The fable of the one-handed phablet

For most of the last three years, I have been fighting a battle against “phablets” and losing it badly. Not only have people flocked to buy supersized phones after each negative review I hand down, the dimensions of these displays have steadily crept up.

Phone size inflationThe 5.3-inch screen of the first Samsung Galaxy Note, the one that I mocked at the time for its enormousness, now ranks as just a bit over medium-sized. And that 2012-vintage hardware seems positively compact next to the 5.5-in. LCD of the iPhone 6 Plus, the 5.7-in. screen of the Galaxy Note 4 and the 5.96-in. display on Google’s upcoming Nexus 6.

Minimum sizes have gone up too. The 4.7-in. touchscreen on my Nexus 4 once seemed quite the expanse of glass but is now approaching minimum-viable-product material.

All along, my core complaint against enormophones hasn’t changed: How do you use these things single-handed? Here are some common situations where it’s difficult or impossible to wield a phone with both hands:

  • Holding a shopping basket at a store
  • Pushing a stroller
  • Wheeling your luggage through an airport
  • Standing in a train or bus and holding on to a handrail or stanchion
  • Eating a slice of pizza or other no-utensils-needed food
  • Standing in a coffee shop, bar or restaurant with a beverage in one hand
  • Holding your child’s hand
  • Walking a pet

And no, wearing a smartwatch doesn’t help unless you’re willing to annoy everybody around you by issuing voice commands to your computer of a chronograph.

But with millions of people choosing to pay what’s often a non-trivial price premium for plus-sized phones, I have to allow for me being the person who doesn’t get it.

So I’ll ask this: If you have a phone with screen that exceeds five inches across, how do you work its touchscreen when you don’t have both hands free? Has the act of tilting the phone in your hand to let your thumb reach a corner become so natural that you no longer notice, do you put down or let go whatever has your other hand occupied, or is there some other trick I’ve been missing?

Weekly output: laptop, Android and iOS security, spectrum, Galaxy Note (x2)

The lineup of sites that have run my work lately is a little different this week.

2/19/2012: Tip: How to secure your laptop data, USA Today

I was a little worried that some of the advice I was throwing around in this column–using apps like TrueCrypt to encrypt files, adding third-party DNS services to your Internet setup–would be too technically-involved for a general-interest audience. (I rewrote the DNS item to make some definitions clearer because of that concern.) Did more than a handful of readers add OpenDNS or Google Public DNS to their computers after reading the piece?

2/21/2012: Samsung Galaxy Note: Large, Not In Charge, Discovery News

I wondered what Samsung was up to when it splashed enormous ads on the side of the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES to tout this oversized Android device–“Phone? Tablet? It’s Galaxy Note!”–then ran that goofy Super Bowl ad . I’m even more puzzled by its intentions after reviewing the Note itself. Then again, check out all the comments from people professing that they love this phone and would even prefer that it came with a larger screen.

2/22/2012: Samsung Galaxy Note Review, Boing Boing

I’ve been reading Boing Boing for years; this is the first time I’ve written for the site. The piece decries some of the more common problems in Android phones, as exhibited by this device. Note the extensive comments thread: Many readers critiqued some assumptions I made while writing the piece, but they were generally civil about it. I can appreciate that.

2/22/2012: A Change of Channels on Spectrum Policy, CEA Digital Dialogue

The wonkiest thing I wrote all week, this post unpacks the deal the government worked out–contrary to my own predictions of two years ago–to transfer some airwaves from TV stations to wireless services. Everybody seems content with the outcome, which I can’t recall ever happening with a tech-policy issue affecting so many different interests.

2/24/2012: Who Defends Your Phone: Robots or Humans?, Discovery News

I’d meant to write this right after Google announced its “Bouncer” automated screening of Android Market apps for signs of malware, but got sidetracked by other items for a few weeks. That delay allowed me to put a lot more reporting into the piece and broaden it to address some app-trustworthiness issues that have cropped up more recently with Apple’s App Store.