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Business card-sized Japanese phone bucks the giant-phone trend (arstechnica.com)
229 points by extraterra 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 172 comments



All I want is an iPhone 3G with an all screen front. It would fit 4.2-4.5 inch screen with ease and it's the size of my wallet. iPhone X specs in the iPhone 3G body. Thicker is fine, just make the battery last a long time. Honestly, there must be people like me out there. I'll gladly pay $1k for a 4ish inch version of iPhone X.

Large phones are fine, to each their own. But some of us what small phones. And I have large hands, but I want to be able to comfortably use a phone with one hand.

Typed in iPhone SE.


SE owner here. Total tech nerd, but I just want a small phone that fits in my back pocket when I'm cycling. It makes me very sad that they're all getting enormous.

When I'm out, I'm just sending messages. Maybe a bit of maps and occasionally Safari. But all of my proper browsing is done at home, on an iPad or my Mac. When I'm out, I'm out. The phone is a tool, it's not the thing I'm doing.


I love the SE love / appreciation on HN. I love the SE so much, and I hope this form factor lives on.

Outside of HN, I don't know anybody with an SE.

We seem to be in the same boat for phone use. For me, I only use my phone for a handful of things

* basic browsing * recipes while cooking * some music and audiobooks (I mostly use a modified iPod 5.5) * Simon Tatham's Puzzles * clearing my mod queue on Reddit when I'm not home

I'd love to see Apple's market research behind the SE to see if our use patterns are normal for fellow owners.


>I'd love to see Apple's market research behind the SE to see if our use patterns are normal for fellow owners.

I think the're many more like you, and that Apple is aware of it. My theory is that they don't want to cannibalize watch sales, or basically regard the watch or wearable market as their future, and the Apple Watch as device to cement their leadership role in this market early on. I mean it works for them, they are the number one wearbales brand now.

It's not only watches, the're the headphones and maybe AR glasses in the future, a distributed wearable system if you'd combine them. That's where things are going I think.

If the'd have continued pushing sff phones (pocket watches), their real watches might not have gotten this traction.


The thing with small phones (or pocket watches) is that they're still something that has to go in a pocket (or bag). For me, and I suspect many others, once I'm putting something in a pocket it might as well be more or less as large as it can be (while, in my case at least, being fairly usable with one hand). IMO the Plus models are a bit big for this but the iPhone X is just about perfect.

A watch OTOH is something that you can have right there for just about any activity and which can alert you even if a phone is tucked away someplace. I tend to also agree that AR, better conversational interfaces, etc. will probably make wearables more capable over time.


>For me, and I suspect many others, once I'm putting something in a pocket it might as well be more or less as large as it can be (while, in my case at least, being fairly usable with one hand).

Some popular designer jeans can't fit anything much bigger than the SE into their front pockets. It might seem crazy, but the're people who buy the phone that fits into their favorite jeans vs. the other way round.


Here's something I can't understand.

We're got super-thin "foldable" OLEDs.

Why doesn't anyone make a phone with a RIGID, super-thin, fold-up second (or third) screen?

Bending is a gimmick. Being able to epoxy a super-thin panel onto a carbon fiber shell? Game changing.

I'd gladly take a phone that's SE-sized x 3 widths, with borders between the screens. Better yet, accordion it so I can just use the top panel if I don't need "all screens".


Funny you should say this. This was around the cycle a few days ago

http://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2018/10/apple-gr...

Having a tiny phone that could be unfolded on-demand would appear to solve everybody's problem.


This doesn’t seem very plausible to me. Still a world of difference between small phone and watch. I just don’t think there’s a big enough market for small phone users who won’t buy the next available size that more people are happier with.


Its funny you mention watches. Another reason I rarely use the SE is because all of my notifications, volume control, etc are on my Pebble.

With this, I think you're onto something. So long as what I see isn't uploaded anywhere, I can't wait for AR glasses. I'm horrible with names, so some form of [completely invasive] facial scanning would be a god-send. And if not that, at least some sort of AR where I can slap a name tag on someone at a function.


I agree with that, and also wonder if they're ignoring the research in order to continue with the current profitable trend of bigger every year, because that's one of the very few distinguishers they have. It's easy to market in one word ideas and easy to understand, same reason cars and cokes are getting bigger.


I understand your point of view, but from a market standpoint you're a niche of a niche of a niche.

I feel you, because I have the same feeling about many mass produced products. I find that the real problem with phone and electronics is that their nature prevents the development of "artisanal" alternatives, which, market-wise, are the only option that can takle the need of a small pool of users like in your case.


Iphone SE users aren't a small pool of users.

The decision by Apple is either based solely on making more money short-term/mid-term while ignoring a part of their customer base, or waiting for the right entry point with introduing a new bigger full screen but overall smaller model.

Many things Apple did in the early days weren't making sense from a market standpoint, like giving away software for free. At least that's what MS would have told you at that time.

That's why it's hard even for Apple to really price in the economic long-term cost of not supporting high-income and higly influental niche groups - there isn't only monocausality to consider when calculating ROI.


A lot of iphone SE users just bought it because it was cheap though. That's the "niche of a niche" comment above.

I like smaller phones, so we'll see how much people care about them now that the iphone 8 is the smallest good phone apple sells. Am hoping they do make a smaller iphone X style phone, but....we'll see.

Btw, for anyone reading this, popsockets go a long way to making larger phones more comfortable.


> A lot of iphone SE users just bought it because it was cheap though. That's the "niche of a niche" comment above.

The SE was not a cheap phone. It might be considered so in some high-income bubbles, but for most people it isn't/wasn't.


