Phablets are extremely popular in Eastern Asia – but why is that?

October 15, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 jet black S pen stylus aa 6

There was a time when smartphones with sub-4-inch displays were considered the norm. Fast-forwarding to today, many Android flagships have easily pushed past the 4.5-inch mark, with many more hovering around or slightly above 5-inch mark.

Even with the recent growth in device display size, handsets like the Galaxy Note 3, Xperia Z Ultra and HTC One Max are still very much considered niche products. According to Flurry Analytics, a worldwide sample of nearly 100,000 iOS and Android devices determined that only 7 percent of handsets have displays 5 to 6.9-inches in size.

Interestingly enough, this same statistic doesn’t seem to hold up in Eastern Asia.

Speaking to the Guardian in September, IDC reported that a total of 25.2m ‘phablets’ had shipped in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan. This figure was actually higher than both mobile PC and tablet shipments. Furthermore, the Guardian indicated that large-screened smartphones accounted for more than 30% of all smartphone sales in India.

A similar level of growth seems to exist in other Asian markets, including China. Then there’s South Korea, which is home to the ‘phablet’ that started it all, the Samsung Galaxy Note.

With Samsung accounting for 60% of all smartphone sales in South Korea, it might come as little surprise that Flurry Analytics recently determined that a whopping 41 percent of smartphone sales are for devices that are 5-inches or larger. After all, both the Galaxy S4 and Note 3 hit or exceed this size barrier.

So what’s the disconnect here, why are large screened handsets more popular in the Asian world than they are across the rest of the globe? One of the most obvious reasons is that the phablet revolution has been pushed by Asian-based companies such as Samsung and LG, just as Apple is based in the U.S. and therefore tends to enjoy stronger sales in the North American market.

Beyond that, there are factors such as brand perception, marketing and more. We’ll go ahead and focus on just two factors that make phablets attractive to Asian buyers.

sony xperia z ultra aa design standing

Phablets: a perfect tool for gaming

In Southeast Asia – and particularly in South Korea – the mobile gaming industry is huge. According to Flurry Analytics, the most popular app store in South Korea is SK Planet’s T Store. In cooperation with Flurry, the T Store reported that a staggering 68% of its revenue from apps and other digital content comes from gaming.

While a sub-5-inch display might be fine for checking Facebook, some web browsing and light gaming, it’s not so great for more ‘hardcore’ mobile gaming.

With most of the Asian markets finding mobile gaming more accessible and affordable that console or PC gaming, it’s not surprising to see that these consumers would favor handsets with larger-sized displays.

Phablets: the ideal all-in-one computing platform

A large-screened smartphone can remove the need for a separate tablet, gaming console and even a PC for some folks. This is particularly important for emerging Asian markets, as many consumers can’t necessarily afford to own multiple different devices.

This all-in-one design is equally important in bigger cities in Asia, where much of the populous relies on public transportation. If you’re going to spend a good hour or more aboard some form of public transit, why not have a device that can make calls, conduct business, play games and handle multimedia without the need to drag along your tablet or notebook computer?

In short, handsets like the Note 3 can be a window into your digital world without the need for any other device.

Wrap up

Large-screened smartphones might be most popular in Southeast Asia, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see larger sized devices continue to catch on in other parts of the world as well. The idea of one device that can do all is something that is universally appealing, and that’s why we are starting to see more manufacturers push display sizes upwards.

Right now, it’s mainly Android manufacturers that are pushing screen size, but even that may be changing in the not-too-distant future. Not only did Microsoft recently roll out a new update for its less-than-popular mobile platform that will open the door to phablet-sized smartphones, but rumors suggest Apple may eventually consider a larger-screened handset as well.

What do you think of 5+-inch smartphones, do you prefer them or would you rather have several different mobile devices that all have their own specific uses?

