By Stephen Schenck | June 13, 2013 7:03 AM
The Android phablet landscape is about to get very interesting. So far we’ve seen it dominated by Samsung’s Galaxy Note, and more recently, the Note II. Sure, smartphones themselves have gotten larger sine the first Note arrived, but this mid-five-inch-and-up range is still the domain of the phablet. Now we’re looking to add a couple new members to that club, and from where I stand it looks like Samsung just might have a fight on its hands; will the upcoming phablets from Sony and HTC be the ones to snatch phablet domination away from the Note series?
Following the Note’s surprise success – and I can still hear myself doubting why anyone would want a device this size, back before I actually laid hands on the phone – we saw other Android OEMs attempt to get their own slice of this phablet pie. That led to the launch of some really awful models, and the one that really sticks in my mind as a company “doin’ it wrong” has to be LG with its Optimus Vu and the phone’s bizarre 4:3 display.
But at least the Vu was from a company like LG – in the months that followed, we saw more and more of these stabs at a phablet, but it seems like nearly all of them have been coming from manufacturers that lack the sort of brand recognition that would drive users – particularly Westerners – to take a chance on them. I mean, how many of you got excited when we learned of the 6.1-inch Huawei Ascend Mate?
Instead, now we have some rumored phablets on the way that not only sound like they’ll consists of totally decent hardware, but come from companies with better international profiles.
Rumors about the Sony Togari have been around for months, and initially focused on the phablet’s big 6.44-inch display. More recently, we’ve heard more detailed specs for the model suggested – things like a powerful Snapdragon 800 processor and a waterproof 6.5-millimeter-thick build – and leaned that Sony might end up calling the model the Xperia ZU for its commercial debut.
The story of the HTC T6 revealed itself much more recently, and we only started talking about the notion of a phablet-sized One last month. It didn’t take long for that T6 codename to arrive, as well as its own set of specs – if the rumors have been steering us straight, HTC’s phablet could have a 5.9-inch 1080p display, also run a Snapdragon 800, and feature an UltraPixel camera. As for a launch name, the most likely candidate to arrive has been the HTC One Max.
Already, even still totally unofficial and consisting of little more than rumors and the occasional leak of dubious provenance, these two phablets have more going for them than anything we’ve seen since the Note II – well, with the possible exception of the Galaxy Mega devices, but Samsung’s hardly competing with itself. They should be large enough to distinguish themselves from the current crop of five-inch flagship Androids, helping to move the phablet bar up to a level that’s becoming more appropriate. They should pack the power they need to cope with even the most demanding tasks, and both should take design notes from smartphones that have already had positive receptions – the One and Xperia Z.
That’s going to make for a good starting point, but there’s still a long way to go if we’re talking about besting the Note line. Samsung has more than a few cards up its sleeve, and two of those really go hand-in-hand: the Note’s stylus and its software.
Perhaps it’s a personal choice, but I can barely comprehend wanting to use a phablet-sized Android without a stylus. I love the precision, and a stylus really complements the form factor – too large to use one-handed, while too small to be treated as a full-on tablet. A dumb stylus won’t get you too far, though, and Samsung really made its Notes shine by outfitting the phones with software that took full advantage of the S Pen’s flexibility.
Luckily for both these guys, there’s been some mention of stylus support. While promising, there’s still a lot that could go wrong there – if we’re talking crappy broad-tipped capacitive jobs, we’re almost better off not having a stylus in the first place. But, it could also just manage to go remarkably right – with Sony in particular, we’ve heard that the Xperia ZU could have incredibly flexible stylus support, with a touch sensor that could let you use anything from a toothpick to a drumstick (the percussion kind, though I suppose some KFC would work in a pinch).
While that would be very cool if things worked out that way, we also hope it doesn’t suggest that Sony isn’t planning on giving the phablet a specific stylus designed just for the model. As Note users can attest to, a stylus outfitted with a couple buttons, not to mention pressure sensitivity, can go a long way towards expanding what you’re able to do with it.
Considering how little we really know about both these phablets, it’s hardly surprising that we know even less about the sort of phablet-specifc software they might run. But really, that, coupled with stylus support, is going to determine what success these guys do – or don’t – see.
Even if neither manages to put a serious dent in Samsung’s Note revenue, hopefully the arrival of some worthy competition will help reinvigorate interest in phablets, and lead to some even better models for the subsequent generation.