The SE was a cheap phone. $399 or ~$16 a month.

In the US, that’s a cheap phone.


It started at $499, IIRC, then was downpriced in its second incarnation(?)

There was a period where storage was doubled, but IIRC it seemed that options went down again in the SE (maybe when the price dropped)?


Can't edit - but I was thinking of the larger size(s) - the original base price was $399...


Yes, but it was the cheapest iPhone. That was my point. There are some people who are iPhone people, but cost conscious.


A lot of small kids got iPhone SE. Including my daughter and her classmates.

It's relatively powerful in its price class, and not too large — perfect for kids.


I remain surprised that such niches don't get filled. Apple is weird, but what percentage of the market does the 100th most popular Android phone capture?


I think this niche doesn't get filled because of the gap between what you want and what you buy. The gap between what you (ought to) want and that which makes a good first impression on you.

I have, use and like a small android phone called "unihertz jelly pro", small enough to fit in any pocket and good for my use. After a while with that phone, using a phablet one evening was an absolute eureka moment. I was looking for some sort of product, and on the phablet all the photos looked good. Inviting. Desirable. The whole phablet was fun in a way the small phone wasn't.

After that experience, I can understand that people reach for the big phones in the shop, even if some of them may really want something different in the long term.

And I can understand why retailers stock the phones they do. The phone where instagram looks good is the phone with the right first impression, and one has to optimise for getting the goods out the door.

(http://rant.gulbrandsen.priv.no/unihertz has blah about how I tweaked the phone, if anyone cares.)


Yea this is true, call it sexual selection?

Also, even if a smart car would be more convenient for almost everything you do, it won't work for some weekend trips, so you buy something bigger -- there's a bit of that going on too, I think.


Definitely tempted to give one a try, screen resolution might drive me a bit nuts though. The Lumia 640 I'm currently using is starting to show it's age these days. To be honest, I'm finding most phones very underwhelming these days.


If you fear that... don't buy one.

It's a nice phone to have in your pocket with the screen off, so you can run instant-message apps, can phone your ex or optionally other people, can run 2FA apps, and so on and so forth. It's not a nice phone if you want to have the screen on.

Unobtrusive and within reach: Yes. Use very much: No.


How ironic is it that unihertz's website looks so bad on a smartphone (one with a larger display at that). Their design isn't optimized for mobile at all.


I don't, considering the amount of resources needed to concieve, develop and market even the smallest peripheral at a company like Apple. Plus (although it might be less so nowadays due to their size) Apple still has a culture of saying "no" to a lot of things that "could" make sense.

Some chinese companies that tend to throw shit at the wall to see what sticks are better positioned to do that, but chances are that you'll get a subpar product you won't probably like using, let alone buy in the first place.

Last but not least, the existence of a niche of consumers is no direct indication that such niche will actually buy the product they think they want. This is why a lot of startups fail despite the fact their product should theoretically sell like hot cakes.


Apple wants cyclists to buy a cellular apple watch


I'm a cyclist with an Apple Watch and iPhone SE. The watch is nearly useless when I'm riding, because it requires me to remove one or both hands from the handlebar for too long to accomplish anything meaningful AND possibly take my eyes off the road to see what's (not) happening on the display. Too many Watch apps wait until you open them to update (if you're lucky) or tell you to unlock your iPhone first. It sounds convenient, but it's really a usability nightmare on a bike. Use Siri instead, you say? I can already do that with my headset, so what benefit does the watch provide?

I use my watch mostly at work for 2FA and to passively monitor my notifications. When I need to respond, I'd rather use my phone, so adding cellular to the watch doesn't really add much value for me.


This cyclist bought one. Then he found out his Canadian carrier (Fido) doesn't support Apple Watch.


Fido isn't even a real carrier. It's more that Rogers (along with the other carriers) has chosen to artificially restrict Apple Watch support to only its most expensive plans.


Yeah I'm still skeptical about this eSIM business


Used my phone at the local burger shop. One of the teen girls working there laughed at it. "wow, that's so small, does it even work? i think it's time for you to get a new phone!" (FWIW I'm a regular there, so most of the staff know me and we chat while I'm waiting).

"I just got this 18 months ago" I said. It's a 64g SE. She just laughed - "OMG - I couldn't even imagine using that. What is that? An iphone 4?". "An SE, " I replied, and she just had a weird look on her face. I wonder if they'd used numbers on that model instead of "SE" if it would have stuck in peoples' minds more?

It was such a strange thing - 18 months ago was still in her lifetime, and ... I'm not using a Palm VII or some obscure 80s retro thing - it's a damn iphone from 18 months ago, and she genuinely reacted like it was some piece of ancient technology.

She showed me her iphone 6. I showed her Live Pictures on my SE, then commiserated with her that her 'bigger' 6 couldn't handle what my puny "old" phone could do.

Teenagers... youth is wasted on the young :)


I was also dismayed by the lack of choices in smaller smartphones a few months ago when my Nexus 4 died.

I tried an LG G5 for a while but couldn't handle the larger screen.

It's not iOS, but I got a Sony Xperia ZX2 Compact as a replacement and I find that it struck exactly the right balance between enjoyable screen size and being able to operate the phone with one hand.


I really liked the form factor of my first smartphone: The Palm Pre. Well suited for jeans front pockets (male). I wonder how the software would work out now that "just make PWAs" might actually be useful. Then again, that's what the FirefoxOS guys thought, too…


Re Firefox, I guess the timing wasn’t right. With the current WASM support and reference types coming out soon(ish) building performant apps should be way easier. More so, there’s a possibility to run WASM in Ring 0, which opens up performance gains rarely seen in native.

