Prepare for the next big thing: 'Phablets'

More are shifting to phablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note (in between Apple iPad 2 tablet and Blackberry Bold smartphone).

BARCELONA - The "phablet" phenomenon is taking the mobile world by storm.

Manufacturers at the world's biggest mobile fair in Barcelona, Spain, have released a slew of outsized smartphones that can barely fit in one hand, and tablets that have shrunk dramatically.

Further blurring the lines between smartphone and tablet, a selection of the latest tablets can be used as phones, albeit somewhat awkwardly.

At the ongoing Mobile World Congress, the Ascend Mate by Huawei was the champion with a vast 6-inch screen. Not far behind in the smartphone screen real-estate contest was rival Chinese handset maker ZTE, which released its Grand Memo boasting a 5.7-inch display.

South Korean giant LG trailed with its Optimus Pro, at 5.5 inches.

"It's a growing trend, especially in Asia, and a lot of these phones are favoured by women, who don't have to worry about putting it into their pockets as they carry it in their purses," said LG communications director Ken Hong.

More than 120 million tablets were sold worldwide last year, up 50 per cent from the previous year, and shipments of smartphones are predicted to hit one billion this year, according to global consultants Deloitte.

But the size of tablets is shrinking. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8, released just ahead of the congress, trimmed its screen to 8 inches to compete with Apple's new iPad mini.

Taiwan's Asus has managed to marry the two devices. Asus showed off the Padfone Infinity, a 5-inch, HD-screen smartphone that can harness the latest superfast 4G wireless network and slots into a 10.1-inch tablet.

This year's smartphones have to be fast, too, as the 4G network - also known as Long Term Evolution, or LTE - expands worldwide.

Huawei unveiled a new mobile at the show, the Ascend P2, which it claims is the fastest in the world.

Sharp-cornered and thinner than a pencil at 8.4mm, the device can achieve speeds of 150 Mbps, the company said, fast enough to download a two-hour HD movie in under five minutes.

The mobile, which has a more modest 4.7-inch HD screen, is powered by a 1.5-GHz quad- core processor and is able to use LTE networks.

Huawei held 5.3 per cent of the market in the fourth quarter last year. That is well behind Samsung and Apple, which held more than 50 per cent of the sales combined: 29 per cent for Samsung and 22.1 per cent for Apple.

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