Smart, dumb, candybar, flip, and brick: a visual history of mobile phones

Notable mobile phone sizes
Notable mobile phone sizes
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For most of their history, mobile phones have been shrinking. Small meant portable; it even, in the not too distant past, was a sort of status symbol. Remember Motorola’s runaway hit, the ultra-thin Razr?

But something funny happened on the smartphone’s way to success. Even as the phones themselves became thinner and lighter, their screens started to grow. This trend was driven by consumer demand, but what made it possible were simultaneous improvements in a handful of unrelated technologies. Chemists developed longer lasting batteries that could feed power-hungry displays. Processors became faster. Researchers also developed thinner, scratch-resistant protective glass, the latest being Gorilla Glass.

Years ago, your colleagues might have laughed at you if you couldn’t fit your phone in your pocket. And although some people still seem to care about that, larger screens have become the new status symbol—the bigger, the better. The above chart shows how smart phones and their screens have developed over time.

If screen sizes continue to grow, you might want to invest in bigger pockets, a bulkier handbag, a man purse, or even a whole new way to carry your phone. Given the gigantic size of the latest “phablet” from Huawei, which is almost as big as a Kindle Fire or other 7″ tablet, we’re guessing that 2014 could be the year of the executive fanny pack.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Razr was Nokia’s runaway hit. The phone was manufactured by Motorola.