So Thin You Have To Thicken It

I end up reading a lot of reviews for new smartphones because I am a geek and that is the sort of thing that interests me despite the fact that I am not really in the market for a new one.

The constant emphasis in the smartphone world is on the thickness or slenderness of the device. Almost uniformly, slender is considered better. Which is great, up to a point. I have to confess that when I hold some of my earlier smartphones, I am taken aback by how thick they are. I wonder how it didn’t bother me.

Here is the problem: The increased thinness has come at the expense of sturdiness. Which is a tradeoff without normative value. Except when it reaches the point where the phones are so fragile that you have to put them in a case. At that point, it really sort of defeats the purpose of it being thin to begin with, doesn’t it?

I remember a review of phones that on the one hand talk about how nice and slim the phones are. They also talk about how nice or not-nice the exterior of the device is. And yet then also talks about how “of course you will want a case”… presumably to protect the phone which is to slim to reliably survive being dropped. And certainly covering the exterior they were complementing.

I cannot tell you how many times I dropped my Samsung Stratosphere and the HTC Touch Pro 2 I had before it and the HTC Fuze I had before that and the HTC TyTn I had before that. None of them broke after repeated drops. They got chipped around the edges, and the battery and/or stylus would eject, and sometimes the latter would get lost, but that would be about the extent of it.

I dropped my Samsung Galaxy S3 once and only once without its protective coating, and it has a crack all along its front. For a while I had it in a protective case, which made it sturdier but defeated the purpose of the phone being so thin. I am willing to bet that if the S3 had a keyboard, the screen wouldn’t have cracked just as the screen from the Strat never cracked. Or even without a keyboard, a little more thickness in the device might obviate the need for an even thicker case.

I suppose this will cease to be an issue once we have the sapphire or Gorilla-Glass screens, or something similar, which will make the devices more droppable. It’s still an odd disconnect, though, in my view.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. I’m still irritated that getting a decent smartphone with a slide-out keyboard is difficult. I hate the stupid touchscreen keyboard stuff, even the swiping mechanism.

  2. Not just difficult, but approaching impossible. The Stratosphere, one of the last good keyboard phones, is apparently going keyboardless in its next iteration. Which defeats the purpose of that model’s very existence.

    Glyph pointed out that for popular models, you can get a keyboard case that connects with Bluetooth. Not the same, but maybe for my wife. I have had so much difficulty adjusting to the virtual keyboard (and I’ve tried several) that I shudder to think how well it will go over with her. It’d also be easier to convince my father to get a smartphone if it came with a keyboard.

    • I always look side-eyed at people who buy iPads and then put them in a bulky case with a keyboard attachment. Just get a small laptop at that point.

      • Ah, but you can still use it without the keyboard. About 80% of my wife’s iPad use is sans keyboard. She drags out the keyboard on the few occasions she wishes to type something lengthy.

        • Glyph and Morat,

          If you only whip it out on a handful of occasions, I don’t object. But I know people who use it ALL the time. Which is silly. An iPad is not a laptop. And if you try to use it as such, you’ll quickly realize its limitations. If you are doing that much typing that you need your keyboard at all times, you made the wrong purchase.

          • If you only whip it out on a handful of occasions, I don’t object

            That’s what SH…

            Ah, never mind.

            Hmmm. I am not disagreeing that you should buy the right tool for the job, but if you need a case for an iPad anyway (I think you do), why not get one that has additional functionality like a built-in keyboard? That’s just gravy. Even a simple blog comment that is any more than a few words is (IMO) a hassle on a virtual keyboard.

            If you need the thing for “work”, then yeah, get a laptop, iPads are (mostly) for play. But if your “play” also includes a lot of blog commenting (cough, cough)/social networking/e-mailing (not just reading and clicking), then you might want a real keyboard for that stuff.

          • They keyboard cases tend to be much more expensive. The cheapest one of any worth I saw was $80.

            And the people I see with them are colleagues. For whatever reason, my boss thought the ideal way to respond to the fact that we are still a desktop-based school is to buy everyone iPads. Now everyone, teachers and students alike, just play on them.

        • So it’s a more compact laptop you can’t put Office on. The latter outweighs the former for me.

        • Nice.

          I wish the iPad image processing worked on the image, not just the iPad display of the image. I cannot see well enough to use a camera any longer (I did most of my own photography when I was publishing my writing, so have a nice, thick portfolio of work.)

          An iPad, for someone with the sorts of vision issues I have would be the ideal camera. But the quality lacks for publication, and while some phones have good-enough image quality, the present similar problems to digital cameras for me.

          An iPad with a case with built-in keyboard and publication-quality images would be an ideal tool for me in my quest to produce high-quality shots for my design work.

          • zic, I can’t speak to the availability of image processing apps available on the iPad (though I would think at least some basic ones must be available, since people are always putting their iPhone photos through Instagram and the like?) but I have a friend who is a photographer; obviously he uses a real standalone camera for the actual work, but he finds his iPad an invaluable tool for displaying that work to potential customers, since it is portable enough to carry around most all the time, and has a big/vivid display to really show off the photos.

          • Glyph, the new version of the iPad has some image processing that results in incredible display images; sadly, that same processing doesn’t get passed along to the images themselves.

            It can be quite deceiving; you take what looks like an amazing image with the iPad, and then it’s horrid off the iPad; and I want the iPad display for actually taking images so that I don’t provoke a migraine in the process. It’s camera isn’t good enough quality, and there’s not enough control of the image while you make the exposure, particularly controlling depth of field, etc.

            A high-quality camera with an iPad-like display would be a blessing to me.

          • Here’s one to supposedly correct for depth of field issues (I think you take several shots, focused on different points, the the app “stacks” them):


            NOTE: I have not used these apps, you would want to do some research to see which are the most recommended ones. Next time I talk to my friend I will ask him which ones he uses, I am sure he knows all about this stuff.

          • I wrote a buttload of Python to handle some of the more obvious correction problems I encounter with the GIMP.

            GIMP is formidable — but so is the problem domain. Something as simple as running an image through GIMP’s white balancing improves almost everything.

          • Glyph and Blaise,

            Thank you. I do use GIMP. (I’m using as much Open Source as I can these days, in part because if I want a specific tool that doesn’t exist, I’ve got a kid who will make it for me.)

            But the starting image is the problem; no amount of processing can really add the level of detail necessary; and the more processing the image gets, the less publishers like them.

            Mostly, I’m just wishing for a iPhone-quality lens on an iPad. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it? You listening, Apple?

          • zic, Apple recommends that you buy an iPhone to take the picture PLUS an iPad to view it – and also a Mac and a Macbook Air and an Apple TV (these last three are just in case).

            I think you will find that this will solve all your problems and make you happier, and also lower your cholesterol.

          • Zic: sadly, you will never get the quality you seek until you start shooting with a larger lens. I cannot say enough good things about Sony’s new point and shoot cameras.

  3. I used to have a company provided blackberry. It was nice. Light and thin. Then we migrated to android and I got this “brick” smart phone with a keyboard. Love the keyboard but the damn thing weighs so much, I rarely use the belt clip as it’s a weight that thends to tug my waitband down.

    As you said above, I’m leery of giving up my keyboard for something lighter and thinner and less robust. I’ve dropped my phone a dozen times (with the case on) and had no problems.

    Call me when they’ve invented “transparent alumnium” or some such.

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