There is a joke going around tech town -- name any number between three and nine with a single decimal place, and it is a fair chance you will find a phone with that. And that is no exaggeration. The days when screen sizes were limited to a few generic ones -- 2.4 inches, 2.8 inches and if you really wanted something larger, 3.2 or 3.2 inches -- are now history. Today, there are dozens of display sizes on handsets and more are emerging even as we go to print. Whether you are seeking a device with a relatively small display or one with something that is closer to notebook dimensions, it is a fair chance that you will find what you seek. And if you are confused about just what suits you, here is a very rough guide to help you make a choice:
It’s only words
Less than 3.5 inches
Five years ago, a 2.8 inch display (such as that seen on the Nokia N95, 8GB) was considered large. Today, it is a fair chance that anything below 3.5 inches will be either low-end and/or accompanied by a hardware keyboard. These devices generally are designed for more “conventional” phone users who prefer using their devices for calls and texts and do not venture too often into Web and app territory.
Ideal for: Those who believe that the word -- whether spoken or written -- is more important than images and videos.
Notable handsets: Nokia Asha 501, BlackBerry Q10
As big as a hand can hold, comfortably
This is where phones start getting larger. Initially considered too big for comfort, display sizes of four inches and above are becoming the rule rather than the exception in high-profile devices, with even Apple succumbing to the lure. Devices here are tailored slightly more for multimedia usage and generally can handle high-definition videos with a degree of ease. However, they remain compact and in most cases can be handled with one hand.
Ideal for: Those wanting to move up the display ladder, wanting a better viewing experience, but without compromising on one-handed usage.
Notable handsets: Apple iPhone 5, BlackBerry Z10
It’s a tablet, it's a phone, it's a phablet
When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note two years ago, people guffawed, saying it was too bulky to be used as a phone. Today, almost every major phone manufacturer has a device in this size segment, as people hark for larger displays, some of which are of full HD resolution. Of course, using them as a phone is not easy, but is just about manageable, and the extra display real estate means that you have a device that is as close to a tablet. Some manufacturers -- notably Samsung -- also throw a stylus into the package, allowing users to even scribble on these devices like notepads of yore.
Ideal for: Those who do not mind using two hands to type, and also tend to use their phones heavily to watching videos and gaming. AND have deep pockets
Notable devices: Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Sony Xperia Z, HTC Butterfly
Getting into touch
3.5inches - 4 inches
For a couple of years, 3.5 inches was considered the Holy Grail for large screen phones as that was the screen size of the iPhone. Today, around 3.5 inches is where most good touchscreen devices start. Resolutions also start going up, ensuring that users get a much better viewing experience. This is the screen size recommended for anyone wanting to browse the Web and dabble in apps. Incidentally, this is also where battery life starts dipping.
Ideal for: Those looking for a good mix between images, text and calling, without compromising too heavily on either. This also marks the beginning of touchscreen territory.
Notable handsets: Apple iPhone 4S, Nokia Lumia 620
The phablet neighbourhood. Phones with displays in this size range are the ones that are not the most comfortable to hold with one hand and yet seem too small for two. One hand functionality, however, is generally sacrificed by this stage, although on the flip side, the viewing experience gets a massive boost, making the phone a very good option for viewing videos and ironically for typing. The increased screen size means the onscreen keyboard is spread over a larger area, making the keys bigger. By now, you are truly into the charge-once-a-day battery zone.
Ideal for: Those who are looking for a better video and Web experience on their devices, and do not mind the extra weight. Note: The hands start getting bigger here.
Notable handsets: Nokia Lumia 920, HTC One, LG Nexus 4
The Incredible Hulks
6 inches and above
If the devices in the previous segments are phones that have some elements of tablets in them, those in this one are the opposite -- tablets with elements of phones in them. In many cases, they simply are tablets with a calling function. They come with large displays, often sport large earpieces and are frankly uncomfortable to use for conventional calling or even for taking photographs (although most of them come with cameras). On the flip side, they are excellent for Web browsing, gaming, watching videos and in many cases, writing, editing and even making presentations.
Ideal for: Hulk wannabes -- those whose deeds speak louder than words. More seriously, these are perfect for those who use their mobile devices more for accessing the Web and using apps of various hues than for speaking.
Notable devices: Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, Samsung Galaxy Note 510, Asus FonePad