The exciting world of handheld aspect ratios

I was thinking about handheld screens recently – don’t ask – and a question occurred to me: when did everyone decide that, yes, widescreen definitely is the answer?

There’s only one way to answer that question: a scatter graph of screen width by year. WITH A TREND LINE.

Handheld Aspect Ratios

Look at that: what a trend line! Thanks to him, the gradual shift from nearly square screens (1:1) to widescreen (1.78:1 being the standard 16:9 widescreen TV aspect ratio) is clear to see. What a hero.

In fact, there was a square screen, on the not particularly legendary early ’90s Supervision – Quickshot or Watara, depending on your persuasion. The Game Boy and Game Gear were barely more rectangular, mind, at 1.11:1.

Around the same time, the Atari Lynx was being much more ambitious. The 1.57:1 aspect ratio nicely illustrates that: there’s nothing closer to widescreen on our graph until Sony with the PSP, 15 years later.

Around 2000, the next generation of handhelds started to move to slightly wider screens. Nintendo were strange ones around this time, the DS retreating back to 1.33:1 from the Game Boy Advance’s 1.5:1. They got back in line with the 3DS though, and a more respectable 1.67:1.

In fact, over the last few years it’s the iPhone 4 which looks most anachronistic, matching the Game Boy Advance’s aspect ratio of 1.5:1. Again, Apple got back in line though, with 1.78:1 – which looks close to an industry standard now – for the iPhone 5.

Analysis over. Source data follows, if that’s your thing.

Handheld Year Width Height Ratio
Game Boy 1989 160 144 1.11
Atari Lynx 1989 160 102 1.57
Game Gear 1991 160 144 1.11
Supervision 1992 160 160 1.00
Game Boy Color 1998 160 144 1.11
Neo Geo Pocket Color 1999 160 152 1.05
WonderSwan 1999 224 144 1.56
GP32 2001 320 240 1.33
Game Boy Advance 2001 240 160 1.50
Tapwave Zodiac 2003 480 320 1.50
Nintendo DS 2004 256 192 1.33
PSP 2004 480 272 1.76
Gizmondo 2005 320 240 1.33
iPhone 4 2010 960 640 1.50
HTC Desire HD 2010 800 480 1.67
Xperia Play 2011 854 480 1.78
Nintendo 3DS 2011 400 240 1.67
PS Vita 2011 960 544 1.76
iPhone 5 2012 1136 640 1.78
  • Selection of handhelds entirely arbitrary – other than the N-Gage, which I very intentionally ignored because it was stupid.

  • Data scraped from Wikipedia, company websites, and the bottom of my shoe – so it’s probably sort of about right. I bet some of the years are arguable, if not outright wrong. Pretty confident on the aspect ratios though, and that’s the main thing.


Jake has been here since the beginning, with hundreds of reviews and countless other guff to his name. These days, not so consistent.

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  • Please, check actual Game Gear footage. That screen is nowhere near 1:1 ratio. In fact, Game gear had a 4:3 aspect ratio, wich was what it needed to support the optional TV tuner. You are probably being confused by reported resolution (160×144), but the fact is actual Game Gear pixel ratio was not 1:1, so when you play Game Gear games on an emulator with pixel ratio 1:1 you are actually watching a vertically stretched image that looks nothing like it should.

  • One thing you’re missing as noted in the Game Gear report is the pixel aspect ratio which plays a big part in the overall aspect ratio.

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