Phablet. It’s a funny word, isn’t it? Like a demon spawn from buzzword hell. Today, though, big is normal. The flagships we called huge just two years ago are now considered “compact” versions of their evolved, larger selves, and devices that straddle the line between traditional smartphone and small tablet are more en vogue than ever with popular phone makers. Now that Apple – the purveyor of mainstream tech taste in America, for better or worse – has followed the trend with its iPhone 6 Plus, more people than ever are seriously considering a large-screened smartphone as their next daily driver.
But with that consideration comes increased skepticism. “Aren’t these things just too big?” a prospective phablet buyer may ask. And for some, they may well be — they’re never going to fit too snugly in your pants pocket. For the most part, though, we think anyone who is looking to upgrade to a higher-end phone over end of the year period shouldn’t talk themselves out of the phablet discussion. Here’s why.
1. More comfortable media
Generally, the best aspect of any phablet is also the thing that makes it a “phablet” in the first place: its mammoth screen. We usually put anything with a 5.5-inch display or bigger into the phablet category, and while the extra half-inch or so it adds to a standard flagship’s screen doesn’t sound like much on paper, it makes a noticeable difference in practice.
Watching a movie or playing a game on a larger 1080p (or higher) smartphone screen is simply more luxurious than watching it on a smaller one. It’s like how viewing a bigger HDTV is more comfortable and engrossing than hunching over a littler one; multimedia just has more room to breathe on these things, and you don’t get that mental barrier of “I’m watching this the wrong way” as much as you would with a slightly smaller screen as a result. With games, you also have more space to navigate any onscreen controls. You can simply enjoy your stuff.
The idea is to give you the best of both worlds, phone and tablet, and the best phablets do this spectacularly. Devices like the Google Nexus 6 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 have gorgeous, probably too sharp quad HD (2560 x 1440) displays, but are easy enough to throw in a coat pocket or carry around with one hand. Taking in media on a high-end TV or laptop screen still looks better, but for those instances where you’d normally use a smaller smartphone or more unwieldy tablet – say, a cramped flight — a good phablet finds the sweet spot between quality and convenience.
2. Better battery life
It’s not a universal thing, but most popular phablets keep those big screens going by packing in batteries that make the most of the room provided by their larger chassis. Battery life is one of the few aspects of today’s smartphones where there’s obvious room for improvement, but with handsets like the OnePlus One and the aforementioned iPhone 6 Plus, it’s not uncommon to get through the majority of two days off of a single charge. This is one instance where phablets’ propensity for overkill works to your advantage; unless you’ve been totally careless, you rarely need to worry about making it through the end of the day with a phablet in tow. They’re a step forward for mobile tech in that way.
3. Frustration-free typing
Typos are right alongside taxes and paper cuts on the list of “Things Nobody Likes,” but the wide body of a phablet makes it far less likely to fudge up your texts. The keys on a phablet’s virtual keyboard are naturally fatter and wider, which greatly lowers the chance of you asking your friends “wgata ip” instead of “what’s up.” Normal smartphones make typing difficult for those with large hands or chubby fingers, but with a phablet, everyone can avoid that frustration.
4. Less device clutter
As we said above, the best phablets successfully bridge the gap between the convenience of a phone and the luxuriousness of a tablet. So for those who don’t want to (or can’t) burn the cash to get both types of devices, a phablet can actually represent good value. Yes, on their own, they’re quite expensive – the Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus cost an extra $100 down on contract compared to their smaller counterparts – but a good phablet makes a good tablet far more redundant than a good smartphone does.
Now, if you’d rather your tablet be a more work-oriented tool like a Surface Pro, today’s phablets aren’t going to replicate that kind of heavy duty functionality just yet. They’re still far closer to smartphones than laptops. But it’s harder to use something like a Nexus 7 or iPad mini, tablets that can get work done but are more oriented towards casual consumption, if you have a Nexus 6 or iPhone 6 Plus already. It’s not a 1:1 replacement, but because phablets are more accommodating to extended web browsing, gaming, and simple work tasks (like emailing and note taking) than a smaller smartphone, they can lessen the need to buy more stuff, which is always nice.
5. What’s your other hand doing anyways?
The biggest knock against phablets is that they’re difficult to use comfortably with one hand. We won’t deny that – trying to type with one thumb on a 6-inch screen like that of Huawei Ascend Mate7 only leads to repeatedly dropping the device. If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, however, the amount of time per day where we only have one hand free is pretty slim. Those instances where the need is genuine usually aren’t the best times to be staring into a smartphone screen either.
There have been countless books and articles written on the idea that people aren’t as busy as they think they are, and we think the notion that a smartphone needs to be usable with one hand to justify itself ties into that phenomenon. Are you really always on the go, holding a briefcase in one hand, typing up a crucial email in the other? It’s a great thing when something strong and convenient like the Xperia Z3 Compact rolls along, for sure, but needing two hands to type “fail vids” in the YouTube app probably isn’t the end of the world.
Most phablets aren’t so big that it’s impossible to take a call or unlock the device with one hand, and the power and comfort they bring to almost everything else more than makes up for the fact that you may have to put your coffee down every now and again while using it. Besides, typing something out with two hands is usually more efficient and error-free than doing so with one, regardless of screen size. People should only accept a smartphone that works for them, of course, but if you take a step back and think about how often your other hand is just lying there, you may find the concept of a bigger smartphone a little less intimidating.