My case against Acer’s new Android smartphone

Acer just announced a new smartphone, with a large 4.8″ screen, and a 2 MP front webcam. I have a beef with the phone’s resolution and aspect ratio though: it’s 21:9, 1024×480. What pisses me off even more is that Acer actually claims that this is a resolution optimized for movies. Well, guess what, it’s not a practical solution for video. Ideally, this phone should have had a 1280×720 resolution instead. As a videographer, movie buff, and an ex-programmer, let me explain.

Users will have to rip or pirate content to properly utilize the resolution of that Acer phone. Even if Acer comes pre-installed with Netflix or Blockbuster, these services don’t encode their material in 1024 pixels wide. Meaning that, to get an exact 21:9 aspect ratio, at a 1:1 sized movie, you will have to rip it yourself, or pirate it. There’s no way around it.

So, when you rip a BD, you will get 1920 px horizontally. The vertical size doesn’t matter, because it’s never the same for movies. Movie editors just cut as much of the vertical resolution as they see fit. Some movies are really cut with a “thin” aspect ratio, and some are at full 1080px vertically. You never know what you’re gonna get, since there’s no hard standard, and so the only number that matters in this argument is the horizontal resolution.

So, for Acer’s 1024px horizontal resolution, its ratio to the “master” 1920 is 0.533333. For 1280px, it’s 0.666666. 720p’s 0.66 ratio is WAY better for faster computation (because it’s a cleaner number to 0.53), and because it’s exactly 2/3s to 100. Faster computation, and “cleaner” number means fewer resources, and cleaner PICTURE. When you resize down your movie to fit the 720p resolution from 1080p, the pixels will align better than on a random ratio that 0.53 is.

But there’s more. Movies aren’t all what people watch on their phone. They also watch 720p HD clips that themselves recorded, or TV shows, which are shot/edited at exactly 16:9, and not 21:9. This means, that all that content is going to get played back with vertical blackbars (which you would agree, they’re a bigger offence than horizontal blackbars). And if they don’t get blackbars, it means that they get resized on-the-fly to fit the screen, essentially making everyone on these videos look fat and unnatural. Surely not how you want to watch your videos.

Not to mention the HD webcam of the phone, which would have also to get blackbar’ed (or worse, stretched) to fit this odd screen resolution!

The right decision for Acer would have been to use a proper 1280×720 screen. It’s possible that our current electronics are not fast-enough yet to drive such a pixel resolution (1280×720=921600px instead of 1024×480=491520px — 720p requires ALMOST DOUBLE the graphics processing power). But honestly, I don’t care. If they didn’t have the processing power to do the right thing, they should have stayed with either 848×480, or 960×540, the other two 16:9 resolutions that also make some sense. But 1024×480, should burn and die.

12 Comments »

jinsei wrote on November 23rd, 2010 at 6:10 PM PST:

It’s a phone–it’s primary purpose is not to watch video. Chat, make calls, browse the web, yes. Video? No. That’s what tablets, traditional PCs, and media centers are for. Film’s aspect ratio is what it is because it tries to fill your view. But text doesn’t look good at that aspect ratio–it causes too much eyestrain. Text works better with narrower and taller displays. Think about the dimensions of a piece of paper (in portrait, not landscape!).

This phone is meant to be 9:21 (not 21:9), and in the world of text that is a huge improvement over the current generation of 9:16. It’ll *feel* like 30% more viewing area for text.

That’s a change I approve of.


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Eugenia wrote on November 23rd, 2010 at 6:51 PM PST:

Speak for yourself only. Some of us do watch/record with phones. Besides, it’s not even what you or me are claiming. Acer themselves are PITCHING this phone as a “movie phone”, which is exactly what made me write this post and disagree.


Liam Proven wrote on November 24th, 2010 at 5:45 AM PST:

I’m with “Jinsei”. What you’re proposing is absurd and would severely compromise the design for one function while making it less use for most others.

Depth is important as well as height; the current trend for widescreen LCDs is counterproductive. For ordinary office work, for browsing, for reading, for texting or typing in landscape mode on an on-screen keyboard, a letterbox-shaped screen is considerably less helpful.