Also, Apple tried going down the web app route long time ago, would be great to see them revisiting this idea in a year or so.


Apple's probably not going to revisit any web idea soon. There's a reason they killed Flash and Java on iOS - both being the most prominent cross platform techs.

I think WASM is still in an early phase, we'll probably have to wait for 2020 for it to catch on. It still needs: GC/direct DOM access, threads, and Javascript module integration, in my opinion: https://webassembly.org/docs/future-features/ Plus, even the MVP is only supported globally by 78% of the browsers out there: https://caniuse.com/#search=webassembly

Thing will get very interesting very quickly once WASM 2.0, basically, is created and it support is around 90%. But before that, it's kind of early to declare victory :)


I think some of the new APIs and general PWA support (workers, indexeddb etc.) are the more important changes since Palm Pre / iOS 1. Sure, better script engines and a few cycles of Moore's law seem neccessary, but that's sadly more of a reflection of all the performance wasted by the stack.

I'd argue that most apps are rather passive when it comes to displaying stuff, don't have to crunch numbers and don't manage a lot of data. So an 80s BASIC engine would be enough for it, if the APIs are done well (or 90s Tcl/Tk).

Games are an entirely different matter, of course. I don't see a lot of stuff in between.


I think the real performance bottleneck is the DOM, and WASM doesn't help with that. Perhaps a UI library that uses all WebGL is the only reasonable answer here.


> UI library that uses all WebGL

But then that will be completely inaccessible to screen readers and other assistive technologies.


Not sure if you've seen on the newer phones/iOS, you can double tap (not press) the home button and it pulls the screen down so that the upper right corner is within range of the thumb [0]. Doesn't totally solve the size problem, but it is something.

[0] https://i.stack.imgur.com/uygr9.jpg


That's what I expected Apple to introduce this year - here's an XS, and here's a new thing that's iPhone 8 with full front screen. I'd buy this in heartbeat.


I have small hands and an iPhone X. Not a single complaint about the size, I think that Apple nailed it with this one.


Are you able to easily tap the opposite upper corner when holding it with one hand (eg. the back button when using your right hand)? I have big hands and even then have issues doing this on an iPhone SE.


I guess that might be the thing: I'm left-handed. So reaching the back button is quite straight-forward for me.


5S owner over here, can glady say that it is one of the best smartphones I´ve ever had.


It is hard to believe that Apple, of all companies, does not understand how customers build their "device portfolios":

• one device = biggest phone

• two devices = 13/12 laptop or iPad Pro 12 + medium phone

• three devices = 13/12 laptop, iPad 10.5 + smallest phone

• four devices = three devices + watch / AR glasses

It does not take a genius to see that the iPhone SE form factor is the logical choice for Apple customers with three or four devices. These are the customers spending the most money in Apple's ecosystem.

In the absence of a product visionary at the helm, large companies may want to ask why US/EU customers purchased a product developed for the Indian market. Abandoning emerging markets' low-cost phones does not require abandoning the global market of customers buying a coordinated portfolio of fit-for-purpose devices.

On a secondary footnote, the creation of "Screen Time" is likely a pre-emptive defense against future lawsuits for smartphone health consequences, ranging from eye health to psychological effects on developing brains.

What reduces screen time? A small phone like the iPhone SE that can still be used with headphones for audio. So there is a legal argument to be made for small phones: the presence in a corporate product line allows liability to be shifted to customers — if you suffer negative consequences from screen time, you should have bought the small phone to discourage screen use.

On the other hand, if companies only offer large phones, and we find out years later that they knew the health risks of excess screen time were increased by large phones, they would have contributed to the problem instead of possible solutions (like the iPhone SE).


I think screen time is a very clever play by apple against Facebook/Instragram, who are known as having time used per day as their core metric. With screen time, users see that they again spent several hours on those useless apps and start thinking about how they spend their time.

Overall a win/win for people who get pulled too much into social media.


Or maybe it's just Apple's way of pointing out that battery life correlates to the amount of time the screen is on.


It's just an opinion, I assume. Or you have any market research to back it up? I'd say "hype" has more to do with people buying biggest possible phone than anything else. But again, it's just an opinion.


The rationale for large phones is well documented in emerging markets where it is the customer's only computing device. Over the last few years, that has been a growth segment ("next billion") relative to the saturated US/EU smartphone markets. Apple followed Samsung's market leadership in phablets.

Other than Apple itself, market data on cross-device ownership would be hard to obtain, since the iPad is the dominant tablet. By definition, it would be a subset of the larger smartphone market. But the adoption behavior of this subset has strategic value to Apple, since it could extend Apple's iOS and phone silicon investments to compete with Intel in laptops.

A hypothetical (2018? 2019?) "always-connected iOS laptop" would again alter device portfolios.


I do not support this logic. Phone size is not dependent on device count. The type of person who likes the idea of a huge phone does so regardless of whether they also have a laptop or an iPad. My thumb does not grow longer, nor my pockets bigger, regardless of what devices I own.

Apple setups I have observed users be happy with:

- 15" laptop, iPad Pro 12, largest phone, watch - 15" laptop, largest phone - 15" laptop, medium phone, watch - 15" laptop, smallest phone - 13" laptop, largest phone - 13" laptop, smallest phone - Largest phone, watch - Largest phone (nothing else) - Smallest phone (nothing else)


We’re all just spouting anecdata but I agree with walterbell. If someone only has a phone, they’ll go for the largest device possible as it basically fills the role of laptop (‘serious’ stuff), iPad (media consumption) and phone (‘opportunistic’ stuff). If someone owns a laptop as well, they still ‘need’ a big phone because they’ll use it for a lot of their media consumption. However, once someone owns an iPad + phone or laptop + iPad + phone, the phone gets relegated to messaging, quick internet searches, transportation and music.


