When super-sized smartphones become pocketable tablets

I thought I lost my smartphone the other week. Somewhere between walking my dog in the morning and heading out for lunch, my trusty Palm Pre vanished into thin air. I tried calling it with Skype but heard no ring. Next, I retraced that morning’s route. It had been raining steadily, making the odds of survival low for an unprotected electronics device. Even if it lay lifeless, I was at least determined to recover the body. Leave no technology behind.

As I trudged through the park, my eyes scanning every shrub my dog had sniffed, I found myself not bummed out about losing the phone but excited by the prospect of replacing it. That was surprising, because up until very recently, modern smartphones haven’t really held much appeal for me.

The last phone I really loved was the Motorola Razr, which had not an ounce of smarts but was the perfect size and weight for a portable device: small enough to almost disappear into a pocket yet just heavy enough to let you know it was there. Smartphones feel positively portly in comparison. Their much larger footprints demand deeper pockets, which had always seemed like a step backwards.

Turns out I was thinking about it all wrong.

In everyday life, my smartphone is used far more often to read email, surf the web, and take quick notes than to make actual calls. It’s much more computer than telephone. So, rather than looking at 4" handsets as oversized phones, I’ve begun seeing them as smaller tablets. That simple shift in perspective changes everything.

The iPhone 4 (left) and Galaxy Note (right): jumbo smartphones or pocketable tablets?

Much of the inspiration for my new stance on jumbo smartphones comes not from my experiences with the Pre, but from the time I’ve spent with Asus’ Transformer tablet. The 10" device delivers a genuinely satisfying computing experience—the sort of experience I want to bring everywhere. It’s too big to carry around without a hipster man-purse, of course, but the latest and greatest handsets offer similar horsepower and comparable display resolutions in 4-5" devices that actually fit into a pocket. You’ll be able to see them in my pocket—quite possibly from across the room—but I’m willing to trade a little discomfort and some social awkwardness for a compelling portable computer.

The snappy performance of the latest SoCs drives a good chunk of my upgrade itch. Older smartphones have always felt like they were struggling to keep up with the demands of the software and even the base operating system. Newer devices, like the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S II, are much more responsive. Some of that’s software streamlining, but a lot of it comes down to more powerful hardware.

More pressing than my desire for moar power is a yearning for something with a larger screen and loads of pixels. Perhaps because I’ve been squeezed into the Pre’s 3.1" 320×480 display, I find myself drawn to the Galaxy Note for its humongous 5.3" screen, whose 1280×800 resolution is a perfect match for my Transformer tablet. I’ve also caught myself lusting after the Galaxy Nexus, which serves up 1280×720 pixels in a slightly smaller 4.6" screen. Could I get by with less? Sure, but giving up inches means losing valuable screen real estate and crucial input area. My fat, clumsy thumbs far prefer the larger on-screen keyboards and UI elements that bigger screens can provide.

Cyril hand-models the iPhone 4 and Galaxy Note

Until roll-up or folding displays become a reality, there’s no way to get a big screen without a similarly large device. The one thing I most desire in a pocketable computer is the very thing I don’t want to have to have in my pocket. But the bigger screen wins, because it’s attached to something I’d actually consider a computer.

I’m still worried about warping or otherwise damaging a larger handset by sitting when it’s still in my pocket. However, societal norms seem to be solving that problem. The last time I was seated with a decent-sized group at the pub across the street, just about everyone had their smartphones sitting on the table rather than in their pockets or purses. Amazingly, not one drop of beer was spilled on any of them.

Alas, I didn’t pour one out for my dead Pre. As it turns out, it was never left out in the rain to meet an untimely demise. Instead, it had fallen out of my pocket when I went to change the pants that had been soaked by the early morning downpour. The Pre ended up buried in the duvet on my bed, ringer muffled, snuggling with my girlfriend’s cat.

Ultimately, I felt relief upon finding the Pre. The prospect of paying full price for a new handset while mid-way through my cellular contract was not appealing, no matter how fast the processor or how beautiful the screen. There was another thing, too. I was certain the Pre wouldn’t survive being left out in the wet, and I’ve been leery of using any smartphone in the rain, which falls in Vancouver roughly half of the year. As much as I long to carry a powerful portable computer on my person, I don’t want it to be a fair-weather device.

Ruggedized smartphones like Samsung’s Rugby Smart are purportedly impervious to the elements, but they’re a little behind the curve in terms of processing power and screen quality. They’re chunkier, too, although certainly more durable than the average handset. I’d settle for water resistance, which may soon be a common feature thanks to hydrophobic coatings that several companies are now applying to existing devices.

