Smartphone vendors hope excess will lead to success at IFA

Bigger screens, higher resolutions and larger batteries are on the way, whether we want them or not

With smartphone innovation caught in a lull, some smartphone manufacturers are hoping excess will lead to success.

Lacking the marketing budget and brand recognition of Samsung Electronics or Apple, vendors such as Lenovo, Sony and Acer pumped up screen size, pixel count and battery life to previously unheard-of levels at the IFA trade show in Berlin this week in an effort to stand out from the rest of the pack.

These technology areas are important to the smartphone experience, making them natural targets for the engineering and marketing departments -- but they also show that it's possible to have too much of a good thing.

The main selling point of Lenovo's Phab Plus is its 6.8-inch screen. It's a bold move when many of the company's competitors have stopped increasing screen sizes on their phones lest they tip over into tablet territory, although Lenovo isn't alone: Huawei Technologies' recently launched P8max also has a 6.8-inch screen.

However, other smartphones with screens almost that size have not sold well, and their manufacturers have returned to smaller screens for subsequent models. That was the case for Sony with its Xperia Z Ultra, launched in 2013 with a 6.4-inch screen. On subsequent Ultra models, such as this year’s Xperia C5 Ultra, though, the company chose smaller, 6-inch screens.

Google seems to think that even the 6-inch screen on the Nexus 6 proved too big. The company’s next Nexus smartphones are rumored to have 5.2-inch and 5.7-inch screens. They are expected to premier at an event later this month.

The problem is that the screen just makes these devices too big and heavy. For users that want a large screen to watch movies, a small tablet and a regular-sized smartphone could still be a better choice.

Although it turned its back on giant screens, Sony still sees excess as the way to go in another display parameter: pixel count. Smartphones with 4K screens have been expected for some time, but Sony has beaten everyone else to the punch. The Z5 Premium has a 5.5-inch screen with a resolution of 2160 x 3840 pixels. That will, at least in theory, help separate it from competing products with 1440 x 2560 pixel displays.

However, it’s hard to see what those extra pixels add when comparing the Z5 Premium's screen and that of Samsung's Galaxy S6 edge+. The lower weight of the Samsung smartphone (153 grams to the Sony's 180 grams) makes it more pleasant to use.

Sony is actually doing Samsung and other competitors a favor with its 4K display. They can now look at how the Z5 Premium is received and based on that decide if they want to put similar displays on their next flagships.

There's one area in which phone owners crave excess, and that's battery life, so Acer and Lenovo might be on to something with the batteries on the Liquid Z630 and Vibe P1m, which have a capacity of 4,000mAh. Despite that, the two smartphones still weigh a reasonable 165 grams and 148 grams, respectively.

But it may be possible to go too far, and Lenovo's certainly trying with the Vibe P1. Its relatively modest 5.5-inch screen conceals a 5,000mAh battery. It's heavy, though, at 189 grams.

Without proper tests, it’s difficult to say how long the Liquid Z630 and Vibe P1m could go between charges, but the battery size certainly seems like a good start.

The Z630 is powered by a quad-core processor from MediaTek and has a 5.5-inch HD screen. There is also 2GB RAM and 16GB of integrated storage. Pricing will start at €199 (US$220) when shipping starts this month in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The P1m also has a quad-core processor from MediaTek and an HD screen, but it's smaller at 5 inches. It will cost $159 and be available this month.

Over-the-top product introductions weren’t just confined to smartphones at IFA. The TV industry is also very competitive, and still searching for the next new thing after the debacle that was 3D TV.

It's no surprise, then, to see the latest TV from Panasonic dressed for excess. The 65-inch model is already too big for most households, and those that do have room for it -- barely -- will have to push it right up against the wall in order to appreciate its OLED screen from a suitable distance. Why, then, did Panasonic choose to cover a large part of the back of it with Alcantara, a high-end simulated leather intended for aircraft and yacht interiors?

It seems some people will do anything to stand out from the crowd.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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