Phones vs tablets question: One hand or two?


It’s no secret I like large-screened phones and 7-inch tablets. Although I own an iPhone 4S, I use my 4.65-inch Galaxy Nexus far more often. The same can be said of my Galaxy Tab 7.7 as compared to my iPad 2: for me, the smaller slate is a better fit for most of my tasks, and the Apple tablet only comes off the bedside dock for occasional use. I’m not judging these products to say which is better; there are so many personal factors involved in mobile tech decisions. I just happen to prefer larger screened, but still highly portable, devices. Until this weekend, I never knew why.

During the recording of our weekly mobile tech podcast on Saturday, I figured this out. A key driver of why I like mobile devices in the 4- to 7-inch size range is because I use two hands with my phones. I always have. This also may explain why many others have issues with larger but still pocketable devices. See, whenever I talk about my desire for a larger iPhone, the first response is often along these lines: “Any larger than the current 3.5-inch screen and you can’t use the device with one hand.”

I actually disagree with that, from experience. Even though I typically use my devices with two hands, I’ve tested one hand use with several 4-inch phones, and even with my small hands, you can use them with one hand. I still believe that Apple will redesign the iPhone with a 4-inch version; it would fit a larger battery, which will be needed for LTE support.

Regardless of what Apple is or isn’t doing, there is a long-term trend continuing to boost the screen size of phones. Four-inch devices quickly became 4.3- and 4.5-inch smartphones, and now we have the Galaxy Note measuring in at 5.3-inches. Is it a tablet or is it a phone? Forgetting my personal preference, I’m starting to think that any device in this market that can be used by all with one hand is a phone for sure. Once you start to require a second hand? Then it’s a tablet. For all intents and purposes, the definition really shouldn’t matter; especially as a “phone” typically means voice support and yet we can use various voice solutions on connected tablets. So why is this important?

[polldaddy poll=5939038]

Again, I’m probably in the minority now, but I suspect that in the long term, traditional small-sized phones will eventually disappear as we migrate to larger, higher resolution displays on portable devices. Larger screens allow for larger batteries, can still support voice — especially once we move cellular voice to all-IP data — and can still be easily carried around in a jacket pocket or purse.

I’m curious how many readers mainly use their smartphones with a single hand; I suspect most. And if that’s the case, I understand why many are thinking that this trend towards larger phones — or smaller tablets — is a laughable situation. Those in the “one-hand” camp are likely happy with a 3.5 to 4-inch phone, and once they move to a tablet, I’m betting they will pick a 8.9- to 10-inch slate. Meanwhile, two-handers like myself can simply skip the whole handset business and carry a 7-inch slate with voice capabilities.

Have at it in the poll and let me know if you typically use your handset with one hand or two.

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