Comments

  • Tuan Nguyen

    It’s an amazing number of people that bought into tablet for sure. However, as I understand, the phablet is a symbol of status for many. I am Vietnamese-American, and my frequent visit to Vietnam-I noticed this trend in popular hot spots. People flash their expensive phones, like the note, to show their economic status. It is also the greatest and latest, making it functional to the phablet’s owner. If any one is to visit Asia, you will find laptops and notebooks a rare sight. They are simply too cumbersome compared to the phablet’s portable size.

  • Quryous

    .
    Personal opinion: The Note 3 is the perfect size, as it has a better and larger screen than the Note 2, which I used to think was perfect, while actually being smaller. The Note 1 was the wrong proportion.

    If they sell it, I will always buy the Note 3 size. It is perfect in both my shirt pocket and pants pocket.

    LOVE it. Only one device for a fine camera, great messaging center, great navigation, great phone, great game machine, great eBook reader, etc.

    Go Samsung.
    .

  • chkenwing

    Phablets are very popular over here in Hong Kong. Due to the fact that the majority of people do not drive here and take public transport, they prefer the larger screen for their TV streaming catching up with the latest dramas, or playing video games.

    • carlisimo

      In San Francisco, iPhones are popular because so many of us take public transport. A lot of us spent the trip standing and using one hand to grab onto something, so phones small enough to use with one hand are more popular.

      Interesting that the same reason gives completely different results.

      • Tehki1

        In SF it’s more about style over substance!

        • bklm1234

          Style? In whose minds? It’s narrow mindedness and some protectionism in play. Most iPhone users won’t accept anything that doesn’t work like ios because that’s their first smartphone.

      • chkenwing

        Oh, HK is very much the same. You walk onto the underground trains and EVERYONE has their head down. Plus, with 7 million people all cramped into a city no bigger than London, still not sure why they prefer the bigger screen estate.

        That said, we do have a large number of iPhone uses, but you tend to see more of phablets/androids.

  • pajaro

    since when does Southeast Asia include South Korea???

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southeast_Asia

    • MasterMuffin

      Since it included Russia (→ never :D)

    • Andrew Grush

      Fair enough — meant to say Eastern Asia, rather. :) Thanks!

      • jamesinkorea

        Maybe you should have just said “Asia”?

  • Brandon

    I still prefer smaller phones for the simple fact I like using my phone one handed and because I think mobile should stay mobile. If I want to watch a movie, tv, or game I use a tablet. Why settle for an inbetween when you can diversify your experience.

    • NeedName

      If I want to watch a movie, tv, or game I use a projector and 100″ screen. . . why would I use a 10″ tablet?

      /s

      • bklm1234

        This is the mobile age, grandpa.

        • NeedName

          guess the mobile age must be homeless as well

          /s

    • JT

      Then why are you on this site? You might as well keep using flip phones.

    • vespa

      To each his own.

      I also prefer smaller phone when using public transport (cause your other hand must grab on passenger handle). From my own experience, 3.2″ phone is the perfect size for traveling. Even 4.3″ phone still difficult to use on one hand.

      But for my eyes, 5″-6″ is the perfect size. So when not using public transport, I bring my phablet instead.

  • Bone

    Phablets are good?

  • wat

    Smartphone screen sizes will level at 6inch average. I predicted this long ago but now Gartner research has come to the same conclusion. 6 is perfect.

  • Groud Frank

    I don’t know what possessed me to get my Huawei Ascend Mate 6.1 but I am glad it did. I have never been so productive on a phone. I can browse the web without feeling frustrated or the feeling of having a sub standard web experience. Viewing videos is a pleasure, playing games is a solid experience. I can create and edit document with ease. I can view and create emails effortlessly. Heck, 90% of the times I use my phablet to make comments on android authority as well was read articles on all my favourite tech sites. I only use computers for work and learning Java coding. The experience a phablet provides is unmatched. I am so impressed that I refuse to to buy a phone that is less than 5.7 inches. Give it a try, it is liberating!

  • jamesinkorea

    Phablets are very popular in South Asia (India, Pakistan) as well.

