(Credit: Joe Hanlon/CNET)
If I had a dollar for every time I'd argued with someone about how the screen on Samsung's Galaxy Note wasn't too big, I'd have enough to buy one. The ever-increasing size of phones is polarising customers everywhere, and I've always fallen on the side of "bigger is better".
This week, Motorola launched a phone that has me reconsidering this position: the RAZR M. It's 4.3-inch screen doesn't sound too small, but when you look at it side by side with the iPhone 4S (whose 3.5-inch screen is too small for me) you see that the RAZR M is only a centimetre taller, or so.
But more importantly, the RAZR M isn't any less powerful than larger phones, and this is the part of the equation that has been missing in the past. All phone makers (bar Apple) attempt to appeal to the widest possible market with a range of phones. They try different sizes, different colours, sometimes different features, but at the end of the day, most phone makers fall into the same pitfall. Here's how it works.
You start with the flagship. This is the biggest, fastest, most feature rich of the range. It has the best and largest screen, the most memory and, of course, the highest price tag. After this, you have the lower tiered phones. Sometimes there is a mid-range and a budget conscious model, other times there are several phones in the range that fit this description. The problem is that, to meet these lower price points, the phones get incrementally worse. The screens shrink, along with the number of pixels in the panel, the battery gets smaller to fit into the smaller handset, and the processing power halves, or worse — leaving the user with a cheaper, but sub-par smartphone product.
Motorola's approach is different. The RAZR M is designed for people who like smaller phones, not crappier ones. It has the same 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 4G radios as the RAZR HD, meaning that the user experience isn't slower; it's just smaller. There are cost savings compared to the flagship RAZR HD, like a smaller capacity battery and less internal storage, but overall, this doesn't feel like a phone where sacrifices have been made, it just fits better in your hand.
This is a lesson we think HTC and Sony could really learn a lot from. This year, both companies released a half-dozen phones, or so. These handset ranges fit my description from earlier. HTC has the One X — it's super-phone — and then tiers of mediocrity. To be fair, the One S has a decent processor, but HTC skimps on the battery and the whole package suffers as a result. The Sony Xperia S is a good phone, but the Xperias P and U are not. You can always argue that this is because they are cheaper, but at the end of the day, who wants a sub-par smartphone just because they can't afford the flagship?
Motorola is right on the money with the RAZR M. It doesn't save money on the essentials, and could have a real hit on its hands, especially with people looking to switch from iPhones, but are reluctant to pick up a bigger handset.
I still believe that bigger is better — I'm just a sucker for a huge screen. But if I needed a smaller phone, it's good to know there are powerful options available.