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Phones

The downsides of a big smartphone screen

Commentary: Can't decide between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus? Before you go extra-big, make sure to consider all the ramifications.

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
The iPhone 6 next to its larger Plus sibling. Is the latter too big to be practical? Josh Miller/CNET

For anyone who's been patiently awaiting a new, larger iPhone, last week's announcement was good news indeed. In fact, maybe too good: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus present an awfully tough decision.

Namely: big or bigger? On the one hand, the jump from a 4-inch iPhone 5 to a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 may not seem like much of an upgrade. On the other, a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus seems almost too big. Which one should you choose?

Back in July, I asked people who'd already made their choice: Android users. Speculating that Apple would indeed unveil two new iPhones, I invited the Android crowd to weigh in on the size decision. If you're still on the fence, I definitely recommend reading all the responses, which range from "4.7 is the ideal size" to "you have to go 5.5," to "even 5.5 isn't big enough."

Interestingly, a number of female users mentioned that for those who have smaller hands, the bigger phones definitely make for awkward operation.

Thumbs up, down, and around

That's probably the top consideration. The bigger the screen, the harder it is to swipe, tap, and otherwise manipulate one-handed. This is especially true if you're accustomed to a 4- or even 3.5-inch iPhone, as your thumb may no longer be able to reach the top, bottom, or opposite edge.

But is that really a big deal? To find out, spend the next day or two paying attention to how often you really use your phone with just one hand. It may be quite frequently, or it might be less than you think. In any case, thanks to features like Siri and voice dictation, there's plenty you can accomplish regardless of screen (and thumb) size. What's more, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will include a one-handed mode: When you double-tap the Touch ID button, everything onscreen will scrunch down closer to the bottom, thus making items easier to reach with your thumb.

It sounds clever on paper, but we'll have to wait a few days to see if it really solves the problem.

Pocket protector

iphone-6-in-pocket.jpg
James Martin/CNET

One issue that can't be solved with software is physical size: specifically, the size of the phone versus the size of your pocket. A real concern for many users is whether a 5.5-inch phone can fit in a pocket -- or at least fit comfortably.

Answer: it depends on the pocket, of course. I'm a six-foot man, and in my tests with the 5.5-inch OnePlus One, I had no more problem slipping that into a pair of jeans or khakis than I did an iPhone 5S.

That said, the One wasn't in a case. And on those rare occasions when I tried to sit cross-legged on the floor, the big phone was definitely more noticeable -- and often uncomfortable.

Another issue: bigger phones can be tougher to stow comfortably when you're exercising, whether at the gym or out for a run. That's a lot more hardware to keep strapped to your arm or waist, or even just to palm if that's what you typically do.

One size fits none?

iphone-size-comparison-1847-001.jpg
Josh Miller/CNET

Some 4 million users have already preordered an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, and that was as of the first 24 hours. So, which model is winning the day? Our Friday Poll revealed that users were nearly split between the two, with 37 percent opting for the iPhone 6 and 32 percent for the 6 Plus.

Another 16 percent said they planned to wait until they could actually hold the two in their hands, which you should be able to do this Friday in Apple stores and various retail outlets, such as Best Buy.

Needless to say, for anyone unsure which size will prove a better fit -- both in their lifestyle and their pockets -- the smart move is to do exactly that: wait. In the meantime, you can always print out paper versions of the new iPhones and see which one feels more "right." Likewise, hit the comments and share your thoughts on which size seems like the smarter pick -- or if it really does depend on the user.