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features, Gadgets

All you need to know about big screen phones aka Phablets – and the seven models that have been released so far

By Stefano on January 24th, 2013

In 2010 Dell released a new phone with a monster sized five inch screen called the Streak, and it went on to change the way we think about mobile phones. But not in the way that Dell had hoped.

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

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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.

 

 

 



Gadgets

Apple’s iPhone to get even bigger screen. Is the iPhablet (big screen phone) set to follow?

By Stefano on January 21st, 2013

I remember when I first heard that  Samsung was about to produce a phone with a five inch screen  – the Samsung Galaxy Note.

From the moment I saw it I knew that my iPhone’s days were numbered and that I wanted a phone with a screen that size.

A year on and I have absolutely zero regrets about buying the Note. I did worry that I might miss an iPhone app or two. But to be honest, apart from one London Coffee app that I used quite a lot but isn’t available on Google Play, I have never suffered iPhone app envy.

So today brings news from China Times that Apple is apparently considering  launching a phone with a 4.8inch screen called the Math.

Here’s what Tech Digest had to say

According to China Times, the iPhone Math will measure 4.8 inches in size, nearly an inch bigger than the current iPhone 5, and will be positioned as an alternative to large screen “phablet” devices from Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony.

While little is known about the device (and all should be taken with a pinch of salt) the source also claims that the handset will pack in an 8MP camera, provided by Largan Precision.

Firstly is a 4.8inch screen device a Phablet? Not really. You could argue that given the success of the Samsung Galaxy S3 that 4.8inches is emerging as standard screen size for smartphones. Phablets have screens of more than fine inches, well according to Wikipedia anyhow.

If it is true then it shows once again that Apple is prepared to offer bigger screens on its phones and maybe a true Phablet will follow.

Apple needs to move quickly. It has gifted a whole market sector to several of its rivals, and although brand loyalty should ensure that the iPhablet is a runaway hit, Apple will be seen as followers rather than innovators.

It also runs the risk of the whole Phablet market being dominated by Samsung. So catching up, even with Apple’s huge marketing muscle,  is going to be no easy task.

I have owned quite a few Apple products in my time, but I would say that I am pretty agnostic about the brand as a whole. I will buy the best product rather than the buy a product from a specific brand when it comes to tech. Quite often this has been Apple, but not always.

However when I swapped my iPhone for the Note a lot of die-hard Apple friends of mine were very cynical and put up the following objections. If you look at these now I think that they are all about loyalty to a brand rather than thinking logically about the way the phones might develop.

1 You don’t need a phone with a screen that big

Well actually you do, or at least some of you do. As phones have evolved the amount of time we spend using them for making calls has diminished compared with texting, messaging, reading ebooks, surfing the web and more. Once you have used a Phablet the iPhone’s screen seems incredibly small and fiddly. There really is no going back. The future of smartphones is all about bigger screens and this is something that seems to have passed Apple by.

2 You look stupid making a phone call with it

Yep, Dom Jolly. Heard that joke so many times before. Yet I noticed on the bus the other day that larger screen phones – including the Samsung Galaxy S3 in this list – actually outnumber iPhones now, so it really isn’t an issue. Besides as I said before we are making fewer  calls on our mobiles than we used to.

3 Where am I going to put it?

Most men could easily house a six incher in their pockets -every pun intended. The Note is actually quite slim too so it doesn’t feel especially obtrusive. I appreciate that many women won’t carry a huge phone in their pocket, but then don’t a lot of women carry  their mobiles in handbags?

In short I think that the arguments are over and that when Apple does produce a Phablet, as it inevitability will, all the doubters from 2012 will be zealous converts to the Phablet cause.

The future for smartphones

Finally it is worth pondering exactly where will smartphones go in the future? Could screens get any larger? At CES we saw the Huawei Ascend Mate with its six inch screen. Might a seven inch phone be on the cards? Well no, and yes. Samsung is certainly rumoured to be thinking about a 6.8inch Note.

Running in tandem  with the development of bigger phones is the growth of smart watches that hook up to mobiles wirelessly via Bluetooth and display messages, social media updates etc and even allows the user to make calls.

Having played with a few of these I can vouch for the fact that we are a long way from the smart watch going mass market. The watches are just too fiddly and not especially easy to use. Ironically what they need is a company who are brilliant at user interfaces to make them work – know of anyone?

But they will get there in the end. So maybe one day you will have a smart watch, or even some other wearable item, that you use for the basic consumption of messages etc, but with a large screen – maybe even 7 inch device – for surfing the web, reading books, gaming and even a little bit of work.

It is a combo that would suit me perfectly.



Gadgets

CES 2013 key trend #1 Phones get even bigger. The Phablet hits six inches, nope make that seven

By Stefano on January 3rd, 2013

Those far eastern companies do love a competition or two. A few years back LG, Samsung and their Chinese rivals were all about creating the biggest Plasma TV. One would unveil a 70inch beast at a trade show only for their rival to hit back with an 80 inch screen at the next and so it went on. Then it was LCD TVs and now it is OLED screens.

About the same time as they were expanding the Plamsa the very same companies were trying to make the mobile phone as tiny as possible. Not any more though.

The key trend in mobiles in 2012 was all about the Phablet (part phone part tablet) and getting larger screens. I remember when the first big screen (five inches) phone the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 came out and some tech journalists made crass jokes about Dom Jolly. Well they look pretty silly now. Even Apple upped the screen size of the iPhone and as for the Galaxy Note (5.5inches screen no less) – well the second version has already sold over a million and Samsung reckons will notch up 20 million within six months.

As a Galaxy Note owner I can vouch for the fact that they are unrivaled for looking at websites, reading Kindle books and watching video. I barely miss my iPhone, and if anything, have the pocket space for an even bigger handset.

Samsung are also reported to working on two new models – a 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 3 and even a 7.7-inch screen 9or 7.9inch depending on which rumour you want to believe) phone. There is a chance that we might see these at CES 2013. If not they will be most likely be unveiled at Mobile World Congress at Barelona in February.

In the mean time the biggest phone in the world mantle is likely to be picked up by Huawei. Tech Digest reported this morning that the company was going to unveil its six inch screen handset at CES.

The Huawei Ascend Mate which (paired with the fact it’s a “monster” 6-inches in size) sounds unfortunately close to the name of a sex toy.

Indeed, the Android-running Ascend Mate’s rumoured spec sheet looks set to get you hot and bothered, with the 6-inch device sporting a 720p resolution, powered by a speedy 1.8GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM and a sizable 3,800mAh battery, all squeezed into a 9.9mm chassis.

The story originally broke here.

Then we shouldn’t forget LG and HTC both of whom have the potential to unveil an even larger handset at CES.

Finally CES wouldn’t be CES without some Taiwanese company sneakily trumping everyone with a product that appears out of the ether, so here’s to the eight inch phablet.




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