Just like the ‘Blob’ from the 1958 movie, a seemingly indestructible force that grew to consume everything in its path, smartphone displays are continuing to grow out of control as evidenced by the new Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus at 6.2-inches. Just a couple of years ago, 4-inches, and 4.7-inches were the two most popular screen sizes – no doubt due to the popularity of the iPhone 5/5S and iPhone 6/6S. Although the majority of devices released in 2015 were 5-inches or a little larger, thanks in no small part to the popularity of smartphones running the Android OS. While most Android phones leaned toward a larger display size Apple continued to dictate a smaller display, that is until the iPhone 6 Plus where 5.5-inch displays were offered. Apple owners found out what Android owners had enjoyed over the past years – bigger is better – and during the 2016 holiday season the iPhone 7 Plus was favored by over 61-percent over the iPhone 7 in sales.
Mobile phones have evolved over the years from a small candy bar, clamshell, or flip phone that easily fit in your pocket or pocket book, yet opened up to a larger device that fit perfectly in the crock of your neck when making a phone call. The problem started with the introduction of the smartphone that could be used for more than simply making a phone call – its was a merger of a smartphone and personal digital assistant (PDA). It needed a larger display for playing games, watching videos, reading books, using the calendar, or browsing the web. The touchscreen design came into being and along with that, a larger size and the need for a larger pocket and a larger hand for a one-handed operation. Those were the two biggest obstacles in convincing consumers to go with a larger design – they still wanted the convenience of using their pocket (shirt or pants) to carry their phone and many users became very proficient at texting with one hand.
Larger displays meant a larger physical presence as manufacturers started cramming in a bigger screen with the same size bezels and room for the ‘Home’ button. Larger sizes meant larger batteries and more features meant more internal components needed crammed in to make it all work – NFC, Bluetooth, multiple microphones, larger cameras, a front-facing camera (FFC), larger and/or stereo speakers, heart rate sensors, fingerprint sensors, and so forth. To run all of the new features, our smartphones needed more RAM, more memory, WiFi, and if that was not enough, some manufacturers opted for modules that would slide in or snap on the back of your smartphone to add more functionality.
The newest devices coming out have some of the largest displays we have seen in years on a mainstream flagship device. The HTC U Ultra, the LG G6, and the LG V20 all measure in with a 5.7-inch display. The new Samsung Galaxy S8 comes in at 5.8-inches and the Galaxy S8 Plus is a whopping 6.2-inches. Manufacturers had to become more creative in the design of these new smartphones with a goal of increasing the display size while decreasing the physical size of the device. Nobody worked harder at that than LG did with their LG G6 model and Samsung with their new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. The HTC U Ultra has a 5.7-inch display, but has a larger physical presence than the 6.2-inch Galaxy S8 Plus. The LG V20 has a 5.7-inch display but is slightly larger and wider than the Galaxy S8 Plus. The LG G6 with its 5.7-inch screen and the Galaxy S8 with its 5.8-inch display, which are direct competitors, are almost identical in size.
However, what Samsung did with their new Infinity Display design is nothing short of a miracle for large display lovers. The Galaxy S8 is only 6.5mm taller than the Galaxy S7, yet the display jumped from 5.1-inches to 5.8-inches and the Galaxy S8 is actually a little narrower than the Galaxy S7. The Galaxy S8 Plus with a 6.2-inch display is less than 9mm taller and 1mm wider than the smaller Galaxy S7 Edge coming in at 5.5-inches. Samsung accomplished this by incorporating an edge-to-edge display design that squeezes out every bit of space. The next factor is the new 18.5:9 screen ratio that gives it just a little taller and narrower display – LG used the 18:9 ratio on their LG G6 to accomplish similar results. The third design factor was to move the fingerprint sensor to the back of the display, and place the home, back, and app keys on the display, although by next year the fingerprint sensor may start showing up in the display area. What is nice is that these keys do not take up any display area until you push the 3D Touch area on the bottom of the display and they ‘magically’ appear.
It seems as though manufacturers have reached the pinnacle in large displays, as there is not much more that Samsung or LG can do to 'shave' off more of the smartphone's physical space. The displays of today are the largest we have seen for flagship devices and yet physically they are not much larger than the smaller displays of the past, allowing us to comfortably carry our large display in our pocket or purse. However, don't be surprised if we see larger displays on even smaller dimensions when foldable phones start to hit the market in the next couple of years.