My cellular contract comes up for renewal next summer. By then, the market will surely be flooded with supersized handsets even more capable than the ones available now. I dreaded the thought of larger smartphones even a few months ago, but today, I can’t help but look forward to the next generation of pocketable tablets.

Comments closed
    • rjseo1
    • 7 years ago

    as Ashley responded I am in shock that anyone able to make $7579 in a few weeks on the computer. did you read this website… [url<]http://ohxiid.notlong.com[/url<]

    • rjseo
    • 7 years ago
    • merryjohn
    • 7 years ago
    • Anonymous Hamster
    • 8 years ago

    Ok, it’s time already for phones with roll-out screens. (Yeah, like from Earth: Final Conflict.)

    • RickyTick
    • 8 years ago

    Soon you’ll start seeing them hanging from a chain around someone’s neck.
    Yeah Boy!!
    🙂

      • kumori
      • 8 years ago

      I was in Hong Kong about two years ago and I saw some people were wearing a appox. 5″ Android Phone/Tablet on lanyards around their necks.

    • The Dark One
    • 8 years ago

    How are the indie carriers in Vancouver, coverage-wise? I wouldn’t want to have to sign a three-year contract with Telus, or any of the other major players.

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      If you know enough to ask for it, you can now go on a month-to-month voice+data contract with Bell (I don’t know about Rogers, but I suspect if they thought they were going to lose the business, they’d offer it too). Of course, they’re not going to subsidize your phone, but you shouldn’t be doing that anyway. The real loss is that they’ll still charge you the same rate as if they [i<]were[/i<] subsidizing your phone. But, you know, little steps.... BTW, sign up for Yak Mobile for your cell's long-distance, and deny Bell/Rogers/Telus yet another source of massive rip-off profits.

      • Shambles
      • 8 years ago

      My sister is on WInd in the Vancouver area and he’s been quite happy. I myself live in Edmonton on Wind, the wife is on Mobilicity and we’re both fairly happy. Mobilicity does seem to cut off multipage texts on her Nexus S though, not sure if that happens to all mobilicity users. I’ll never go back to the big three.

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]My sister is on WInd... and [b<]he[/b<]'s been quite happy[/quote<] Please tell your sister that we're all very proud of him!

          • Meadows
          • 8 years ago

          It’s the 21st century, don’t judge them.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            you’re just saying that cause you’re the same!

          • yogibbear
          • 7 years ago

          This is funnier cause I just finished reading Chuck Palahniuk – Invisible Monsters 😉

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    Like Geoff, I found myself using my Palm Pre for more and more functions, so when the opportunity presented itself (on eBay), I jumped for the larger Pre 3 just to get the extra sreen real estate. I have no regrets at paying $350 for the Pre 3, but now I want even moar screen. I admit to lusting in my heart at the Note, but I’ve decided that I just can’t live without the slide-out keyboards for the Pre line (and now the Blackberry 9600s too – in fact, if RIM comes out with a model with a 5″ screen, a slide-out keyboard and the same QNX operating system I now have on my Playbook, I’ll be all over it).

    • trackerben
    • 8 years ago

    People who hold iPads to their ears look like Dorks, ditto with Kindles. With Galaxy Notes, they look like “small-d” dorks. An eight-year-old mimicking you making calls on your 4in screen is cute; an adult making calls on a proportionately-sized 5in is not (That said, aping my nephew with a Galaxy Note might be worth it if the viral incentives reached me).

    The walking solution (as opposed to in-car) for those who don’t want to go Borg is to use mobile bluetooth handsets. But if I’m going to hold a mere headset to my ear, I might as well hold an actual phone instead. Like the Razr, or any number of small & light 3G feature phones.

    Advantages of small phone plus tablet carry?
    Two devices. Two screens. Two batteries. Redundant contact books. One-handed keypad call operation. One-handed keypad text messaging. Seven radios vs. four. Simultaneous call & big-screen compute. Dual-SIM voice connectivity available. Doubly- and triply-redundant wireless data connectivity available.

    The disadvantages?
    Two devices. Two UIs. Two contact books. Two sync/back-up procedures. Two carrier billings. Two pockets/cases needed. Two data/charge cables likely.

    One use-case is compelling. That’s the one where I get into my car and quick-mount the tablet as a full-on media and GPS satnav console, while my phone integrates with the car’s bluetooth hands-free. This can’t be done both cleanly and gracefully with just one tablet, particularly a small-screen.

