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Where have all the compact smartphones gone?

Smartphones appear to be getting bigger and bigger… So where have the compact smartphones, which pack top-end levels of power, gone to?

Smartphones, these days, are big business. They have big marketing budgets, and they have even bigger sales sheets, but one almost universal fact is that, physically speaking, they’re big phones. When one looks at the broad panoply of top-end smartphones on the market, such as the ultra-powerful Sony Xperia Z, the one constant between them is that they’re physically big phones.

In fact, the iPhone 5, with its four inch screen, is probably the smallest ‘superphone’ on the market, and that leads to an interesting question: why aren’t there any top-end smartphones smaller than that?

iPhone 5

Is there a technical reason for that, or are smartphones simply following consumers’ tastes? Why are there no pint-sized superphones?

Part of it may be an issue of perception. Consider the new Galaxy Pocket Neo, which was recently unveiled by Samsung; in terms of physical dimensions, it’s actually smaller than the screen on the Samsung Galaxy S4, with one common phrase to describe it being “it’s got entry-level smartphone written all over it”. That is partly to do with the specs, which are proportionately lower than its headline-grabbing siblings, but it’s hard to argue that people aren’t also prompted to say that because it’s so much smaller than every manufacturer’s headliners.

Is it the case that only first time smartphone buyers want a phone that small, or would power users also like a phone that size, if it had the same kind of specs as the headliners? Online chatter does seem to indicate that there might well be a market for such a phone and if that is the case, then there must be another reason why such a phone doesn’t exist.

Perhaps, then, it’s simply a matter of physical limitations.

Put simply, phone components have shrunk over the years, but there is a limit to how small these components can actually be. When one considers how much room a high-end camera and processor take up, then one hits upon what might be the biggest issues facing a potential pint-sized superphone; in a phone with a big screen, there’s plenty of space to build those components in, but in a sub-4 inch device, space is at a premium. There simply might not be enough room to add in all the components that make a superphone.

Of course, that will likely change one day, but there is another issue: the battery. All of those components need more power, especially if one were also to put a HD screen in there, and that means a bigger battery. Once again, we come up against the space issue, as a bigger battery simply won’t fit in the phone.

Again though, that may change one day. New battery technologies are being developed all the time, so one day, we may very well see a pint-sized superphone that can do everything its big screen siblings can do.

Whether it ends up being made by Samsung or HTC, or even someone completely out of leftfield like ZTE, it seems inevitable that it will happen, one day. In the future, all phones will be superphones, and it will be glorious!

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