For your specialised desire, you want a phone that would be worse at just about every other function it does.

Get a grip and keep a sense of proportion. Also, consider the Golden Ratio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio


Jim wrote on November 24th, 2010 at 8:03 AM PST:

First of all no matter if we approve or disapprove of this phone the real test will be if people buy it.
I for one value Eugenias comments as they are. I like a direct, don’t beat around the bush. This also makes her easy to disagree with because it is all on the table.
I will have to side with her on this one. I am looking for a smart phone, but this is not it


Michael C. wrote on November 24th, 2010 at 10:22 AM PST:

“all that content is going to get played back with vertical blackbars (which you would agree, they’re a bigger offence than horizontal blackbars).” — I don’t mind black bars. I never stretch video to fill the screen. I find the side “fillers” made for classic Disney movies stupid. I don’t care about the screen AR, it is just the screen. All I care is for my videos not to be stretched automatically, which is the worst offense ever.


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Eugenia wrote on November 24th, 2010 at 11:32 AM PST:

>For your specialized desire, you want a phone that would be worse at just about every other function it does.

Liam Proven, nothing on a 16:9 design makes it worse than on a 21:9 design. The argument that text is better on a 21:9 screen is ABSURD. In fact, when was the last time you’ve actually read a 21:9 book? Or even web sites, when you zoom in, you need some good size screen horizontally in order to read more than 3 words in one line. Overall, 16:9 is simply a better ratio when all things are considered.

And you don’t get to quote the Greek Golden Ratio to a Greek.


Glenn Thomas wrote on November 26th, 2010 at 1:52 AM PST:

21:9 is roughly the same as 2.35:1. Think Star Wars and hundreds or thousands of other well known films, mostly shot with anamorphic lenses. I’m sure Acer would have a fill screen option on the phone for 16:9 letterboxed 2.25:1 films.


Glenn Thomas wrote on November 26th, 2010 at 1:58 AM PST:

Oops, 2.35:1 I meant :-)

Acer seem to be one of the ony companies catering to film fans. They also have a 2k LCD monitor. The resolution on that thing is 2048×1152. Although that’s probably closer to 16:9 now I think about it.


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Eugenia wrote on November 26th, 2010 at 2:50 AM PST:

Glenn, read my arguments against it. There are not just films in this world, aspect ratios are not the same in all movies, and filing screens is EVIL. This resolution only caters to few movies only. Movies you have to rip yourself anyway since no video service encodes at 1024 px wide.

You don’t seem to understand the problems of this screen. Don’t let yourself get blinded by just the aspect ratio number. There are a lot of things to consider here.


Glenn Thomas wrote on November 26th, 2010 at 3:55 AM PST:

I don’t think the width would be specifically for movies. That width would just be to ensure the text looks as good as on any other modern phone. I watch Vimeo and Youtube movies on my Xperia X10 all the time and they playback very nicely with no lack of detail. Even though the movies are probably only 480 or 640 wide, the videos still look clean and crisp the 848 wide screen. The iPad has a 1024 wide screen and that’s more than twice the width of this Acer phone. So if a 1280 wide 720p movie looks good on that, a 640 wide movie on the Acer should look just as good with a screen less than half the size.

I think the phone is being targetted at movie geeks who will appreciate being able to watch 2.35:1 aspect ratio fims, The Matrix being another classic example, without any letterboxing. I can see the appeal. A friend of mine used to have all Star Wars and Lord of the Rings films encoded as 3gp files on his Motorola A920 Symbian OS phone about 6 years ago. I had the same phone, but never had the patience to watch movies that long on it.


Glenn Thomas wrote on November 26th, 2010 at 4:00 AM PST:

Forgot to mention, the movies could be iPod VGA resolution files ike they sell on iTunes. Providing there’s an option to crop the playback size to fill the screen, that should be all it needs.


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Eugenia wrote on November 26th, 2010 at 12:23 PM PST:

No, it is not enough. You do lose quality with cropping/stretching/non-native resolutions. And that’s a ratio that’s only usable for a FEW movies (not even all). Being so close to 720p (which is a better all-arounder resolution for more things) and not getting it, it’s like using a fork to eat a soup. Close, but no cigar.


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