Last week’s CES ushered in a new wave of smartphones, and with it the question, “Is bigger really better?” Phablets, or smartphone-tablet hybrids featuring screens five inches or larger, were the talk of the town in Vegas as manufacturers debuted bigger screen after bigger screen.
Huawei introduced the “world’s largest touch-screen smartphone,” the Ascend Mate, boasting a 6.1-inch display. ZTE unveiled the Grand S, the “world’s thinnest” smartphone, with a 5-inch display. And Sony launched the Xperia Z, which has a 5-inch full-HD screen.
Big? Yes. Beautiful display? Yes. Better? Not necessarily.
There’s no denying that there’s a market for these larger devices. Samsung pioneered the first phablet in 2011 with its 5.3-inch Galaxy Note and followed it up with the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II in 2012, with more than five million units selling in the first two months.
At the heart of this demand is a fundamental shift in how consumers are using their phones. Calling is becoming secondary to content consumption like browsing the Web, watching videos, social networking or playing games. And with this shift in behavior comes a shift in infrastructure to support it.
However, the shift comes at a cost: usability.
Phablets are very much two-handed devices. Gone is the ability to stir pasta with one hand and check Facebook with the other. For some, the trade-off for larger screen real estate will be worth it. But for me, and a large segment of the population, multitasking is too important to take away.
When Apple increased the size of their iPhone 5, they kept the device a one-hand operation, putting great thought into the device’s dimensions. There’s an ease and an elegance to being able to effortlessly control a device with the swipe of a thumb, and Apple delivered upon that. Whether you’re a mom feeding your infant with one hand and posting to Instagram with the other or a business professional answering an email while going through airport security, it’s this ease of operation that’s particularly important to time-starved consumer segments who are on the go and multitasking what can feel like 23 out of 24 hours a day.
For this usability-centric consumer segment, it’s more important to have two devices that do their respective jobs equally well (aka a phone AND a tablet) than one device that blurs the line. There’s an old saying that no one can do it all and do it all well. Phablets are no exception.
And, with that, the question stands: to phablet or not to phablet? Which camp are you?