Depending on which manufacturer you listen to, a 4 inch screen is either very big or very small. The 4 inch display on the iPhone 5 is the biggest screen that Apple has ever featured on any of its phones and it considers it to be a large screen, yet this week Apple’s arch-nemesis Samsung released a phone with the same size screen – which funnily enough it has named the Galaxy S3 ‘Mini’.
So who is right? Is 4 inches a big screen or a small screen? According to Best Mobile Contracts, Samsung boss JK Shin was quoted as saying that the smaller S3 has resulted from a large amount of demand for this phone size, particularly in Europe. In fact, if you asked most consumers they would probably describe this as a “normal” sized phone screen. Not big. Not small.
So why do these two companies have such differing views about this particular screen size? The iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S all featured a 3.5 inch screen, which in today’s terms could be bordering on “mini”. This screen size was originally chosen after extensive testing within Apple’s R&D department which showed it to be the optimum size for most consumers to use a touchscreen phone one-handed and still be able to reach everything on the screen with ease.
Apple vehemently stuck with this screen size and the reasoning behind it despite the rest of the industry moving towards larger and larger displays. Yet with its latest iPhone Apple seems to have ignored its own R&D that it had insisted upon for many years and started to follow trends in the wider industry. While Apple has maintained this same screen size for the past few years, other manufacturers, most notably HTC and Samsung, have been producing phones with larger and larger screens to the point that a whole new category of devices has emerged which almost blurs the lines between smartphone and tablet.
Samsung in particular has been widely ridiculed for its excessive screen sizes, as it is largely seen as the main company instigating this current trend. Sceptics originally forecasted that phones like the Galaxy Nexus would be a massive flop due to their large size, yet they have actually proven to be very popular. There is no doubt though that many people are put off these phones because of their screen size.
So does Samsung’s love of large screens also stem from R&D? Not quite, it would seem. In a leaked internal document from Samsung which was used as part of Apple’s evidence in the recent Californian patent court case, the Korean company recognised that its greatest strength was with its screens. As one of the world’s leading television manufacturers and developers of new LCD and AMOLED technology this is hardly surprising. To capitalise on the strength of its screen technology, Samsung chose to keep making its phone screens larger and larger. Considering this, it is easy to see how Samsung considers a smaller 4 inch screen to be a step backwards. It may also explain why Samsung so strongly associates small screens with low-end hardware and budget features.
The Galaxy S3 Mini does not just have a smaller screen than the larger Galaxy S3, it also has a lot of downgraded hardware including a slower processor, less memory and a lower resolution camera. To Samsung, people who want a 4 inch screen on their phone obviously want budget hardware features too.
Some more cynical individuals are suggesting that Samsung has released this phone shortly after the iPhone 5 to try and subliminally associate Apple’s latest gadget with less-powerful phones in the popular imagination. The iPhone 5 has a lot more power under its wing than the S3 Mini however, and there is no doubt in most peoples’ minds as to where the iPhone stands in the pecking order.
To a company like Samsung that delights in showing off its screen technology, 4 inches may seem “mini”, but to the rest of the world this is a fairly normal sized phone screen. To some people, long-time iPhone owners for example, it is actually still quite large.