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The Illogical Reasons Why You Love Giant Smartphone Screens

Large phones drain batteries and are difficult to use. Yet we buy them anyway. Researchers try to explain why.

The trend for giant smartphone screens began, arguably, with the wildly successful Samsung Galaxy Note, a phone so large it could theoretically double as a small tablet. Now every smartphone manufacturer besides Apple seems to agree that bigger is better. What is it about big screens that so appeals to us?

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It’s not a matter of pragmatism. Tech pundits, including me, have criticized phones with large screens because they struggle with battery life and have usability problems. They’re difficult to operate with one hand–some are so big, after all, that they don’t fit comfortably in your pocket.


A new study from Penn State University suggests that a visual preference is driving the trend. Researchers asked college students to try two different tasks with two different sized phones. One was a small 3.7-inch phone (even the iPhone, the smallest high-end phone on the market, has a larger screen than that) and the other was a 5.3-inch phone. Students were asked how exciting they found it to complete those tasks on said phones, and, also, how successful they thought those phones were at completing the tasks. It turns out that people found larger screens more “attractive,” “pleasing,” and “emotionally satisfying.”

Like many targeted or one-off studies, this one has problems. The sample size is small, only 130 students, and researchers tested just two phones. Also, in recent years, the only phones that have been made with a screen as small as the smaller one used in the survey are budget phones–so that 3.7-inch phone the researchers pitted against the bigger phone is either a cheap or antiquated phone. It’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges, given the fact that smartphone technology advances quite rapidly each year.

The study isn’t perfect, but it certainly indicates something we’ve all felt: that purchases, even large purchases like a smartphone, aren’t entirely motivated by pragmatism. There’s always an element of emotion in our buying choices.

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About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law

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