2014 – The Year Android Manufacturers Forgot to Make Good One-Handed Smartphones

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Image generated from MobileDeviceSize

2014 is coming to a close, and that also means time for X’mas and gift giving, and maybe time to upgrade from an older phone. If you are an iPhone user, your choices are simple – the iPhone 6, or the 6 Plus? By now most people have figured out that the 6 Plus is too large for them, mostly because they can’t use it in one hand.

If you are an Android user, the choices are abundant as always. You have a lot of phones between the size of the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus this year. Surely we can choose a flagship Android device this year that is passable for one handed use that compares to the iPhone 6, or can we? Well…

There are almost no new flagship phones available for one-hand use for the 2014 holiday season (in Canada, anyway)

One question everyone should ask is ‘how big do I want to go’. The bigger the screen, the more content it shows. Apple also picked their the mainstream model to be at 4.7″. But past this 4.7″ ‘ish’ screen, it is going to change the way you can use your phone. You are going to find that you will need to use the phone with two hands, because the on-screen elements are going to start to become out of reach.

If you pick a phone bigger than 4.7″ ‘ish’, prepare to give up being able to use the phone in one-hand. This is the threshold for one handed use. 

The top/bottom bezels of the iPhone 6 dominate the front of the phone much more so than the Nexus 5, and as a result the Nexus 5 squeezes in almost .3″ worth of screen estate without making the device significantly larger. Yes, it’s that hardware button. So I still would call everything up to the Galaxy S5 as a phone in this category.

So, up to around 5″ is still ‘okay’ for one-handed use

I have moderately large hands, and currently use a LG G2 with a 5.2″ display and very thin bezels. This is the largest I’d be comfortable with using in one hand – I’d even say it’s somewhat of a bit of a stretch for me.

What’s available this year for Android flagship phones at this size anyways?

When it comes down to what’s available, if you are going to get a carrier subsidized one-hand usable phone on the big 3 carriers. Well what sucks is that you have JUST TWO phones you can pick that are flagship devices at this size:

Samsung Galaxy S5 or Motorola Moto X (2014)

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Generated by from PhoneArena

Effectively we have no-shows from the likes of LG, Sony and HTC. The Moto X for some reason is ONLY available in the 16 GB variant with no memory expansion capability, which makes it tough to recommend. Samsung is crazy for putting hardware front buttons on a flagship Android phone.

So what if I don’t like the Moto X or the S5? 

Well, either get the last year’s flagship LG Nexus 5. Or the alternative is to go for one of the bigger phones, but at what cost?

The HTC One M8 and Xperia Z3 don’t have much larger screens than the Nexus 5 or the Galaxy S5, but they put more bezel at the bottom of the device. This means you have to stretch further to get to the top edge to the display.

Phones with curved edges and curved backs let you wrap your hand around them more ergonomically. Softer rubbery plastics are also more grippy than aluminum or glass, examples being the back material on the soft touch plastic Nexus 5 versus the slippery aluminum HTC One M8. The flatness of the Xperia Z1/Z2/Z3 can result in hand fatigue after a short time.

Phone bottom bezels being thick, edges being sharp, back being flat, and having a slippery material make the phone more difficult to use in one handed use.

Here is a neat study on how people typically deal with larger screen sizes, and the different hand grips people use. You are going to be sliding your hand on the back of the phone to reach for the different parts of the screen, which can be tricky. You can alleviate this a bit by putting on a non-slip case, but then you are adding bulk to the device, so be careful not to pick a really thick case if you can help it.

Getting a case can help you adjust to having to use a bigger phone

Ending words: Hopefully the manufacturers and carriers will come to their senses and start giving consumers viable choices for 4.7″ ‘ish’ sized phones with good specifications. 2014 has been somewhat of a disappointment.

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