Oh My Tech: Phone or tablet? Is there a best of both worlds?

By Vince Horiuchi

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: March 27, 2012 09:36AM
Updated: April 5, 2012 02:09PM
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Samsung Galaxy Note Courtesy

There seems to be a big rush to tablets. They are too big, even the Kindle Fire, to carry in your pocket, and they don’t make or receive calls. I want a phone that will also do what a tablet will do. The display needs to be large enough to comfortably serve as an ebook reader. Not asking much, am I? What do you recommend?

— Garth Olsen.

While there is a big rush to tablets, as Garth says, there’s also a fine line between cell phones and tablets that manufacturers have been trying to find based on the size of screens.

About the smallest smartphone screen is the iPhone’s, which measures 3.5 inches diagonally. Meanwhile, one of the biggest computer tablets on the market is the iPad, which is 9.7 inches. Just a few years ago, if you wanted a tablet, you bought one separately from your cell phone, forcing you to carry two mobile devices.

But now, cell phone manufacturers like HTC and Samsung have been pushing the size of their screens while tablet manufacturers like Amazon have been trying to shrink theirs. Ultimately, they’re trying to meet in the middle and everyone is still searching for that sweet spot where you have the portability of a phone with the features of a tablet or ebook reader.

The closest I can come up with is the Samsung Galaxy Note. Think of it as a massive phone or a small tablet. Some have even dubbed it a “phablet.”

It’s an Android-based phone equipped with a huge 5.3-inch screen that’s sharp and colorful, and it’s especially good for watching videos. But it may not be the most ideal device for reading because it’s a backlit LCD screen. It’s also too big to put in a regular pants pocket. Two women here at The Tribune have the phone, but they carry it in their purses.

While a Kindle would be a much better book reader because it uses e-ink technology, which is easier on the eyes, the Samsung Galaxy Note would be ideal for other tablet-like functions. For one, though it has a touchscreen, it also uses a special stylus. And the big screen would be good for web browsing. Unfortunately, because of its size, you also look like an über-dork holding it up to your ear to use the phone. Right now, it’s exclusively available through AT&T’s network.

Perhaps the biggest trend in Android-based phones is that their screens are getting bigger in an effort to close that gap between phones and tablets. Most phones that use the operating system are at least 4.3 inches these days. There were even rumors as early as last week suggesting the iPhone will finally go to at least a 4-inch screen or larger later this year.

But if I wanted to do mostly reading, as Garth suggests, I would end up getting a Kindle as well as keep my cell phone. For reading, the Amazon Kindle is the best device. It’s much less expensive. It’s easier to read. It has access to a huge catalog of books. You can download borrowed library books for free. And it’s so popular, you will never have to worry about Amazon not making them.

Carrying that one extra device is a small price to have the best of both worlds.

If you have a question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he’ll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.