While the logic is sensible, I believe that the phone is the least likely device to be affected.

That is, if you have an 12" iPad Pro, you're unlikely to also have a 12" MacBook, as they're devices of similar size and portability, and for "normal" people, also similar capability.

However, a phone is a different portability class. You have a phone with you at times where you do not bring an iPad. No amount of devices will help me when I do not have them with me. Even if I am at home, my phone is in my pocket, which an iPad, laptop or desktop never will be.

Therefore, I believe that the question is more about preference than about device overlap for phones.

But yes, you are right—anecdotes and opinions, rather than data.


There's something to be said for people not buying devices that are too similar in form factor to each other.

But I think this tends to better explain why mini tablets aren't especially popular than anything about phone size. Large or small, phones are still a pocketable device that people have with them much of the time. I use my phone a lot for things that I could, in principle, do better on some other device but that other device either doesn't have a cellular connection or it's just not with me--even if it's just up in my office.


The one device market is growing, even in developed countries, while the multiple device market is shrinking. iPad and Macbook sales haven't grown for almost a decade now.

The multiple device market may provide more revenue per customer, but they definitely don't provide more total revenue than the single device market.


> if you suffer negative consequences from screen time, you should have bought the small phone to discourage screen use.

To play devil's advocate: You could also buy an Apple Watch, and only use your phablet when you absolutely need to.


We have years of data from closed device ecosystems where carriers and other gatekeepers decided what devices could do, including restricting TCP/IP connections (hello Blackberry).

If the Apple Watch meets all your use cases, it is the preferred option to reduce sceeen time.

If you need intermittent, short and all-day business critical mobile access to an application or web browser, a small "phone" (mobile computer with radio) is the device which currently supports the most use cases.


It also has no camera. It has built-in apps, though, including a Web browser, a calculator, and a calendar—so sure, it's technically a smartphone

The established term for a phone with that functionality is "feature phone". In fact, it's even in the URL:

https://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/product/feature_phone/ky01l/


I don't think I can survive without a camera. I would take a feature phone with a high quality camera. Sacradkce everything else (except battery) and I'll buy it.


What actually happened to the market for 4" phones? I came across my old Droid Incredible II the other day and it felt so much better in my hand than any other smartphone I've held in the last 3 years. I could comfortably type on it with one hand, something I couldn't dream of doing well on a 5" or larger phone.


I think that the market for smaller phones has died a bit as phones have become the primary computer for a lot of people.

There are people who don't own a desktop or laptop at home, or if they do, they use it very rarely. For them, their phone is their primary device, so it makes sense for the screen to be large enough that it's practical and comfortable to use for long periods.


Yup since OneNote has became really good, I find myself nowadays predominently going to meetings with just my phone and no laptop or paper notebook. What would be amazing is a way for easily connecting phones to HDMI.

I see others using tablets with a keyboard or the surface pro with a stylus but I don't like the form factor which I have to carry in my hand but not in my pocket. Considering a switch to Samsung Note 9.


There are several ways to connect phones to screens. Android support screen casting to some smart TVs like LG (I used to use this feature all the time and it works really well over WiFi). Unfortunately Apple does it's own thing so you'd need an Apple TV if you want to use AirPlay on iOS.

However iPhones (and some Android handsets too) do support HDMI over their data port. You'd need to buy a cable but they can be got for ~£15 (though you'd be looking more at £40/£50 if you want an official branded one - but I've found 3rd party dongles generally work just as well on iPhones).


I switched to a Note 8 from a Nexus 6P for the stylus.

I probably use it once a month. The input latency and the small size (compared to a notepad) prevents it from replacing the spiral notebook I carry.

I also understimated how much I'd hate the samsung crap that's installed, and the edge to edge screen is more trouble than it's worth--I'm always accidentally clicking something while holding it.


How does this work? How can you make good notes on a phone with OneNote?


Reasonably good notes & it syncs nicely with the desktop OneNote app.


I honestly believe the market is still there, as is so often the case the lack of choice is nothing to do with market or sales.

The SE was far from a failure.

So I can only conclude that the makers would prefer everyone on larger phones for some reason.


How do you honestly believe that? Market is not a feel. Companies with multi-billion dollar revenues invest gazillions into researching the market. They can't afford to come up with a product based on "honestly believing". Then they apply resources to tackle a potential need. As much as I would like that my feelings could overlap with the markets, I'm aware that I'm a niche, and I don't think that judging market choices through the lens of what I'd like can lead to anything but a skewed personal view of a market problem.

The SE was far from a failure not because of the size, but because for the first time it let people into the iPhone realm at a much lower price (without being just an old phone with a lower price). It had the "new" tag on it, although it was basically a product that Apple could generate by mixing up a couple of production lines with much lower assembly costs. By any measurement, the iPhone SE is an old and technically lacking phone with a superior and hyper-sticky software ecosystem. It was also the workhorse of carriers who could sell expensive plans with a lower device subsidization fee.

Apple's marketing is best in class when it comes to framing the complexity of market tactics and vendor-carrier relationships within a simple and clear narrative. The underlying mechanism are still as intricated as they can be.


Yet companies do precisely that all the time, in many markets and niches. They lead rather than respond to the market. Such is the nature of companies that get large enough to be multinationals. Customers count for not that much, so take it or leave it.

