It’s been years since we last spoke about screen sizes and a lot has happened since Windows Mobile domination the rugged and smartphone industry so I thought I’d update a classic and well read blog article so it makes more sense in 2017.  We’ll talk about everything that you need to know about screens, their size, resolution and more so you understand everything you need to when selecting your mobile device for your business.

Resolution Revolution!

Back in the day, we were stuck in a VGA world! where everything was a factor of the original 240×320 “quarter” VGA (QVGA) size.  That’s how Windows Mobile liked it as it was really pretty crappy at dealing with anything outside of this scope. So, for a long time, we saw screens moving from QVGA up to VGA (480×640) which was a multiple of the same screen, see below. There were a few exceptions to this.  I remember seeing a 240×240 screen, a few side on ones and the first attempt at a slightly longer screen but they were a pain in the $%&* to work with!

Windows Mobile VGA based screens

However then came the march of the modern day smartphone which demanded longer, more usable screens so screens started to look a little taller in their design. Indeed devices such as the iPhone quite literally stretched out the classic VGA screen by double thus making steps towards the more classic smartphone screen size we see today. (cheers to @justinseeley for an awesome graphic on this).

iPhone screen sizes over the years

However, both these main mobile players still had one thing in common. They were still largely a quite proprietary ecosystem that could effectively lock the screen sizes into the specs.  Even if you were HTC making Windows Mobile devices, you would still need to confirm to the screen specs that Microsoft set out.

Enter Android!

Android changed the game because what this brought was a development environment that had a huge screen size and resolution flexibility.  Android, of course, open sourced itself to anyone that wanted to take, tweak and deploy its Os onto their hardware so it copes with different screens a lot better and let our little mobile devices choose their own path…and choose they did!

Android has a lot of screen resolutions!


As you can see from the above chart Android is large and varied! and these still don’t include some of the latest high-resolution screens from the past 24 months as the chart is a little out of date.

Since Android, we’ve seen all manufacturers adopt more pixels but also we’ve seen smartphones stretch to the point of TV-sized HD based resolutions.  So we have now broken free from the 640 pixel widths and now it’s either 720/1080 or 1440 widths with HD style stretched lengths to match.

Tablets, on the other hand, seemed to also converge into the same widescreen form factor but then diverged away to a slightly squarer screen which is far more suited to working and browsing on.  1600×1200 seems to be more the order of the day with tablet screens, despite earlier Android ones adopting the same HD resolutions but side on. They were simply too narrow to be useful for anything other than movie watching.

So screen resolution has come a long way since the birth of the mobile device and it’s not stopping here as we see more devices experiment and take on new shapes and sizes all the time.  VR is, of course, a huge driver of screen resolution now and we seeing different ratios and resolutions becoming the norm as we start to use our mobile devices for basic VR tasks.

Next time I’m going to talk about another really important factor when it comes to screens…size so be sure to check in next time for that!


About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of Raptor, his rants are memorable, his thoughts are stimulating and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things like mobile, Android, ruggedness, 3D printing and IOT simple.

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