There was a time when we walked around with brick sized mobile phones, something which these days we simply look back at and laugh. Mobile phone manufacturers then spent years trying to pack in as much as they could into smaller and smaller mobile handsets. Yet as soon as this was perfected, we were introduced to the tablet – designed to make use of the users growing entertainment and browsing needs.
But now, just a few years on, it seems that mobile handsets are getting bigger and even tablets are starting to drop in size, like the iPad mini. So, are consumers ultimately looking for the perfect sized device that can do all the things they need it to on a daily basis yet still be a conveniently sized in order to carry around? And if so, surely it's a great gap in the market fit for the phablet.
The unfortunately nicknamed phablet merges together qualities of both a smartphone and a tablet, and dimension-wise, the screen itself is typically sized somewhere in between 5 and 7 inches. Even though on the face of things it may just seem like the phablet is simply a quickly tacked together hybrid put out there to appease both consumer markets, but now even smartphones are reaching the dizzying heights of 5+ inch sized screens. So what makes the likes of the iPhone Plus 6 or the Samsung Galaxy S6 want to head into phablet territory?
If we head all the way back to 1993 you may just about recall the AT&T EO 440 Personal Communicator. It has been described as the first true phablet, and this multitasking dinosaur did actually provide a combination of both phone, and what we now consider to be tablet-related, functionality. It was about the size of a small clipboard, and thanks to the wireless cellular network modem and built in microphone that it included, it also allowed you to make calls, fax and even email.
The EO 440 didn't exactly set the world alight and with the internet and the World Wide Web slowly snowballing through the 1990's it wouldn't be long before other technologies around us would soon help pave the way to new and innovative devices that could interact with these world changing technological advances.
While the mobile phone was fast evolving itself in to the smartphone, at a time when the Internet had truly become a global phenomenon and when wireless networking technology had already begun to offer freedom and flexibility for many different industries, it did seem that the mid-naughties had so much more to offer creative developers and designers. Suddenly we leap forward to 2007 and are once more introduced to the coming together of phone and tablet technology but with something that had a lot more to offer than that of AT&T's effort in the early 90's.
The fresh-faced HTC Advantage X7500 was unleashed which was set to pave the way for future 'phablet'-esque devices to hit the market. It featured a magnetically attached keyboard, WiFi, Bluetooth, a USB 2.0 port, SIM and miniSDHC slots. It certainly piqued the interest of many consumers looking for something more than just a phone but something more portable and lightweight than laptops that were on offer at the time. The phablets biggest drawback came with its staggering price tag which certainly pushed many potential customers elsewhere.
There were plenty of less successful monikers soon after the Advantage such as the Nokia N810 WiMAX, the home based Verizon Hub, and the extremely bug-infested Dell Streak. It wasn't until 2012 when it looked like Samsung had finally constructed the best of both worlds with its memorable release of the Samsung Galaxy Note.
The new and shiny Android-based device was met with much praise from critics and consumers alike, which was apparent when it managed to sell over one million units in just the first two months of release. It went on to sell over 10 million units worldwide and has since been followed up with numerous new and improved editions being released each and every year since. The original Galaxy Note came with a crisp 1280 x 800 5.3 inch screen, a powerful 1.4 GHz dual-core processor, and utilized an S Pen stylus.
It's even more incredible to think that the Galaxy Note was actually criticized by some non-believers when it first arrived. Many believed that the device was actually laughable when it was being used as an actual phone. Its 5.3 inch screen was the main cause of concern, a great size for working on but how could holding such an oversized handset be comfortable or respectable? I mean this wasn't the early 90's anymore! But it had more than limited appeal and people responded positivity to the screen increase. Had the market changed, did we want more phone, phablet, or tablet for our money?
Fast track to today and there is at least one phablet from every major smartphone manufacturer, even some from companies less known to consumers in larger markets like the U.S., like Huawei's Ascend Mate 7. The Mate 7 is a great display at how far the design of phablets have come with a sleek metal body, but it also showcases that phablets are a device category that is popular with consumers the world over. Samsung has popularized the phablet category with their successful 'Galaxy Note' series of devices, which is now currently in its 4th iteration with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note Edge, both offering Samsung's best technology in a phablet device to date with improved S-Pen functionality, a better screen and improved camera. It's also sporting the biggest display of any Note device so far. Bigger still is the Samsung Galaxy Mega, which is an absolutely massive device. It harbors on the edge of being perhaps slightly too large coming in at 6.3-inches, but nevertheless there was still a market for people who had a need for a screen of that size.
While Samsung's phablet devices are easily the front runners (at least the Galaxy Note series), others have stepped up to grab hold of a piece of the market in what is now clearly a more acceptable size for a smartphone. LG responded to Samsung's Galaxy Note and Galaxy Mega with their own LG Vu, putting their own spin on a phablet with a more oddball aspect ratio. Dell and HTC also entered into the mix with the Dell Streak and HTC One Max devices, providing consumers and loyal fans of their respective brands with an option for a smartphone with a larger screen size. Google and Motorola have partnered together for 2014's Nexus device with the Nexus 6, sporting one of the biggest displays on a more well-known smartphone. This is of course after Sony had released its Xperia Z Ultra much earlier, which not only came in its original form with the stock Sony UI but was also granted (for a time) a spot in the Google Play Store's 'Devices' section as one of the Google Play Edition smartphones, sporting a 6-inch display with Sony hardware and the loveable stock Android experience of a Nexus.
Has the market changed, do we want more phone, phablet, or tablet for our money? Most definitely their is a market for large screen smartphones, in fact whole ranges of them you can pick up at The Smart Phone Company, and it doesn't look like users these days mind whatsoever about resting their cheek and ear up against these hefty new devices to keep in touch with family and friends.