One of the slower-moving but compelling dramas of the past few years has been about power. It looms in the background, like a natural disaster at the beginning of a cheesy made-for-cable movie: It's out there, you know it's going to hit at some point. In the world of batteries, the reality is that every power-hungry application increases the challenge of keeping the device running for a set amount of time.
That still is largely true. But all good dramas have some comic relief, and a funny thing is happening on the smartphone front: Devices are getting bigger because users want larger displays. One of the key limitations on power generation is pure physics: The smaller the battery, the less power can be generated, all other elements being equal. Use of bigger screens means that there is more real estate inside the devices, which presumably will open the doors to bigger batteries.
eWeek offers a slideshow featuring some of the larger phones. The accompanying commentary lays out the reasons driving the trend:
Phones smartened up, wireless networks sped up, mobile video became increasingly pleasant to watch, and suddenly screen sizes were growing again. T-Mobile, announcing July 16 that it will soon offer the Samsung Galaxy Note, boasted that the Note's 5.3-inch display is "the largest screen on a T-Mobile smartphone."
Last month, T-Mobile and research firm Kelton released May research from a poll of more than 1,000 consumers in the U.S. The research was done in connection with the release of the Samsung Note, which the story says has a 5.3-inch screen and is perceived as a tablet/smartphone hybrid. The combo unfortunately sometimes is referred to as a “phablet.” (This also could be used to refer to a tablet used by a member of the band Phish.)
The story, which posted in TechNewsDaily, refers to a second survey, which is more fully described at GSM Arena. It revealed that 90 percent of respondents want screens larger than the ones they own and that the ideal size is 4-inch to 4.5-inch.
An example of the move to bigger screens is the new Galaxy Nexus. Here is a snippet of a review by Brian Dipert at EDN:
Compare the two handsets' heights and widths, and even without having them both in your hands, I suspect you'll be able to imagine how much bigger the Galaxy Nexus seems to me (and is). The display disparities are at the root of this differential; not only does the OLED in the Galaxy Nexus contain more 50% pixels than the IPS LCD in the iPhone 4, they're spread out over a 31% larger (diagonal dimension) surface area with a more "widescreen" aspect ratio.
It is still too early to say precisely what the impact of larger screens will have on battery life. It is reasonable to assume that it will provide needed flexibility to designers. It also is prudent to call for research to continue: Even though the mean and average size of devices is growing, there still will be plenty of small devices in use.