Phablet: No longer the inbetweener

2013-12-22 14:00

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When these so-called phablets were launched, they were laughed at. But 40m devices later, they are the go-to gadget for business users, writes Toby Shapshak

“But how do you answer a call on a phone that big?” people first asked when the so-called phablet phone arrived.

The phablet was, in essence, invented and defined by Samsung’s Galaxy Note, with a 15cm screen. The phablet is halfway between a tablet and phone, hence the name.

When Samsung launched the Note 3 in September, with a companion Galaxy Gear smart watch, sales of 38?million were recorded.

Since then, Samsung has sold a further 10?million Note 3s, cementing its place in this inbetweener category.

So, with nearly 50?million Samsung users – and a few more millions from manufacturers such as Sony, Lenovo, LG, Asus, Acer and Dell, as well as recently from Nokia – the market for phablets is an unexpected boom.

Who would use a smartphone with a 12.7cm to 15cm screen? Well, anyone who spends a lot of time checking documents, for one, or most of the modern class of modern professionals. The bigger screen makes reading spreadsheets and PDFs infinitely easier, as well as surfing the web and replying to emails.

But it’s on the multimedia side that such expansive screens deliver arguably their best value – watching YouTube or movies, looking at pictures or anything visual – and the screen pays for all those awkward bulges in the front pocket of your jeans.

The Note 3 is a marvel of a device if you are phablet inclined. It has all the bells and whistles, a larger screen, great camera, and it is the perfect inbetweener, weighing just 168g.

Add to that its clever use of its stylus, which lets you hanker for the Palm-era days of using a stylus to write and draw on a screen.

It may seem gimmicky, but the video-pause function, which activates when it sees you’ve turned your head away from the screen, is pretty cool. And useful. And (mostly) automatic.

The recently released Galaxy Gear smart watch is the obvious companion device to the Note 3, giving you a smaller screen to view new messages, emails, etc, etc – the kind of quick-glance items you might easily do with a smaller phone, but are a schlep to haul out the phablet for every time.

The thinking is good and Samsung differentiated itself from Sony’s similar SmartWatch 2 and the black-and-white Kickstarter phenomenon Pebble smart

watch.

Sadly, the wearables category has a soft uptake in the market, with fewer-than-expected sales, but this is still a category in its infancy and there’s a strong suggestion it will grow when the functionality (and battery life) of the smart watches increases.

Devices like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra are slightly longer than the Note – at 16cm – and make the ideal reading device for the long, thin web pages that predominate – as well as a great colour-screen Kindle, all in the tiniest of frames (6.5mm thin) and weighing just 212g.

So the answer to the question in the introduction is, you answer it with a Bluetooth headset, or a simple in-ear speaker cable. That is if people still use their mobiles to make calls.

Which is the phablet for you?

BlackBerry’s Z30

BlackBerry’s Z30 isn’t really a phablet when compared to the rest of the devices on this list, but as far as smartphones from the Canadian company go, it’s bigger than average so we’re going to let it go this time.

The Z30 features a 12cm display (720 x 1?280), with only a touch screen keyboard to its name and a 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor. Backing it up is 2GB of system memory, 16GB of storage as standard and the option to expand that by a further 64GB with a microSD card.

Also on the specs list are the obligatory dual cameras, an 8MP rear and 2MP front option.

However, as phablets go, BlackBerry’s BB 10 operating system is more of a smartphone than a tablet and, as effective as BB 10 is for introducing multitasking to your BlackBerry-flavoured life, it just isn’t good enough to earn the name given to oversized smartphone/tablet hybrids.

Sony’s Xperia

Now this is more like it. Sony’s Xperia family is an up-and-coming series of devices and the Z Ultra is the big brother of the lot, measuring 16.3cm across the display (diagonally) and featuring one of Sony’s Triluminos HD touch screen panels.

Processors can vary but, at the very least, you’ll have access to a 2.2GHz Qualcomm quad-core unit, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage with up to 64GB of extra space if you have the card for it. Camera options are the same as BlackBerry’s Z30, although they’re Exmor flavoured this time around.

On the phablet side of things, the Xperia Z Ultra is almost as large as a small tablet, but the Android operating system (4.2 in this case) is still optimised for smartphones, so unless you’re clever with your app downloads, you might still find use for a dedicated device.

But at least it’s waterproof and that’s always a plus.

LG’s G2

Perhaps the best smartphone on the market today, LG’s G2 packs speed, function and style into a 13.2cm frame, but like BlackBerry’s Z30, it’s closer to smartphone than tablet. But what a device. The 13.2cm display is full HD with a massive pixel density of 424ppi. On the processor side, LG has included the best available CPU from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 800.

That 2.26GHz quad-core, like our other devices, comes with 2GB of system memory and either 16GB or 32GB of storage. You’re going to want the latter though, as there is no expansion slot for the G2. Cameras take the form of a 13MP rear and 2.1MP front unit, but the main concern is whether the G2 can act as a tablet replacement.

The answer is: It can if you want it to, although you’re going to be sacrificing some display size in order to get rid of your dual-device setup. The G2 is fast enough to take the place of a 25.4cm tablet if it wanted to, but you’d have better luck with LG’s Optimus G Pro in terms of screen size.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3

This one is noteworthy. By rights, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 should also be on this list, but it had a little space of its own here a few weeks ago.

What you should know is that Samsung’s Note series, and the Note 3 in particular, is the gold standard for phablet devices at the moment.

It is able to combine the features seen in smartphones and tablets seamlessly enough that it feels like its own category of tech. Not many other companies can claim that while using this form factor, and although it isn’t a starring device here, it’s still the phablet to get. – Brett Venter

– Shapshak is editor and publisher of Stuff magazine. Visit stuff.co.za.

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