The rise of the Phablet Part 2 – Are phablets just a fad?

April 2, 2013
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LG Optimus G Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Note 2 aa 600px 1

Last year, in May, was when I first wrote about the rise of the phablet. The success enjoyed by the Samsung Galaxy Note took many by surprise, and led to the earlier discussion about the direction in which this type of device was heading. Almost a year in, and the picture has become a lot clearer, but has also given rise to a few more questions. Is the phablet going to just be a fad? Are these devices going to find mainstream success or continue to be a part of a niche category? Can we stop calling these over-sized smartphones, “phablets?” Today, we attempt to answer some of these questions for you.

See Also: The history of the Phablet

“Phablets are just a fad.” – Flurry

SizeMatters_Chart2-resized-600

Flurry, an app analytics firm, made quite a bold statement in a recent report, stating that phablets are just a fad. Flurry pulled its data from developers that make use of the company’s performance analytics, to gather information on user location, level of app activity, and the devices in use. For the latest report, the company broke down the information based on screen size, stating that medium sized devices (screen size between 3.5-inch and 4.9-inch) are the most popular, while users of large-sized tablets are comparatively the most active.

The report found that only 2% of the total device models fell in the phablet (5-inch to 6.9-inch) category, and even when you look at the numbers based on the OS, since all current phablet devices run just Android, only 7% of Android devices fall in this group.

But is that enough to write it off as a fad? No. Here’s why.

This is just the beginning

galaxy note s pen premium suite

Samsung proved with the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy Note 2 that there is definitely a market for such large devices. This has led a number of manufacturers releasing phablets of their own, and finding success as well, such as the LG Optimus G Pro. While the Galaxy Note 2 and the LG Optimus G Pro are both high-end devices, there are a slew of budget-friendly phablets that Chinese and Indian manufacturers are flooding their local markets with. At such low costs, it’s definitely worth it to have a smartphone with a large screen that can be used as a primary device. At least in markets such as India, where it isn’t always feasible for consumers to own a smartphone as well as a tablet, the availability of phablets certainly works out well. Consumers now interact with their device displays for videos, gaming, and more, as opposed to just using the phone for its primary purpose – to talk. Larger displays certainly makes sense.

Following the release of the 6.1-inch Huawei Ascend Mate, there have been a lot of rumors of similarly-sized devices from other device manufacturers such as Sony, ZTE, and of course Samsung, which will most likely be releasing a Galaxy Note 3 later this year. Phablets may never overtake the popularity of medium-sized phones, but are they just a passing phase? I don’t think so.

Okay, so it isn’t a fad. But will it ever be mainstream?

Sony Xperia Z vs Google Nexus 4 aa (22)

The answer to this question depends entirely on what direction OEMs want to take their devices. With all the talk about phablets, even this year, two out of four flagship device we’ve seen so far, the Sony Xperia Z and the Samsung Galaxy S4, just touch the line with 5-inch displays, while HTC decided to stick with a smaller 4.7-inch screen. Only LG decided to launch the 5.5-inch Optimus G Pro, but with rumors of an LG Optimus G2, we may see a sub 5-inch flagship from the company as well. Even though Samsung has found a lot of success with its current Galaxy Note series, the company’s flagship is still the comparatively smaller Galaxy S4. It’s also important to note that for now, the phablet concept is restricted to only Android devices. It may be years before we see an iPhablet, and Windows Phone manufacturers and Blackberry aren’t ready to push the limits just yet.

But with 5-inch devices slowly becoming the standard for Android smartphones, another question comes up.  Going forward, do we need the term “phablet?”

Re-defining the phablet 

Last year, the only point of reference we had for a definition of the term “phablet” was the Samsung Galaxy Note. It was easy to define the term as a device that features a display that falls in the 5-inch to 7-inch range. While this definition mostly holds true, the lines have been blurred even more, with smartphones like the 5-inch HTC Butterfly, Sony Xperia Z and ZL, and the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S4 entering the picture.  Maybe it’s time to start calling such devices what they are?

A smartphone. Regardless of how big the screen gets, and the limits are certainly being pushed by companies like Huawei with the 6.1-inch Ascend Mate, all these devices are smartphones. With the smallest high-end smartphone featuring a 4.7-inch display (HTC One), the need for another category is increasingly becoming redundant. Over-sized, huge, massive, unnecessarily large, whatever the adjective you want to preface it with, these devices are all just smartphones.

