So you’re planning on buying “that new Galaxy phone?”
Which one are you getting?
“The S8 Plus, obviously.”
Yeah. Because you’ve always preferred the bigger phone. You love smartphones and don’t want to hold back on spending all you can to get the best possible. You don’t want to get the smaller, compromising version just to save up a few bucks. You’ve always liked the bigger, 5.5-inch screens and you know from experience that your hand can handle using a phone that big.
But perhaps this time around you need to reconsider things before you go ahead and pick up the bigger (and better?) of the new pair of Samsung flagships announced.
Have you ever wondered why in most flagship pairings the bigger phone is named with an added suffix?
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
The Pixel and Pixel XL.
The Samsung Galaxy Edge and Galaxy Edge Plus.
I’ve always felt this doesn’t make much sense because it suggests that the smaller phone is the standard version and the bigger phone is an alternative, extra large version when clearly it’s the opposite. The big phone is the true flagship device with the higher specs. It is the device that is considered the best the company has to offer. Most importantly, it is the phone of choice for flagship buyers too, since sales figures have consistently shown it to have the higher sales numbers.
This may not so much reflect the Pixel XL in this case, but definitely the iPhone 7 Plus with its dual cameras. But for the first time, I think, there’s a flagship pairing named appropriately in the case of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+.
To me, the Galaxy S8 is the real flagship here—not the S8+. It’s the appropriate device choice for most people whether they realize it or not. And I say this because consumers haven’t really been smart in the past when it comes to screen/device sizes. Large phones were reluctant to sell earlier when they initially started coming out, but today, 5.5-inches is the probably the most preferred screen size so much so that even phones in the $200-300 price range are almost obligated to have it.
Even iPhone buyers, who have been reluctant to catch up on the big screen approach are finally doing so—for the first time ever, the bigger iPhone is outselling the smaller one with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus:
And I think, once again, a lot of people are going to be making a mistake picking up the S8+ over an S8.
Why? Because I feel the S8+ is too large. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it definitely feels that way.
First up, let’s look at the screen sizes.
Now I know the the changed aspect ratio (18.5:9 instead of the usual 16:9) could mean our traditional way of measuring screen sizes as diagonal length may not be valid for comparison here, but if you do the math, the difference in screen area is less than 1%, so in actuality, it’s very suitable. It does have other consequences, though, which I’ll get to in a bit.
The average small phone today is 5-inches. The S8 is 5.8-inches.
The average big phone today is 5.5-inches. The S8+ is 6.2-inches.
“But they fit it into smaller body sizes!”
True in fact, next up, when we look at the body sizes (or “footprint” as many like to call it) of the phones, this obvious argument arises.
Without getting into numbers let’s just say the two phones manage to maintain the same body size as the average small and big phone, an amazing feat by Samsung by the way, which is the standout feature of these phones—the very appealing design.
So then why does any of this matter if Samsung’s managed to keep the phone sizes the same as all other flagships? Don’t we enjoy bigger screens with everything else kept the same? Why is the smaller size phone the phone of choice now, or at least should be?
Well, there’s two things.
Phone hardware usability isn’t just about how big the body of the device is The size of the screen is what determines how far your thumb needs to travel, so there’s a need to put a limit on that as well—and 6.2-inches on the S8+ pushes a little bit beyond that limit.
Consider the iPhone 7 Plus which approximately has the same body size as the S8+. On the iPhone, your thumb doesn’t need to reach the top and bottom of the front body because that part is bezels, not screen. But with the S8+, you would need to reach those top parts because it’s nearly all-screen.
The new aspect ratio helps in keeping the body narrow which, in turn, helps in holding the phone. However, since the extra screen area is added lengthwise, it makes reaching the upper region of the screen with your finger more laborious.
A lot of the big phone users today (myself included) are not a hundred percent comfortable with it. I mean, we are pretty comfortable for the most part and whatever little discomfort there exists (re-adjusting your grip to reach certain parts of the screen); we’re so used to it by now that we don’t even notice it anymore. But then anytime we get our hands on a smaller 5-inch device, we immediately notice how much more comfortable it is to operate. In fact, there are very few people who would not admit to finding the smaller phone more comfortable, to whatever degree. But we still choose the bigger phone simply because the trade-off in comfort is worth the extra screen size.
