Over the past three years, smartphone displays in India and the world have undergone a major transformation: While two years ago, nearly all of them were based on the 16:9 aspect ratio, today the sweet spot has shifted to 20:9.
This is the result of the race to remove the bezels to make the phone look good. As the top and bottom bezels disappeared, displays expanded to fill the space, resulting in the elongated displays you see today.
While this has indeed made the phones more attractive and stylish, the change has had a negative impact on a niche market — that for ‘phablets’ or oversized phones.
Till about three years ago, most of the regular phones had a display size of 5 or 5.5 inches diagonally.
But if you wanted a larger phone, usually for reading or watching movies, it was not difficult to get your hands on the so-called phablets that offered about 20-25% more screen real estate without compromising on portability.
The key advantage of such phablets was that more text could be read — and typed — on the same line, and of course, the videos too appeared larger. Many youngsters preferred such phones to the regular 5 or 5.5 inch models.
To put this in numbers, compared to a 5.5-inch screen, a phablet like the 6.44-inch Mi Max 2 offered 17% more screen-width. Against the 2.7 inch width of the 5.5-inch phone, Max offered 3.16 inch or 8 cm.
If the Mi Max was too big for you, you could opt for the smaller, 6-inch Galaxy C9 Pro. It offered horizontal width of 2.95 inch (7.5 cm), which was still a nearly 10% improvement over the 5.5-inch device.
Fast forward to today, and instead of 5.5-inch screens, most phones come with 6.5 inch displays, including popular models such as that Realme 6, Oppo A9 and Redmi Note 9.
So, these larger models will offer more horizontal real estate than the old, 5.5-inch phones, right? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
While the old 5.5 inch displays had a width of 2.7 inch (6.85 cm), the 6.5 inch displays on models such as Realme 6, Oppo A9 and Realme Narzo have a width of only 2.67 inch.
And it’s not an issue with just the popular models either. In fact, there is no mid-range, full-HD phone with a display bigger than 6.5 inch in the Rs 10,000-30,000 price range in India.
If you really want something bigger than 6.5 inch in this segment, you have to go all the way up to the Rs 30,000 range, where you’ll find Samsung A70, A80 and so on. But even here, the display size, at 6.7 inch, is not much bigger.
But even if you are ready to shell out Rs 30,000 for these models, you’re still getting a screen with a width of only 2.75 inch (less than 7 cm). Compare this to the 7.5 cm horizontal space offered by the Galaxy C9 Pro or the 8.02 cm offered Mi Max 2 three years ago.
In fact, today, the only available full-HD phone with at least 7.5 cm of screen width is the Lenovo v7. The 6.95 inch display of the Tab v7 offers you 7.9 cm of width. However, it can hardly be called a mid-range phone due to its limited RAM and the underpowered Snapdragon 450 chipset.
ASPECT RATIO ISSUES
The real reason why it has become difficult to find phones with decent horizontal space has to do with the new aspect ratio which has sacrificed the width of the display and increased the length.
The following chart explains the relationship between the width, the size and the aspect ratio of a display.
Since the old 6-inch models offered a width of around 7.5 cm, let’s take that as the bare minimum for a phone to be called a phablet/large-display device.
Looking at the chart above, one can see that the old full-HD devices, with their 16:9 aspect ratio, could meet this width requirement when the screen size was 6 inch.
But when as come to the thinner 20:9 aspect ratio popular today, the screen size has to be at least 7.2 inches for the width to reach 7.5 cm.
Even if the aspect ratio is the slightly wider 19:9, the display still has to be at least 6.9 inch in size to offer 7.5 cm of width.
However, nearly all the models in the market today come with displays of 6.2 to 6.5 inch in size, and because of this, they offer even less horizontal space than a five-year-old 5.5-inch phone.
This means that if you’re watching a regular 16:9 video or movie on a new mobile, chances are that you are actually watching a smaller frame than someone watching it on a three-year-old, 5.5-inch device such as a Lenovo Note.
NEW 7-INCH PHONES?
However, the situation is showing some signs of changing, especially now that new, 5G-enabled phones are starting to hit the market.
5G-enabled phones are designed to encourage more multimedia consumption, and therefore screen sizes tend to be bigger.
Some new models have been launched in the last few weeks with displays in the 7-inch range.
Perhaps the most interesting of these is the successor to 2018 Honor X8 Max: Honor X10 Max. The phone, launched in China, comes with a 7.1 inch display that offers a horizontal size of 7.81 cm.
There are also a couple of models from Tecno, such as Spark 6 Air and Spark Power 2, that come with 7-inch displays. However, one of the drawbacks of these displays is that they are not full-HD. The lower resolution is likely to stand out given the large size of the screen.
Tecno does have a new and upcoming model, Camon 16 Premier, that does come with full HD+ resolution. However, the size is slightly lower at 6.9 inch. With an aspect ratio of 20.5:9, the screen therefore offers a width of only 7.05 cm, though it is still better than the 6.78 cm width offered by popular models today.
Slightly better are Moto G9 Plus and Honor Play 4 as they both offer width of 7.1 cm.
Infinix Zero 8 offers 6.99 cm, while the LG Stylo 6 offers 6.95 cm of screen width.
For those who don’t mind paying a little extra, there is the Samsung Note 20 Ultra, which has a screen width of 7.41 cm, and Samsung Note 10+, whose screen has a width of 7.39 cm.