Modern mobile OSes don't work well on small displays

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If you have used an Android device with a display larger than 3.5 inches, and then picked up one with a screen smaller than that, you must have immediately been shocked at how underwhelming Android feels on the smaller display. I remember also that my first experience with Windows Phone 7 was on a 4.7-inch display and what a superb experience it was. Handling a 3.7-inch display Windows Phone later was a mess. It just didn’t feel the same.

Using Android apps on a small display just feels cramped. Stabbing at those huge icons on such a tiny screen…. I can’t explain it. One would have thought that the bigger icons would translate to ease of use on small displays, but they don’t. It just feels cramped. Take a look at the WordPress app screenshot below. It is from an Android smartphone sporting a 2.6-inch, 320×240 pixel display.

WordPress for Android app
No; it doesn’t feel exactly cramped. It is painful to use. Meanwhile, the WordPress app for BlackBerry on a smaller 2.44-inch display does not feel that cramped in relation.

Here’s the thing, the older OSes appear to deliver relatively good user experiences on smaller displays. Of course, that should not be entirely surprising. Mobile platforms like Symbian and BlackBerry were created in the days of small displays. Back then, a 2.8-inch display was huge! Now, when I pick up a device with that screen size, it feels really tiny.

With the newer platforms – iOS, Android, Windows Phone, everything feels cramped on a small display. Yes; if you are on a budget, you will have to bear with the inconveniences of stabbing at huge icons on a tiny display. But if you really want to enjoy the newer mobile platforms, if you can, please do save up and get yourself something with at least a 3.7-inch display. Push it up to 4.0 inches and you’re cruising nicely. Anything above that is modern mobility heaven.

Still, all this might just be me and my own perceptions in my own little world. What has been your experience on this phenomenon?

  1. If you started with a bigger screen, it is bound to feel uncomfortable when you try a smaller screen. And talking about older OSes feeling OK, I think you will be shocked if you try Sony Ericsson Xperia I or II now. Their onscreen keyboards are so small and crammed, especially in portrait that you will almost be squinting to pick the characters on the screen with a stylus, and yet people liked those devices then.

    Icons will always look crammed on smaller screens in comparison to bigger ones and when you start your experience with bigger screen it simply makes the experience bad or unbearable but if you spend some time with a smaller screen, you will gradually get used to it. And if you are a fan of swipe inputs, smaller screens tend to do the job better than the over sized screens in excess of 4.5 inches but the bigger screens are better suited for two-handed tap-typing.

  2. Exactly!, ever since when I started using the Samsung galaxy note, all other displays look and feel tiny. Even the iPhone and all other mobile displays. Right now i have to get the Note 2.

  3. Very true, ever since i got a galaxy s2, using my workhouse E71 for anything other than calls is just painfully uncomfortable

  4. I’ve replaced my HTC Desire with an Xperia Ray. Smaller screen but superior camera, more internal memory, significantly improved battery life, upgradeable to ICS – no, I don’t miss the 3.7″ screen for all of the reasons above.

    If it was a Galaxy Pocket or Galaxy Y, it would be different.

  5. Since I migrated to the Note, i just see every other smaller screen uncomfortable, especially from 4′ downwards. I think i can agree with Mr mo. Modern OSs seems to run better on bigger screen. Even the BB10 will be coming out first on an all touch big screen.

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