Let’s face it: Phones have gotten too large.
Ever since the advent of the smartphone, the dimensions of our pocket-sized communication devices have increased at a rate that would suggest cargo pants are roaring back into style. Because before too long, that’s the only place your fancy new phone will fit.
And that’s a problem.
It’s a problem that texting is now a two-handed affair. It’s a problem, for that matter, that doing practically anything on a smartphone is a multi-handed exercise in balance and dexterity.
Why does anyone think this is a good and desirable thing? A voice of reason is needed in the world of ballooning phablets, but until one shows up this column will just have to do.
Let us count the problems
Now, to be clear, this isn’t an argument that we should return to the dumbphone — despite how great those phones can be. Rather, this is an acknowledgment that an ever increasing phone size comes with serious usability trade-offs, and that it frequently isn’t worth it.
The most immediately obvious problem is perhaps the most vexing: You can’t fit your giant cell in the pocket of your jeans. Or, if you finally manage to do so, it gets all bent up.
Many smartphone users keep their phones near at all times, and not being able to stash a phone in a pocket makes this a bit of a nightmare. True, pockets on women’s jeans have typically been too small for smartphones for years — but that’s a bad thing. Moving to a world where no one can fit a phone in a pair of pants isn’t going to address the sexism inherent in women’s pockets.
These are not just the ravings of a skinny-jean devotee. Even Mashable‘s suit-sporting Lance Ulanoff thinks phablets are too large.
And then we get to usability.
First, and perhaps most importantly, a single human hand just isn’t large enough to comfortably use a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. That beast comes in at almost 6.28 inches tall and close to 2.89 inches wide. Typing or merely accessing anything toward the top of the screen on a phone that large is a nightmare.
Apple, for its part, is totally aware of this issue as their double-tap reachability feature and secret one-handed keyboard make clear. But these are just workarounds, and ones that force you to accept other compromises in order to complete basic tasks.
The reachability feature makes you double tap the home button before accessing anything toward the top of the screen. As someone who uses that feature whenever I’m smartphoning one-handed, let me assure you, it adds a lot of time.
The secret keyboard, meanwhile, shrinks down the size of the individual keys. Fat fingers? You’re out of luck.
Yeah, I could just hold the phone with both hands and type away double-thumbed, but then I’m using two hands to text. Besides being a bad look, it’s a pain in the ass. My left hand has more important things to do — like hold a book/coffee/beer/anything.
In return for these sacrifice you’re given a phone screen sort of large enough for watching movies on the Netflix app. Awesome.
While smartphones are going to continue to increase in size, and there’s seemingly nothing we can do about it, there remain a few rays of small-phone hope piercing through the phablet void.
As evidenced by the pleasantly sized iPhone SE, companies have realized that not everyone wants to carry around the equivalent of an iPad Mini in their jacket all day. If we’re lucky, manufacturers will continue to offer consumers choice when it comes to the size of their pocket computers.
But this isn’t enough. With smartphone use having wormed its way into every aspect of our lives, it’s important that the apps and operating systems running on those devices keep the one-handed user in mind.
Because as long as we’re not a priority, the phablets will always be too damn big.