I remember that a decade ago we used to operate phones with 2-inch black and white display, and lots of buttons on the keypad. Those were the phones which we now call as feature-phones and we look down upon. The most high-tech feature on such phones used to be SMS or probably polyphonic ringtones, which were the most musical thing we could do with the phones back then. Gradually the black and white small displays turned coloured, they started growing in size from 2 inch to 3 inch, etc. We also saw large qwerty keyboards replacing the old T9 keypads with number keys. The real revolution started when the iPhone first generation came out without any keys and everything on a display. It had only a home button, volume control, power button and a toggle to silent the phone. It had a “large” 3.5-inch screen at launch, which is probably tiny by today’s standard of smartphones. Gradually, we have seen the screens becoming larger, taking most of the space on the front of the phones, and today in the year 2014 we have main-stream flagship phones like Nexus 6 and Note 4 with 5-to-6-inch display size. Are we losing all boundaries when it comes to phone size?
How it all started?
With the advent of iPhone, people started to accept the idea of a mainstream phone with a large display, but at that time, 3.5-inch display was large. Then, we saw some slightly larger iPhones, Android Phones and the likes. Around the same time, another form factor evolved and became very popular which was called Tablets, and is available everywhere. Again, Apple played an instrumental role in this category too with the iPads. An important difference between the tablets and the phones was that the tablets were much larger and could not make phone calls while the phones were smaller but could be used to make calls as well. But a more interesting breed of devices evolved between these two which we called Phablets. As per general understanding, phablet can be used asboth as a tablet and a phone, which essentially allows you to make phone calls.
The initial generation of large screen phablets (back in 2012 or so) had 4.5 inch to 5 inch display sizes, and were fairly bulky compared to what we see these days. They had thick bezels and were also considerably high thickness than a usual phone. They were looked upon as awkward to use as phones as putting something with a 5-to-6-inch screen next to your ear to make a call looked weird. Gradually, with advancements in technology, the phablet became slimmer and lighter. As they went under the knife, the overall size of the phablets besides having large display became quite acceptable. With time, the display took over 70% of the total front size of the phone and that is when they started looking more like phones and less like large bricks. The earlier so called phablet devices (5 inch display devices with calling) were now called as large screen phones.
But it does not stop there, with slimmer phones and tighter ratio or bezel to screen, the phone makers kept being adventurous by making larger calling tablets and phones which border-lined the phone and tablet category. We also saw tab devices which were as large as 7 to 8 inch in display with calling function, but such large devices were still too heavy to become popular as phones.
How 2014 changed the definition of phablets?
In last one to two years, especially 2014, we see another shift which makes these 5.5 inch phones (no more seen as phablets) look smaller with the likes of Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Google Nexus 6 with 5.7 and 5.96 inch display respectively, and still being called phones. There are two major reasons behind this transformation and why these devices are seen as phones rather phablets. The first reason is the acceptance for large screen devices as everyday devices; and the second reasons is ever shrinking bezels and dimensions of the phones. These days, the front part of the phones is display with almost no bezels and slim profiles which makes them easy to handle. LG G3 with a 5.5 inch display is one very nice example in this category where the volume and power buttons have been removed from the sides and put to the rear. Innovations like this break the ceiling of possibilities and make the use of a large screen device very convenient. As per the latest conventions, we would probably call something with a 7-inch-or-higher display and calling feature to be a phablet, which is the convention we talk in year 2014.
Looking at the track record, this may not remain the same for long, but at the same time, we have also seen a prominent trend of smaller phones making a comeback. We have seen mini, prime or compact variants of many flagships which are essentially less than 5 inch in screen size and much easier to pocket. Some good examples are Xperia Z3 compact and Samsung Galaxy Alpha.
Whatever 2015 has in store for us when it comes to screen size on phones, tablets and phablets, one thing is certain that we will have more choices than ever before and we will continue to see phones in a huge variety of form factors and screen sizes, who knows we might start to accept a 7-inch phablet as a day-to-day smartphone.