Note 20 Ultra: Really, Samsung? Forget phablets. Pair a smaller phone with a tablet instead

Phablets are so pre-pandemic. The combination of a smaller, less-expensive smartphone and an entry-level tablet makes way more sense for practically everyone who needs an equipment upgrade in the fall of 2020.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

At its Unpacked event this week, Samsung is expected to unveil an updated line of Note phablets -- namely the Note 20 Ultra, which will have a gigantic 6.87-inch Ultra-HD resolution screen. Samsung, however, is not alone in the ever-enlarging-phone department. In the fall, when Apple is slated to refresh the iPhone line, the 12 Pro Max is expected to gain an additional 0.2 inches (5.1mm) of diameter, bringing it to 6.7 inches.

Large phablet-type devices such as these --  merging the functions of a smartphone and a small tablet -- were initially designed for a very mobile crowd needing an all-in-one device for content consumption and creation when on the road. Over the years, these devices have become more expensive because of the complexity of the technology required to produce such large screens with high pixel density and high refresh rates.

But now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many workers -- and students -- to do their jobs at home, rather than travel and commute to work or to school, the need for $1,000+ super phablets may no longer be necessary. Inexpensive, regular tablets such as the base level iPad, the iPad Pro, and other Android devices may be more effective solutions when a larger screen is needed for content consumption and creation on a mobile device. 

And if you or your student are due for a smartphone refresh, should you consider a less-expensive device with a smaller screen, but paired with a regular tablet that offers more cost-effective and optimized use of screen real estate for the apps you use most?

Phones + Tablets Pricing Decision Matrix  

 * = Price not verified. ? = Best guess  

ManufacturerModelScreen Base PriceType
Apple iPhone SE 4.7 $399 Compact phone
Google Pixel 4A 5.81 $399 Compact phone
Samsung S10e 5.8 $599 Compact phone
Apple iPhone 12 5.4? $699 * Compact phone
Google Pixel 5 5.7? $699 Compact phone
Google Pixel 4 5.7 $799 Compact phone
Apple iPhone 11 Pro 5.8 $999 Compact phone
Motorola G Fast 6.4 $199 Jumbo phone
Samsung A50 6.4 $299 Jumbo phone
Google Pixel 4XL 6.3 $899 Jumbo phone
Samsung Note 10 6.3 $949 Jumbo phone
Samsung Note 10+ 6.3 $1099 Jumbo phone
Motorola E 6.2 $149 Medium phone
Apple iPhone 11 6.1 $699 Medium phone
Samsung S10 6.1 $749 Medium phone
Apple iPhone 12 Max 6.1? $799 * Medium phone
Google Pixel 5XL 6.3? $799* Medium phone
Samsung S20 6.2 $999 Medium phone
Apple iPhone 12 Pro 6.1? $1049 * Medium phone
OnePlus 7T 6.55 $499 Phablet
OnePlus 8 6.55 $699 Phablet
Samsung Note 20 6.42 $999 * Phablet
Motorola Edge + 6.7 $999 Phablet
OnePlus 8 Pro 6.78 $999 Phablet
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max 6.5 $1099 Phablet
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max 6.7? $1149 Phablet
Samsung S20+ 6.7 $1199 Phablet
Samsung Note 20 Ultra 6.87 $1299 * Phablet
Samsung S20 Ultra 6.9 $1399 Phablet
Lenovo Smart Tab M10 FHD 10.3 $229 Tablet
Samsung Tab A 2020 8.4 $264 Tablet
Apple iPad Gen 7 10.2 $329 Tablet
Apple iPad Mini 7.9 $399 Tablet
Samsung Tab S6 10.1 $629 Tablet
Apple iPad Air 10.5 $649 Tablet
Apple iPad Pro 11 11 $799 Tablet
Apple iPad Pro 12.9 12.9 $999 Tablet

Sir Screen-a-Lot: I used to like big iPhones and cannot lie  

Look, I've been a customer of big phones for at least the past five years. I purchased them primarily because I was a mobile employee who needed a device with a larger screen when traveling, in addition to my corporate-issued laptop. Like everyone else currently stuck in the social distancing rut, I am not doing a lot of traveling now, and I'm currently using an iPhone 11 Pro Max. 

Given that I am on the iPhone Upgrade Program and locked into a monthly payment of around $60 a month, I'm inclined to shift toward using a smaller device the next time around, which should be September or October. 

