The tablet problem: Mobility trumps screen size

Summary:The problem with mobile devices has always been that the size of the display determines how portable they are. You can’t have a large screen on a small device. That situation raises its ugly head for many looking for the perfect device.

Many have long been looking for that perfect mobile device, the mythical gadget that will meet all of their needs without compromise. Whether the holy grail is in the form of a smartphone, tablet, or laptop is not important as long as it can do everything desired.

Galaxy Tab S
Samsung Galaxy Tab S Image: Steve Ranger/ZDNet

There are two primary criteria for mobile devices that contradict one another. For most, a mobile device needs to be highly portable, and that usually means small enough to be easy to carry around. The desired size of the device may be different for different folks, it just needs to be very portable.

That’s the dilemma confronting both tablet buyers and the companies that make the devices. The gadgets need to be big enough to fit a screen that makes sense, yet small enough to be comfortably portable. The size of the display determines the size of the device, so they go hand-in-hand.

This is a fine line that tablet makers must navigate, and unfortunately for them the line is a moving target for different buyers. Some are happy with a giant slab of a tablet, while others want the smallest gadget possible. It’s no wonder that OEMs are throwing tablets out with different sizes. They are trying to appeal to everyone and that’s what it takes.

It’s not a surprise that some big tablets are appearing in the market place. Customers wanting to use a tablet with peripherals to replace a laptop find the bigger screen more appropriate. When you strap a keyboard dock or cover onto a tablet for such use, screen size matters.

Of course, that impacts the other criteria crucial to tablets, as it results in a very large device. The portability is greatly reduced, and for many that’s not a good thing.

For some, the quest for the perfect mobile device, especially a tablet, is a futile quest. Those wanting to work with larger documents will need the bigger screen. Those preferring a little device that’s easy to carry should gravitate toward the smaller gadget and screen. Those wanting both are out of luck.

Before buying a tablet, either consumer or enterprise, careful consideration should be given about the portability vs. display size. Odds are, over time one will trump the other when it comes to actual usage. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious at purchase time.

I hear from folks regularly who bought a small or large tablet and after a month or two came to realize it was the wrong choice. Either the small screen is not big enough to use comfortably or the big tablet is being left at home/work as it’s too large to carry around regularly. There’s no easy way to avoid this.

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The only option for most is to shop the big box stores and try to get a feel for devices of different sizes. Then go with the smallest device that has a big enough screen to use comfortably and with less compromise. Many tell me that they find that small size ends up mattering the most. When it comes right to it, when getting a tablet big enough to replace the laptop, it doesn’t get taken anywhere you wouldn’t take a laptop. Small tablets are easily taken most everywhere.

So before you buy that nice new Samsung Galaxy Tab S, you might want to go for the smaller size. As nice as the bigger one is, it might end up getting left at home or the office a lot.

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Tablets


James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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