Phablet vs. Tablet: Screen size matters

Phablet vs. Tablet: Screen size matters

Summary: Consuming information on a mobile device is commonplace, due largely to the popularity of the smartphone. With phones getting bigger than ever, some consider using them instead of a tablet. Experience shows this isn't the way to go for some folks.

Samsung Galaxy Mega
Galaxy Mega (Image: Samsung)

In the early days of the smartphone they all had tiny screens by today's standards. We didn't care, they fit easily in the hand and did everything we needed.

Then display creep set in as OEMs started slipping bigger screens on our phones. Reaction from prospective buyers was mixed at first, and eventually we settled down to accept phones with larger displays.

This continued until some really massive, almost comical, phone screens started appearing. These smartphones with six-plus inch displays can almost hide the owner's face when on a call, and don't fit in many pockets.

These big phones are often called phablets, a term this writer hates, as they are phones approaching the size of tablets. The thinking is that having one of these giant phones can eliminate the need for a tablet. After all. the phones are approaching the size of smaller tablets.

"While today's giant phones, often over six inches, are not much smaller than my favorite seven-inch tablet, that extra display real estate is significant.

This sounds good on the surface but using a phone to replace a tablet may not be ideal for some. I went through the same thought process in the early days of the phablet and soon returned to the tablet fold.

When I purchased the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, a five-inch phone was considered a phablet. The display was about as large as you could get on a phone. Not big by today's standards, but as big as they got back then.

At first, I marveled at how much better the "big" display was for surfing the web and other online activities. I started leaving the tablet at home and using just the phone for all online activities.

Special Feature

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Tablets: Where's the Productivity?

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It worked well at first, then the luster faded. I was constantly zooming in and out on that "big" phone screen to see what I could. It quickly became a chore to consume the content in a way that was comfortable. It didn't help that using so much data traffic kept killing my phone battery.

After a brief foray into phablet waters, I returned to throwing a tablet into the bag before I headed out. The larger tablet screen, even though it wasn't much bigger than that of the phone, worked so much better for typical online activities. Not only could I see an accurate overview of web pages, I could read them more easily as a rule.

That's why phablets don't tempt me away from even a small tablet. While today's giant phones, often over six inches, are not much smaller than my favorite seven-inch tablet, that extra display real estate is significant. How much better it is can't be described, you have to see it for yourself.

You may find a phablet to be just right, it's a highly personal choice. But many who try one may feel the same as I do, that the tablet is a more practical option. Sure, you can still get one of those massive phones that dwarf your hand, but you may find you still prefer a tablet for online activities. And that's OK, too.

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Topics: Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • (screen) size isnt everything...

    I dunno - I see your point about manipulating text size (I'm still on an old iPhone!) but I like the idea of a 6 incher that fits into my pocket and yet has all the computing power I need (alongside a NAS). I'm not saying we've got there quite yet though. I'd like to run Ubuntu proper on the X86 ASUS Fonepad Note 6, for example, and plug it into a monitor and use a WIFI keyboard when necessary.
    • Where do you get 7 inch Octa core phablets?

      Go to and check out the 7 inch Quad and Octa core phablets. Some of the videos are outright funny. It would be interesting to see how people actually react when they see you making a phone call on a 7" tablet/phablet. Some of these seem to be pretty powerful too with Octa cores and what not.
      • Putting a 6 or 7 inch device

        up to your ear does look silly, I agree. But there are handsfree gizmos to work around that. (It's not as if I spend a lot of time on the phone anyway.)
  • Variety is best

    I have found that a 5 inch smartphone is just right for me, and most men. Perhaps a 4 inch smartphone is great for most women. We all know smartphones are great convenience devices and not intended for productivity.

    I have found that a 24 inch monitor is just right for me for serious computer work and productivity.

    42 inch TV in the living room seems like the sweet spot for movie watching.

    When it comes to tablets, it just doesnt matter. All Tablets and Phablets are too big to carry around and still too small to be productive. I am sure some people like them, especially the Surface 3 which is well done.
    Sean Foley
    • When you say "Serious computer work"

      what do you mean? CAD?

