Why Are Android Based Smartphones Bigger Than The iPhone?

Big Android phones

Since Android’s introduction in the smartphone market, Google touted “choice” as Android’s big advantage over other mobile platforms. Choice of carriers, choice of manufacturers and choice of handsets. 

It did work out pretty well for them, looking at their market share right now, but you’ve got to wonder: Why have Android phones in the past one or two years grown so big? Why aren’t there a lot of options when it comes to smaller screen sizes, when small screen sizes are, in fact, easier to operate with one hand?

Jin Kim over at Display Blog has an interesting theory, which puts the blame on the way Android renders text and graphics:

Android OEMs and Google responded to the 3.5-inch 960×640 Retina display by improving the pixel format to 1280×720. But because Android renders text and graphics like desktop OSes (e.g. Windows, OS X) increasing resolution above 320 ppi means smaller UI elements. The display had to grow in size to compensate for shrinking UI elements. iOS renders the Retina display not by shrinking UI elements by one fourth but by doubling clarity and sharpness. Unless Google adds an additional “DPI level” beyond XHDPI, Android smartphones that match or beat the iPhone 4/4S in resolution will always be bigger, much bigger.

To understand what Kim talks about, try changing the resolution of your Windows PC or Mac. The size of UI Elements on your screen would increase or decrease depending on whether the resolution of your PC decreased or increased. Now compare that with an iPhone, where the size of UI Elements remain the same, irrespective of the device’s resolution.

Android follows the PC approach of rendering text and graphics, which means that as display resolution grows, screen sizes follow. If manufacturers were to keep screen sizes at around 3.7 inches and support high resolutions, the text and graphics would become “microscopic,” as Kim puts it, making them very difficult to be tapped.

John Gruber proposes an alternate theory, which doesn’t necessarily dismiss Kim’s theory:

Android smartphones have grown enormously in order to accommodate LTE. Currently-available LTE chipsets are physically bigger (AnandTech made the case months ago that none of them would fit in the iPhone 4/4S case design), and because they’re so power-hungry, they require bigger batteries. Thicker phones aren’t going to fly. Thus: wider and taller phones with displays expanding to fill the surface.

At first, Gruber’s explanation brings to our mind Tim Cook’s reasoning as to why present generation iPhones do not support LTE:

“The first generation of LTE chip-sets force a lot of design compromises with the handset, and some of those we are just not willing to make”

Notice that Cook brought up “design compromises” and not battery life issues, which adds a lot of credence to Gruber’s theory.

Gruber backs up his theory by taking the example of Nokia’s Lumia series of phones. The Lumia 800, Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone product came with a 3.7 inch screen, while its U.S. LTE counterpart, the Lumia 900, has a 4.3 inch screen.

[via Display Blog, Daring Fireball]

Like this post? Share it!

  • Zlo

    IPhone for kids and android for adults .And when you are older you need big screen 🙂

    • Axe

      I bet yr dad is younger than u. Lol

      • Key

        not possible and a stupid comment. FAIL….

        • axe

          no sense of humor, too serious. not good for life…

      • Blaque

        Why do android users always use the adult/child relationship to combat any negative feedback about their devices or device platform? It’s not a question of who should be using the device. Android just has some problem solving to do. Wake up and stop denying it…

        • Moe


          • sentence


    • TeeDee

      Actually it’s the other way round. I see most adults using iPhones and child using android. Please get your facts right 🙂

  • Austin

    My friend has a droid. I hate everything about it. My iPhone is 1000X faster and better at just about anything. And it’s even a 3GS! Not a 4! (Oh how I wish it was a 4…)

    • Craig

      Because its a Droid, Samsung Rules the Air!!!!!

  • Andy

    Apple need to make the next gen iphone with bigger screen size.

  • Alex

    Well i had both first a andriod it was sweet and awsome. Recently i got an iphone 4s and trust me when i say ANDRIOD BLOWS. If you dont have a iphone you basically dont have a phone. Sure theres fanboys and will say andriod is better. Im just saying i had both and iphone deffinitly wins.
    Andriod is cheaper in price thats why people stick to andriods.

    • Key

      price is the least of people’s decisions. if people want something bad enough, they’ll make it happen.

      there are things about the android that are better than the iphone and vice versa. i will admit, the overall home layout of the android appears better to me. i say appears, because i have yet to mess with one. just have friends that pull theirs out. i like the home screen look – and i’d rather not have to use a jailbroken app just to get that effect.

      as far as the size thing goes, if it still fits in the back pocket, the size is justifiable. how many people are gonna carry their phone in the front pocket ? (not counting subway travelers or any other place where pick-pocketing is a threat). i find it more uncomfortable in the front, but will place it there when i’m in a loud area and i need to feel the vibration on my leg for a text / phone call.