    Of course, if Siri and its like were to become more ubiquitous and competent then it would make look-ups and call and text operation less burdensome in keypad-less usage.

      • Firestarter
      • 8 years ago

      So you’d rather carry 2 devices than risk looking silly in public? Newsflash: no one cares, and those who do are not worth bothering about.

        • trackerben
        • 8 years ago

        Silly is one thing. I did state I can live with that, especially if Samsung marketing passes some my way. The advantages of a two-screen carry is another thing. I even listed some of them. Seriously.

      • RickyTick
      • 8 years ago

      Why would anyone hold an iPad or Kindle to their ear? Neither device is a phone, iirc.

        • trackerben
        • 8 years ago

        That was a size and weight carry comparison, not a functional one, to illustrate why monolithic slabs around the cranium do not make a smart impression. A cute look maybe, but not smart.

        On the gripping hand, the iPad1 is good for voip particularly as a speakerphone (mic is not bluetooth-enabled unlike with the iPad2). Or it was good, until iOS5 deprecated the hands-free function for many voip apps. When we came back to the bay area I used it to contact my wife at preset intervals until I got plans from ATT.

        So why would someone like me be found holding an iPad to my ear, outside Apple stores or McDonalds? Because I didn’t yet have a hands-free, but the iPad is still good for voip. But I won’t say it’s good-looking. The teenager who walked up to me outside Apple San Carlos and mockingly asked “is that a phone?” didn’t seem to think so. If one has to make do until better comes then fine. But there’s no use in denying there is better, in sizing. From this and other experiences over the years with monolithic slabs around my ears, including Panasonic corded cellphones, Handsprings, nokia Communicators, and now iPads, I can say that phone of the size of Galaxy Notes and larger aren’t much better in size.

      • FireGryphon
      • 8 years ago

      If you’re holding just the bluetooth headset to your ear, this’ll make it more of a necessity to not even take out your handset/tablet, and just make your phone calls via voice activation, which means voice UI’s need to get a whole lot better.

    • siberx
    • 8 years ago

    That picture of Cyril holding both phones, although intended to illustrate how much better the bigger phone fits his “big, clunky” thumbs, is in fact clearly illustrating a nearly opposite effect and the biggest problem I have with large phones; how exactly is he supposed to reach the right/upper side of the screen when using his thumb for input (one-handed)?

    I use my phone almost exclusively one-handed, so losing access to large portions of the screen due the unit’s unwieldy size is a deal-breaker for me. Besides, haven’t people learned yet how to use an edge or point of your thumb to accurately select small elements? I’ve got pretty big hands and I never have an issue selecting screen elements on my 3.7″ screen. By my measurements, the largest phone I could comfortably one-hand and still access the whole screen (or close to it) is 4″. What kind of monster hands do people have who think they can one-hand a unit larger than that?

    Now, maybe older folks prefer using two hands on these devices (I’ve seen older people using their index finger to interface with handheld devices more frequently than their thumbs for years, whereas the reverse appears true for younger people) but to me a smartphone is not an engaging or immersive enough device to command the attention of both hands. Tablets, sure – but that’s a *different* device with a different usage model; people seem to keep forgetting that.

    • Anvil
    • 8 years ago

    Anyone who doubts the validity of a giant sized smartphone needs to get themselves a plane ticket to Hong Kong and see it in action for themselves. I’m there right now for a few weeks and I see Galaxy Notes everywhere, it’s a hot item to the point where I’ve even had an uncle tell me that he’s fiending after one from his current Iphone.

    It’s not for me I think, but they certainly sell in this part of the Asian market.

    • heater19
    • 8 years ago

    actually i found the galaxy nexus to be just a bit too big, somewhat unwieldy in one hand but too small for two, the way i use a proper tablet
    I think the perfect size for a smartphone is one that has a screen around 4in, maybe 4.3, more than that and i would rather get a proper tablet
    As an aside, i was also not impressed with the Nexus’ battery life, barely went 4-5 hours without needing a recharge, and that’s with wi-fi/bluetooth/data turned off

      • moog
      • 8 years ago

      Bump. Reading this is more informative than the blog post.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah, the anecdote had potential, but ended up confusing me. I feel like [i<]I[/i<] could structure a better blog post on the subject. But Mr. Gasior doesn't get to sit around all day and draft blogs. Time is a bitch.

