Good phablets mesh the best aspects of a smartphone and tablet together in one portable package. Not only do these devices stop consumers from having to carry around two separate gadgets, they also improve upon standard smartphone conventions with bigger batteries, more comfortable software, and, of course, big and beautiful displays. With the Mobile World Congress trade show fast approaching, the big phone market stands to become even more competitive over the next few months. For now, though, here’s our take on the top five phablets you can get your hands on today.
Display: 5.5“, 1440×2560 resolution
Dimensions and mass: 146×75×8.9 mm, 149 g
The LG G3 positioned itself as one of the most attractive and desirable smartphones of 2014, mostly because LG made sure to provide quality in every aspect of the device. Its most significant features include a super sharp 5.5-inch QHD display, a steady 13-megapixel main camera (equipped with fast and infrared-aided autofocus), and a smartly proportioned body that uses some of the nicest-feeling plastic we’ve seen on a modern phone.
The display is particularly impressive: its QHD resolution offers 1440×2560 pixels, which is four times greater than a 720p panel. That’s good for a ridiculous pixel density of 534 ppi here. It’s exceptionally sharp – probably to the point of overkill – but it’s also got vivacious colors and excellent contrast ratios. The camera, meanwhile, offers stunning pictures at blazing speeds. Shooting an image by just touching the part of the shot you want to focus on is a practical and welcome innovation. Combine that with some OIS+ image stabilization tech, and you have a camera that finds that rare blend of being easy to use and capable of taking great shots.
However, just as the rear-facing camera deserves to be praised, the front one should be criticized – it’s a garden variety 2.1-megapixel unit, resulting in rather poor selfies. LG’s interface saves this somewhat with nifty gesture controls that let you take a picture just by holding your fist up, but tricks like that can’t overcome the mediocrity of the shooter itself. In all, the LG G3 doesn’t have one standout feature, but remains one of the most polished and well-rounded phablets – and smartphones in general – available today.
Good: sharp and simple camera, wonderful display, solid battery life, practical design for a phone of this size
Bad: poor front camera, slight lack of features found on competing flagships (waterproofing, for instance)
Recommended to: Android users who want something reliable and powerful, even if it doesn’t take many risks.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Display: 5.7“, 1440×2560
Dimensions and mass: 153×79×8.5 mm, 176 g
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 brings a few noteworthy, if not groundbreaking, improvements over its popular predecessor, including a bump up to a 1440p display resolution, a more useful S Pen stylus, and a couple of more capable cameras. The Super AMOLED panel is gorgeously colorful in particular, and the whole thing runs with ease off a 2.7GHz Snapdragon 805 chipset. Perhaps most significant, though, is the work Samsung has done on the device’s design. Although it doesn’t look all that different from the Note 3 in terms of overall philosophy, it features new, Galaxy Alpha-like tinges of metal on its sides, giving the device a little more premium look and feel.
Due to the device’s relatively high price tag – it usually runs for $250 with a contract — the inherent question with the Note 4 is whether or not its 0.5-inch larger screen and S Pen support make it worth buying over the relatively similar, yet smaller and less expensive Galaxy S5. If you want your phone to help you get things done, we say yes, mostly thanks to the way the Samsung’s software plays with the larger screen. It’s simply much more efficient to multitask on a 5.7-inch phone with an accurate stylus than it is on a 5-inch one with your fingers. It doesn’t hurt that the S Pen here comes with a handful of helpful, built-in functions either. The Note 4 can very much feel like a mobile work tool unto itself, not just a blown-up smartphone, and that’s why it earns a recommendation here.
Good: gorgeous display, speedy performance, and software tailored for this screen size and stylus
Bad: design is still a bit bland, TouchWiz can still be sloppy, relatively high price
Recommended to: business users and those who want their phone to be convenient for both work and play.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus
Display: 5.5″, 1080 x 1920
Dimensions and mass: 158×78×7.1 mm, 172 g
That Apple finally joined the phablet crowd after years of ignoring the trend is probably the most telling sign that big-screened phones are here to stay. The iPhone 6 Plus has proven popular since it launched last fall, even though it’s closer to a smaller iPad mini than a larger iPhone in practice. This is Apple’s most powerful handset yet, with a sharper display, and stronger battery than any iPhone that’s come before it, along with the same top-of-the-line camera and updated UI that you’d find in the standard iPhone 6.
On top of that, the iPhone 6 Plus is also wonderfully slim (measuring 7.1 millimeters at its thinnest point) and light (weighing only 172 grams), and carries every bit of the trademark iPhone style that’s evolved through its smaller predecessors. That said, you can definitely tell that this is Apple’s first stab at a phablet, as it’s rather huge for a 5.5-inch machine. Competing phones like the G3 above make much better use of the room they provide.
