How well does Android work on a small, low resolution screen?

Screenshot_2013-08-09-18-59-06I still remember the days when QVGA resolution, which is 320 x 240 pixels, was considered “high res” for being a mobile device. I remember several 2-3-inch QVGA devices I owned personally, both MP3 players and phones, but the key phrase here is remember. These days, neither QVGA resolution nor screen sizes below 3 inches can be considered common, especially not on a smartphone, yet the cheap Samsung Galaxy Pocket plus I got a few days ago still sports such a screen. Using it over the last few days has been interesting to say the least, and it has given me a good understanding on what exactly happens to Android when you cram it into a screen that low res.

For the most part, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well Android functions on the Pocket plus’ 2.8-inch QVGA screen. Most apps actually adapt fairly well, and because Android scales based on PPI rather than resolution in itself, the physical screen size determines how much can fit on the screen, while the resolution decides how good it looks. With the Pocket plus having both a small screen and a low resolution, that sometimes causes issues, like the keyboard actually taking up so much space that the text box you’re trying to input text into disappears. In order to get past that issue, I customized Perfect Keyboard to have a much smaller keyboard than what’s default, and disabled text prediction to save that row of text.

Text is very far from clear on a device like this, simply because you’re getting down to 6 pixel tall letters in some cases. You can see what it says, but it’s not something you’d really want to be doing a lot of reading on, to say the least. It’s hard to compensate for it too, without sacrificing functionality by displaying less on the screen. Still, even something like a terminal emulator is actually possible to use, and that’s not bad.


In fact, a lot of things are actually more usable than I had originally thought. Viewing photos, video, and even some very light (zoom and pan heavy) web browsing is perfectly possible, and I’ve yet to run into any app that just outright didn’t work on this resolution. Some of the apps actually look more at home at this PPI than on higher ones, specifically apps that are notoriously oversized on higher end devices. Google Play and YouTube are two examples of apps that I think work well on the Pocket plus, and those are both apps I’ve had to modify the virtual PPI of on my SII to make them more usable. I’m running YouTube in tablet mode on my SII, because the phone version never felt right on 4.3 inches, but it does on the Pocket plus.

Using a keyboard has also been easier than I thought. I never hit the wrong key, which still surprises me, and I don’t really find it very difficult to use such a small keyboard. Like I said above though, I did customize the keyboard quite a bit, and the one that came with the device wasn’t very good. That being said, I mostly do things like input URLs and search words, and I imagine things would be different if I did a lot of texting or emailing with it.

All in all, Android works surprisingly well on a small, low res screen. I still wouldn’t recommend a device with specs as low as these as a daily driver phone, however, but at the very least they do work fine.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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