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?

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Weekly output: Maker Faire, Apple flubs, unlocked iPhones

I should be using this space to go over my weekend at the Online News Association’s conference or what I’m up to this week, but I really just want to talk about seeing Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter at Nats Park today. I’d never seen one before. And in an alternate scenario, I wouldn’t have changed my original flight back from Chicago to United’s 8 a.m. departure, or that painfully-early flight would have been cancelled, and I would have missed the whole thing.

Sometimes it’s worth waking up at 5:15 a.m. on a Sunday to get home.

Yahoo Tech Maker Faire report9/23/2014: Report from Maker Faire: You, Too, Can Be a Maker, Yahoo Tech

Going into this celebration of DIY creativity and culture, I wasn’t sure I’d have a column’s worth of material. I shouldn’t have worried.

9/25/2014: Famous Flubs in Apple History, Yahoo Tech

When an extra review of a smartphone accessory got spiked (PR tip: make sure your client’s gadget works on the reviewer’s phone, lest the reviewer find himself unable to try it out), I had some unexpected free time I could devote to a quick catalog of past episodes of readers and writers alike freaking out over Apple mistakes and mishaps that, in retrospect, were perhaps not so world-ending.

9/27/2014: How to buy an unlocked iPhone 6, USA Today

This column untangling a confusing presentation on Apple’s online store ran a day earlier than usual. The comments feature some useful first-hand reports about activating Apple-sold iPhones on carriers other than those Apple intended–for instance, putting a Verizon iPhone 6 on T-Mobile.

 

Weekly output: cell-phone lane, iPhone 6 pricing, wireless carriers, Moto 360, iOS app bandwidth

NEW YORK–I spent two fascinating days here checking out Maker Faire (and catching up with some old friends), and now it’s time to head home. Make that, 16 minutes ago was the time to head home, except my train is late. Yay, travel.

9/15/2014: Chinese cellphone lane inspired by D.C., WTOP

The post I did for Yahoo Tech about a mock cell-phone lane on a D.C. sidewalk was back in circulation after a city in China staged a similar exercise, so WTOP quizzed me about what I’d seen earlier this summer.

Yahoo Tech iPhone 6 pricing plans9/16/2014: iPhone 6 Plans Compared: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, Yahoo Tech

This column was about 50 percent shopping advice, 50 percent a desperate plea to the wireless carriers (T-Mobile excepted) to simplify their offerings. As one heading from the story cried out: Why, Sprint, why?

I know some of you wanted me to offer guidance about family-plan deals for the iPhone. We didn’t have room for that in this piece, but I did file an update to my Wirecutter guide to wireless service with that info and much more; it should be up soon.

9/17/2014: The Best Wireless Carriers Today, Tested.com

Speaking of, I wrote a condensed version of that guide, complete with updates to account for iPhone 6/6 Plus pricing, that the site’s syndication partners could run. Tested.com posted its version on Wednesday… and tonight the link is coming up 404. Not sure what happened there.

9/19/2014: Moto 360: A round smartwatch not yet ready to roll (review), VentureBeat

This review had an amazingly short gestation time compared to some of the things I’ve written: I started it on the train up from D.C. late Friday morning, and it was up by mid-afternoon. That’s a great feeling.

9/21/2014: Check it: Which iPhone apps are data hogs?, USA Today

I was mostly done reporting a different Q&A column when I discovered that I’d covered almost the same topic last summer. (Oops.) Fortunately, I had this idea as a backup; unfortunately, I left out one step in the tip about iOS 8’s per-app battery-usage data, so we had to update the story this afternoon to fix that.

Speaking of column updates, we also revised the prior weekend’s column to add a couple of paragraphs explaining the NFC-mobile-payment app Softcard’s hitherto under-documented security options.

Weekly output: iPhone upgrades, iPhone 6 cases, safer retail payment options

Although I was out in the Pacific time zone this week, I didn’t go to Cupertino for Apple’s event Tuesday. I was in Las Vegas instead for CTIA’s Super Mobility Week trade show–but most of the writing I did there was not directly related to the show. It’s been a strange and tiring week, and made more so by the last piece I filed.

9/9/14: Don’t Be That Person Who Buys a New iPhone Every Year, Yahoo Tech

My contribution to Yahoo Tech’s new-iPhone coverage was this column questioning the financial wisdom and basic judgment of rushing to buy a new iPhone, at a real cost of $650 and up, every year. What I didn’t know when I wrote this Monday evening was just how confusing three of the four major wireless carriers could make their iPhone 6 deals–and you may see more about that from me soon.

Yahoo Tech iPhone-cases post9/12/2014: iPhone 6 Cases: The Best-Guess Editions, Yahoo Tech

This is the one story to emerge from all the notes I took in Vegas: a look at how case vendors found it so easy to get advance access to specifications about the size and shape of the iPhone 6 that they could promise to have compatible cases available when that device goes on sale Friday.

9/14/2014: Home Depot breach lesson: Safer payment options, USA Today

This was a worthy topic poorly executed. I didn’t take advantage of chances to quiz mobile-payment experts in person while I was at CTIA’s show, then latched on too readily to one source’s finding of fault in the Softcard NFC-payment service (until recently known by the terrorism-tarnished moniker “Isis”); another expert had made the same critique and it seemed to match Softcard’s public documentation, but Softcard says it ain’t so. And I managed to take my time getting this iffy column to my editor; I filed it after 6:30 on Friday, which even in her West Coast workday is way too late for a story not based on breaking news. Gah!

You know what would have been a better-grounded way to close out the column than a digression about this in-the-weeds issue? A simple reminder that paying with the device-independent, offline-enabled medium known as “cash” also leaves no traceable link to your bank or credit-card accounts.