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YouTube Pinch to Zoom

Pinch to Zoom YouTube Videos for a Full Immersive Experience

For ages, the standard aspect ratio of a smartphone was 16:9. This has recently changed as devices are now shipping with an aspect ratio of 18:9, 18.5:9, and other sizes. This adds black bars to the sides of YouTube videos in full screen landscape mode. However, you can use the pinch to zoom gesture to bring this immersion back.

This transition from 16:9 smartphones to those that are longer has been an interesting one. Most TV shows are shot in 16:9 so that made these screens perfect for that, but a lot of movies are shot with a longer aspect ratio. Although, I think the real reason why smartphone OEMs began this trend is so they could boast a bigger edge to edge screen size.

Why Did OEMs Switch to a Longer Aspect Ratio?

The data has shown that smartphones with a bigger display (up to a certain point) sell more than their smaller counterparts. The thing is, the 16:9 aspect ratio was making the screen size reach its limit as the phones were so wide that they started to become unwieldy. So this change not only let manufacturers increase the size of their screens, but it also make them easier to hold in one hand.

There has been a couple of downsizes with this though. First of all, it makes it much, much more difficult to reach the top of the screen with your thumb when you’re holding the phone in one hand. But secondly, a lot of people watch videos (especially with YouTube) on their phones and the longer aspect ratio caused these videos to have black bars of the left and right.

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Some are okay with this but others feel it breaks this immersion of the video. This immersion breaking feel is becoming even more important with the trend of shrinking bezels too. So on this Halloween holiday, I wanted to show you a quick tip with YouTube that lets you add that immersion back with a simple pinch to zoom gesture.

How to Remove the Black Bars on the Sides of Full Screen YouTube Videos

  1. Open the YouTube application

  2. Start playing a video with a 16:9 aspect ratio

    This should work on most HD videos, however, I tried it on an older 4:3 video and the pinch to zoom effect didn’t work at all

  3. Tap the screen to bring up the options, then tap the full screen icon at the bottom right of the video

    YouTube Pinch to Zoom Full Screen

  4. Now you can do the pinch to zoom (outward) gesture to make the video stretch all the way to the left and right edges

    YouTube Pinch to Zoom Zoomed

  5. If you want, you can do the pinch to zoom (inward) gesture to go back to the original aspect ratio

    This can be helpful if you need to see the very top and bottom of the screen as they get cut off when you zoom in

    YouTube Pinch to Zoom Original


This feature was originally tested on newer devices like the Pixel 2 XL but has since expanded to support many more. As long as you are on an updated version of the YouTube application then it should be able to detect the screen resolution of your smartphone. This will allow it to determine its aspect ratio and this is how the application knows whether or not to let you use the pinch to zoom gesture.

Again, since most videos uploaded to YouTube right now are in a 16:9 aspect ratio (due to regular HD standard pixel resolution), this feature will only work on those types of videos. The gesture will also only work on devices that have a longer than normal aspect ratio (which I guess can be considered normal now) as there isn’t a reason to allow this on 16:9 videos for smartphones with a 16:9 aspect screen.

YouTube Pinch to Zoom Before
This is how a YouTube video looks before using the gesture.

I used the latest CGP Grey video on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 as an example in the video (and these screenshots). When watching the video in full screen mode, this screenshot shows you how the video looks. As mentioned, it creates black bars on the left and right side of the screen because the video doesn’t match the aspect ratio.

Some people are okay with this since they get to see every pixel of the video. That is the one downside to using the pinch to zoom gesture. . .it will cut off a slice of the top and bottom of the video. This won’t matter for most videos but it could be an issue for some. Like I showed you in the video though, you can go back and forth so you can always go back to this version if you need to see something at the top or bottom of the video.

YouTube Pinch to Zoom After
This is how that same video looks when using the pinch to zoom gesture.

As a comparison, this is how the same video (just a different part of it) looks when I use the pinch to zoom gesture in the YouTube Android application. As you can see, there aren’t any black bars on the left or right side and this helps to improve immersion when watching certain videos. I feel this is going to be an even more important feature as we continue to see our smartphone bezels shrink.

Again, slices of the top and bottom of the video are now cut off when zoomed in but that doesn’t always matter. Especially in a video like this where the editor hasn’t put important objects or texts in those areas. This will be different on a video per video basis though so thankfully all it takes is a simple YouTube pinch to zoom gesture to switch between them.

Just know that as more smartphones are released with a longer aspect ratio, this feature will become available to more people. If you have spent hundreds of dollars on a new smartphone with slim bezels then you may want to take advantage of this feature so you can get that full immersion feel. Some don’t care about it, but it can sometimes feel like you’re holding on nothing but the video in your hands when the bezels are slim enough.

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