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.
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:
- Android has greatly matured since the Streak, so it runs better and is more intuitive than ever before.
- 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.
- 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.
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?