Opinion: Why phablets will/should never catch on

Jamie Feltham
October 21, 2013

I’ve been on this planet 23 years. In that time I’ve seen the rise of the internet, mobile phones, iPods, Harry Potter, smartphones, tablets and mini tablets. You might think I’d have learned not to use the phrase ‘that will never catch on’ by now, but you’d be wrong.

I say this, because I look at phablets and think those very words. I’m an open-minded guy, but these glorified smartphones are a huge barrier for me. So when Jordan wrote up his list of favourite phablets last week, I felt compelled to share my view on the matter.

I’m not someone that likes to live in excess. While I love new tech, I’ve only ever made what I feel to be essential purchases. That includes holding off on a tablet until the cheaper Nexus 7 line arrived, and still (proudly) holding on to my third generation iPod nano as my one and only mp3 player. You can see why, for a guy like me, the rise of the phablet is something of a question mark.


We’re lucky enough to play with a lot of tech here at What Mobile HQ, and last week we had the latest Xperia devices come in. As you’ll be able to tell from my incoming review of the Xperia Z1, I think it’s too big. It’s got a 5-inch display that makes plenty of space for apps, and games, but takes up precious room in my pocket. Imagine my surprise when I placed it next to the Xperia Z Ultra.

When turned off, the 6.4-inch device is completely unidentifiable ‘ far too small to be considered a tablet, but far, far too large to be a sensible smartphone. If my pockets are struggling with the Z1, why would I ‘upgrade’ to something that can only be placed in a bag? How is that helpful as a primary communication device? Every time I have a phone call I have to take my bag off of my back, unzip it and hope I get to it in time to answer the call? Isn’t this going a bit far?

In my opinion, it shows signs of the industry getting carried away with itself. First we had devices between four and twelve inches, and we’ve since filled in every inch in between, seemingly for the sake of it. The Z Ultra is feature-complete with the Z1; it doesn’t use its extra size for more processing, or have any native apps. I struggle to see how anyone can justify the larger screen as anything more than indulgent.


And that’s just what phablets are ‘ an indulgence. Tablets work because the bigger size opens up a whole new world of apps for work and play. Smartphones offer as much as they can of that experience while staying true to the size a phone realistically needs to be. Phablets don’t find themselves on either side of that equation. Anyone who lifts one up to their ear instantly looks like they’ve travelled back to the early 90’s when the mobile was just coming about. I’ve heard the argument that they’re ideal viewing devices, but I don’t buy the idea that anyone out there has been holding out to have a portable TV screen double as a phone.

Worse yet, we live in a copycat eco-system so if one company’s doing it, everyone else has to chip in too. The HTC One Max has just been announced. The company has just reported some staggering Q3 losses ‘ is an enlarged version of a phone that’s already struggling to sell really the answer to its problems? It seems like a directionless move, a phablet for the sake of having a phablet.

The phablet doesn’t seem to answer any kind of demand in the current market. And what’s why I look at them and think ‘that will never catch on’.


About the Author

Jamie Feltham

Videogamer, music listener, squash player, exerciser, technology journalister. Multimedia journalism graduate, writing for the What Mobile mag and website

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