Supersized Smartphones: How Big Can They Get?

A size war is raging in the smartphone world. The latest handsets, particularly gargantuan models such as Sprint's HTC Evo 4G and Verizon's Motorola Droid X, are the Cadillac Escalades of mobile phones: Big and brawny, but still small enough to slide in a pocket--barely.

Ponder these SUV-inspired specs: The Evo 4G measures 4.8 by 2.6 by 0.5 inches and has a 4.3-inch touchscreen. T-Mobile's HD2 phone, also built by HTC, has similar dimensions--4.7 by 2.6 by 0.4 inches--as well as a 4.3-inch display. The Droid X, slated to debut next week, is even bigger than the Evo 4G or HD2, and has a 4.4-inch screen. By comparison, Apple's new iPhone 4 is relative petite with its 3.5-inch LCD.

The Outer Limits

Photo courtesty of Engadget.
Contrast these monster phones with the Dell Streak, an upcoming tablet device with a 5-inch touchscreen. While the Streak will have 3G broadband and Wi-Fi, as well as a front-facing camera for video chat, it's definitely not a smartphone, according to Dell.

Well, if a 5-inch display marks the barrier that separates smartphone from tablet, have the ever-expanding handsets maxed out? Not quite yet, says IDC mobile phone analyst Ramon Llamas.

"I don't think phones have reached their maximum size limits," Llamas says. "You could always tack on another tenth of an inch and--boom--you just pushed the envelope that much more."

However, he adds that phone won't expand to include 5- or 6-inch displays. "At that point, you've got to say to yourself, 'Can I do with this phone what I'm used to doing?'

Looking Stupid

Both consumer and business users want a phone does a myriad of things, provided it's not some clunky monstrosity like what Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko character used in the movie "Wall Street."

Indeed, smartphone users don't want to hold a laptop computer--or even an iPad--up to their heads. Says Llamas: "Can I slip it into my pocket? Can I slip it into my purse? Can I hold it against my face and not feel like an idiot?"

Using a 5-inch or larger phone is "almost the equivalent of (holding) a 5-by-7 picture up to my head," he adds. "Guess what? That's a little too big."

While smartphone makers may yet be able to expand handsets by slivers of an inch, they're getting very close to the device's size limit. When they reach Dell Streak-like dimensions, they've jumped the mobile shark.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci ) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com .

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At a Glance
  • The speedy HTC EVO 4G packs in some powerful specs and a variety of multimedia features into a stylish, minimalist design, but not everybody will get to enjoy one of its best features--4G connectivity. Read the full review

    Pros

    • Superb 8-megapixel camera
    • Gorgeous, responsive display

    Cons

    • 4G coverage isn't everywhere
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