The annual hype-disappointment routine that is the smartphone release cycle continues to churn, and since the last time I talked about that, things are pretty much the same. Phones, smartphones, phablets, ginormo-screen pocket bursting behemoths roam the landscape unchallenged. Kind of like dinosaurs, in that way. Way too big, and will probably continue to rule the landscape until there’s come major cataclysm. In that respect, I sincerely hope we’re living in the cretaceous period of the dino-phones.
Why the sudden hate towards screen size accretion? Well, I don’t explicitly hate the things, I’m just increasingly annoyed by them. Hundreds of tech blogs have opined about the rise in popularity of these five point something plus inch screen devices, their perceived usefulness, their actual usefulness, phrases like one handed usability and screen real estate are being thrown around like stale confetti. These devices are popular, people buy them, other people wonder why, and some write about it too. With long standing opposers of this trend (apple) now diving headlong into this whirlpool, the soft chorus of voices that ask when we will see the end of this phase seems to be getting softer.
After looking into why people seem to like large screen phones, I can only find one proper answer. Apparently, there are lot of people out there who want just one device, rather than multiple ones. Phablets seem to satisfy this need. But do they really? Yes, watching movies, and consuming media in general seems to be better suited to them, but apart from that, there really doesn’t seem to be any added value here, at least to me. No, Samsung’s “Multi-Window” and the other implementations of multi-tasking are NOT useful. First of all, the number of apps that support this functionality is limited, and secondly it isn’t really the most fluid experience one can have. I’d personally rather switch between apps rather than try to fit multiple windows on a screen and try to work as they glitch out, jump around and basically don’t work to the level of desktop applications.
Speaking of one handed usability, these phones sometimes come with accessibility features that help users use their phablets with one hand easily. So, they need help to use their device, with the help of a special feature. When you need a special way to be able to use your device despite its size, you’re not having a very good user experience, in my opinion. “Reachability mode” and all these software tricks are stop-gap solutions at best. I cringe when I see the unused space that’s left when these accessibility modes are used. It looks ridiculous, and the whole “bigger screen adds more value” argument seems to fall apart.
All these gripes with the current state of mobile phone screen sizes intensified when I began to think of what my next phone should be. My phone has served me well for the past three years, and despite having a good developer support in terms of custom ROMs, it’s on its last legs. What phone do I get? One of my best bets is probably the OnePlus One. Specifications, price, it’s got it all, hasn’t it? Except it doesn’t have it all. Whenever I look at the device, and when I saw it in the flesh, I simply couldn’t shake off the feeling of it being a “high quality prototype”. It is version 1.0 of a design, a platform, whatever you’d want to call it, and the subsequent versions will be better than this one, or at least they should be. Now, what does that make the users of the current device? Glorified beta testers.
How about the Z3? It looks and feels premium too doesn’t it? Oh, and why not the Z3 compact? It’s the perfect device for all my qualms! Just one thing- the UI is uninspired, and if I try to rectify that by rooting and flashing custom ROMs, well, that would mean the camera experience would take a hit. I won’t be able to use certain features of the camera due to DRM. And I’m not going to stay on the stock UI, especially when Sony tries so hard to sell me their stuff at every given opportunity when I use it.
How about the Galaxy S5? Although I don’t like to admit it, that is probably one of my safest bets right now. I can get rid of TouchWiz, and there are quite a few custom ROMs to choose from. Maybe. How about HTC devices? The latest iteration of the sense UI is pretty good, right? Well, I guess I can’t argue with that either.
There are many, many devices and OEMs I haven’t listed here, and they all feature in my thought process in some way or the other. Three’s just one thing. Have you ever bought a new thing that didn’t feel new? That’s the most important thing that’s holding me back. No matter what I end up getting, it won’t replicate the experience that I had the last time, the wonder, the amazement, the delight. It’s just the same things with new coats of paint, and more unwieldy than the previous thing.