  • Joseph Teply

    Personally I like a screen around 5.2 in. But that’s my preference

  • jamesinkorea

    I’m tired of people using the word “phablet” to describe these phones, especially those that have never even used these phones (not saying the writer of the article hasn’t). These are just big phones with bigger screens. If you have ever used a small tablet (Nexus 7) and one of these bigger phones, you’ll see that the experience with the bigger phones doesn’t even come close to the experience with even a small tablet.

    • Andrew Grush

      I actually HATE the word phablet, but considering it was used by the statistic sources… I used it a few times – that’s why I also used “large-screened phone” where possible, lol.

      Honestly, I don’t think devices like the Note 2 and Note 3 are that big. They feel comfortable to me. Now devices like the Galaxy Mega and Xperia Z Ultra? Those are really more like small tablets that can make phone calls. :)

  • LeBron

    I think it’s because Asians have small eyes so need a huge screen

    • vespa

      lol, I hope you’re joking

    • MadCowOnAStick

      omg that’s what i said lol i didn’t see this post

    • Ghost

      That’s a dumb comment. You “think”?. Ignorant is bliss which is typical of white skins attitude.

    • Mike Reid

      You joke, but I honestly think there may be a kernel of truth to size issues.

      Many Asians tend to have smaller hands and smaller “stature”. *

      * ( That’s just a statistically scientifically provable anatomical/racial fact and not a judgement of good vs bad. See the stats here for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height and don’t call me racist if I say “the fictional purple race” has a darker complexion than “the ficttional pure white race”.)

      Now for IMO: this smaller size/stature (compared with what they may see in movies etc. from western cultures) may contribute to a need for compensation.

      There may be some counter-intuitivity there with regards to larger devices making them look even smaller, but a large device provides a reason/excuse why they look smaller in comparison.

      • jdoee100

        Huh? Are you serious?

        • Mike Reid

          Yes.

          Feel free to disagree though. :)

          (Though frankly I’m getting tired of the hate-fests these comments sections seem to be becoming more and more, and am about ready to not bothering posting anymore.)

  • MadCowOnAStick

    Asians do not have enough Vitamin A in their diet. Vitamin A helps your eyesight. Therefore, Asians have small eyesight. Many people call this phenomenon “Asian eyes.” To see the screen more clearly, they must use larger screens. Clearly, this is why phablets are popular in Asia.
    JKJKJKJK PLEASE DONT KILL ME JKKKKKKKKKK

    • jdoee100

      I think you need more vitamins.

      • nishantsirohi123

        perhaps electroshock therapy as well

  • Didier Hoarau

    I live in Hong Kong and I would have an additional comment to add to the “Phablets: the ideal all-in-one computing platform”.

    I think it’s the right reason but I think it’s not only because of the transportation time. In western countries, people can leave work relatively early in the evening. Like 6pm or 7pm. So they can have a “home time” and then spend time on their computer at home (homes that are bigger than ours by the way). Here a lot of people leave work very late so there is no real “home time”. When you leave work at 10pm you just want to eat something quick in a small restaurant, then go home and sleep. Other people wouldn’t leave that late but would eat more often outside than people in western countries, so basically less “home time”. So when you have such constraints, your phone is the only computing time after work. Better have something big.

    I have noticed that for jobs that require even more flexibility like the domestic helpers, there is often an increase in size: I see a lot of domestic helpers with 8″ tablets as their main device (so yes they are calling with it)

    I would add another argument that I don’t see here and that is in my opinion relevant for Asian countries. I would say that women are more likely to buy a 6″+ phone. The reason is that using a computer is complicated. Using a phone/tablet is much easier. So women don’t have to learn about how to use a computer and do all the geeky stuff to maintain it. And for keyboard… Input of Asian languages on a phone/tablet is so much easier!

    This is at least the observation that I can make here.

    Often I read things on US-based tech website like “making calls on a 6in+ device is ridiculous” or “taking pictures with a tablet is ridiculous”… I think that’s making judgments a little too fast and that’s forgetting that there are other countries and people might have other constraints there.

    • vespa

      That’s pretty make sense. Thanks for valuable insight!

