Gizmodo Smartphone Buying Guide: Screen Size And Resolution Explained

If you walk into the store today to buy a smartphone, you’ll be assaulted with a barrage of different models, with wildly varying specifications and designs. If you want to know which phone is best for you, a good place to start is by picking the right screen size. Your smartphone screen is your main point of contact with it, so it makes sense to give it some serious thought.

This is the first post in Gizmodo Australia's 10-part Smartphone Buying Guide which we'll be rolling-out on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout October / November.

Screen Size: Bigger Is Not Always Better

Today’s smartphones have screen sizes ranging from a miniscule 3-inches to a massive 6.4-inches, all measured diagonally across the longest edge of the screen. Generally, a smaller screen means a smaller phone, but in some cases you’ll find two phones with the same dimensions but different screen sizes.

Bigger is not always better, though. Smaller phones are more portable and convenient, while larger phones’ displays are easier to see. Most people are best served by a compromise between both.

The smallest screen you’ll find is on the tiny 3-inch BlackBerry Q10. Despite the new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c hitting the market at the same 4-inch size, there have been rumours that Apple has been testing screens as large as 6 inches.

There’s a trend towards smaller smartphone screen sizes at the moment, with the new HTC One Mini and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini both sporting 4.3-inch displays. Anything between 3 and 4.3 inches is a comparatively small screen - portable, but you might have to look a little more closely to read small text.

What we’d roughly call the current standard size for a smartphone is between 4.3 and 5 inches. Screens around the 4.7- to 5-inch size are the most common, with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and One being your go-to choices. Phones with these screen sizes are just small enough to fit in a jeans pocket, but have large enough screens to be easily readable.

Go larger and you’re in "phablet" territory. Yeah, we said phablet.

The LG G2 skirts the line with a 5.2-inch screen, but the 6.4-inch Sony Xperia Z Ultra, 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 3, 6.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Mega, 6.1-inch Huawei Mate, 6-inch Asus Fonepad Note FHD 6, plus rumoured 6-inch HTC One Max and 6-inch Nokia Lumia 1520 are definite pocket-stuffers. The great thing about a big phone screen is being able to see a lot at once. The downside is, as you’d expect, phones get bulkier as screens get larger.

Screen Resolution: Sharper, Crisper, Smoother

Resolution refers to the density of the pixels on your smartphone’s screen — how many are crammed into each inch of the display. Picking the right size screen may be difficult, but with resolution, there’s a simple approach: the higher the resolution, the better.

The best measurement for resolution is pixels per inch (PPI), which is independent of screen size. Apple kick-started the resolution arms race in 2010 with the 330 ppi Retina Display on its iPhone 4, and the trend continues with the 326PPI iPhone 5. Current darlings are mid-size smartphones with Full HD displays like the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, with 441 ppi and 469 ppi respectively.

If you can’t find a phone’s PPI readily available, you can find it by using this handy calculator - just enter the phone’s screen size and its resolution, both of which you’ll find on any specs list. Smartphones with even higher-resolution screens are on the horizon, but as a benchmark, anything beyond 300PPI looks more than sharp enough for regular use. Avoid anything lower than that, and of course, higher is better - balanced against the phone’s overall screen size.

More: The Best Smartphone Display: It's Not Who You Think


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