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The phablet is merely a fad

The consumer electronics market has been taking cues from Lewis Carroll these past couple of years. Tablets are getting smaller, but smartphones are ballooning. However, new data is showing that phablets – the bizarre hybrid of tablets and phones – aren’t being used as much as their larger and smaller counterparts. Despite some rather loud cheerleading from the Android camp, phablets aren’t much more than a niche at this point.

The folks over at Flurry detect roughly a billion unique smartphones and tablets per month, and that’s spread over a long tail of 2,000 different models. As we reported on Wednesday, the analytics company compiled data about the top 200 devices currently in use, and broke down percentages of models and active usage.

Phones in the 3.5in to 4.9in range, the largest group, have 69 per cent of the top-selling models, and an astounding 72 per cent of active users. Phablets – 5in to 6.8in devices – make up only 2 per cent of models, and 3 per cent of active users. Full-sized tablets with screens larger than 8.5in only make up 7 per cent of the models, but take a surprising 13 per cent of active users. Despite substantial hype about phablets, it doesn’t appear that they have penetrated very deeply at this point. However, analysts are still telling us that phablet sales are going to explode. It sounds like they have a case of netbook fever again.

With so many manufacturers in the Android market, everyone is constantly scrambling to outdo each other. One company makes a 5in phone, so another company has to make a 5.3in phone. Much like the MHz war with desktop CPUs in the 1990s, screen size is a point of one-upmanship for phones.

When you show a giant phablet next to a normal-sized smartphone, the big screen looks very appealing. It makes side-by-side comparisons a cakewalk. Bigger is surely better, right? Well, that’s what the Samsungs of the world are trying to sell us. Watching movies and looking at photos sure would be nice on that big screen, but there are some serious downsides to the phablet concept.

Big bright displays consume a lot of power. Sadly, many phablets currently suffer from poor battery life, and that’s just not acceptable. As screen and battery technology improve, it will become less of a problem, but we’re not there yet.

It gets worse, though. Finding pockets that fit these giant devices is no small feat. My iPhone 5 barely fits in my girlfriend’s front pockets; let alone a Galaxy Note. I’m not prepared to wear cargo pants year-round just to travel with my phone. At the same time, these phablets aren’t quite big enough to use your fingertips to draw or write successfully. That only really works properly with a stylus, and that’s far from an elegant solution.

Phablets take the shortcomings of both smartphones and tablets, and give you a single device that is not much more than a good-looking pile of compromise. I’ll be keeping my phones small and my tablets large no matter how many device manufacturers tell me I’m doing it wrong.

Image Credits: Miniyo73 & Flurry