Because I own an iPad Pro already, which I am now using as my primary content consumption device -- I am strongly considering switching to the regular iPhone 12 Pro, which is expected to have a 6.1-inch screen. This year, the rumor mill has it that Apple is making some strategic changes, by introducing four -- rather than three -- new devices. The smallest screen, on the iPhone 12, is said to be a 5.4-inch display, which is a reduction from 6.1 inches in the base iPhone 11. The next step up is a 6.1-inch OLED, which will be shared by the iPhone 12 Max and the iPhone 12 Pro. The 12 Pro Max is expected to have a 6.7-inch display, which is yet even larger than the 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max I carry now -- which I now find to be cumbersome.


Relative expected dimensions of 2020 Apple iPhone lineup

Komiya (@komiya_kj)

However, if I were someone on a tight budget and had no existing payment commitments, I might be inclined to go with the base-level iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, when pricing is announced. Many students may also find that the smaller, 4.7-inch iPhone SE, which has a base price of $399, is more than perfectly adequate for their use as a smartphone, given that it has the same powerful A13 processor as the iPhone 11. 

Apple Phones + Tablets Pricing Decision Matrix  

ModelScreenBase PriceType
Option 1: iPhone SE 4.7 $399 Compact phone
Paired with: iPad Gen 7 10.2 $329 Tablet
Total Cost
Option 2: iPhone SE 4.7 $399 Compact phone
Paired with: iPad Pro 11 11 $799 Tablet
Total Cost
Option 3: iPhone 11 6.1 $699 Medium phone
Paired with: iPad Gen 7 10.2 $329 Tablet
Total Cost
Option 4: iPhone 11 6.1 $699 Medium phone
Paired with: iPad Pro 11 11 $799 Tablet
Total Cost

When paired with an iPad 10.1 Generation 7, which is frequently available on sale for under $300, that's quite a reasonable setup. The single-lens camera on the iPhone SE is no match for the iPhone 11 Pro, but it and the selfie camera on that device are far more than the average user needs in the current stay-home climate. I don't know anyone with an iPhone 11 Pro, let alone the base iPhone 11, who is making full use of its camera capabilities while social distancing. It's complete overkill. 

Apple mobile products also have a key advantage in the use of Handoff. When browsing and using a supported app on one device, it is easy to transfer over to the other if the larger screen is needed. Thus, a lower-end iPhone and iPad combo make much more sense than a more expensive, larger-screen iPhone by itself, from a cost-effective and content consumption perspective.

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Android alternatives

As stated above, not only have Apple's prices ballooned in the last several years with phablet-sized devices and their multiple cameras and high pixel density OLED screens, but so have the major Android players. But just like going with a cheaper iPhone and iPad combo makes more sense for someone who wants to stay within that ecosystem, the same can be applied to Android.

Samsung Phones + Tablets Pricing Decision Matrix  

ModelScreenBase PriceType
Option 1: A50 6.4 $299 Jumbo phone
Paired with: Tab A 2020 8.4 $264 Tablet
Total Cost
Option 2: A50 6.4 $299 Jumbo phone
Paried with: Tab S6 10.1 $629 Tablet
Total Cost
Option 3: S10e 5.8 $599 Compact phone
Paired with: Tab A 2020 8.4 $264 Tablet
Total Cost

Instead of a $1,000 Note 10+ or S20+, why not look into the previous year's S10e for $599, which is still an excellent phone? Are you really going to use all the new capabilities of the new devices when you stuck at home? You can save money further still by going with the A50, at $299, and pairing this with an Android tablet such as the Galaxy Tab A 8.4 at $264 or the Galaxy Tab S6 10.1 for $629.  

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And, no, there's no reason to stick with Samsung if you're on a budget. OnePlus has some excellent phones, especially the 7T, a 6.5-inch device at $499 that has a light UX, with a snappy Qualcomm 855+ processor. And it's a vendor that has been especially diligent with Android updates; it's already on Android 10 and eligible for Android 11. Motorola has even lower-cost devices, with the G Fast 6.4 at $199 and the E 6.2 at $149. Neither of these two are rocketships, but they perform more than adequately, and if the intention is to pair them with a tablet from Samsung, or even Lenovo (such as the new M10 FHD with a 10.3-inch screen, $229), then there's no need for your phone to be a high-performance device.

Are you looking to downsize your smartphone and upsize with a tablet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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