Size Matters: Who Wants a Phablet?

When mobile phones first became ubiquitous, the best phones were the smaller ones. Every new model got smaller and smaller and would sell better than the bigger, clunkier models. Then, in 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone…a phone that was all touch screen and was meant to be looked at as much as be held to one’s ear. Suddenly, the tiny phones of the past seemed severely inferior, and the shrinking trend halted and began to reverse.

Product Identity
Fast forward a few years and the trend continues. The proliferation of Android devices flooded the market with devices of varying shapes and sizes. From the iPhone-esque 3.2″ HTC Hero, to the beefy 10.1″ Xoom tablets, Android ran the gamut of sizes. When Dell came out with the 5″ Dell Streak, people didn’t know whether it was a large phone or a small tablet. The common belief of why it ultimately failed was exactly that…product identity.

Samsung has done well with its 5.3″ Galaxy Note overseas, and is about to make a splash with it stateside. But shouldn’t it succumb to the same fate as the Dell Streak since it’s nearly the same weird size? I don’t think so, and here’s why:

  1. Android has greatly matured since the Streak, so it runs better and is more intuitive than ever before.
  2. People have had more time to get accustomed to larger screens, making the 5.3″ Galaxy Note not quite as intimidating as the Streak was when it first launched.
  3. People started to realize that using a touch screen device was much easier on a bigger screen where your own fingers had more room to maneuver. Frequent typing mistakes on smaller screens became a frustration that was alleviated a bit by a larger screen.

The Phablet
As Android phones began to get bigger with each iteration, manufacturers were also creating Android tablets in large and medium form factors. The Motorola Xoom has a 10.1″ screen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 is…you guessed it…8.9″, and the Kindle Fire is 7″.

Attacking sizes from both ends, we meet in the middle in the awkward spot where it’s too big to be a traditional phone and too small to be a true tablet. This is what some people are starting to call “phablets”. But the timing for such a device may be right.

You Gotta Try It
From personal experience, I have seen people’s minds change after using a device they thought would be too big for them. My wife, for example, loved her trusty Sprint HTC Hero with its modest 3.2″ screen. She hesitated to upgrade to the much larger 4.3″ Evo 3D, citing size as the major concern. But an interesting thing happened when she made the switch. She began using the larger phone in a different way. Suddenly, she was writing more emails and viewing more pictures and video than she ever did on the Hero. When I asked her if she’d ever go back to a smaller phone, she said she wouldn’t want to, but if she did, she would probably use it much less than she does now.

There’s nothing like actually trying a new device to determine if it fits our lifestyle. We may think we don’t want something, but until you give it a chance, we can’t say for sure. I used to always say that I needed a phone with a hardware keyboard, but after using a decent touch screen with a great soft keyboard, I converted and never looked back.

I’m still on the fence about phablets, but the Galaxy Note has gotten me to think about it. The unique stylus interaction and beautiful screen had one of my co-workers, a devout Apple fan, actually say to me “I’ve finally been impressed by an Android device”, and that’s saying quite a lot. Hopefully, Samsung’s Super Bowl ad for the Note will get more people to try one, even if it’s just in a store. I know I want to check it out.

It all boils down to personal preferences, which is right in line with the spirit of Android. Apple makes only a few different form factors, which makes it easy to choose an iPhone. But if you’re looking for a bigger screen your only iOS choice would be an iPad. Android manufacturers make hundreds of different devices, each with their own styles, shapes, sizes, and feel. Sure, it can cause customer confusion when trying to select one, but the point is that if you do your homework, you can find the device that’s just right for you.

So what’s it gonna be? A phone? A tablet? Or a phablet?

