The early models were filled with glitches and consumers didn’t really seem ready for a phone with a screen that large. Even Dell admitted defeat pulling the plug on the devices (it had also unveiled a 7 inch version) in 2011.
But a seed had been planted. Just as Dell was putting the Streak out to pasture Samsung surprised everyone by issuing its own huge screen phone – the Galaxy Note. It was a tentative launch too with Samsung stressing the handset’s stylus capabilities (it comes with a pen that lets you do many interesting arty things, hence the name the Note) as much as the five inch screen size.
At first reviews were a little lukewarm, but as time went by it was clear that there was a demand for a phone with a five inch screen and Samsung has gone onto sell millions of Notes. The big differences between the Note and the Streak is that the Note’s screen is much brighter, more vibrant and higher definition and its processor is so much quicker and better suited to web surfing and gaming. The fact that the Note was much skinnier than the Streak was also a key factor too.
A year and a few months on it is obvious that the Galaxy Note has had a huge impact on mobile design. For starters it has helped nudge the standard size screen for a mobile up a inch or two. Samsung’s own best selling Galaxy S3 has a screen of 4.8inches, and even Apple is rumoured to be working on a phone with a screen that is pushing five inches.
The Note also gave birth to a new mobile phone sector – the Phablet. It is is a moniker that many tech journalists, quite justifiably IMO, hate but it clearly describes a product that is a cross between a phone and tablet.
Here then is all you need to know about Phablets, from which you might consider buying one through to profiles of the seven models that are currently available (or at least coming in the next month or two).
What is a Phablet?
As the name implies it is a hybrid between a phone and a tablet. It can be used to make and receive calls, but its selling point is a big screen that makes it perfect for gaming, surfing the web and more. Wikipedia states that the size of the screen of a Phablet is normally between 5 and 7 inches. There are a cluster of phones that have screens not too shy of five inches – the 4.8inch screen on the Samsung Galaxy S3 being one – but these aren’t considered Phablets.
Why would I want one?
Personally I think that once you have used Phablet you can never go back to phone with a smaller screen. In particular phones with anything less than a four inch screen suddenly seem kind of ridiculous. Honestly. The large screen significantly enhances a person’s web surfing, gaming and ebook reading experience. It is tricky to read an ebook on a 3.5inch screen, not so on five inch one. As the phones are high -end models they tend to be stacked out the with the latest operating systems and fastest processors too. The phones currently all run the Android operating system and have access to apps via the Google Play store.
Why wouldn’t I want one?
Cue the Dom Jolly jokes. They are obviously larger than most smartphones. However even the Galaxy Note 2 with its 5.5inch screen fits comfortably in to a pocket of a pair of jeans. Their size also makes them slightly trickier to use than smaller handsets in that they are difficult to use one handed – to get the best out of them you need to keep a tight grip on the phone while operating the touch screen with the other. To be honest I think most Phablet owners wouldn’t consider these drawbacks at all.
Could I buy one instead of a tablet?
Personally I love my iPad, but it stays mainly in my home. In contrast my Galaxy Note travels with me everywhere. I appreciate the bigger screen of my ten inch iPad when it is nearby, but then again I often just reach for my Note. In theory then it does kind of double as a tablet but one that you take with you everywhere.
How big are they going to get?
Well the discontinued Dell Streak was available with a seven inch screen. Currently the biggest Phablet you can buy in the UK is the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 which has a 5.5inch screen. The Huawei Ascend Mate may follow soon and that has a 6inch screen. There are lots of rumours of even larger screens. Samsung are also reported to working on two new models – a 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 3 and even a 7.7-inch screen or 7.9inch depending on which rumour you want to believe . They will be most likely be unveiled at Mobile World Congress at Barcelona in February.
Maybe at some point in the future it will be commoun to carry round a seven inch Phablet which is hooked up to a smart watch and a headset. The Phablet will act as a hub connecting with the other devices using Bluetooth. You will use the watch to get social media updates and text messages and the headset to make and receive calls. When you want to play games, watch TV or get online you’ll get the Phablet out.
What about Apple, Nokia, BlackBerry? Are they working on Phablets?
There are already rumours of an Apple iPhablet (although CEO Tim Cook has denied this) and I’d be very surprised if Nokia didn’t unveil a Phablet that runs Windows in next month. I guess we will have to wait and see.
Samsung Galaxy Note 1
It wasn't the first Phablet - that accolade was arguably scooped by Dell and its Streak - but the Galaxy Note, which was unveiled in late 2011 and went on sale in numbers in the UK in early 2012, was the first big screen to go mainstream. At its launch Samsung focused as much as the stylus (and the creative opportunities that it offers) as much as the big screen. But it soon became clear that gamers, hardcore web surfers and ebook readers were drawn to its very impressive 5.3inch screen. The phone's eight mega pixel camera is excellent too. It has gone on to sell millions and spawn a host of imitators that appear on the following pages. If you want to buy one in the UK now is a good time. You can pick one up on contract for as little as £20 per month. They can often be found in second hand stores too as some original owners have upgraded to the second version. Prices start at just under £300.