The iPhone 6 Plus’ 5.5-inch IPS display comes with a 1080p resolution – resulting in a pixel density of 401 ppi — which is the standard for a flagship like this. It doesn’t pack as many pixels as some of its peers, but that doesn’t really matter in the end: this panel is just as fine-tuned as every other great iPhone display that’s come before it. Equal praise goes to the 8-megapixel main camera, which features optical image stabilization (unlike the iPhone 6) and still takes some of the sharpest and most accurate shots of any mobile device on the market.
The main negative here is a needless one. Apple only offers 16 GB of storage in the cheapest iPhone 6 Plus model, without the option to expand through a microSD card. That’s quite limiting if you plan on making full use of the big display with lots of apps and movies, and since there’s no 32 GB model, you’ll have to pay a $100 premium to nab the more suitable 64 GB version. Given that the phone starts at a wildly expensive $300 with a contract by default – in spite of its comparatively modest specs on paper – this makes the iPhone 6 Plus costlier than it should be.
Good: fantastic main camera, great battery life excellent display
Bad: expensive, little storage with no microSD support, mediocre front camera, poor screen to device size ratio
Recommended to: those who prefer iOS’ vast ecosystem and want a mix of iPhone and iPad without having to buy both devices.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7
Display: 6″, 1080 x 1920
Dimensions and mass: 157 x 81 x 7.9 mm, 185 g
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year came in the form of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7, which saw the Chinese tech giant cover all the bases and further develop its own style in one handsome package. Handsome and enormous, that is. To be specific, the Mate 7includes a 6-inch, 1080p display, which is huge even by traditional phablet standards, yet also means the screen isn’t as sharp (368 ppi) as its competition. What’s more impressive is how well-fitted that display on the phone’s front, as there’s very little dead space to be found through the device’s bezels.
Internally, the Mate 7’s guts are rock solid, but its 4100 mAh battery is the main standout – it’s capable of lasting well over a day on average, even with fairly intense use. Also welcome is Huawei’s fingerprint reader, here located under the rear camera lens, which is super accurate to the touch and can be customized to perform a few genuinely useful functions. The Mate 7’s camera situation is a bit strange, however, in that its front-facing shooter often outperforms its main one. Nevertheless, the Ascend Mate 7 is a more-than-competent alternative to the usual names, with a few moments of excellence to boot.
Good: very little wasted space, top-notch fingerprint ready, good battery
Bad: poor rear camera, design philosophy isn’t original
Recommended to: those looking to switch from iOS to Android, as the Mate 7’s “Emotion” UI borrows liberally from the iPhone.
Display: 5.5″, 1080 x 1920
Dimensions and mass: 153×76×8.9 mm, 162 g
The most disruptive phablet of the year came from Chinese startup OnePlus, whose first phone, the One, sent Android enthusiasts, mobile geeks, and general fans of great deals into a tizzy. As a standard $650 flagship, its blend of high-end specs, unique design cues, and native CyanogenMod support would’ve made for an intriguing package. But the One sold for half of that.
Starting at just $300 unlocked, the OnePlus One is a value that’s practically unheard of in the fiscally stringent mobile world. More specifically, it offers a 5.5-inch, 1080p display, a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, 3 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage ( with a 64 GB version available for $50 extra). Furthermore, the device comes with a 13-megapixel camera (backed by a laudable Sony-made sensor), a 5-megapixel front shooter, and a still sizable 3100 mAh battery.
It sounds like an offer you couldn’t refuse. However, it has one significant problem: It’s difficult to actually buy. OnePlus has only sold the phone through an online invite system over the past year, with occasional open season mini-sales peppered in, over the past year. OnePlus isn’t quite a scrappy startup – it’s always had heavy ties to the Chinese tech giant Oppo – but it’s still a relatively small company, and as such it hasn’t been able to meet the demand that’s followed the One since it was announced.
The One remains an excellent buy if you can get your hands on it, but OnePlus isn’t selling it that cheap just to be altruistic. Yes, it’s fast, and both its display and main camera are great, but it also tends to heat up quickly, and it loses battery life noticeably faster after a few weeks of use. It’s also going to be a pain for Western users to return if it breaks, since you’ll have to send it all the way back to China. Altogether, the One is great for tech buffs, but not quite reliable for those on the business side of things.
Good: affordable, fast, CyanogenMod is a nifty expansion of Android, above-average camera
Bad: not widely available, no microSD support, no reliable support service
Recommended to: geeks, deal hunters, and anyone open to a new experience with their next phone.