    • lei

      It is rather ridiculous to take photos by ipad

    • Calvin

      Women can also put their phablet in their purse… For men it’s hard to carry a phablet in their front jeans pocket for the whole day…

      I’m still using the I4s, but am considering to buy the Sony Xperia Z1… 5 inch is a decent size for me, as long as I can put it in my jeans pocket and be able to sit down probably… I’m sick of waiting for the next jailbreak… No more IOS for me (I had 3 iphones before)

      But I can understand why people would buy a phablet, why carrying a phone, tablet or computer around… When with a phablet u can do almost the same thing with it… ;)

    • ack

      Yup, that’s basically my observation as well. The other thing is that Asians tend to be much more phone-savvy than computer-savvy, and will tend to choose what is the best at the moment. Before it was the iphone 4, now it’s the Note 2&3.

      Also, there is no bias for small phones like in North America, which from an Asian POV is as strange as the “it’s too big” perception here. The trend is now towards large phones and even phone-enabled tablets. Because in the end, it depends on what is more important: phone calls vs. watching TV/gaming/reading. And for many people, the phone is just a feature, and not even an important one anymore.

    • William Worlde

      Thanks for your valuable Asian insight!

      The only thing I take offense at is women finding computers too complicated to use (and I am not a woman). Don’t say that to our women here in Canada; there will be reprisals!

  • jasmeet

    just to make a point here as a Asian(from India), indian people like big screen phones merely as a status symbol as they like to flash it and show off, and its 100% true ,so if you are from India you know what am talking about !!!

  • Hello

    Did it occurr to anyone that its because their writing systems have more complex characters???

  • Paul Allen

    As I understand it, people in many Asian countries tend to have to make do with less space in general. If that’s the case, it would make sense to consolidate as much as possible into one device. As for phablets, there are things about my Note 2 that I absolutely love but I still miss no longer having a smartphone small enough to operate with one hand. As far as that goes, I still miss being able to pop open my old flip phone, feel around for the #1 key, hit ‘send’ and be talking to my wife – all without ever having to look at the phone.

  • Goh

    Absolutely true! In fact, I’m reading this article with my Galaxy Mega 6.3 where im inside 1 hour journey train to work!

  • R Idris Musa

    A month ago I was using HTC One and really love it. And I never ever wanted to use a phone with screen over 5″.

    But now, I use Galaxy Note 3. I thought it’s big. But I was wrong. The screen is perfect for viewing videos, reading ebooks, playing games, working, seeing the road map through GPS while driving, etc. The stylus in Note 3 is fully functional too, especially when u make a call and need to write down some notes at the same time. Moreover, when one of ur hand is busy with something else, u can still manage the Note 3 by using the one handed operation feature.

    Lastly, I think, big phones aren’t really that big if they could provide almost all the things u need in a smartphone. We just have to give it a try. I’m from Indonesia anyways.. Cheers ^_^

  • R Idris Musa

    A month ago I was using HTC One and really love it. And I never ever wanted to use a phone with screen over 5″.

    But now, I use Galaxy Note 3. I thought it’s big. But I was wrong. The screen is perfect for viewing videos, reading ebooks, playing games, working, seeing the road map through GPS while driving, etc. The stylus in Note 3 is fully functional too, especially when u make a call and need to write down some notes at the same time. Moreover, when one of ur hand is busy with something else, u can still manage the Note 3 by using the one handed operation feature.

    Lastly, I think, big phones aren’t really that big if they could provide almost all the things u need in a smartphone. We just have to give it a try. I’m from Indonesia anyways.. Cheers ^_^

  • Balraj

    You have no idea..
    Ppl think if the phone is big, they status will increase..
    For most part of asia n India..
    Also most local manufacturers make mostly 5 inch inch phones..
    Less choice n price also around 15k…
    Many ppl cheat consumers by false marketing, like telling even this 15k phone has quad-core n high end devices from brand companies also have quad-core etc etc
    I met a fool who said, Miramax canvas hd is better than galaxy s3
    I think you get the point…

  • Oli72

    if google comes with a nexus 6 phablet im on it.

