Profiling The Phablet User


Smartphones are getting bigger, but is that what users really want?

That’s the subject of this ITWorld piece I came across yesterday. It was written with Android users in mind, but I think it’s a valid question for any brand of smartphone—even BlackBerries are getting wider, if not necessarily taller.

As I remember it, the very word “phablet” (a form factor in-between a phone and tablet) was once a term of derision, aimed expressly at those who used the Note series of Samsung Galaxy smartphones. Fast forward three years after the Note’s 2011 début, and super-sized sidearms are everywhere.

I’m clearly in the minority when it comes to phablets, but thanks to ITWorld and an experience I had over the weekend, I think I now understand why.

He said WHAT?!!

Kicking off the recent debate about smartphone size is David Burke, VP of Engineering for Android at Google. From a CNET interview:

He thinks some consumers just don’t know they want a phablet yet: “If you gave them a phablet for a week, 50 percent of those would say they like it and not go back,” he said.

This immediately became the topic of a spirited discussion on another site where smartphone enthusiasts frequent, reddit. You can see all the comments for yourself in this r/Android thread.

A Phablet Frenzy on the TTC

Over the weekend I took my OnePlus One with me on Toronto’s subway system. I don’t know if the OPO qualifies as a phablet, per se, but its 5.5 inch screen is significantly larger than the 4.95 inch display on my Nexus 5.

For most of the ride I found myself seated in the middle of two other passengers with Galaxy Notes. As much as I tried to respect their privacy, it was pretty difficult to avoid seeing exactly what they were doing on their big screens. The person beside me was clearly browsing through her photo gallery, so I averted my eyes and looked out the window—where I could clearly see the reflection of the other passenger’s solitaire game.

It’s not that I was being disturbed in any way; quite the opposite, in fact: I became acutely aware of my similarly-large screen and the OPO ended up in my jacket pocket for the rest of the ride, so that my fellow passengers wouldn’t have to avoid spying on me.

One Size Does Not Fit All

So back to that ITWorld post, it gave me some insight into my personal reluctance to embrace the phablet form factor:

On the other side of the great debate about phablets are the folks who detest them. Usually these kinds of users also own a tablet, and they prefer that their mobile phone be small, light and very portable. For them phablets are essentially abominations that are too large or heavy to carry around as phones.

Except for that last bit, this describes me pretty well. When I’m at home I hardly use my phone at all, and enjoy reading, gaming and browsing Internet memes on Imgur with my Nexus 7 tablet. If I did use a bigger phone as my daily driver then a tablet might prove to be redundant.

All this is only to say that there is no right or wrong here, only what’s right for you.