About the Author: Ed Caggiani

Originally from the East Coast, Ed now makes his home in San Jose, California. His passion for technology started with his first ColecoVision and Atari gaming systems, and has grown stronger through Tandy computers, IBM clones, Palm Pilots, and PocketPCs. Ed's love for Android began with his first HTC Hero, then blossomed with the original Evo 4G, and now the Evo 3D and Motorola Xoom. He graduated from Syracuse University with a B.S. in Communications, and is now a professional User Experience Designer working in Silicon Valley. In his spare time, Ed enjoys video games, jamming on guitar, and spending time with his wife, two cats, and Logitech Revue.

  • Spike

    Interesting article. I agree with you that the Note will do better than the Streak 5. Having had a play with a Note it is a fantastic “phablet” (great name but I don’t see it sticking!) and I think it’s down to how easy it is to “add-to” the experience. Yes stylus pens are old news,  they have been around for ages, but the stylus with android and a large screen suddenly makes a lot more sense!

    Anyone who is sceptical of them (like I was) have a play and see if you still think the same. 

    • Graham Lacey

      I got the phone a few months ago and it’s excellent, best phone I’ve used. Scary part now is thinking about going down to a smaller screen in the future!

  • Randy Levine

    why do we have to impose distinctions between devices where there really is none? the way i see it, a phone, tablet and “phablet” (this is the first time i’ve heard that and i don’t like it) are all the same. the only difference that needs to and should be qualified is the cellular radio. the size distinction is too minimal and unimportant to validate different names. a 10″ or 8″ or even 7″ device is a “tablet”, but one inch smaller and it’s a “phablet”? why not have a different name for a 10″ vs. an 8″?

    or better yet…why not just call them all one thing? “mobile devices” perhaps.

  • Anonymous

    Randy I disagree. The smaller “phones” are designed to be used as a phone. The larger devices do not have the speaker/microphone configuration to be used as such. Some tablets are also wifi only, which limits their data connectivity when compared to a phone. I do agree with you about the ridiculous-ness of the name “phablet”.

    • Randy Levine

      i’m not sure i understand what you mean by “smaller ‘phones’ are designed to be used as phones.” they still run all the same apps as their larger counterparts. and that’s what i’m saying. differentiate them based on abilities, not arbitrary size distinctions. a 3.5 inch “phone” has the same abilities as a 10 inch “tablet” (with the exception of the cell signal). yes, some things will be easier or harder to do, but that doesn’t justify a different name. it’s not always easy to watch TV on a smaller set, but we still call it a TV.

      we’re getting close to a point where OS’s and functionality between a 10″ tablet and a 4″ phone are almost identical. these devices are based on the same basic form, just in varying sizes. there’s no real need to differentiate them in these meaningless ways.

      what is a galaxy note? it’s obviously not a phone, but is it too small to be a tablet?
      what is a ipod touch? it’s clearly way more than an mp3 player, but again by current standards it’s too small to be a tablet.

  • UKAndroid

    The Galaxy Note is the most used device by me now. My Galaxy Nexus is already gathering dust as is my Asus Transformer and 7″ Galaxy Tab.

    I definitely don’t regret buying it, it may be larger than people have got used to and it took a few days for me to get used to it but there’s no going back to a smaller screen in future.

    The Galaxy Note is thin and easily fits in my pockets (trouser, shirt, jeans). I think it will be a big success in North America whatever people call it!

  • millgate


    Welcome to the ‘pocketables’ movement.

    Certainly, the Samsung Galaxy Note fits beautifully into that group, and it fits in the average pocket too. But remember … it’s only a 5.3″ screen.

    So, for a while I’ve been looking into larger devices. My researching and mock-ups have shown me that, pocket-wise, the 7″ products would fit my pockets too – just!   

    But, they’ve turned out to be just a little too large standing on the dashboard of my car – as a satnav device. Quite dangerously blocking the view actually.

    Now … I’m travelling along the 6″ route; and it’s quite surprising what’s ‘coming down the pike’ !

    The wily Chinese are well down the track … take a look !

  • 6n64

    hey, i want phablet, phone is not only phone, is like my personal computer, about 5 is perfect