Almost no one wanted headphone sockets actually removed because anyone who actually wanted bluetooth already had the capability, and countless surveys reveal a wish to keep them. Most recently Oneplus finding 80%+ of their customers wanted to keep it, so their next phone removed it. Almost every company has now followed suit, so it's damn clear they are not researching the market, unless it's to ascertain the extent of what they can get away with.

Same with Google+, almost no one wanted it, yet for several years there was insistence one would have it.

So I maintain the presence or absence of a product or service is often little or nothing to do with market sales. Or one can believe in perfect markets and perfect filling of opportunities.


Of course sales matter. What doesn't matter is people pissing and moaning (e.g. over headphone jack) if they end up buying your product anyway. Apple has always been in the forefront of removing legacy features before the market was really ready for them to be removed.


I'd actually bet the SE is viewed as something of a failure within apple after the X was such a hit. With more people willing to pay multiples of the price of a SE for one, SE screen size support for iOS apps must be an absolutely huge restraint on some developers.

I love my SE though. Battery is so much better than I've been used to.


Perhaps, though it's hard to understand from the outside what could have had Apple view it as a success, enough to warrant an SE2. It appears to have got almost universally positive press, and surprisingly good sales if that press is to be believed.

My own circle of friends and their families must be ridiculously unrepresentative because the SE seems to have an outsize presence, and there's remarkably few huge flagships of any make. There's a couple who still hope every year that Samsung see sense and bring out another S Mini.


The SE dragged down apple’s average selling price, which is a key metric Tim Cook optimizes for. You can see how the SE brought down the ASP when it was launched Q2 2016: https://www.statista.com/chart/15379/iphone-asp/

If they bring back an SE-sized device it will be a high end one, a X SE for example with the screen size of the iphone 8 in an SE-sized body. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them launch that within 6 months and as a current SE owner I would definitely buy it.


Okay, but if it lowered the price enough that more people will buy it, then they can still win on revenue.


It wasn't a failure but it wasn't much of a success either. The larger phones blew it out of the water in sales.


> I honestly believe the market is still there

On the basis of what?


Beliefs don't need a basis, that's what separates them from facts!


If we believe something to be true, it's because we believe it reflects how things are.

If I believe it is true that the world is flat then someone may reasonable ask what the basis is for that belief.

Give me an example of a belief with no basis at all.


All spiritual or religious beliefs have no basis, that's literally what differentiates them from facts. They're all ultimately grounded in baseless assertions.


> All spiritual or religious beliefs have no basis

Spiritual and religious people give reasons and justifications for their beliefs all the time. Have you never heard an argument for why the universe couldn't exist without a god? Surely you're aware of all the arguments made in things like the philosophy of religion?

Even if a belief feels to you to have no basis that doesn't mean there isn't one. People often claim that their intuition about something has no basis, but it's actually that they don't have a consciously-accessible basis -- there's all the actual things they subconsciously picked up about, say, the person who seemed shifty, and all the subconscious mental processing that leads to that feeling.


> Have you never heard an argument for why the universe couldn't exist without a god?

And they're ultimately all baseless.


Yes, and this shows you agree with my point. I think what's confusing you is that you're thinking "has a basis" means "is factually correct". If you look at my comments in this sub-thread, you'll see that I'm talking about the basis of views that are potentially/actually wrong (e.g. the view that there's a market for small phones, or the view that the earth is flat). This "basis" is the reasons, drawn from experience or other information, why we think something is the case. That basis can be dead wrong, but that doesn't mean it's non-existent.


Or even 3.5" phones. I think the iPhone 3G/3GS remains the most ergonomic smartphone produced, with its curved back and small size.


Having a 5.5" myself, I can tell you that while a smaller phone would be more comfortable in my hand, having a larger screen provides more utility by allowing more content to be seen and used at once. I guess what I want is a super-portable substitute to my computer for when I'm on the go. Having big hands also makes it easier to get accustomed.

EDIT: I also get the feeling that bigger phone means more features and longer battery times because of the extra space for electronics and the battery. Who knows, maybe if I held a 4" that's fast with a lot of memory and long battery life, I could get accustomed to seeing less content.

There's also the fact that website layout is determined by the website developers. I wonder how good the layouts are generally on the internet for 4" screens. It might be that many websites have fixed width side margins that cause a bigger whitespace-to-text ratio on smaller screens.


Just saying, Sony was managing to fit a microSD card, headphone jack, and good sized battery (in terms of battery life, they've been some of the longest lasting phones despite using (admittedly low res) LCDs instead of OLEDs) in their 4.6" compacts up to the XZ1C last year. The only feature they were missing was wireless charging.


The Motorola Razr M was an even smaller form factor with a 4.3" display. And all the iPhones from 3g to SE were outstanding in this now-extinct category, especially the 5s.

The 5s has the venerable status of being not only small, but one of the oldest currently-supported smartphones. At over 5 years old, it can still run respectably with iOS 12.


Not had much problem with sites on my SE, or felt the experience lacked compared to the larger Android phones I've owned. The few times something's been off I've not been able to compare against a larger or Android phone so it doesn't really count for much. :)

For me the difference is the SE simply fits the hand better. My other half would be even more vocal on that point.

So if the choice becomes 5.5" and larger or nothing, we'll probably be ex-smartphone owners. Speaking for myself I'd go feature phone before I'd "go large" again.


I'm starting to think that "computer-substitute" is precisely what smart phones have become, and that having a real computer you depend on might correlate with age, income or occupation in a way that phone ownership cuts across. It's pretty easy to finance a phone purchase through your carrier, especially compared to Apple's Barclay deal (unless this has changed a lot in the last few years.) I think a lot of people under thirty are borderline computer illiterate, but get by using their phone. For them, a bigger screen that's harder to type on is fine. For people with more money and computer literacy, it's just a matter of taste--but we're not the biggest slice of the pie.


