yet. So its biggest phone in 2013 wasn't a Note, but instead a mid-range Galaxy Mega 6.3, which had - you guessed it - 6.3” screen.
Also in 2013 Sony beat Samsung at its own game with the Xperia Z Ultra - a massive 6.4” in a super slender body. It measured only 6.5mm thick, despite its IP58 waterproof rating. You can still see similarities between this phone and the current X series.
The dividing line between “phone” and “tablet” is fairly arbitrary - many tablets have voice call functionality, so they can be used as phones if you’re brave enough. There are several 7” devices from 2014 onward, so we’ll stop here.
But before we go, here is an honorable mention - the Xiaomi Mi Mix. By mercilessly slashing bezels, it fit a whopping 6.4” screen in the same footprint as the iPhone 7 Plus. Is it fair to say that a handset stops being a phone when it no longer fits in your pocket? We think that’s a better distinction than an arbitrary screen size and the Mi Mix is the way to go forward when it comes to extra huge screens.
I remember the first time I saw the Z Ultra from Sony. It looked massive compared to the other phones on display at the time. Then other companies followed suite, and now it's the norm.
I do get why some people like big screens, but it annoys me that the sub five inch market is so small. Astounds me it's harder to get a sub 5 incher than a 6 inch plus phone today.
Count me in also. I've been waiting for the successor, i mean, the "ultra" hype which is a summation of a flagship+slim phone+waterproof+huge screen+ great battery back up. But then again, sony kinda shipped phones like that but with mid-range chipse...