What is the Best Screen Type for Smartphones?

In the forums, a recent discussion came up regarding screen sizes, orientation and resolution and which is preferable. Leaving resolution to the side for a moment (since I think it’s universally agreed that higher is better), let's look at what WM devices currently offer and why some orientations are better for certain things than others.

  • WM5 & 6 Non-touch screen: 320x240 i.e. landscape. These are devices like the Motorola Q series, HTC Dash/Excalibur and Samsung Blackjack I & II
  • WM5 & 6 Touch screen: 320x240 (very few e.g. Zenum Opus), 240x240/320x320 Square (Treos & Samsung i780), 240x320 (HTC 6700, 6800, Touch, Tilt, etc.)

Overwhelmingly WM devices tend to be 240x320 orientations, and 320x240 for smartphones. Exceptions abound such as the Treo line or the HTC Vox.

So when shopping a device, which is better and for what? Obviously some of this just comes down to personal preference and some people will just flat out like one orientation over another. But besides this there are some practical things to consider when judging a device.

The Full Smackdown is after the break!

Landscape (320x240)

Landscape-only devices (most of the WM smartphone lineup) look fantastic for viewing video & TV especially with Slingbox or Zbop’s famous YouTube plugin. This is because they closely resemble TV and movie aspect ratios and therefore use the screen space more efficiently.

But I would argue they are not as preferable for other things including heavy reading of email or the web. As I mentioned in the forums, holding a device 2 feet from your face when reading is not the same as watching a movie or your TV since your view range is much narrower. Furthermore, the media you are viewing e.g. text versus images are use two different systems for processing, which is why books tend resemble 240x320 orientation—they are longer than wide. This is because for reading there is less (macro) eye movement to drop down a line than it is to read a long line left-to-right (think of a type writer action). Apple, I think, even tacitly acknowledges this by not letting you type in landscape (last I checked) but instead reserves that for mostly video and Cover Flow. For this reason, I would suggest if you plan on doing a lot of reading, a square screen or 320x240 resolution devices would be much better. If you want video and TV on a thin WM device, than these devices are perfect (seriously, Slingbox looks amazing on a Moto Q).


There is also the argument of screen size. While a 320x240 device like the Moto Q has a higher resolution and looks better for video, it actually has a smaller screen than the Treo 700 series: 2.4 inch versus 2.6 inch. This should be somewhat obvious when looking at the two side by side as you are “trimming” the bottom of the screen to make it landscape. This is where a 320x320 device (rumored Treo 800w and confirmed Samsung i780) will have an advantage: larger screen size and higher resolution. Video on these devices should be very close in physical size and resolution to current 320x240 devices (although non-touch screens tend to have more clear and vibrant colors because the lack of layering, though this can be attenuated with newer technology like in the iPhone).

Portrait / Landscape Switchers

Of course 240x320 devices get around this screen size limitation since they can switch orientations and conventionally have sliding keyboards. This is the traditional PPC class of devices like the Sprint 6800 and HTC Tilt. These devices can have 2.8 inch and larger screens since the keyboard is removed from the front of the device. In a way, these devices have the best of both worlds: for heavy text reading and normal phone operation, the default 240x320 is perfect; for video, switching to 320x240 (landscape) offers a large, nicely orientated viewing position.

However there is one negative side effect: you read an email in one orientation (240x320) and have to respond in another (320x240). This physical switching (and sliding keyboard) is disorientating for some and annoying for others. This switching for the same task is something the iPhone forcefully prevents, which looks to be a design decision not accident. This is why some prefer to just have one orientation as it keeps everything the equivalent (imagine rotating your TV for different programming!).

What's your Primary Use?

Of course this whole discussion begs the question of what you choose your WM device for (besides a phone!): Video or Text. What's your most important First Device use? If you do 50/50 and don’t mind the switching of orientations, 320x240 devices are clearly the best as they maximize orientations for specific tasks. If you don’t mind the smaller screen but like watching video then traditional WM smartphones work very well (and they are not bad for light text reading). This leaves square screens as the perfect middle ground: mid-range screen size, great for reading email, websites and viewing consistency, something that will only improve once 320x320 devices begin to roll out in early 2008.


Any my preference after using all three types (Moto Q, Treo 700wx, HTC 6700)? I prefer the square screen of the Treo line. The resolution is not great but everyday things it works quite well. If I were a “power user”, no doubt the 6700/6800/Tilt is your best bet - and light users will benefit from smartphones.

WC Staff