And that’s what it all comes down to—it’s that trade-off. For most people, it’s worth it. That’s why the big phone today is rightfully mainstream.
Now looking at the S8. It has a 5.8-inch screen. A screen just as big, if not arguably bigger, than what even the average large phone today has. Add that to its small phone’s body. That’s the dream for a lot of people. You got the big beautiful display in the comfort of a small body.
But by getting the S8+, what you might be doing is still continuing to stick with the slightly uncomfortable bigger body, which, by the way, is now even more uncomfortable because of the increased finger travel. All so you can get a display which is bigger than ever and thus better than ever because, hey, bigger is always better, right? Wrong.
To get things straight, I’m not bashing on the S8+. In fact, it’s an amazing phone by itself. All I’m saying is while the bigger phone was always the main device previously, in this case, it’s the smaller phone that’s the true flagship and one that the average person with average sized hands will find the best and easiest to use. And while there used to be an alternative, smaller version, now there is a bigger version that’s the alternative. It is also interesting to note here that there is no reduction of specs from the S8+ to the S8 like there often is in the smaller of the two flagships. Both are equally powerful on the inside, indicating Samsung themselves also make no distinction of the S8+ being the premium device that way.
For this shift from the big device being the main to the small device now, I blame Samsung. Among one of the many claims they made at the unveiling of these phones that seemed a little exaggerated, as is common in most tech unveiling these days, is that they have created a completely “new form factor.” And while that does sound a little overdramatic because all they really did is just reduce the bezel size almost to zero on the standard smartphone form factor today, I think it does, in fact, hold a lot of truth to it. Because from this major shift, it is able to create.
It’s an engineering marvel and a great achievement, but it’s the implementation of it that has not been done wisely.
They could really have only gone two ways with it. First, is to use it to keep the screen sizes constant and reduce the body sizes to have more comfort and usability. Second, keep the body sizes constant and increase the screen size to have, well, more screen size.
The second, clearly, is what they chose to do. And it’s a very Samsung thing to do: to push the numbers and choose appealing features over usability.
In their defense, it may actually be a better decision from a marketing point of view. Standing next to an iPhone, the bigger screen looks flawless, and a similar sized screen with reduced body size probably wouldn’t have done the same trick.
Let’s just say if Samsung had to pick only one of the two devices as a single S8 flagship to release, which would they pick?
Interestingly, as you might probably know, Samsung is actuality, not the first company to come out with this new form factor. It’s LG with the new G6 (it even shares the new and unique aspect ratio as the S8), launched earlier this year, and they were kind of faced with such a decision as they only had a single flagship to release.
The G6 has almost all the same screen and body dimensions as the S8. Just goes to show what I’ve been saying about the S8 being the better choice overall.
Even more interesting, there’s a new rumor from TechnoBuffalo that LG is planning on releasing a second G6 device—in a smaller, 5.4-inch size.
That just makes the perfectly sized pair of flagships implementing the new form factor in the right way. How Samsung should have made the two S8s. LG’s just being super sensible and wise here and I think they always have been when it comes to body size and dimensions. Even between the G6 and the S8, I think the G6 is the better phone hardware design overall.
All of the size comparison talk is from the point of view of the average person because what suits the average person’s needs best is what’s best in the market. So maybe if you do have larger hands or if your priorities are different, then maybe the S8+ is the better device for you.
More importantly, I didn’t have this very lengthy discussion just to tell you which of the two new phones Samsung launched is better in my opinion. I find this new form factor of tall, nearly bezel-less devices exciting, and I think it’s the probable future of smartphones.
However, I still have some doubts about bezel-less being the absolute best thing, especially considering something practically bezel-less like the Xiaomi Mi Mix which just looks odd and a bit unusable. There’s also the concern that you do in fact need bezels for ease of holding onto when doing stuff like watching videos.
For the most part, I do see this as an exciting new trend in smartphone design as more and more phones are cutting off the bezels to some degree. It’ll be interesting to see how the new iPhones and Pixels, and even other companies, implement it.
Maybe by now, you’ll be able to make a wiser and more informed decision when you do decide to go bezel-less anytime in the future. And you can count on the dimensions discussed here to be relevant in the future too because no matter what the advances in smartphone tech be, our requirements for usability remain the same. With more users getting accustomed to the larger display sizes and more phone makers reducing the bezels around them to near zero, smartphone design seems to be close to the peak.