Granted, we’re now seeing tablets with voice-calling capabilities, giving rise to term Fonblet (please let that not become a thing), but that’s another discussion entirely, but also gives rise to an interesting point.

How big is too big?

huawei-8.5-inch-smartphone

When the Galaxy Note was first announced, I thought it was way too big to be used as a phone. I thought the same thing with the Galaxy Note 2 was released. But even though one-handed use is almost impossible, it’s nothing you can’t get used to. That being said, the thought process will probably continue when an even bigger Note 3 is launched. With rumors of Samsung releasing a “Fonblet” similar to the Asus Fonepad, and a ridiculous-sounding 8.5-inch smartphone from Huawei, at some point a line has to be drawn. I’ll leave that answer up to you.

How big is too big? Do you think phablets are just a fad, or smartphones with large displays here to stay? Should we retire the term “phablet?” Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Comments

  • Nicolas

    My samsung galaxy s3 (gt-i9300) is showing me that there is a firmware update!!!!!

    • Nicolas

      Can anyone verify this please?!

      • http://twitter.com/mca5287 marcus aurelius

        Hi Nicholas, I just checked on my gt-i9300 & so far no updates, it tells me “Access to the software update service is provided to users in the order in which they request it. Try later” Although I am on 4.1.2 Build # JZ054K.I9300XXEMB5. I think this is the latest along with the “MultiWindow” support.

        • Nicolas

          I had the exact same message, but when I plugged mi phone to my pc via Kies a message appeard telling me that there is a new firmware

          • http://twitter.com/mca5287 marcus aurelius

            Thanks Nicholas, I’ll have to give it a try thru Kies then.

  • Phil Nolan

    I love my 10″ tablet (a Xoom) and my RAZR maxx, but ideally, if I had lots of money to throw around. I would have a Galaxy Note and a Surface Pro.

  • Edward Sudjatmiko

    It’s not a fad, because people like bigger screens … granted that it is not practical to carry around in a pocket, but women can carry these in their purse with no problem. Many of my female friends really like Note 2, but the dudes prefer S3 or Nexus 4

    • MasterMuffin

      All the females I know either have iPhones or Nokias (mostly iPhones). Oh god…

      • RarestName

        Most of the females that I see on the train are using the Note II to go on Facebook and they can scroll through their news feed for at least one hour ._.

  • whoknowswhereor

    Note 2 FTW!

  • Droidfan

    There will be no standard smartphone screen size from this point on. When Apple dominated the market, it’s 3.5 inch screen was the standard. As is usually the case, the disruption of the market by Android OEMS has led to ever increasing screen sizes.
    Smartphone screen size in being driven, in large part, to the ever expanding things they do. Web surfing, video usage and productivity apps all benefit from larger screen size. Add to that, many peoples desire to try to limit themselves to one device and one date plan, and you can see the pressures building.

  • osc707

    I’m a dude and I love my GNote 2. As long as Sammy doesn’t mess up the GNote, it’s all I will own from now on

  • http://twitter.com/truspace Tru Space

    Mobility has always been the case. As long as there are large enough pockets to carry one of those beast around, I see no real problem with them. Hoorah for large pockets!

  • kascollet

    I’ve just switched from a Galaxy S2 to a Nexus 4 and then to an iPhone 5, so 4.3″-> 4.7″ -> 4″ and 16/10 ratio (GS2 & N4) to 16/9. I’d never thought I’d enjoy the small form factor that much. Everything is doable with a single hand, and I’m not afraid to drop my phone anymore. I miss the big and wide screens for gaming but strangely, not when browsing because A) I can easily type and zoom in and out with one hand and B) the screen is extremely bright and sharp, adding much to legibility (I was very surprised when I turned it on the first time).
    Of course, it suits every pocket I throw it in, even with a case (necessary, this things seems so fragile !). Now I even find my GS2 too big :-D
    I really would like to be given the choice of a small screen high end phone with Android on it but such a device doesn’t exist yet. I’ll look after the GS4 Mini closely to see if it is the ideal compromise.