          • Yeats
          • 8 years ago

          The most disappointing aspect of this blog post is that there are no pics of the cat.

      • Goty
      • 8 years ago

      I don’t know what people are doing with their GNs that make the battery life so bad. I have a GSM Nexus and I regularly get 3-4 hours of screen on time (not battery life, but rather time that the screen is on in between charges), and most of that is playing games or surfing the web, which are both battery intensive tasks. Sorry, but if you’re not getting at LEAST 15 hours between charges, you’re doing it wrong.

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        that doesn’t even make sense. there are a TON of people complaining about the nexus’ battery life. are they all “doing it wrong” too?

          • Goty
          • 8 years ago

          If they’re only getting eight hours, then yes. The only way I could conceivably get that battery life that poor on my own Nexus would be to leave the screen on nearly continuously while using the mobile radios to pull down data all day long while simultaneously being on a call (GSM FTW).

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            you think the great masses of people are being on a call all day, and turning the screen on permanently? now you’re just being crazy.

            • EtherealN
            • 8 years ago

            One thing to remember is that specific application choices can have massive effects. For example, I found that early versions of Tower Raiders were absolute batteryguzzlers. That game would empty my old HTC Desire in half an hour while I could play Drift for hours while barely noticing an effect on battery level.

            But of course, assuming that the vast majority of GN users use apps with such problems (whether it really is an app problem or an OS/firmware/hardware problem I wouldn’t be able to say) and people using other handsets magically are not would be silly. Not technically impossible, but improbably to the point of being silly.

            I have a friend that used the GN, and he was also shocked at the horrible battery life of the unit. Demonstrated it to me once when we were going out. Fully charged at first, and after a couple phone calls, a few photos taken, and a couple hours in the pocket at the pub it was dry. I thought the battery problem reports for that unit were greatly exhaggerated at first, but then I got to see it for myself.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            for sure, and the free app issues, as have been widely reported, cause huge issues for battery life. Its a tricky issue to solve.

            • EtherealN
            • 8 years ago

            Wow, are we seeing a case of you and me agreeing about something?

            *buys a lottery ticket*

            😀

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            we do in fact! Hooray!

        • funko
        • 7 years ago

        Agreed, i have stretches where mine lasts 38 hours before a recharge, and i can easily get through a 14 hour day while actively checking each email as it gets pushed in, using the browser, etc etc, without worrying about battery life.

      • LiamC
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve got to say I agree with you. I’ve got an Incredible S (4″) and if anything, it’s just a little too big to be comfortable. My work phone (Desire S) felt just right as a phone (3.7″), but using the Incredible as an e-book reader or occasional browsing was a better experience. 4″ is about the limit (sorry girls…)

      Battery life is my greater concern than screen size. The 3G wireless in the Incredible S is the big drain. I can’t imagine that 4G is going to be better…

        • ImSpartacus
        • 8 years ago

        Get bigger hands.

          • EtherealN
          • 8 years ago

          Simple fact is that there’s no one right size, and it’s not just about hands. I have very small hands, bought a Note today, very happy with it. Before that I used the S2 and it was just perfect size. The reason I switched was basically to have a small unit that I can e-book comfortably on. I won’t be holding it to my head anyhow since there is this thing called “headsets”. “speakers”, “bluetooth” and so on.

          I mean, most of the people I run into in business don’t actually handle their phone anyhow, they’ve got the BT earplugs on the ready. So what something looks like when holding it to your ear feels sort of irrelevant to me. But well, that’s my usage pattern. Different units for different tastes. 🙂

    • jjj
    • 8 years ago

    That’s an odd way to put it,smartphone as a smaller tablet,it’s a PC and that’s that.I guess i had to say that because a lot of folks in the industry call them”media tablets” and see tablets as a media consumption device not a PC and that annoys the hell out of me since i would like to see a lot more capable software for phones/tablets instead of the not-really-an-app apps.
    About the weather it’s not just about the insides that don’t like the rain,capacitive touch doesn’t like rain/sweat much either.Some new gen controllers can handle it but,for now,most can’t.

      • Meadows
      • 8 years ago

      What capacitive touch “likes” is irrelevant. You can [i<]wipe the outside[/i<] of a smartphone.

    • Meadows
    • 8 years ago

    Pre ended up buried in your duvet.

    That’s just disquieting to read.

      • willmore
      • 8 years ago

      He’s got a girlfriend, he’s allowed to have a duvet. I’m married, I’ve even got a dust ruffle.