Well, it may make sense if you're always on the go, but a lot of people like me would spend most of their time with a full size computer available that provides way more utility than whatever phones. I would even totally pay more to have a smaller phone that's much more comfortable. Frankly I don't find the larger iPhone I currently have to be any more useful than the 4" ones.


They would cost practically the same as a larger phone but the perception would be that you're getting much less, so few people would buy one even if they say they want one now.


It’s likely a lot worse having a 4” phone now than before beacause of how apps and sites design for the majority of users on larger screens.


it's probably much more difficult to reduce the size of the phone than to extend the screen. Think about specs such as battery life and processing power, smaller phone would have really tough competition, apps and mobile OS hoard all the fancy specs that come with bigger phones, there's very little room left for phones with less capacity.


Sorry, this is just false. Make the phone a few mm thicker. Solved.


I am lead to believe that it's true since they seem to be struggling to fit things like a headphone jack in already pretty big phones.


I hate to say it but not really. The SE had the same hardware specs (except the screen of course) as the 6 Plus.


Not true, it is almost the same as the 6s line internally.


Sorry, wrote the wrong phone.


Yup. I found my old 3.5" iPod touch and I was surprised how usable it was with its miniscule screen.


Twenty-somethings today don't remember a time before the smartphone era when there was a race for phones to be smaller.

Cell phones were initially huge. Actually, first they existed as "car phones". They were heavy boxes the size of a big bottle of laundry detergent, bearing a handset with a number pad. They operated on AMPS (analog mobile phone service). After that cell phones then became smaller and more portable, but still huge, resembling household cordless phones. There was a race in the 1990's and early 2000's for smaller and smaller phones. Having a smaller phone than the next person was a status symbol.

Smartphones have disrupted that trend, because small touch screens suck. The trend has not entirely been disrupted: smartphones cannot be too large. Then they turn into tablets. And, thin matters, still.


I think we just really started to see the value of high resolution internet browsing and media consumption in your pocket.

If the cell carriers did something crazy like not letting us browse the internet through their network (or charged us $1k+), phones would likely small and forgettable.


Thin doesn't matter after a certain depth. Same applies to laptops, see macbook pro outcries. Phones need some depth to avoid slipping out of our hands.


Phones started to get too small in the 2000s. I can't remember which phones in particular but some definitely had buttons too small for most people's hands.


My old Nokia (don't remember the model) had buttons so small I had to use my nails instead of my fingertips!


I had a phone that had almost no buttons. At least there were gaps.

https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/0S0AAOSwaB5Xp-lT/s-l300.jpg


This looks somewhat similar in purpose to the light phone 2: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/light-phone-2#/ .

I've been looking forward to that phone because their ethos seems to be in line with what I want: all the "directed" tools you want (phone, text, contacts, alarm, maps, Uber/Lyft, etc) but nothing that lets you get into "mindless scroll" mode like social network apps or a browser.


The Nokia Classic phones are probably the closest released phone that fits this criteria so far.

I recently got a Nokia 105 (2017) for my parents as the bespoke charger on their old phone broke, and it was cheaper to get a new phone. I played with it a bit, and as far as a phone goes it's top notch for making calls, but the lack of even basic apps like maps or messaging (other than SMS) make it pretty limited.

The phone has a grand total of 4MB of RAM in contrast with the latest smart phones which have up to 6GB. Android is too bloated as an OS for feature phones, but I'd love to see a new platform come out designed for limited RAM (maybe a few hundred megabytes) which it's easy to develop apps for, yet still produces devices that last for a week or two on a single charge. In developing countries these phones are still pretty popular, and from the comments people are posting here would go down pretty well with the HN croud.


It is all a matter of what you want a device to do (I know it seems obvious).

I had a couple of what you could call a "smartphone" before "smartphone" existed (Sony Ericsson P900/P910), which anyway had a battery that normally lasted a couple days.

I have an (ageing) Samsung Note, but what I now use daily (since a few years) and carry with me at all times a Nokia 1280:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nokia_1280

I can make and receive calls and SMS', it is tiny and extremely robust, it has been dropped countless times without any damage (shell and battery just "explode" and you have to find all the pieces and then reassemble it), battery lasts days, it simply fills most of my needs, without having to carry with me at all times a (bulky and fragile) smartphone.


> I have an (ageing) Samsung Note, but what I now use daily (since a few years) and carry with me at all times a Nokia 1280

Curious to hear what carrier you use it on. 2G options in the US at least are severely limited.


In EU 2G is just fine (yet?), Italy here, but never had problems in EU and near countries.


I have a Nokia 130. Really good for making calls and I use the FM radio and audio player a lot. I had to order mine from the Czech Republic.


not to shit on this, this looks like a great initiative, but I strongly doubt them being able to deliver with only the money they raised.


Their plan to use/modify Android and essentially a smartphone platform is a bit bizarre and certainly won't help with the cost, because they're aiming for a feature phone; there are existing platforms for those and I'm sure adapting one with an EPD and changing the UI slightly to match is going to be a far cheaper route.

China will probably come out with similar clones before long... maybe even before the original:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18210950


Wish these were not as expensive as they are. This, the new Palm phone and similar devices could potentially start a minimalist (and "cute"?) revolution where devices focus on some core aspects with battery life closer to that of feature phones.


That new Palm phone sounds like exactly what I've been looking for for two years, except for the carrier exclusive and the part where it only goes with another phone, not on its own-which might not be so bad, except for the extra $20/mo.


