There's been a strong trend in the smartphone market over the last few years towards increasingly large touchscreens. As people consume more and more entertainment on their smartphones and use them for more tasks beyond calls, the benefits of a big display have become obvious. But where is the line? When does a smartphone become a tablet?
Turns out it doesn't. It's a "phablet." These hybrid devices fall somewhere between smartphones and tablets, and believe it or not, the phrase started out as a bit of a joke. Yet, the unexpected success of the original Samsung Galaxy Note has spawned a successor and a couple of new entrants in the genre; and it now looks as though phablets are here to stay. For clarity, phablets have displays between 5" and 7" and they combine some of the features of tablets with all of the features one would expect to find in a smartphone.
Despite their larger size — which often makes them slightly awkward to use as phones — phablets are wholly capable as smartphones. Folks may still want a larger tablet for use in the home, but the right phablet definitely offers tablet functionality for on-the-go computing, and can outright replace a smartphone. Here's a look at the three main phablets on the market today.
Samsung Galaxy Note II
Price: $174.99, $199.99, and $224.99 at Amazon with a 2-year contract (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, respectively); $699.99 unlocked
Storage Capacity: 16GB, expandable up to 64GB
Connectivity and Specs: 1.6GHz quad–core Exynos processor, 2GB RAM, 5.5" 1280x720 display (267 ppi), 8MP rear-facing camera, 1.9MP front–facing camera, WiFi and NFC, microSD card slot, 4G LTE, Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
The original Galaxy Note surpassed expectations and proved that there is demand for this form factor. Samsung's follow up improves on the original in every way and includes some well thought out features, including an S-Pen stylus with dedicated apps. The Galaxy Note II is available on all major U.S. carriers.
CNET awarded the Galaxy Note II a score of 4 out of 5, but the final word betrayed a lack of confidence about the phablet market: "Samsung delivers a powerful, boundary-pushing device that gets a lot right. Yet, its complicated features and high price raise questions about its purpose." The Verge gave it 8.5 out of 10 and suggested that, "the Note II is an unambiguous upgrade over its predecessor and can even challenge the Galaxy S III for the title of best Android device."
Over at Digital Trends this device also received an 8.5 out of 10, and the reviewer suggested, "for the people who crave larger screens and don't want a tablet, the Note II is the best choice available right now." Wired agreed, awarding the Note II a 9 out of 10 for its ability to function as "a go-anywhere device" that's good for "work or for fun in equal measure," and finally equating it to a "Swiss Army Knife of a handset" that can do virtually everything.
HTC Droid DNA
Price: $149.99 at Wirefly or Let's Talk with a 2-year contract (Verizon); $599.99 unlocked
Storage Capacity: 16GB
Connectivity and Specs: 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM, 5" 1920x1080 display (441 ppi), 8MP rear-facing camera, 2.1MP front–facing camera, WiFi and NFC, 4G LTE, Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
The long-awaited Droid DNA from HTC has some impressive specs on paper, though its main draw must be seen to be fully appreciated: its true high definition display blows the competition out of the water. Yet, the device's limited storage and lack of a microSD card slot could prove to be its Achilles' heel. The Droid DNA ends up feeling more like a big smartphone than a tablet, and it lacks the stylus and dedicated apps of the Galaxy Note II. It’s also a Verizon exclusive.
CNET scored the Droid DNA 4 out of 5 and suggested that it, "has a winning combination of stylish design, devilish good looks, blazing performance, and a lovely screen, all for a good price." But, The Verge was less effusive, weighing in with a 7.7 out of 10 remaking on the device's great screen but also noting its "fatal flaws:" "miserable battery life and occasional performance hiccups are not made up for by the DNA's great display alone.
At Tech Crunch the overall review was positive, save for the DNA's "dearth of storage space and a wimpy battery." A reviewer from Engadget, however said that unless a stylus is absolutely necessary for the phablet, the Droid DNA is "a better (and cheaper) alternative to the Note II."
LG Intuition (LG Optimus Vu)
Price: $99.99 at Amazon with a 2-year contract (Verizon); $599.99 unlocked
Storage Capacity: 32GB
Connectivity and Specs: 1.5GHz dual–core processor, 1GB RAM, 5" 1024x768 display (256 ppi), 8MP rear-facing camera, 1.3MP front–facing camera, WiFi and NFC, 4G LTE, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Otherwise known as the LG Optimus Vu, the renamed Intuition on Verizon is reasonably priced, but it struggles to compete with the offerings from Samsung and HTC on specs. The Intuition does ship with a stylus (LG's Rubberdium pen), and there’s a nice Quick Memo feature for writing and sketching directly on screenshots, but a design flaw in the device means there's not proper place to store the included stylus.
A CNET review gave the Intuition 3.5 out of 5, stating that while the Android 4.0 'phablet' is reasonably priced, but "its specs can't compete with Samsung's Galaxy Note family." Its harshest critic by far, though is the The Verge, who awarded it a mere 4.4 out of 10 and said simply, "Don't buy this phone."
Over at Engadget the verdict was much the same, as the phone was deemed "a study in mediocrity." PC Mag didn't like it much either: "The massive LG Intuition phablet offers a sprawling 5" screen for browsing, reading, and taking notes, but it's not a great smartphone."
Which Phablet Is Right for You?
Even at a discount, the LG Intuition is a distant third in this race between the HTC Droid DNA and the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Then, if you don't want to go with Verizon, the Galaxy Note II wins by default. However, if you're with "Big Red," then the Droid DNA makes the most sense for a smartphone with a larger screen. Yet, for the true tablet experience, ripe with S-Pen and tablet-style features, the Galaxy Note II is the way to go.
Will a phablet make it to your wish list? If so, which one? Are there any features in particular that you think any or all of these hybrid devices are missing? What could you do without? Sound off in the comments below.
Front page photo credit: Digital Trends