  • michael sanchez

    Bought my lg g2 and its really a nice size dont think i would want anything bigger

  • pritish

    Also Majority of Indian Customers have no sense of what the phone offers in terms of specs. So they simply buy the largest phone.

    • itzvarma

      it is also price vs screen .. when you get huge screen with low cost some thing like galaxy grand or xperia C or any other micromax phones .. they sell like anything .. my frnds excitement about his grand lasted 2 days .. later the phone was useless and lagged like hell!!

  • Stan Gorton

    Asians have poor eyesight and wear dorky spectacles that is why we need phablets! kidding im asian too dont hate!

  • box14380

    Everybody likes to have one Device that can do-it-all. So phablet is ideal for business, gaming, and telephony with the use of bluetooth headsets.

  • mali

    I love a bigger screen..I originally wanted the z-utra.. but decided to buy the note III.. and why.. and why at all for a bigger screen..I used tablets on a train ride going to and from Work.. and it became a hassle lugging it around.. and at times I didn’t have time to put it in my backpack.. and when I did..and got to the train returning to home from work..I’d find myself to lazy to wanna pull it back out.. and for all the uses I do with a bigger screen a phone with a smaller screen just seemed like a bigger task to get jobs done.. now as for picking a 5’7in screen over a 6’4screen.. I went that route because I did need to make sure the device could fit in my pocket or somewhere easy for continues access. I honestly think it depends on the lifestyle of the person… my girlfriend thinks my phone is to big..but also all she does on her phone..is talk..text..social media..and candy crush…as for me.. I use cloud space.. work.. scheduling.. set reminders in my calendar..etc etc..and even watch tv.

  • amilwani

    Note 3 is huge !

  • Aries Menk

    Asians tend to use phablet simply because:

    1. multi-tasking (call/text/browsing/gaming in one)

    2. easy for web browsing
    3. Status symbol
    4. Affordable

  • Harry

    Everyone seems to be forgetting that being a follower of this website makes them part of a very niche segment of the market. Most people in North America wouldn’t know what to do with a Galaxy Note. In contrast, Asian consumers are by and large much more tech curious and subsequently tech literate.

  • bklm1234

    Phablets are great because they are not so big that you can still slip it in your jeans. The bigger screen can make it work like a computer. I can do practically all my company’s work and run my side business on it such as ssh, rdp, and some serious cut/copy and paste, rather comfortably.

  • nishantsirohi123

    simply because iphones are obviously overpriced in asian countries, they have unlocked devices that are sold for full retail price by the manufacturer and not the mobile career. In the Android space bigger sized devices are mostly with better specs, the top of the line android has always been the Galaxy Note line.

    And once you start using the large displays, it is very hard to go back to the small screen devices.

  • Dan

    I’m a small Southeast Asian guy (5’4″) yet I carry a phablet comfortably in my pocket and I use it to make phone calls without covering half of my face. One handed operation is doable but two handed is faster.

    Whenever the topic is about phablets, gadget reviewers, blog writers, and drive-by-commenters with Caucasian (or Western) sounding names bitch and moan that it’s too big for them. Yet they’re probably half a foot taller than me, with bigger hands and longer fingers.

    If a pipsqueak like me can use a “big” phone comfortably and not look like an idiot, then the naysayers just have no merit to their whining.

  • Oli72

    Phablets is great for the market. If u don’t like don’t share ur bad or uncomfortable experience on the site. I’m patiently waiting for Nexus 6 phablet 2014 I hear on the wire Samsung note 4.

  • wes

    Waiting for nexus phablet

  • harshika prasad

    I wish to provide a Freudian analysis for this. Actually Asians are very concerned about the small size of their ….Their life is often an internal strife comparing the size of their ……The phone thus becomes an extension of their ….. By keeping a big phone, the internal strife is resolved to a certain extent, unless of course they see others carrying something even bigger. Its that simple.