Rebuttal: Why phablets have already caught on

Jordan O'Brien
October 22, 2013

Yesterday Jamie pleaded to the tech community that phablets never be allowed to catch on. Unfortunately for him, the rise of the phablet has already come — in fact the form factor is currently the darling of the mobile industry, and denying them would be pointless.

At some point in most people’s lives, phablets seem silly — surely they’re too big to fit in your pocket comfortably, and surely as Jamie said they’re just “indulgent”. But are they? A phablet of yesteryear was certainly a ridiculous thing — devices such as the Dell Streak were not very good at all, it was bulky and had a terrible display. Thankfully that’s not the case anymore.

If you look at the trend in the television market we started off with very small boxy TVs that would take up a lot of space and have a very small screen. These days, I can almost guarantee that most of us have large flat screen TVs with minimal bezel and a very thin frame. That’s exactly what’s happening in the phone market, we’re getting larger, higher resolution screens without compromising too much on size as the bezel is getting smaller and smaller.

Jamie is currently rocking a Nokia 1616, which measures in at 4.22 x 1.77 x 0.59 inches, in stark contrast the recently announced Galaxy Note 3 is 5.95 x 3.12 x 0.33 inches. Okay, admittedly it’s slightly larger than Jamie’s phone, it’s around 1.5 inches bigger in height and width, but it’s also thinner — meaning it’ll not actually be that much different in your hand, despite the larger frame. Another thing with the Nokia 1616 that Jamie currently owns is that it only features a 1.8-inch screen, meaning it’s wasting a lot of the rather large space that it has — mainly because it has these things called buttons, which seem to have made their way into the present from the 1990s. The Galaxy Note 3 on the other hand has a far better ratio of actual size and screen size, rocking a 5.7-inch screen which is nearly touching the edge of the device leaving a minimal bezel.

If you’re going to use a device for browsing the web, watching videos and texting — all common tasks on modern day smartphones, then you want to have maximum screen real estate. Whilst a 3-inch phone may sound like it’s a perfect compromise, being not too big or too small, after using a phablet for several months I can assure you, you will fall in love.

To me, even the iPhone 5s feels too small, it may have minimal bezel but for watching videos it’s not an ideal experience. When I bring this up with some die-hard Apple fans, the usual response is “get an iPad,” which is all well and good, but why would I want to carry two devices round when I could just have one that will slip easily into my pocket?

The Xperia Z Ultra is a huge device, there’s no denying that. Obviously there is a stage where it gets far too big — namely the Asus FonePad, but if it’s thin and has a minimal bezel, then surely there shouldn’t be a problem?

Phablets will of course become easier when we have foldable phones that we can roll up in our pockets and forget about them, but unless you’re wearing a mini skirt with tiny pockets, then you shouldn’t have any problem slipping a device even as large as the Xperia Z Ultra into your pocket.

I disagree with Jamie saying that the industry is getting carried away, after all the demand is there so why not satisfy the customers and sell some phones? Customers don’t just want faster processors or higher-resolution screens, sometimes they just want a device they can slip in their pocket and watch videos on — especially if you’re a commuter like me. Jamie himself uses a Nintendo DS whilst he’s commuting, a device which is much larger than the average phablet — but also does a lot less.

The argument that holding phablets up to your face is a fair one to make, sure you’ll look a little stupid — but really who cares? What’s wrong with having a large phone up to your face? It’s similar to the argument that it looks stupid taking a photo with a tablet — just because it looks stupid to you, doesn’t mean it is stupid.

Jamie made the argument that phablets don’t open a whole new world of apps for work and play, and whilst you may not have a completely different app for the phablet as you would on a tablet, it opens up new opportunities thanks to the larger screen size. Looking at the Lumia 1520 and 1320 launches this morning, Microsoft has taken advantage of the extra space by adding an extra row or two of Live tiles — which means you can see more at a glance. Samsung and other Android manufacturers have also taken advantage of the extra screen real estate by allowing you to run more than one app side-by-side.

The fact is, the phablet isn’t a portable TV as Jamie described it. It’s a computer in your pocket. We’ve always craved larger, higher resolution screens, not just on phones but on just about everything we own. We buy computers with ginormous monitors so we can see more on the screen at one time, we buy large TVs so we can immerse ourselves in the content that’s on it much easier, and now we’re buying phablets to consume just about every content in existence from something that fits in your pocket and not having to compromise at all.

About the Author

Jordan O'Brien

Technology Journalist with an unhealthy obsession with trains and American TV. Attempts satire far too often. (+44) 020 7324 3502

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