    • Zang

      I moved from Apple to Galaxy S2 and love it 🙂

      I’m like Woz, I love my Android and there are things like kernel manipulation I would miss as well as custom OS… But I would always point people to the iPhone as it’s much more user friendly if your not technologically minded.

      Sorry but with right kernel software, undervolting and overclocking the device… And also the programming aspects.. I love it… obviously though about 90% of users don’t know how to program and some likely wont even know what I’m talking about, those 90% should have gone with iPhone as for their use, it would be superior.

      • yes

        i know what u mean and that’s awsome but everytime i hold an android phone its just too big and it doesn’t feel right and is always laggy which is pretty ennoying

  • g-funk

    The size is why I switched to the iPhone. I don’t want a huge phone. We got rid of those in the 90s with the StarTac! I had an OG Droid and it was wonderful. There are a few things I truly miss about android – namely the openness, the search function, and the contextual menu. But there are plenty of positives to the iPhone – it seems to respond to touch better, “feels” quick, and is reliable. It would have been a very tough choice if the Galaxy nexus was 3.5″

  • Les

    I was wondering why they were so big, now I know why. I love my iPhone’s size, and I thought it was a little big at first, I have small hands so the other cell phones are huge, anyway, the iPhone is a perfect size for me.
    And thanks for the article! :o)

  • Yuse 2 b ripped off

    I have both and I think they’re both good in theire own rights

  • fuck you

    I Have both too and there both great. With all do respect why do people say android s*cks? I mean there are reasons why some one would say that, and i respect their opinions but ANDROID BL*WS is not a reason. Same goes for the iphone.

    • Olaf

      LOL Didn’t sensor your name. Why bother sensoring your comment?

      • -X-

        lol…cuz u can’t argue with stupid, can’t fix stupid either lol

  • Hmmm?

    So what happens when the screen size of the iPhone increases to 4′?

  • An I the only one wants a bigger screen? Ya the chip and ui arguments may have some waight but serousaly 3.5 is small if you have big hands, want to watch a movie have bad eyes.
    I can personally hold my iPhone 4 in one hand and easily touch the entire glass face plate make it bigger. Bigger bigger screen and alot bigger battery. What you do hear people complaining about more that there phone died or that their phone is a half an ounce too heavy

  • Just want to point out the if you measure iPhone apps running on the iPad that they are bigger then the iPhone screen

  • dice

    my ladys biggest complaint is the size of her driod, she has little hands and hates tge fact she cannot use one hand to use her phone.
    However there is a positive side to thier size!, they make awsome door stoppers, beer can coasters, ect… >=]]

  • Craig

    The app called Ice Stream for android alone makes the iPhone look like a childs toy!

  • Pete

    Gruber clearly knows nothing about Nokia.
    The Lumia 800 was only ever meant to be a temporary “flagship phone”.
    The fact that their current flagship phone, the Lumia 900 is bigger is because customers were asking for a bigger screen. Simple as that.
    Its size has very little to do with LTE.
    I would be at all surprised to see an even larger screened (about 4.8 inches) Lumia later in the year.

  • mohgui

    there will be a day where the line between the mobile phone and tablet will cease to exist as mobile phones grow bigger in size and tablets the reverse…

  • android

    i had an iphone 3g and 4, but moved to a galaxy note. Its a tiny bit heavier but battery last the same as an iphone 4. I prefer this phone for its size and control android gives me over the phone. But both have their adv and disadvantages.

  • ypiwafe

    People here seem to forget that iPhone 4’s has 960×640 because Apple took the easy and lazy approach of simply doubling from iPhone 3’s 480×320. It was simple to just double the size of every UI elements: icons, fonts … than to think hard of better ways to take advantage of higher screen resolution.

  • craig

    You know you can change the dpi settings very easily on an android to make the icons as small and big as you want. The app is even available in the android market lol

  • Weeber

    I’m going to borrow this theory from someone on yahoo answers:
    “it comes down to ppl being gullible, and money. Once upon a time, cell phone technology moving forward meant that cell phones were getting tinier. Then all of a sudden that reversed. They grew n grew but ppl dont care, they want whats latest, whats ‘in’. They most likely have a pc and a big screen tv but are content to do all those things on a screen in their hand thats a fraction of the size. This is called progress, apparently. Seems like we r going backwards to me.”