Attack of the phablets

Those who know me will know that I have a penchant for devices with generous screen sizes.

This "fetish" of mine began probably because of my previous unpleasant experience of having a smartphone with a screen that was only slightly over 2" in size. The amount of squinting I had to do made me crave for something much larger.

Due to that horrendous experience, I was overjoyed when I got my first Android smartphone which had a 4" screen. I have not looked back ever since, and have never skipped the chance to try any of the ridiculously huge Android devices beginning to flood the market.

Samsung made a huge gamble when they decided to release the 5.3" Galaxy Note back in 2011, receiving lots of negative feedback from naysayers who condemned the humongous size of the device.

The move paid off though, as the Note was so successful that it created a whole new user segment who wanted a device larger than the average smartphone yet smaller than a tablet.

Hence, the name "phablet" was coined. It is the combination of the words "phone" and "tablet".

Phablets are mostly devices with top of the line specs, but they are unlikely to reach out to the mass market because their size can turn many people off.

Samsung had recently announced that they've sold 38 million devices from their Galaxy Note lineup, although they didn't provide a breakdown of the devices. That is an impressive figure for a product line that was predicted to fail.

With the recent unveiling of the Note's third iteration, aptly named the Galaxy Note 3, we can expect to see the amount of phablet users growing even more.

While the Note and Note 2 were runaway kings of the phablet category of their time, the Note 3 faces stiff competition from other manufacturers who have realised the potential for oversized Android smartphones.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Among the contenders, Sony's Xperia Z Ultra stands out, both practically and literally. At 6.4" big, the device is unusually huge, even by phablet standards.

The Z Ultra's Triluminos screen is not only huge, but very clear as well. Those who are looking for a handy device to be used as a media player won't go wrong with this Sony phablet.

Sony markets the Z Ultra as the thinnest full HD phablet around. And have I mentioned that the device is dust-proof and water-resistant?

The Z Ultra comes out of the box with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Couple that up with a 2.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8974 quad-core processor and you have a smooth beast over here.

Unfortunately the device's speakers are literally nothing to shout about as the sound that comes out is not loud enough, thanks to the water-resistant materials used. While not many will bother too much about this when considering what their next device will be, audiophiles should really take note.

The ability to use any types of pen or pencil to write on the device's scratch-proof screen is an attempt to go head on with the Note lineups' key differentiating factor, the S Pen stylus support. However, it is more of a gimmick than a proper stylus replacement.

The Z Ultra comes equipped with an 8-megapixel camera which was unfortunately very horrid on the unit that I received for review.

LG Optimus G Pro

A few years ago, LG phones were hardly in anyone's wish list. That has changed in recent times after the excellent job LG has done with the Nexus 4 phones for Google. Now they've also come out with one heck of a phablet in the form of the Optimus G Pro.

Giving the highly popular Note 2 a run for its money, this phablet is superior on paper in nearly every statistical category.

The G Pro boasts a beautiful 5.5" full HD IPS display, giving it a high 401 pixel per inch (ppi) count. This makes it an excellent device for multimedia viewing. However, viewing angles are not as good as one would expect from such a magnificent screen.

The size and width is nicely thought out, as it is still usable with just one hand.

The phablet is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz processor and 2GB of RAM, ensuring that the user experience will be smooth.

Shutter bugs will be pleased with the G Pro's 13-megapixel rear camera and a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera.

LG has also included an effective battery saver mode, as well as useful apps such as the QSlide app for an enhanced multitasking experience.

However, the device is still stuck with an outdated version of Jelly Bean, Android 4.1.

Samsung Galaxy Mega

For a cheaper option, Samsung has also released the Galaxy Mega lineup, offering mid-range Android smartphones of 5.8" and 6.3" screen sizes.

Both smartphones don't come with high-end specifications, but the good thing about that is that they are more affordable compared to other big screen smartphones.

The Mega that reached our shores is the bigger of the two, the 6.3" version.

While the device is understandably less fluid than a flagship phone, it was still smooth enough for basic usage. It even comes with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and a host of Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4's features.

The highlight of the device is of course the gigantic screen. It is excellent for watching videos and viewing pictures.

The ergonomics of the Mega also makes it an amazing device for playing games.

Lenovo K900

Another competitor in the phablet category to look out for is the Lenovo K900. With a full HD screen that's 5.5" in size, this device has a sharp screen resolution of 401ppi.

The first thing I noticed about the device, aside from the Kobe Bryant ads, is that the earphone jack is placed at the bottom of the device. This seems like a step backwards. The back of the device is also prone to scratches.

Alike the other devices in the war of the phablets, the K900 is also fitted with a full HD screen.

Despite having only two cores, the Intel Atom chipset 2.0GHz dual core processor is sufficient enough to ensure that it doesn't lag too far behind other devices with quad core processors.

Performance-wise, it might not be the best device for graphic-intensive games, but can handle lighter games and web browsing without any problems.

The default user interface is not the smoothest around, but the beauty of the Android system is the ability to use 3rd party launchers to overcome that.

Battery life is respectable despite being fitted with a battery of only 2500mAh capacity, which is little compared to what is offered by the competition. The Intel Atom chipset manages the power consumption very well.

The device has its flaws such as the lack of SD card and lack of gyroscope, but for the price tag, it is a value for money phablet.

I've not included another popular option, the Asus Fonepad, as it is 7" big, a size which I will consider as a tablet.

Donovan is a full-time auditor and big-time gadget lover who discovered the wonders of the Android world back in October 2010. He is eagerly waiting to try out the Note 3.