I'm surprised at all the disappointment about no small smartphones existing. I'm typing this on a Sony Xperia Compact (XZ1) I just bought. It's cheap, battery lasts two full days after 1-2 years of usage (I lost my last one, that's why I bought a new one). It works great and have a pretty clean version of Android.

Instead of complaining, why not just go buy a small phone? I thought people in here knew better than to complain without doing any research.


Does unlocking the bootloader still erase the DRM keys for the camera’s image processing and turn it into a piece of garbage? That’s how it worked on my Z3C. Other than that, decent phone if not a biiit too big still.

https://www.androidpolice.com/2014/10/02/unlocking-the-bootl...


It was the best phone on the market for me. It is the most durable smartphone I have ever owned and Sony is releasing an upgrade to Pie:

http://www.xperiablog.net/2018/10/18/sony-confirms-early-and...


For anyone else curious & lazy, here's a size comparison to some older iphones -- the Sony is a little bigger than an SE.

https://www.phonearena.com/phones/size#/phones/size/Sony-Xpe...


I thought the iPhone 5 was the last decently sized phone made. I recently held an older iPhone model and it was actually smaller and even better. I understand that most people, like my wife, use their phone for everything and a bigger screen makes sense. But I spend my day in front of a computer and my phone is for calls, texting, and photos. Throw in directions/maps, and I would gladly live without almost everything else.


Now that all the phones coming out have a bezelless display, why aren't manufacturers reducing the whole phone's size instead of extending the screen to the top and bottom. Take OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 6 for example. The OnePlus 6 could've easily been equal to only the screen size of OnePlus 5 but they chose to extend the screen to top and bottom instead.


I don't understand the quest for bezel-less designs. It makes all phones look the same. It has meant that all but one manufacturer have moved the fingerprint reader to the back, or removed it. For someone like me who often use my phone while it's laying flat on the table, it means that I can't easily unlock it. Even FaceID wouldn't help, because it can't see my face in that angle.

Then there's the notch. Come on, that just stupid, just add the 4 or 5mm of bezel a the top, it's fine. Why would I need the extra two top corners of screen, the screen is big enough.


It does happen, Galaxy S8+ and S9+ is much narrower than iPhone 7+/8+ for to the point that it's actually easier to hold the phone.


Not sure why this is news. There are a whole host of credit Card size phones available in China and you easily buy them on Aliexpress/Taobao at around < USD$30. Here's one example: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/ultrathin-mini-metal-credit-...


Those don't have an eink display (yet), so battery life and sunlight readability won't be as good.

(Battery life might not be all that much better since the display of a feature phone is going to be used far less than a smartphone, but the readability certainly can be.)


I just wish you could find pocketable 4.7" phones in the US. They exist but are either not imported or don't support domestic LTE bands and not worth it. Older flagships are guaranteed to be Chinese knockoffs and not worth the bother. We don't all want a phablet.


The iPhone SE was a dream come true, though even smaller than 4.7” and obviously an iPhone which could be a dealbreaker for some. Funny enough, I feel like basically any smartphone with current flagship internals in any 2-3 year old flagship form factor would be ideal for me.


I really like the idea of an e-ink display so that the battery will last longer, but they are also not so strong and I'm afraid it won't last long if you treat this phone like other phones (toss into your backpack or put it in your back pocket).


To help break my addiction I'm looking for a phone with good camera, basic apps like uber and email, but small enough that surfing the net isn't great and clash of clans is unusable. :) Any small phone recommendations?


I think the best phone you can get today, regardless of price, is the iPhone SE, even though it's not being sold by Apple anymore.


Sadly iphones aren't an option. It disrespects my freedoms in pretty glaring ways.


Ironically, the Apple phone ecosystem is the only viable option, if you care about data privacy.


I would argue that an Android phone without Google apps (e.g. LineageOS) is just as good; perhaps even superior, as you don't have to rely on an arbitrary gatekeeper in order to install software.


hah! backed by what? empty promises of inherently "closed" company with a huge ego?


How so?


I don't know about the other commentor, but Apple is extremely against Right To Repair.


The Palm phone will have a 3.3" screen. https://www.gsmarena.com/palm_palm-9290.php


That looks really interesting, but: 1.) It's Verizon only, 2.) It needs to be "paired" with an existing line, and 3.) It's $350.

Fix (1) and (2), maybe (3) and then we're talking.


Agreed. I was so stoked about that little phone until I realized it was only being sold as a "companion" device.

If they made a small phone like this with a fat battery (not because I'd use it a lot, but because hotspotting takes a fair bit of juice) I'd use it as my main phone.

Then carry something like a Microsoft Surface or convertible Chromebook in my bag, which you can easily whip out if you need to use Google maps or something that favours a bigger screen.

Seems like a no brainer when the traditional laptop category is going more portable with convertible form factors, and tablet are getting even better at productivity. But maybe I'm missing something :\


I think that using gsmarena[0] and filtering for height and any other specifications that you care about, is the best possibility. Obviously, once you've narrowed down, also read various reviews about the phones that are left.

[0] https://www.gsmarena.com


Any very cheap phone on banggood


Might consider it if it wasn't so expensive. In a world where feature phones that are marginally larger cost under twenty dollars it's hard to justify.


Would love to switch to a phone like this, only problem I have is text messages are inherently insecure and I would have to create a convoluted setup of texting from a devices with apps like signal and forwarding calls to this dumb device...wish there was a simple phone with a restricted build that only included signal and WhatsApp or something similar, in addition to the basic phone features.


If only you could hack signal on to whispernet...


