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Phablet smartphone buyer's guide fall/winter 2014


News by Luke Jones on Saturday September 20, 2014.

smartphone news · luke jones

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Phablet Buyer
Phablet Buyer

The smartphone lines a blurred and what was once a phablet is now merely a normal device, but things get even more complicated than that. The LG G3 for example has a 5.5-inch screen but is classed as a flagship device as opposed to a full blown phablet, while the newly launched iPhone 6 Plus is a phablet, but also has a 5.5-inch screen. Confusing indeed, so if you could just put aside what you say is a phablet or not and take a look at our 2014 winter buyer's guide for the best phablets your hard earned money can buy right now.

Android

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Galaxy Note 4
Galaxy Note 4

Where better to start this guide than with the company and device that started it all. All the credit goes to Samsung for creating the phablet niche with the original Galaxy Note, a device that has been bettered through each iteration. The Note 4 was launched a couple of weeks back and while we have not had time to really put it through its paces, what we know so far suggests this is another amazing handset. Blockbuster specs are a given, but what the Galaxy Note range has come to represent is the phablet without compromise, the truest take on the form factor. There are bigger smartphones here, but none feel as professional (something that oddly lends itself to large screens) and none have the S Pen, a stunning addition of software and function. There are plenty of stunning alternatives, but next to the Note series, there is still that feeling that all rivals are merely pretenders to the throne. Yes, we even include an Apple shaped device (more on that later) in that.

Key Specs: 5.7-inch QHD 1440 x 2560 Super AMOLED screen, 515ppi, Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 or Exynos 5433, 3GB of RAM, 16MP camera, 32GB storage, microSD support, 3,220 mAh battery.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Xperia Z Ultra
Xperia Z Ultra

Sony's phablet flagship is getting a little long in the tooth now so its specs are a couple of generations old, and there is even the danger that Sony could stop supporting it soon. However, it will almost certainly get Android L at some point and right now is nestled nicely into mid-range price territory. That considered, the Z Ultra is still a compelling choice for those wanting something large but do not want to spend a lot of cash. Large it is too, the biggest of them all at 6.3-inches in fact, but it is startling how thin this handset is, just 6.5mm. Of course, this being a Sony, it is also waterproof, good looking, has solid media software, and is just a good all-round package.

Key Specs: 6.3-inch 1080p screen, 344ppi, 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, 2GB of RAM, 8MP camera, 16GB storage, microSD support, 3050 mAh battery.

HTC One Max

One Max
One Max

Like the Xperia Z Ultra, the HTC One Max is also aging, but is still one of the best Android phablets available. Whether that says what a hold the Galaxy Note has on the market or that the Max and Z Ultra are just that good is hard to say. What isn't hard is the fact that the One Max still very much holds its own as a flagship smartphone, and it is the best looking Android phablet too. That's because it still has the design language from the HTC One M7, a handset that is better looking than the current M8 and one of the mobile design classics. Like Sony's big device, the Max is now edging towards mid-range territory in terms of price, so it is a stunning package if you can pick one up on an affordable deal.

Key Specs: 5.9-inch 1080p screen, 373ppi, 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, 2GB of RAM, 4MP UltraPixel camera, 16GB storage, microSD support, 3300 mAh battery.

LG G Vista

Vista
Vista

Heading into budget territory with LG's latest large screen handset, the G Vista. As you can see in the image above, the Vista borrows plenty from LG's current G3 flagship, including a similar design language and the simple UI that is among the best Android experiences out there. Sadly though, you get what you pay for as the G Vista lacks the G3's blockbuster specs, so make no mistake, this is a budget device. With that in mind, it finds a nice sweet spot spec wise and it is nice to see the phablet market becoming more accessible to lower budgets.

Key Specs: 5.7-inch 720p screen, 258ppi, 1.2GHz quad core processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 8MP camera, 8GB storage, microSD support, 3200 mAh battery.

Huawei Ascend Mate 7

Ascend Mate 7
Ascend Mate 7

Chinese manufacturers are making an increasing impact on the mobile space as a whole, and Huawei's Ascend Mate is arguably the best of the bunch. We say arguably because it hasn't been released yet, but what we saw of it at IFA suggests that this will be a stunning handset. For a start it looks unbelievable; big, imposing, and good looking, but it also boasts some killer specs and will be an amazing powerhouse in terms of performance. Often Huawei balances its great hardware with pretty woeful software, so here's hoping the company can address that here. Of course, getting one could be a problem with availability in western markets set to be typically scarce.

Key Specs: 6-inch 1080p screen, 368ppi, octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 925, 3GB of RAM, 13MP camera, 16GB/32GB storage, microSD support, 4100 mAh battery.

HTC Desire 820

Desire 820
Desire 820

You can buy the Desire 816 right now and you would have a good handset that is only a few months old. However, we would advise waiting for the new updated Desire 820 to arrive in the next few weeks to grab the latest mid-range large screen effort from HTC. Just look at it, we think this is among the best looking smartphones currently available, and it matches those aesthetics with a spec sheet that says everything you would expect from a mid-tier handset. Not the biggest device here by any means, but a compelling large screen option all the same, especially if you are interested in 64-bit mobile processing.

Key Specs: 5.5-inch 720p screen, 267ppi, 64-bit 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, 2GB of RAM, 13MP camera, 16GB storage, microSD support, 2600 mAh battery.

