Today's high-end smartphones: Too big for comfort?

Forget phablets. The latest flagship smartphones, such as the new Moto X Pure Edition, demand a reach that some of our hands can't, well, handle.

moto x pure
Credit: Motorola

It's obviously the start of smartphone season. Tech-fashionable vendor OnePlus announced its new OnePlus 2 high-end low-cost smartphone on Tuesday, while Samsung has sent out invitations to an upcoming press event that will take place in a couple of weeks.

Today, though, it was Motorola's turn. This morning, at a press conference that took place simultaneously in New York, Sao Paulo and London, the company introduced two different iterations of the Moto X -- the 5.7-in. Moto X Style and the 5.5-in. Moto X Play -- only the former of which, under the name of the Moto X Pure Edition, will be available in the U.S. The company also announced a new version of the lower-end 5.0-in. Moto G. (For a more complete rundown on the various new phones that are making their appearance, check out JR Raphael's latest blog entry.)

There are a lot of interesting things about both phones -- especially the new Moto X, which will ship in September and which looks like it's going to be a pretty impressive piece of hardware. (We plan to review it when units become available.) However, after the initial announcement, something else caught my attention.

A journalist asked Jim Wicks, SVP consumer experience design, why Motorola was following the lead of so many other manufacturers and only offering high-end phones in larger sizes. (More specifically, he wondered whether there was a chance for a "high-spec phone that is not the size of a surfboard?")

"One of the things that we're constantly trying to understand is how big is too big," replied Wicks, "and what is the sweet spot." He went on to say that it wasn't the display size, but the product size that was important, and that, by shrinking the borders on the new Moto X Pure Edition, Motorola had a phone size that was more usual for a 5.4-in. or even a 5.3-in. display.

Well, perhaps. I tried the new Moto X for a few minutes at the press event. My hands are reasonably large for a someone who is 5' 5" and while I found the new smartphone comfortable to hold -- I have to admit that I always liked the way the Moto phones have curved rather than flat backs -- it was nearly impossible for me to do the kind of one-handed tasks that I can currently perform with my 2013-edition 4.7-in. Moto X, or with any of the 5-in. smartphones I've tried out. My thumb just wouldn't reach far enough.

moto g and x

The 5.0-in. Moto G on the left may be more convenient for some to handle, but it also doesn't have the better features in the 5.7-in. Moto X.

But what am I complaining about? "We have the Moto G, which is the traditional smaller size," Wicks added. Yes, absolutely correct. However, the Moto G is also obviously the lower-end product, with a lesser processor (a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 vs. the Moto X's 1.8Ghz Snapdragon 808); a 13-megapixel rear camera vs. the Moto X's 2.1-megapixel shooter; a 1280 x 720 resolution vs. the Moto X's 1440 x 2560... Well, you get the idea.

Of course, it is true that a lot of the higher-end graphic features work better on a larger display -- do you really need 1440 x 2560 resolution on a smaller screen? But in the end, the conclusion that many phone manufacturers seem to have come to is indeed that bigger is better, and that people whose hands or pockets aren't comfortable with the larger phones should be content with devices that are lesser in other ways as well.

This story, "Today's high-end smartphones: Too big for comfort?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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