In the last 18 months, the term phablet has changed from a comical slight towards gigantic devices to a commonly used buzzword that adequately describes extra large smartphones that come with a hint of tablet inside. And as smartphones continue to gradually become larger and larger, the term is being used more loosely.
Yesterday, I was on the scene at the joint HTC and Verizon press event, where the two companies shared the stage to show off their latest collaboration, DROID DNA. While it's a new device to us here in the States, it's not entirely new. In essence, it is the J Butterfly that was announced mid-October for the Japanese market with a few, minor design changes.
Spec for spec, the two devices are nearly one in the same: 5-inch 1080p S-LCD3 display (rated at 440ppi), 8-megapixel ImageSense camera with f/2.0 aperture, 2.1-megapixel front facing camera with an f/2.0 lens, 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset, 16GB built-in storage, 2GB RAM, and a 2,020mAh battery. The only specification that I'm not certain made it to the J Butterfly is wireless charging. Oh, and lest we forget the DROID DNA does not – I repeat, does not – have a micro SD card slot.
Since I fell in love with the original Galaxy Note, I've been patiently waiting to see which competitors would dig in for a piece of the phablet pie. LG followed suit shortly after, and rumors of an HTC phablet flooded the Internet for months. The LG Optimus Vu, or Verizon's Intuition here in the States, is indeed a phablet. Unlike the rumors of HTC's larger smartphone, nothing about the Intuition remotely piques my interests. Turns out, however, that HTC's phablet isn't as expected either.
Following the announcement of the J Butterfly, I wrote a piece claiming it "isn't the HTC phablet I was hoping for." Stating reasons like "its battery is entirely too small" and the "other issue is storage space", many readers told me I was jumping the gun, that the U.S. model was rumored to feature at least a 2,500mAh battery and the J Butterfly comes with a micro SD card slot. Apparently, both my arguments were moot, despite being considered a great argument just on month prior.
All of that said, with both devices official and the DROID DNA press event behind us, I couldn't have been more right … and wrong at the same time.
The U.S. variant of the J Butterfly, the DROID DNA, has a 2,020mAh battery. And it comes only with 16GB of built-in storage (only 11GB are available to the user) with no micro SD card slot. This means at least one of the arguments – the one about storage – I made against the J Butterfly are even more true of the U.S. model. And the battery life, despite several HTC and Verizon people assuring me the battery should easily last "about a day", may still be an issue for true road warriors.
So how was I wrong?
I called the J Butterfly a phablet. In turn, I also called the DROID DNA a phablet. However, they're not phablets at all. They are simply large smartphones.
"But how is that possible, Taylor?! Its display measures 5-inches! Anything over 5-inches should be considered a phablet!" I used to think so myself. But I was wrong. We all were. And HTC could not have made that any clearer yesterday.
While size is certainly a factor in defining a phablet, they are meant to be devices that are intended to straddle the line between two markedly different devices, to function both like a smartphone and a tablet. The Galaxy Note II, for example, comes with a stylus (or S Pen), can simultaneously run two apps side by side, and has features like S Note, Popup Browser and Popup Video which make it operate and feel like a hybrid device – half smartphone, half tablet.
Not to mention, it's quite large. Samsung put a lot of effort into making the Galaxy Note II feel smaller than 5.5-inches. It hardly feels any larger than the original 5.3-inch Galaxy Note. But it fits better in the hand and pocket, and can still be used with one hand, with a little practice.
The DROID DNA, on the other hand, does not feel like a tablet … or a phablet. It feels like a large, supercharged smartphone. There are no tablet-like features, no software features that optimized the 5-inch display for true simultasking, no stylus (or Scribe Pen as HTC calls it). It's basically a better One X+ with a nicer chassis, a Snapdragon S4 instead of the Tegra 3 and a 5-inch 1080p S-LCD3 rather than the 4.7-inch 720p S-LCD2.
And what made me realize this yesterday wasn't all the "it's not a phablet" talk Verizon and HTC were spreading. It was getting the device in my hands. In the hand, the DROID DNA felt much more like the One X than the Note II. Not only because, well … they're both made by HTC. But the size and feel of the devices were more alike. The DNA didn't really feel much larger than the One X … because it isn't. The One X and DNA are much closer in size than the DNA is to the Galaxy Note II. (See above or the DROID DNA gallery.)
So don't let the 5-inch display of the DNA fool you. It's not a phablet. It's much smaller and more manageable than the Galaxy Note II. (That's in general. I still prefer the form of the Note II.) It's 100 percent smartphone and, albeit a bit larger than your run-of-the-mill smartphone, it's zero percent tablet.
I still stand by the original statement I made about the J Butterfly, and it applies just as well to the DROID DNA. Neither are the HTC phablets I was hoping for. Neither of them are phablets at all.