Absolutely phabulous: When is big, too big?



blog Just when is a smartphone too big? Manufacturers have been pushing the boundaries for some time as they dance with higher resolutions and larger screens, but the latest offerings from Huawei and Samsung may have clinched the deal as both companies produce ‘phablets’ – smartphones with screens in the six-inch range.

Yet while existing five-inch models have snuck in under the wire, the Huawei Ascend Mate (6.1-inch 1280×720 screen, 1.5GHz quad-core CPU and Huawei’s Emotion UI; on sale at Harvey Norman for $429 from April 20) and Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 (6.3-inch screen, 1.7GHz dual-core CPU; TBA) come within an inch of the size of Apple’s seven-inch iPad mini and Samsung’s own Galaxy Tab 7.

Bigger size, the vendors argue, is a Better Thing than previous models – although the truth of that statement surely lies in the eyes (and hand size) of the beholder.
Here’s how the companies describe their wares:

Huawei: “The Huawei Ascend Mate is slim and stylish, designed to fit comfortably in a single hand at just 6.5mm thin at its narrowest part…. It offers the biggest multimedia experience on a smartphone, and follows Huawei’s mantra of making the best technology accessible to more people.”

Samsung: “The Galaxy Mega…combines the portability and convenience of a smartphone with the power, multitasking capabilities and extensive viewing experience of a tablet….ultra-thin and portable enough to put into your pocket or hold in one hand. The Galaxy Mega offers a mix of popular smartphone and tablet features such as an effortless user experience, a split screen, multitasking between video and other apps and more.”

Interesting that both companies go to great pains to convince potential buyers that the units are in fact small enough to fit in your hand, although we suspect you might need reasonably large hands to make this true. Interesting also that they seem bent on selling the devices as smartphones, even though the glass-half-full amongst us might argue that they’re as much a smartphone as the Jeep Cherokee is a small car.

What do you think? Have phone makers finally jumped the shark? Or is this just another step in the evolution of the phone… er, tablet… er, phone… er…

Image credit: Samsung, CC BY-SA 3.0 Alex Lozupone


  1. My dad somehow manages to use a 7inch samsung tablet he got overseas.

    I have a photo of him to show people that don’t believe me. (the tablet is basically the size of his head).

    He really likes it; but he does seem to enjoy showing off, it only seems to make him happier if in the process of showing off it is completely ridiculous.

    • Dads used to enjoy looking ridiculous by wearing oversized plaid golf pants, or mowing the lawn while wearing a hat with beer holders and appropriately placed straws.

      On the whole, I’d say that anything involving tech is at least an improvement in that respect.

      Seven inches, though – unless you have a huge, huge head I can imagine it was nearly as awkward as that picture above. As someone who’s still packing a tiny iPhone 4S, a 7-inch phone does seem quite… wrong.

  2. I don’t mind that Samsung, HTC and other Android manufacturers are making crazily large phones, but what I do mind is that as the screen size goes up so do the specs, making giant phones the only choice if you want a top end Android phone. Sure some of them still release smaller models, but all of them take a dive in specs or build quality, and are released as a mid range smartphone. The perfect device for me would be something like the design of the HTC One, but at 4.7″ (and preferably running stock Android rather than Sense :) ).

    After my iPhone 5 contract is up I may well go back to Android (unless Apple blow me away with iOS7 which I think is highly unlikely) but I fear that by then the smallest Android phone with decent specs will be 5″+.

    I love the 4″ screen of my iPhone 5, and I’d go as high as 4.7″ (the Nexus 4 and HTC One X are great sized phones) but anything larger, and its not possible for me to operate the device comfortably one handed. I already have a tablet for when the smaller screen of my phone isn’t sufficient and have no desire for a phablet.

    • Agree, I really like my nexus 4. In fact I’m typing on it now (or actually swiping!) I used to use a normal 14″ laptop on the train which became a netbook then iPad now this. The big things are getting too unwieldy. And I have big hands! Being 200 cm tall.

  3. “Too big” for me is anything bigger than I can comfortably use one-handed. I wish my Nexus 4 was just slightly smaller.

    • Read the wrong way, your comment is hilarious! Especially if “Nexus 4” is referred to with a wink

  4. SGS4 with the FHD screen is about as big as I’d go in a phone. Personally I’d prefer something half the thickness and half the width in an actual phone, but obviously that wouldn’t work for a smartphone screen. Until they crack true borderless and make a half width phone that folds out into a full width smartphone.

    As for higher performance in the larger devices, of course they will have better performance and features. Thermal design allows for vastly improved heat dissipation, there’s more space for more or larger components, a larger battery is possible… I honestly don’t understand the rationale behind such a complaint.

    • “As for higher performance in the larger devices, of course they will have better performance and features. Thermal design allows for vastly improved heat dissipation, there’s more space for more or larger components, a larger battery is possible… I honestly don’t understand the rationale behind such a complaint.”