      Most general productivity stuff is more than doable on a screen half that size, and productivity (admittedly using additional hardware or software) isn't difficult on something a quarter of the size...
      • I though it was obvious

        Serious computer work is typically professional office work where you might have multiple applications open at once all viewable on the same screen. Perhaps a spreadsheet next to presentation. Other apps like Photoshop are definitely better on a large full screen monitor. Tablets would be painful to use in these environments, and also not ergonomic.
        Sean Foley
        • No

          "Serious computer work" is any business critical function that is non-trivial. Tablets actually beat computers at several "serious computer work" scenarios I can think of - doctors on hospital rounds, inventory taking, inspections, logistics.
        • It does depend what you mean really

          To most professionals "productivity" means E-mail and Appointments/Meetings (Calendar). That's about it. Something tablets do very well.

          They do fall over at Office document editing but do most people want to do this out and about?
          • Nothing but emails and appointments?

            I'm not sure that is an accurate representation of what most workers spend the majority of their time doing.

            THough I'm sure most workers engage in emails and appointment setting, I highly doubt that is all they really do. After all, neither of those is really producing anything.
          • Yes!

            There was a time when I was doing quite a lot of commuting by train, and it was useful to at least be able to start a document or presentation during the journey. I think those apps have improved greatly since then.
    • To Each Their Own

      24" is too small for me. I'm thinking about going bigger than my current 27".

      Some IT guys here have 32" at home. Some have 6 monitors at their desk - mix of 19" 4:3 and 23" 16:9.

      My wife has a personal Windows 4.8" phone and work 5.7" GN3. She only uses the GN3 for e-mail and browsing - she loves it.
  • I went the other way

    so many websites Mobilize now, that I much prefer the smaller form factor. Most tablets are hard to hold and operate in one hand. Phones that take care to remain operable in one hand are much more convenient for on-the-go.... if you have to stop and drag something out (other than your pocket)... well, at that point it might as well be an Ultrabook.
  • For me the luster of tablets faded and

    smartphones are where its at. My first "smart device" was actually a tablet, then I got the smartphone a year later. At first using the tablet as a 10" GPS was a cool novelty, but then I said how am I going to put this in my pocket when I go jogging. The next thing you ask is "why am I watching movies on this thing?" I have a 50" TV over there. I also have a chromecast so I can use the smartphone send youtube and netflix to the TV.

    People get exited about the impending iPhone 6 launch but what that says is in general how much we love our smartphones. Any decent modern smartphone is an amazing tool. Tablets, not so much - unless you do certain types of work where an iPad with a keyboard makes sense.
  • We all work in different ways I guess

    I have multiple apps open on my laptop, and even iOS now has multitasking - the difference being I don't have them open side by side. It's easy enough to click or scroll between them.
  • Agreed

    I agree with the author. I tried to make a Note 3 my only mobile device. But it was both too big and too small. It was always too uncomfortable to keep in my pocket, so I kept finding myself takng it out and putting it on the table or desk. At the same time, it was too small for enjoying magazines or videos--especially for getting good sound from the video. And there's one other benefit to owning both that few people ever mention: It automatically gives me more storage space for apps and content of I can divide them up between two devices. So I sold the Note and am much happier with a Nexus 5 and a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 inch.
    • So.. you need a phablet with more storage?

      That is my point.. give me a phablet with 1 TB or more of built in storage. PLEASE.
  • Totally agree.

    The extra size from 5"-5.7" to 7"-8" makes a massive difference in real world terms.

    Personally I'm still happy with the 5" size of my S4 (couldn't go much smaller though) for my phone use and 8" for my tablet use (8.3" G Pad to be exact).
  • But What if You Don't Carry a Bag All the Time?

    "After a brief foray into phablet waters, I returned to throwing a tablet into the bag before I headed out."

    This is where devices like the Galaxy Note 3 come into their own. Most of us do not carry a bag or murse all of the time, and thanks to the thinness of the Galaxy Note 3, will fit in most standard men's pants pockets (like Dockers, dress slack, even regular jeans - please, NEVER skinny jeans or shallow front pocket jeans).
    • I carry two things in my hand.

      I always have my iPad in my left hand, carrying it like a book, and a Klean Kanteen full of water looped onto one of the fingers of the same hand. (I live in the desert.) My iPhone stays in my pocket unless I get a call, text, or appointment reminder. I rarely carry a bag because everything I would need to do is contained in my iPad. You don't need a bag to carry a tablet.
    • Bag? Carry a BAG?

      My friend Matt has a 5" smarty phone. Mine is 4". He can see some things on his screen better than I can on mine. Maybe one day Virgin or another low-cost carrier will have a 5" phone with a 10+ MP camera for under $200. If/when that happens, I might get a bigger phone. But 5" is about as big as I want to carry in my pants pockets. And then I'd want a 10" tablet to replace my current 7" one. It never ends...