    • CpuKnight

      Ure kidding! I can perfectly handle my 4.7 inch Padfone 2 with one hand… And im a tiny 15 year old kid. Im dead serious I can even play some temple run 2 on it.Maybe its just me…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003612834055 Facebook User

      hahahah is your name fred flintstone or betty rubble ?

  • Chris ames

    I would love samsung to produce a 7 or 8inch phone…. A decent carry case and blue tooth and would be all I would need…….. In the style of my note 10.1 please.

  • inchhigh5137

    If you can hold it in one hand its not to big.

  • le_lutin

    Once you go big, it’s hard to go back.
    I do quite a lot if my content consumption (twitter, Facebook, news, whatever) on my phone so it makes sense to have as big a screen as is practical. Unless you have small hands, the note 2 is perfectly fine. For me, the advantage of the big screen far outweighs anys disadvantages.

  • Jeff Jameson

    ive somehow managed to get up to 5 inches form factor with my sony xperia z. at this point i dont know if i can go any bigger because larger than 5 inch screens just dont seem to work for me… yet.

  • rickneworleansla

    I use my original Galaxy Note less then 5% for voice calls. When I do use it for voice calls it is typically at home, in my office, or in the car. I always use Speaker phone in these situations since it allows me to do other things or multitask on the phone. I also hate holding a phone to my ear. The other 95% of the time I use it for web access, webinars, email, messaging, reading news articles, remote PC access, office applications, etc. It is a portable computer that I can do all of these things with and it fits in my pocket. On a 5.3″ screen some of these things can still be a little difficult to do at times. On a smaller screen they are nearly impossible. I’ve read the next “phablet” screens from Samsung will be 5.8″ – 6.3″. 6.3″ may be reaching the limit of portability unless they can shrink the bezel to the edge.

  • http://twitter.com/zeeh0le Paul Allen

    I just made the jump to Android after 4.5 years with an iPhone. Initially, the Note 2 felt huge compared to my iPhone 4 yet surprisingly slim. Now that I’ve spent a good six weeks with the phone, it still feels a little large whereas now I can’t even pick up an iPhone without wondering how I put up with such a small display for so long.

    The one thing that does bother me about the Note 2′s size is the limited ‘dead space’ area above and below the screen. While my hand is just large enough to reach across the screen with my thumb, I can rarely do so without accidentally hitting the touch-activated Menu or Back buttons with the lower part of my thumb/palm. Though I haven’t spent much time with any other size Android phone, it’s hard for me to imagine any of them being very one-hand friendly, thanks to those Menu and Back buttons being in the way. If there’s anything I could change about the Note 2, these buttons would be physical and the Home button touch-activated. Oh yeah, and shrink the height of the landscape keyboard so I can actually see what I’m typing.

  • gustavo de santiago

    I also thought the “phablets” were ridiculous, but now I own the Galaxy Note 2 and absolutely love it. There is definitely a market for fonbl-I mean smartphones. It’s hard to imagine downsizing after loving my Note.

  • Mike A

    I like that 7″ Asus Fonepad, I’d have no problem using that as a phone. In all reality it would be used as something other then a phone 95% of the time anyways.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1076674789 FriĂ°berg Leifs Jensson

    What made the GNote worthy was the S-Pen and the features with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/realskillz Realskillz Ofthe Recordbreaker

    They’re not a fad. I don’t know about everyone else, but since I’ve had my GNote2, there’s no way I can go back and use a phone smaller than it. Your “Phablet” becomes a normal sized phone for you. So you have no choice but to continue purchasing phones that size or (and don’t kill me for saying this) a little bit bigger so you can feel normal.

    But that may just be me. People who’ve never had one or took the time to get used to one won’t understand what us with these phones experience and appreciate about “Phablets”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003612834055 Facebook User

    too soon to tell really – more ppl see them, more ppl want them – everyone is tired of small screens – content consumption needs large displays = phabs are most dollar efficient, cuz ppl don’t want to buy phone AND tablet, so phabs will grow quickly in popularity = most ppl coming off ios 3gs contracts will opt for large screen form, simply evolution. asia is prime example they had large displays two years prior to us and everyone in asia loves big hi res displays, only here aapl held it back now they will suffer market share loss big time this year.

  • Ems

    The problem I have with big phones if I’m trying to sneakily text you can’t and I have very small hands so it’s like typing on my ipad which is a problem.