Counterclockwise: phone screens go wider than 16:9

In 2016 there was exactly one phone whose screen had an aspect ratio wider than 16:9 – the Xiaomi Mi Mix. In 2017 that number shot up to 40 phones!

That’s about 10% of the just over 400 phones we added to our database last year. And they were popular too, the Top 100 phones (sorted by user interest) included 16 widescreen handsets.

Most of those have 18:9 screens, though a couple of companies went even wider. Samsung launched four models at 18.5:9 and announced two more (the Galaxy A8 (2018) duo), though they are yet to launch so we didn’t count them.

Anyway, it’s not Samsung but Apple that currently has the widest screen – iPhone X’s 19.5:9. Well, sort of, it depends on how you count the notch. We’re inching closer to the 21:9 benchmark set by the LG BL40 New Chocolate eight years ago.

This whole thing wasn’t necessarily a smooth transition. Android apps are quite flexible but iOS had to relive the letterboxing era – the iPhone X represents Apple’s second ever change in aspect ratio. That notch sure complicated things too.

Then there’s video, most of which is 16:9. YouTube for example allowed users to crop the video with a gesture so that it fills the whole screen. Losing a bit from the top and the bottom isn’t perfect, but it’s a workable solution. Plus, some TV shows already use wider than 16:9 ratios (we’ve noticed it mostly in Netflix shows).

Manufacturers will have to do something about photos, however. They mostly come from 4:3 camera sensors and there’s just no reasonable way to crop that. Especially not when most cameras out there have a resolution of 12MP or so. Perhaps its time to revisit the idea of 16:9 sensors, which was briefly popular a few years ago.

The widening of screens also coincided with the shrinking of bezels – phones would have become too tall otherwise. That had the side effect of forcing the fingerprint on the back of the phone or off the phone entirely. Whether more makers switch to 3D facial scans in lieu of fingerprinting remains to be seen.

It’s also not clear how these wider screens will play with stereo speakers. Google’s Pixel 2 XL offers proper front-facing speakers, but is taller than the LG V30 that it is based on.

That’s not the end of it either. Since Samsung had to remove its beloved hardware Home key (it held out longer than most companies), it had to make the bottom part of the screen pressure sensitive so that you can wake the phone as you are used to.

At first, going wider than 16:9 seemed like it would offer a bit more room when scrolling through a web page or a list of emails. But as you can see this move had a wide-reaching impact even on unrelated components. How many widescreen phones do you think we’ll see this year?

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