Shamu and the Minis — a musing on device sizes

We keep having this same conversation — but "smaller" phones have got to stop skimping on specs

Size matters. That's all there is to it.

We've seen quite a bit of talk about phones and the sizes they come in, particularly as those sizes have increased over the years. We all have our opinions on how our phones seem to be blurring (or outright obliterating) the line between phones and tablets. And more recently there's been quite a bit of discussion on phone sizes with reports of a Motorola Nexus device, code-named Shamu, and if a Nexus phablet is a good idea.

Just... a little... further...

Now, while I wouldn't necessarily want a phone that size with my small hands, I could see buying Shamu as a developer so as to only need one device yet code for both phone and tablet. It's big enough to test tablet layouts and small enough (and with all the extra hardware) of a phone. I can also see it working for a good number of regular Android users because of a friend of mine. He bought a Galaxy Mega because he had wanted a tablet for Netflix and Clash of Clans, but only wanted to carry around one device. Granted, he's actually a fan of TouchWiz, so I'm not sure Shamu would've been able to win him over on spec alone, but a high-end phone with a high-res 5.9-inch screen and quick updates from Google would've certainly caught his eye.

It is certainly not the device most casual users would be running out to buy (what Nexus has been?), but to say Shamu has no place in the market is slightly off the mark. It's a Nexus for Note users, and it's a Nexus that will be more focused on developers and power-users. Also, consider that Galaxy Mega my friend bought. It carried a relatively low resolution of 720p stretched to fit a larger screen. The processor was adequate at best, and the on-board storage was lacking for a device that looks like it was born for watching movies offline on planes, trains, and automobiles. It was built like a beast, but inside it was just "good enough." The same holds true for most phablets outside the Galaxy Note line. Many would be more receptive of a larger phone if it had the specs to match, but right now when you get a super-sized phone, the only thing super-sized is the body.

Smaller isn't necessarily better, though

This approach isn't limited to big phones; small phones are getting the shaft, too.

Smaller hands deserve something better than 'just good enough.'

I hear more grousing about small phones with inferior specs than about behemoths that aren't packing like they could be. When I first took an interest in Android, for the longest time I honestly believed Mini was code in this industry for old, inferior, and aimed squarely at women, because we women are supposedly in love with miniature things. Granted, these phones are designed to be cheaper, smaller versions of the flagships they're derived from. However, as flagships grow bigger and bigger, there is a growing faction of users that want a phone they can easily use one-handed that is more than just "good enough."

Among Moto X users, a fair few plan on upgrading once the rumored successor is announced, but a faction of users might not be. They don't want to go bigger. A 4.7-inch phone is enough for them — and based on most of the polls I've seen in the last few months, it's enough for a lot of people. They just want a phone that size with specs that aren't already outdated when they buy it. They want a phone that can stand up to a few new versions of Android before it starts to slow down or just become woefully out of date. In this space Moto (and in some countries Sony) is the only game in town.

I understand that the flagships will creep up in size every year to accommodate larger batteries and more powerful guts to run the latest version of Android (and all of the bloatware and skins that the manufacturers slather on top of it). I understand that bigger is better for manufacturers because you can sell it for more, but don't resign the small-handed and the small phone-minded users out there. We're prepared to pay for a modestly-sized phone with specs that can be more closely compared to the big boys.

Something for everyone

The manufacturers need to listen.

We all have an idea of what size our Cinderella phone is. My Moto X is just about perfect for me because I am just barely struggling to reach the toggle between my notifications and my quick settings. I can still type one-handed with my dainty little hands. Yes, a little more real estate would be nice for reading in bed or watching videos, but this phone fits my hand, fits my pockets, and fits my lifestyle. It's too small for LeBron and his massive basketball-palming hands, or my Clash of Clans-addicted friend, but for this 5-foot-2 princess, it's just right.

And no matter what size phone we're after, we should be able to seek out a device with the specs to match our usage. Just as we can find quality tablets in many sizes, quality phones should come to us, great or small.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.