Much ado about phablets

Phablets ! What an ugly word. This is term we usually utter to mean that a phone is too damn big to be considered a phone, but a bit too small to get into tablet territory. So it fits in the gap (if there ever was one) between those two worlds, just like those new gadgets trying to fit somewhere between a laptop and a tablet.

A category between phones and tablets ?

(phone+laptop)/2 = tablet,    (phone+tablet)/2 = phablet,   (phablet+tablet)/2 = tablet mini,    (tablet+laptop)/2 = tablet pro

Buying a phablet

I have a confession to make, I own a phablet. Yes it’s true. I never thought I would be one to own such an absurd piece of technology, but here I am. I could justify how this came to be, try to find an excuse but let’s just be honest, I wanted to try one. By releasing the 5.5″ iPhone 6+, Apple had validated the idea of phablets as a legitimate category, thus giving me their blessing to own one. So when the failed Nexus 6 was heavily discounted last Christmas, I took the opportunity to buy that humongous device.

The social stigma of owning a phablet

Owning a phablet is a great conversation starter. Each time you take it out of its pocket (well, it’s actually too big to really fit inside a pocket) you get the same reaction from people.

Gosh, that thing is huge !

And then, you usually make up a lame excuse for having this phone (it was cheap, I was forced to buy it against my will, I didn’t know it was that big…), or worse try to deflect the disparaging comment with a really bad joke, an attempt that’s not convincing anyone.

Yeah, that’s what she said.

You end up having this conversation about how they used to miniaturize phone, and now they’re making it bigger again. What crazy times we live in ! Someone will also inevitably tell you about how great and indestructible his good old Nokia dumbphone was. I never understood how people can get so nostalgic about such a piece of junk. Don’t you remember how dull it was before the iPhone came to save us all ? I hated that Nokia brick with all my guts, and I’m pretty sure you did too.


A Nexus 6 not fitting inside a jeans pocket - Image credit : The Verge

That thing is so big, you can’t even hide your shame. (photo credit : The Verge)

One-handed use

People are making a big deal out of one-handed use on phones. Apple was the first one to tote this argument to justify not making bigger phones : the iPhone 5 was supposed to be the perfect size for one-handed use. Until they caved in to the big-ass phone craze and released the iPhone 6 and 6+, and then a smaller phone again with the iPhone SE.

Except there were two major flaws in the one-handed argument. The first flaw is that one-handed use is a feature, and not a requirement for every one. Sure, being able to use your phone with just one hand is great, but it turns out there are many other features that  you might be missing out on if you limit yourself to a smallish screen. The second flaw is that the size limit for one-handed is actually above 4″, provided you alter you grip on the phone : instead of firmly gripping the phone with your palm, you let it rest on your fingers, thus elevating your thumb above the screen and allowing it to travel longer distances. As it turns out however, the size limit is below the 6″ size of the Nexus 6. But for me, the limiting factor turned out not to be the height of the screen, but rather it’s width. Truth is, you get used to it. Although it’s not a great experience, I can manage to do almost every thing with just one hand. But there is a catch : because of the dexterity it requires I can only do that with my left hand, I can’t use that phone right-handed.

Coming to the big screen

That seems however like a fair tradeoff for the decadent device you get in exchange. If the iPhone 5 was a dazzling display of common sense, then the Nexus 6 is a dazzling display of hubris. It is the smartphone equivalent of a monster truck. Where Apple designers would ask themselves why they should put a given feature in the iPhone, Motorola designers were asking themselves why not. As a matter of fact, the device was internally codenamed after the killer whale Shamu when it was conceived by Motorola with just one instruction from Google : make the screen as big as possible. Everything in this phone feels excessive from its specs, to its weight and size (not to mention its price). I love this vast screen, whose resolution feels like a brutal overkill (also overkilling your battery in the process), except when I hate it. Watching YouTube videos of cute kittens on a 6″ qHD screen is totally rad. But most of the time, you just get the exact same content you would on a smaller screen, only scaled to fit the bigger screen.

It doesnt ‘t really help that being an Apple fanboy, I have to hate Android. Objectively though, there are very few features currently in Android that take advantage of the large canvas, and none of them were present when the device launched in 2014. Google recently introduced a one-handed mode for the keyboard in may (which is a narrower keyboard), and Android 7.0 (currently rolling out) is coming with support for split screen multitasking. In my experience, performance and autonomy were quite disappointing with a lot of lag and loading times in the most trivial operations, constant crashes of the camera app, and a battery that barely lasts a day under heavy use.

As useless and decadent as they may be, gigantic screens are addictive, and I already feel it would be hard for me to go back to a puny miniature device after using this mammoth. I think your brain is just programmed to be drawn to big moving pictures. And that’s probably why big phones exist : we want them even though we might not need them. And the customer is always right, even when he’s wrong. Even the mighty Apple had to follow the trend. Hopefully, the commercial success of phablets will probably allow them to be refined over time to become less bulky and more useful. If so, my next phone could very well be another phablet. Unless it was just a fad, like that time Apple thought people wanted brightly colored iPhones, when it turned out they actually just wanted pink.

Wirelesss charging

The Nexus 6 is compatible with wireless charging. But I can’t even count the ways in which its implementation of wireless charging sucks. Your phone has to be in contact with the charging cradle, in very specific position, with no indication whatsoever of where this position might be, and nothing to hold it in place. Holding your phone while keeping the cradle in the right position is almost impossible. Charging is very painfully slow (plus you don’t even get an estimated time of charge, unlike with wired charging), and creates a lot of heat. So using a wireless charger is just like using a wired charger, except its slower, less energy efficient, and the slightest move is going to stop the charge. The technology makes sense in a waterproof device like the Apple Watch (to allow it to not have any  visible port ) but seems completely pointless in the Nexus 6. This is a prime example of what this device is : full of half-assed features that were included just because they could.



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