Sony Xperia T2 Ultra

Xperia T2 Ultra
Xperia T2 Ultra

Another enormous Sony smartphone, but this time a more modest and budget friendly device. We think this guide is highlighting nicely how far the phablet has come, with the market now full of smartphones at all price points. The Xperia T2 Ultra fits nicely into the wallet friendly bracket and yet again Sony has crafted an impossibly thin device (7.7mm thick) and has even offered a 13MP lens around the back. If you want searing performance and screen quality then you should look elsewhere on this list, but if affordability and general quality are your thing, this is a good device. It also has just about the best mobile battery life we have ever come across.

Key Specs: 6-inch 720p screen, 245ppi, 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, 1GB of RAM, 13MP camera, 8GB storage, microSD support, 3000 mAh battery.

LG G Pro 2

G Pro 2
G Pro 2

LG's phablet flagship is the nearest rival to the Samsung Galaxy Note series on Android, but yet it still falls short of Samsung's all-conquering range. If however faux leather or TouchWiz are not for you, the G Pro 2 is an interesting choice because comparisons aside it is just an amazing smartphone. Massive, powerful, good looking, and with a good screen, this is everything you would want from a large screen device. When this was released, LG was still releasing software duds, but the company says that its simple UI from the G3 will find its way to this handset eventually. While not a Galaxy note killer, the G Pro 2 is a potent alternative.

Key Specs: 5.9-inch 1080p screen, 373ppi, 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 80, 3GB of RAM, 13MP camera, 16GB storage, microSD support, 3200 mAh battery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Galaxy Note 3
Galaxy Note 3

Just one month ago we would have been naming this as the best phablet ever made. It has however been relegated because a new Galaxy Note has been released, but the third version is arguably even more appealing now. That's because it will almost certainly decrease in price, meaning you can get the second best Android phablet at a knock down price. Sure, you may make covetous glances to the Note 4 owners, but this device is still an absolute powerhouse. It says much for the consistency and popularity of the Galaxy Note range that we could even have put the Note 2 on this list as a competitor to most devices here. As it is, we resisted, but could not leave out the Note 3.

Key Specs: 5.7-inch Super AMOLED 1080p screen, 386ppi, 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, 3GB of RAM, 13MP camera, 16GB storage, microSD support, 3200 mAh battery.

iOS

iPhone 6 Plus

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

If this list had been written at any time previous to last week then Apple would have been absent, but it probably hasn't escaped your attention that Cupertino has entered the large screen market with a big old splash. We can argue all day about the high end specs, or lack thereof in this handset, but the real facts are that this device mashes through the iOS 8 (or indeed 7) platform with ease. Any praise for an Apple device resorts in comments of being on the company's payroll, but the truth (inconvenient for some) is that the iPhone 6 Plus is amazing. It is probably the best looking handset in this guide, is fast, has good features, and boasts arguably the best ever mobile camera. Is it better than the Galaxy Note 4? Probably not, but it hardly matters because like it or not, this is a Galaxy Note rival because the marriage between hardware and software is just so seamless.

Key Specs: 5.5-inch Retina HD 1080p screen, 401ppi, 1.4GHz dual core A8, 1GB of RAM, 8MP camera, 16GB, 2915 mAh battery.

Windows

Nokia Lumia 1320

Lumia 1320
Lumia 1320

Getting a large screen Windows device was always a tricky thing because the platform just wasn't ready to support the phablet form factor. However, Windows Phone 8.1 changed that and the Lumia 1320 is a large screen device for those craving a bit of Microsoft sourced ecosystem but do not want to damage their bank balance too much. This is the budget Windows Phablet, but like almost everything Nokia did on the platform, it does it well. There is something happy about Nokia handsets and nearly all of them check the right boxes in their respective price points; there should be no surprise that the 1320 does the same. There are issues, such as the screen not quite being up to par and the camera being awful, while the overall limitations of Windows still persist.

Key Specs: 6-inch 720p screen, 245ppi, 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, 1GB of RAM, 8GB storage, microSD support, 3400 mAh battery.

Nokia Lumia 1520

Lumia 1520
Lumia 1520

Windows Phone finally matured in 8.1 and that meant the platform could finally boast some true flagship devices. So Nokia went all in with the Lumia 1520, a massive phablet that packed the very best specs and said, "Look, we can match Android vendors in terms of hardware". If you are not enthused by Windows then no handset will change your mind, but in terms of being an amazing smartphone, the Lumia 1520 is killer. It is also imposingly massive, even if it does not have the biggest screen here, and oh yes, it's also made on a metal frame. One caveat with this would be that Microsoft (who have since bought Nokia) probably have some flagships up their sleeve for launch early next year. Maybe you would want to wait for the next gen of high end Lumia handsets.

Key Specs: 6-inch 1080p screen, 367ppi, 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, 2GB of RAM, 20MP camera, 16GB of storage, microSD, 3400 mAh battery.

 
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About the author

Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Managing Editor at MobileBurn.com and is the person you need to speak to about the content on the site. Luke studied creative writing at degree level before carving out a reputation as a freelance tech writer. He settled here at MobileBurn, where he reviews devices and contributes to the news, as well as overseeing the site's content and direction.

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