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Why You Need a Phablet

The electronic device that can make work – and life – easier.

In 2011, with the release of the Galaxy Note, Samsung was widely credited with inventing the phablet. What’s a phablet? Let’s say you plugged your iPhone 5 and your iPad Air into the same charger at night. You wake up in the morning and find a newborn iPhone 6 Plus with its 5.5-inch screen lovingly looking you in the eye. A phablet looks like it could be the offspring of mischief between these two electronic devices. It’s a cross between a smartphone and a tablet.

I remember the first time a friend showed me his Galaxy Note; I laughed. I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen. No one would ever carry around one of those monstrosities. How could you even hold it up to your ear? The laugh is on me. I ordered an iPhone 6 Plus the day they went on sale and dutifully waited until the back orders cleared out. You see, it’s my job to have the latest Apple product. One of our other companies, Rapid Applications Development (RAD), is an Apple developer. I reluctantly ordered the 6 Plus over the closer-to-normal-size 6 because of the additional camera features and longer battery life. I figured I could learn to live with its monstrous size.

To my surprise, it fit in my front pocket. (I don’t recommend this as a back-pocket phone.) What I have found is that the big screen opens up a plethora of new possibilities for what a person in our industry can do with a smartphone. So, I set out to see how many advantages would come from this evolution in phone technology. I’ll restrict this column to the Apple product, because that is what I know and have, though nearly everything should be generalizable to similar Android phablets.

This column represents the first advantage of a phablet. I am writing it on my iPhone 6 Plus. I can’t imagine using my last smaller phone as a word processor. And no, I am not tapping on the screen with my thumbs. I am using one of the little Apple wireless keyboards that come with every Mac we buy for the office. We replace these little keyboards with more serious ones with numeric keypads and function keys on our graphic and CSR workstations, so we always have a few of these little guys lying around collecting dust. They work great for iPads and now phablet iPhones. In addition to these keyboards being a freebie, they only weigh about 11 ounces and are 11.25 x 5.25 inches and very thin. Even smaller ones intended for iPads are available from third party manufacturers.

I am writing this using Apple’s excellent Pages word processing program that comes free with every iOS and OS X device. The neat thing about Pages is that you can open Word documents in Pages and save Pages documents as .docx files. The same is true for the Numbers spreadsheet program and Excel. The only additional item I needed to complete my phone word processing kit is an Anker multi-angle portable stand for tablets. This unit makes it easy to adjust the screen angle, and it folds flat to go into my briefcase. The screen on the 6 Plus is big enough that it took me by surprise how similar the word processing experience is to that of a dedicated computer. For this last paragraph, I gave my fingers a rest and wrote by dictating to Siri. Cool.

For more than a decade, I have taken whatever is the latest MacBook whenever I travel for business or pleasure. I also lug it around to meetings and rely on word processing and spreadsheet applications to take notes and crunch numbers on the fly. Dragging a laptop can be a chore. So, I decided to see if I could only use my mobile phone as my most mobile computer. This reduced my baggage to a computer that fits comfortably in my front pocket and a little keyboard and stand I can carry in a much smaller and lighter bag. There’s a little bonus for air travel: In coach, the top of my MacBook screen always hit the seat back in front of me. Once, a big guy got up and practically broke it. With my phablet computer and keyboard, this problem is gone and I still have room on my tray for peanuts and beer.

Both Apple and Microsoft have recently improved ecosystem capabilities that allow you to work on the same document on multiple devices and share documents with others. Apple’s application is called “Handoff” and Microsoft’s is called “Document Connection.” This week, I bought the Office 365 application that allows me to install the Office suite on five computers and five portable devices. You can rent this for under a hundred bucks a year, and it allows your existing network of company, family, and colleague devices to interact collaboratively. Both Handoff and Document Connection allow anyone on the team to start writing, calculating, or noting in word processing, emails, spreadsheets, or calendars on one device, share with others, and pick up where they left off on another device. This magic happens automatically when every device is signed in to the same Cloud account.

What it doesn’t do: It doesn’t replace your laptop or desktop for “power computing,” by which I mean using a system with multiple monitors, working in multiple programs, with multiple documents open. It’s simply a bigger, more advanced phone that can take on more of your computer functions and expand your capabilities everywhere you go.

Sold on Phablets
There are some basic reasons to prefer the bigger form factor to the ordinary smartphone. One reason is a phablet has a bigger case, so it can house a bigger battery. Both the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4 can go all day with heavy use without running out of juice, and two days with light usage.

Then there is that gorgeous big screen. I have no experience with the Galaxy Note 4, but I know it has better resolution than my new iPhone. However, my iPhone 6 Plus screen blew me away from the minute I first fired it up. Is the screen on this phone big, bright, and vivid enough to use in sales presentations? I think so, making this one less thing I have to take into meetings. I have compared it to our iPad Air and I think it will fill in admirably for PowerPoint presentations, slideshows of completed projects, etc.

And the iPhone 6 Plus still does all the cool stuff a regular iPhone does. As she has become more competent over the years, Siri has become my BFF. Most of us are juggling multiple projects, tasks, and relationships. I had a habit of forgetting to put appointments in my calendar, or making a mental note when I got to work to check on something, or creating a to-do list. To be able to simply ask Siri to make a to-do list or put an appointment on my calendar has been a blessing. And in iOS 8, you don’t even have to hold down the home button to summon this genie from her bottle. In your setting menu, under “Siri” in “General,” you can simply switch on “Allow Hey Siri,” though it only works when you’re connected to power.

I have switched over writing the column to one of my power computers using Handoff because I need to look some things up on the Internet, check my email, and look at my to-do list. As I am typing this I just said, “Hey Siri, read my email.” She is going through this morning’s emails, reading the subject line and from the sender. When she gets to something important, I can say, “Read the email from Michael,” which I just did.

Both the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus also have competent cameras. Though I own some amazing prosumer and pro camera equipment, it’s hard to beat the camera that’s always in your pocket. Last I checked, iPhone models represented three of the five most used cameras on Flickr. At eight megapixels, the new iPhones don’t have the highest resolution in their space, but Apple has always done a really good job of getting the most out of those pixels.

One feature, in particular, really comes in handy in our industry: the iPhone’s stellar panoramic capability. After all, we are in the large-format printing business. The 6 Plus is the only iPhone with image stabilization, too. I have done quite a bit of time-lapse videos with our pro gear. This is great for capturing our guys wrapping vehicles and other big installations.

So, with its bigger, higher resolution screen, a phablet phone like the Apple iPhone 6 Plus brings greater functionality to the already ubiquitous smartphone you have in your pocket or purse. For me, its ability to replace my laptop or tablet when I am traveling light was the dealmaker. I can create word processing documents and spreadsheets as if I had my laptop. I can do slideshows and PowerPoint presentations that are as acceptable as if I were using a laptop, and the phablet has all the smartphone functions I have come to rely on. I don’t think I could go back to a regular size phone.

Counting sheep was the old remedy for sleeplessness. Today, I recommend counting all the things your smartphone has replaced: alarm clock, timer, stopwatch, level, compact still and video camera, calendar, day planner, activity tracker, Palm Pilot, GPS, home phone, credit card terminal, pay phone, game console, calculator, pocket mirror, boarding pass, watch…zzzz.


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