Gizmodo Smartphone Buying Guide 2014: Screen Size And Resolution Explained

Phones these days are big, and they're only getting bigger. We're on the precipice of both the Galaxy Note 4 from Samsung and the iPhone 6 from Apple: both of which will likely have bigger, brighter and better resolution screens. But what does that all mean? Let us explain why you should give the resolution of your screen serious thought.

Welcome to Gizmodo’s 2014 Smartphone Buying Guide! For the next month, we’ll be giving you the best tips on which smartphones you should buy, when you should buy it and how to take the best care of your new baby once you bring it home! If you’ve got questions, let us know in the comments and we’ll answer whatever you need!

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 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, 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 5.2 inches. Screens around the 4.7- to 5-inch size are the most common, with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 being your go-to choices for Android, or the 5-inch Nokia Lumia 930 as a choice for Windows Phoners. 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 G3 skirts the line with a 5.5-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 and the 6-inch Nokia Lumia 1520 for all you Windows Phones out there.

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.

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