      That’s not the issue I have. Its more things like camera and screen quality, amount of onboard storage and build quality, that get sacrificed when companies offer a smaller Android model alongside their giant halo phone. i.e. you won’t currently find something with the brilliant aluminum build quality, great stereo speakers of the HTC One on anything less than a 5″ device. And its the same for most of the well known Android manufacturers. They just decided bigger is better and screens have been increasing ever since.

      There is definitely a market for people who want the latest top end Android device each 12/24 months, in a model that can operated with one hand (and without any horrible skin or bloatware) as its one of the most frequently discussed topics on the mobile tech podcasts I listen to. Google and Motorola appear to be the first to acknowledge this, as they have announced an upcoming stock Android phone that is said to be “just the right size”. Here is a quote from Jim Wicks, Motorola’s chief of design:

      “It will be the unadulterated version of Android, and I feel really good about our embracing Android and being the best Android experience,” said Wicks when speaking about the new devices, adding “there’s a sweet spot for consumers that we’re currently exceeding in the market. There are some people that like a big display, but there’s also a lot of people that want something that’s just about right. I think ‘just right’ is important, and we’re designing so we don’t disappoint those people.”

        • Haha. No worries. Your point about larger batteries and superior heat dissipation is still a valid one for larger devices, however its good you acknowledge there is a hole in the market for Android fans wanting top end features and specs in a smaller form factor.

  5. The other way to look at it is computers have turned into laptops, laptops into tablets and know tablets into phablets. I’ve always seen smart phones as still just phones. their hardware specs just haven’t quiet gotten good enough yet (don’t get me wrong I’m impressed with how good they are getting) and the size of the screens on phones are just too small for me to be comfortable with (just my preference, I have good eyes, just big fingers). When ever I use my tablet I wish I could use it to make phone calls and send texts.

    I for one am happy there is now an in between option for me but can completely understand why others wouldn’t like it. It’s not the most practical size in your pocket but for those of us who carry a 7 inch tablet around and a 4.7 inch smart phone it is a welcomed addition to the market..

  6. Ive used a 7.7 Phablet for the last year. I could never go back. A usable screensize, and much more importantly, a battery that works forever (10 hours of actual use before the battery dies (or 4 days using it as a phone only, with everything on)

    It even fits in mansize pockets.

  7. My dad has a phablet and he loves it, because he has big hands and his eyesight isn’t great. So it comes down to what works for the individual I guess.

  8. So as I tried to post yesterday but Renai’s new fancy antispam filter was stopping me.

    I’ve got a Galaxy S3 and a Galaxy Tab 7.7 (wifi version)

    I hardly make phone calls on my S3 and the Tab actually fits in my suit pants pockets.

    So something that is between the two of these in size with full phone functionality actually kind of appeals to me.

    Now if they just worked on their design a bit better.

  9. I changed from a Galaxy SIII (4.8″) to a Galaxy Note II (5.5″), and love the size. I must admit, I have big hands and can reach every part of the screen one-handed.

    I used to have the original Galaxy Tab (7″). While I never used it for calls, I saw a work colleague once make a call on one – she was 5 foot tall, and her hands were in proper proportions. It looked hilarious.

    Six inches just seems too big to fit comfortably in one hand (at least, for a phone).

  10. I’d use a Nexus 7 as a phone (if it wasn’t locked off from being a phone) personally because it fits in my pocket and has awesome battery life and the screen is great, but a lot of people wouldn’t.

    I’m 6’3″ and can comfortably hold the nexus 7 in 1 hand and type with the thumb of that hand, but a lot of people can’t and that’s why there are so many different phones on offer :D

    I think for myself, 7 inch (or the size of the nexus 7) is the maximum I would be comfortable with as a phone, I’m really looking forward to trying out the new samsungs whenever telstra have them in a T-Life store, I remember when people went nuts over the Nokia N-Gage original, which I owned and loved… and that is tiny by today’s standards.

  11. I’d say 4.3″ is the most comfortable for me having used a HTC 8X. However, I’d say that if the phone is sufficiently thin and the bezel is <3mm on either side, a slightly larger screen might be ok.
    As a side note, I've decided that my next smartphone has to have a physical home button. I think it's essential to be able to comfortably and easily use a phone with one hand.

  12. I bought a 7″ tablet a couple of years ago, mostly to use as an e-reader. Came with a sim, and I can still put my main sim into it and make phone calls. Was fun in the day to prove to people it was a phone by pranking them :)

    Used to carry it around in my pocket when I was travelling, and it still comes along on any trip I make as a backup, but I wouldnt use it as a day to day device. Having said that, I do remember someone with the exact same tablet travelling the same train I did, and using one as his day to day device.

    It was a crappy Optus tablet, not very good for much more than a basic android 2.2 era phone. Screen size helps for reading (usually have an 8 gig micro SD loaded with txt’s and mp3’s for travel), but even simple stuff like Angry Birds got laggy after a short while.

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