        • JDZZL
        • 8 years ago

        i hear that…

        • dpaus
        • 8 years ago

        Way, waaayyyy TMI….

    • adampk17
    • 8 years ago

    Man I love my iPhone 4 but you got me thinking. Do you suppose it’s impossible that ‘the new iPhone’ will have a larger screen?

    Damn, you got me thinking.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      Apple’s extensive research into bar phones with full-body screens yielded 3.7″ as the perfect size for the majority of it’s customers (i.e. [i<]women[/i<]). Unfortunately, even the higher resolution iPhone 4s is limited in the amount of information it can display due to using the extra pixels for finer detail instead of more data, so we can safely assume that we've hit the limit of what can be done at 3.7". It's still doubtful that Apple will move beyond that size though, as it would create a huge UI headache for their OS and Apps.

        • Farting Bob
        • 8 years ago

        Keeping the res the same and making the screen 0.5″ bigger wont effect the UI at all. I know Apple only likes to have 1 “current generation” product at a time, but a 4.x” screen with maybe a few other features (more storage space, better camera or whatever) could sit alongside an otherwise identical 3.x” screen device that sells a bit cheaper.

    • yogibbear
    • 8 years ago

    Yeah the last phone I loved was my motorola krzr. Now I have an iPhone 4S. Why? Cause it was the only smartphone that wasn’t HUMONGOUS! Everything else is soooo ridiculously massive that they don’t feel comfortable taking going out anywhere which is ridiculous.

    The last thing I want is a tablet in my pants. I hate the trend for smartphones to have bigger and bigger screens.

      • bluepiranha
      • 8 years ago

      I have the same sentiments but have decided to take the direction to a more extreme end. By next month I’ll be buying a Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro as my first Android phone.

      Its screen is all of 3.1″ and it is proud of its compactness. That it comes with a physical keyboard doesn’t hurt either.

        • Wirko
        • 8 years ago

        Yeah, Sony [-Ericsson] is one of the very few choices for those who want their smartphone to be near-dumbphone-sized. Check out the upcoming Xperia U or the “old” Xperia ray too, it has a 3.3″, 480×854 screen and is a sweet phone if you have thin fingers and good eyesight.

        Anyway, before deciding on a smartphone with a relatively small screen, you should spend some time using it. Many apps are not exactly comfortable to interact with at ~300 ppi and the screen can be painfully small for web browsing despite high pixel density.

        I’m all for OSes and apps that could scale to a wide range of screen sizes and ppi’s but, with Metro set to replace the “classic” Windows UI, the choice seems to be narrowing, not widening.

      • Jigar
      • 8 years ago

      People with small hands usually give this reason. 😛

        • yogibbear
        • 8 years ago

        Nothing wrong with small dextrous hands. I can fix machinery and don’t have a problem going all machinist getting my arm stuck in between gears and electronics to unscrew something.

    • Slinky
    • 8 years ago

    I feel the same. I receintly upgraded from a Samsung F480 to a Samsung Galaxy S2 and found the screen a little awkward and huge. Two months later when I pick up my wife’s iphone 4, I wonder how she can use something with such a tiny screen.

      • paco
      • 8 years ago

      Yep I’m in the same situation, I have the S2 and my wife has the 4s and I think it’s so small whenever i pick it up.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah I find using a small screen on an iPhone painful. It is particularly telling for the on-screen keyboard touching the letters on the edge of the screen. Not an issue on my phone, a bigger issue on the iPhones.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      I went from a 4″ Captivate (Galaxy S 1) to the Galaxy Note- and I don’t have ‘giant’ hands. I can still do most things with it with one hand, such as using it as a phone or text messenger, and anything else I’ll probably be using it in landscape mode with two hands anyway.

      I wasn’t even looking for a huge phone when I bought it- I was looking for something more functional than the Captivate, which was somehow cripplingly slow (to the point of not being able to make- or sometimes even answer- calls) and lacked both a front camera and a rear camera flash. On AT&T though, there are very few good dual-core, high resolution OLED (or nice LCD) phones with LTE modems available, especially ones that don’t manage to mess something up- actually, there’s really just the Note.

      So, while the Note was the last phone I looked at, worrying that it’d be too big or too heavy, it’s the one I wound up with because it isn’t at all too heavy and it’s not as unwieldy when held up to the ear as you might think, and it does still fit in a pocket.

        • ChronoReverse
        • 8 years ago

        How’s the battery life on it? I’m actually considering getting rid of my tablet and phone to get a Galaxy Note.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This