Androids are great for widescreen movies

Ever wondered why Android phones are long and narrow, while iPhones are more square. Well it has to do with screen ratios, and perhaps what Google and Apple think users would be using their phone for.

The iPhone resolution is 960×640. This gives a ratio of 3:2, and is close to an A4 paper page. Where as the Google nexus prime has a ratio of 1280×720. This a ratio of 16:9, and this is shape that modern TVs use when they describe themselves as HDTV. So there is a lot of content available in this format, TV programs, TV series and some movies.

Of course not all Android phones have a 16:9 widescreen format, but the latest Android phones do seem to be sticking to this form factor.

The table below shows the various ratios used on some common phone resolutions.

Screen ratios for common phones
480×320 HTC Hero, iPhone 3 3:2
800×480 Galaxy S/S2 close to 16:10
960×540 Motorola Atrix 16:9
960×640 iPhone 4 3:2
1280×720 Galaxy Nexus 16:9


To illustrate the difference when a movie is played on widescreen phone, and a more square phone, the pictures below shows the same HD movie displayed on various screen formats.



A movie clip in widescreen 16:9 format such as Galaxy Nexus, Atrix and Nexus Prime.


On the Galaxy S, and S2 notice the black bars at the top and bottom. This is know as letterboxing in the video industry, and takes up about 6% of the screens display.



The same movie clip on HTC Hero, iphone 4 and 3. The black borders now takes up about 17.5% of the screens display.

Movies on DVD/Blueray come in a variety of formats, including 16:9. However, another common factor is 2.35:1, which is probably the widest available. Movie’s using this format displayed on a 16:9 Android phone like the Nexus will also display letterboxing.



On the Nexus et al, about 25% of the screen is wasted on the black borders for a 2.35:1 movie.



However on the Hero and iPhone, it becomes even more pronounced, almost 36%. So, more than a third of the screen is just black.


This can be reduced by some movie players that automatically clip the movie, i.e. it only displays the center of the picture and clips the sides. However this is not always desirable, especially on wide angle scenes like a battle, or scenic pan of landscape.

Only one android phone supported the wide widescreen, the philips phone. However it was never a big hit. While it was great for watching movies it was too narrow to use in portrait mode. In landscape mode it was too long and narrow to be used as a web browser. So the 16: 9 form factor is a good compromise for movies and for other applications.

In conclusion, Androids are ideal for watching movies, and now that phone screen sizes are getting bigger with as 4.6 inch screens, viewing movies on the go becomes a lot more pleasurable.