Oh god yes. I have a 5 inch phone going on 2 years now and it's about as big as I can tolerate. I dread the day it dies and I have to get another, because I literally don't see (mid to high end) phones below this size anymore (gsmarena shows... 6 fitting this bill released in the past year).


For me the larger screen has much more value than the ability to have a small phone with me. For typing reasons and for doing research on a larger screen or reading news or ebooks.

Also, I use my iPhone more like a PDA, the telephone feature is used lesser and lesser. And if I do use it to do phone calls I do it in combination with my AirPods while my iPhone is in my pocket. And in that case perceptionally my AirPods + Siri ("Hey Siri, call my wife") are my telephone.

The way I see it a small(er) phone or even a small dumbphone makes sense for people who use their devices mainly for doing phonecalls.

Having said that I must add that going for a run with my iPhone 7 Plus is cumbersome because it's too bulky. I need it to listen to music while running. Cant't load music on my running watch from Garmin (Fenix 5)


The market wants mobiles phones and PDAs to be the same device. That is what phones with large screens are.


Reminds me of the Franklin REX (which I had in my wallet for a while -- eventually donated them to the CHM)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/REX_5000


That's good. I can't think of anything but the SNL skit - last minute of this video: https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/jeffreys-with-...


What's needed is a carrier offering which allows you to have a small phone on an account in addition to a big one, at no extra charge. Both ring on the same number, and you can't have independent calls on both at the same time, and there's some limitation to prevent using both for major data at the same time.

Then you should be able to get a $49 feature phone as a spare, or for when you don't need a big phone.

(Yes, you can kludge this up using Google Voice, or Twilio, or running Asterisk on your home Linux server, but it needs to be easier than that.)


> What's needed is a carrier offering which allows you to have a small phone on an account in addition to a big one, at no extra charge. Both ring on the same number, and you can't have independent calls on both at the same time, and there's some limitation to prevent using both for major data at the same time.

Why would a carrier offer for free something they can easily monetize? A proxy for this would be how Verizon charges customers a monthly fee for the "soft" sim present in Apple watches.


Verizon is sort-of doing this with the new Palm "Plam" phone - https://www.theverge.com/2018/10/15/17974850/new-palm-smartp...

It's not "no extra charge" -- you pay an extra $10/month. But you get a traditional full-sized smartphone, and an additional small "Palm" phone with limited screen size and features, running on the same telephone number, with no extra setup or services required.


>It has a 380mAh battery, which sounds abysmal, but the ePaper display should not use very much power, so we wouldn't be surprised if its battery life is just fine regardless.

It has a LTE radio in it. Battery life is not going to be fine. The 80g phones of the '00s era with 2 week battery life are just a fond memory. The technology is degrading over time.


I'd like to see a flip phone again. Large screen, small size (and would actually justify the modern trend to make everything incredibly thin).

Having said that I'd like to know if this small phone is a success or not. If no one buys it then maybe everyone is happy with phablets.


I feel like there's an untapped space for a small phone with a good 9-key keyboard (or something).

There are a couple niche small phones out there but they all insist on using a software keyboard that is _amazingly slow_. Typing is basically the thing that needs to work as fast as possible, otherwise it ruins the experience.

Almost no design is trying to acknowledge that the idea of a high-end small phone might be appealing to people (despite Apple having evidence with iPhone SE sales being decent enough).

In a world without all the apps, designing something almost ground up would make a lot of sense, since Android isn't meant to fit on such a small screen anymore.


Flip phones was never really my thing, I like the old school Nokia designs better.

I have some really weird wishes for a new phone. Something like the Nokia 104, but with 4G and wifi for tethering support. Oh, and a Google Authenticator app, for work.

If possible I would also like the option of having an Linux or Mac OS app for writing SMS messages on my laptop, so I can have a real keyboard.


Flip phones were huge in Japan from about 2000 up to the iPhone. Nokia-style chocolate bars were never really popular there. I think a new flip phone which folded out into a large flat screen (rather than having a physical keyboard) might be an interesting proposition.

For what you describe in your message above, have you thought about buying a laptop with built in SIM card support or alternately USB 4G SIM card modem?


I have, I’ve also considered a authenticator application on my laptop to solve that issue. Now I just need to convince my employeer to save $500 - 1000 by not buying me a new smart phone.



Impeccable timing as I witness my iPhone 6 crash opening the phone app. You had one job, iPhone.....


No discussion of tiny phones is complete without reference to John’s Phones:

https://www.johnsphones.com/store/johns-phone-bar/item46


Site appears to be pretty broken.


Yeah I got a file download prompt clicking on that link. Kinda sketch.


>>> It has a 380mAh battery, which sounds abysmal

It is truly abysmal. Can it even last a full day being idle?

Contrary to what people may think, it's not the screen that consumes the most battery (unless actively used) but the radio.


I predict that within the next five years, the dominant form factor will move away from large, thin, shiny devices toward smaller, rounder, thicker (but less dense) devices that fit more comfortably into a human palm.


Keeping a cell around at all times is about as good for your sanity as smoking is for your lungs.

They could reduce it all the way down to a "Jitterbug", and the problem would still be there.


The best sizes and felt phone I ever owned was the HTC Desire. I'd love a teeny bit larger successor to thatvwith the same build quality and better battery life.


as a galaxy user I wondered why they dont make smaller phone that i can control with one hand without fear of dropping it?

im okay with a smaller reddit is fun app.


Nice idea if you have to carry a second phone. Especially nice if the phone is passed amoung different people, like for pager duty.


I love this design. All I want is a 4 inch e-Paper display with a browser that can open epub files.


Awesome idea, but $350?

I’ve recently bought another Lumia 930, brand new, for $100…


I'd rather buy some old Nokia.




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