Phablets vs smartphones and tablets

There was a time when it was fashionable to have the smallest possible mobile phone. Back in 1999, Nokia released the iconic 8210. It was absolutely miniscule – you could almost fit two of them in the palm of your hand, and it weighed a feather-like 79g.

The five-line monochrome screen may have been tiny, but it was the keypad that caused the real problem as you had to press the buttons with your nail to avoid hitting more than one at a time.

Since then, phones have grown bigger and bigger: the original iPhone’s 3.5in screen seemed huge at the time but compared with the raft of today’s massive Android and Windows Phone handsets, it looks and feels like a toy.

I’ve been using a Nokia Lumia 1320 for the past couple of months and, as regular readers will know, it’s been a dual-purpose test. One reason for ditching my usual iPhone was to try and live with the limited selection of Windows Phone apps and find out how they compared to the equivalents from Apple’s App Store.

The other was to discover whether a phablet offered the best of both worlds or not. With its six-inch screen, the 1320 sits somewhat unevenly between my 4in iPhone 5 and 9.7in iPad Air and – in theory – could replace both.

Initially, the big screen felt enormous – just as you’d expect – and the extra screen real estate meant there was either more content on the screen (web pages, for example) or everything was just a lot bigger (Windows Phone’s menus). Even though the screen’s 1280x720 resolution is lower than the 1520’s full-HD display, you don’t really notice the lower pixel density in Windows Phone 8.

It’s surprising how quickly you get used to making phone calls with such a big device – it doesn’t take long to stop feeling self-conscious as there are so many other people carrying big phones now.

Comparing the 1320 with an iPhone 5 proved trickier than expected as Windows Phone is so different from iOS. Had the comparison been between the iPhone 5 and a theoretical six-inch iPhone, I’m sure I’d have come to a different conclusion.

As it was, I couldn’t wait to put my SIM back in the iPhone and go back to having both an iPhone and iPad. Partly that was because I still preferred iOS to Windows Phone, and partly because I wanted to be able to use the apps which I couldn’t get on the 1320.

The main reason, however, was because a 6in screen just wasn’t big enough to replace the near-10in screen of the iPad Air. Those more used to using a 7- or 8in tablet might find the compromise acceptable, but I still prefer to have the choice of a much larger screen for web browsing and a small screen for use on the move rather than being stuck with only a phablet.

For me, then, the trial has proved that a phablet can’t replace my smartphone and tablet but I already miss the Nokia’s large screen now I’m back to squinting at desktop-style web pages on the iPhone 5. Let’s hope that the iPhone 6 rumours are true, and that I’ll be able to upgrade to a 5in iPhone before the year is out.

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