Over the winter it was finally time to get a new phone. I had always told myself that all of my future phones would only be “pure Android” experiences. The Nexus 5 was the phone I had been clamoring for. As I started researching phones however, I began to ask myself a different question: how much of what I do could be accomplished with a phablet? The more I thought about it, the more curious I became. In much the same way that I have one slim-but-powerful laptop instead of a laptop and a desktop, I wondered if I could have one phablet instead of a phone and a tablet.
I became so curious about the answer to that question that I decided to bypass the “pure Android” requirement and buy the best phablet on the market, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Thankfully Google has decoupled most of their apps from the OS so it’s not that hard to create a pure Android experience on any Android device. Besides, I figured that if I hated it I could always sell it and snag the Nexus 5.
After a few months of use I definitely noticed myself reaching for the iPad less. I used the iPad for 3 things primarily:
- Reading on the web – LockerPulse, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc
- Casual games
- Watching TV or Netflix when I’m in places where I don’t have a TV (mainly the kitchen and on the porch)
#1 and #2 were replaced almost entirely by the Note 3 immediately. For #3 I still use the iPad for the obvious reason that I want the largest screen size possible when viewing video. I also noticed that my #1 and #2 experiences were better. Reading one-handed on a ~6 inch device is more comfortable than holding up a tablet, which generally requires either two hands or to be leaning on something. Android also has one big advantage for night-time use: it allows apps like Twilight that reduce blue light exposure as bed time approaches, similar to f.lux. Unfortunately iOS doesn’t allow apps that do this without jailbreaking.
That’s kind of what I expected to happen. What I didn’t expect to happen is that I find that the Note 3 is sometimes replacing other secondary devices like my Kindle and my Chromebook. The phone offers a huge advantage over every other device you own simply because it’s always there and always connected. The Note 3 is almost the size of a paperback, so rather than bring my Kindle along to the doctors office, I just read with the Kindle app on the Note 3. Similarly, this morning I left the Chromebook at home when heading to the local coffee shop to have breakfast with a friend. I typically show up early and answer my morning emails. Instead I just used the Note 3. The extra screen real estate makes real work – whether it’s email or editing a Google Doc – so much more doable.
As far as a phone, it gets the job done. It’s odd that those other things are more important to me, but they are. I just don’t use the phone that often for making phone calls. I never really bought the argument that phablets look ridiculous while talking. They’re still quite a bit smaller than a landline phone, and I actually think having the mic closer to my mouth is an advantage.
With all of that said, there’s still a part of me that’s disappointed in the Note 3. It’s just a bit too small to be everything that I want it to be. I’d be thrilled if it could somehow be about half an inch bigger while getting the screen space of a 7-inch tablet like the Nexus 7. The Sony Z Ultra might be the best chance with what’s out there on the market now. I hope that by the time I’m in the market for another phone someone has figured this out. Whether it’s curving the phone a bit or stretching the screen all the way to the edge, there has to be a way to get more screen space without increasing the device size too much more*.
It’s also worth noting that I’m probably not the norm. I’m a power user that’s over 6 ft tall with big hands (I can still use the Note 3 one-handed most of the time). If I’m wearing jeans it sometimes gets a bit uncomfortable in certain positions, but really it’s about the same size as my wallet so that doesn’t bother me that much.
Next time I’m in the market for a phone I’ll likely be looking to go even bigger.
*I did try rooting the phone so that I could increase the resolution. I did not however do the research required to learn that Note 3’s running 4.4 on T-Mobile can’t be rooted. I managed to lose a Saturday to restoring my nearly-bricked device. Shrinking the default font size got me part of the way there. Zooming web pages out by default also helps. Still – I’m still a bit perplexed that resolution adjustments aren’t a part of Android by default as they are on all computers.