Why I phear phablets

Samsung has copped a lot of criticism, and lawsuits, for the close resemblance that many of its phones and tablets bear to Apple designs.

And I’m not going to call them (or the Android operating system) blatant copies, because I’ve no interest in defending a lawsuit of my own. Besides, I generally enjoy the work of tribute bands.

But there is one innovation that Samsung can rightfully claim for its own: the phone so absurdly large that it makes you look almost as ridiculous holding it up to your ear as Maxwell Smart did with that shoe of his.

They’re nicknamed ‘phablets’ either because they’re halfway between phones and tablets, or because they’re phreakin’ enormous. And indeed, the new iPhone 6 Plus could just as easily be called the iPad Nano – it’s not that much smaller than the Mini.

I’ve always felt that the phablet form factor seems a bad compromise, as though a phone and a tablet had fought amongst themselves for our tech budgets, resulting in a blend of both that’s somehow worse than either.

Nowadays they look downright titchy, but I remember when the first touchscreen smartphone, the iPhone 3G, seemed enormous. I upgraded to one from a BlackBerry which was already the widest phone I’d ever owned because of its keyboard. The thing was so long that you pretty much had to give it a pocket of its own – a dilemma for a gentleman such as myself who dislikes using back pockets. Between my wallet, keys and phone, two of those items were going to have to get squashed. And so it’s been ever since.

Today a guy on the bus pulled out a Galaxy Note, and in spite of myself, I was impressed by the ample screen real estate. For reading, it’s clearly better than peering at a normal-sized smartphone – whether a last-generation Android phone, since they’ve just about all mutated into enormity in the last year – or any iPhone, since even the widescreen 5 series is as narrow as its forebears.

But then I wondered – what if Note Man got a call? Surely he would look ridiculous with a phone that’s approximately the size of a skateboard plastered against his ear? His head and hands would look tiny. The other passengers would laugh at him, surely?

Well, okay – he could use a Bluetooth headset, you might suggest, and sure, he definitely could if he wanted to look even more silly than he would with a massive slab of plastic glued to his ear. Or he could use headphones with a built-in microphone, which is also true except that then he’d look like he was raving maniacally to himself, or perhaps rapping along with a Kanye track – it’s not easy to tell the difference.

At the point where you aren’t regularly holding it to your ear, though, surely you’ve given up on your phone being a phone in some profound way? Surely the device’s design is making it unable to fulfil the purpose for which you originally bought it?

But then I started thinking about how I actually use my phone. And here’s the thing: it’s almost never for calls. Even if people want to reach me, they email, text or message via Facebook or Whatsapp. (Or, if the message is entirely pointless, Snapchat.) In fact, typing is probably a more important function than calling. Which starts to make a larger phone make sense.

And then I realised that what I do with my phone, above anything else, is read. Emails, tweets, news stories, blogs, even ebooks – it’s undoubtedly my primary reading device, even though the screen is so cramped. Surely for reading, a phablet would be considerably better.

I also love Instagram – the one social network that all of my family is into – and sometimes even watch videos on my phone. Because sometimes they’re entirely too urgently to wait and watch on a bigger screen, like the one where Tony Abbott has been digitally inserted into The Darjeeling Limited.

In short, I use my phone constantly, and for almost all of the ways I use it, a bigger phone would be better, and a phablet would be much better.

But would I really embrace a larger phone? And in particular, would I risk the ridiculousness that is a phablet?

As I was wondering about this, I glanced at my current phone. As of 2pm, its battery is almost flat already. I charged it overnight, and I’ve barely used it this morning – by my standards, at least.

Here’s the thing about bigger phones – they generally have bigger batteries. The new larger iPhone 6 promises 14 hours of talk time on 3G vs 10 for the iPhone 5 models – but the 6 Plus promises 24, and so does the Galaxy Note 4.

In other words, the latest phablets offer about 60% more juice than the current smartphones. If those numbers can be believed, a phablet might even make it to dinner time without needing to be recharged.

You know what – thinking about the perennially infuriating battery life issue, I don’t care how big these new phones are. Give me a smartphone that will genuinely last until midnight without needing to be recharged, and I’ll buy it. Even if it is genuinely as large as a shoe.

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