10 things to consider before buying a new phablet smartphone

Finding the perfect phablet to meet all of your needs is never an easy feat, especially in a market where it seems like something bigger and better is always right around the corner. In this guide, we will dissect ten of the most important features you should consider before buying your next big-screen smartphone.

1. Display Size

what to look for when buying the best phablets 2017
What’s the ideal phablet screen size? Ask ten different people and you might get ten different answers. Photo: Lenovo Phab 2.

It’s a no brainer that when it comes to picking a new phablet, display size and resolution are priority #1. Big screen smartphones are best suited for people who regularly read books, watch movies, and browse the web on the go.

What’s the ideal phablet screen size? Ask ten different people and you might get ten different answers but generally you want to strive for the most screen size possible without suffering resolution or portability.

Unlike with conventional smartphones, one handed operation generally isn’t a factor when considering screen size because even the smallest phablets are difficult to operate one handed without accessibility software built in.

Best phablets with the largest display

2. Screen Resolution and Quality

which phablet smartphone to buy biggest screen
Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Photo: Sony.

Just because a display is big doesn’t mean it’s beautiful. Screen resolution and pixel density are specs that can be very misleading. Resolutions above full HD are fast becoming the mainstream thanks to recent advancements in VR technology and 4K content on the horizon.

Talking about the number of pixels becomes meaningless unless you know the size of the screen, which is why it’s more relevant to talk about PPI, the measure how densely packed the pixels are. A lower ppi means there is a higher chance you will be able to see the individual pixels on the screen, a higher value means you will see a smooth, natural looking image.

Pixel density is all about viewing distance.

Most people sit about 30″ away from desktop monitors, while smartphones are generally held around 10″ from ones face. “Retina Display” is a marketing term coined by Apple that refers to a screen with a pixel density so high – roughly 300 PPI – that a person is unable to discern the individual pixels at a normal viewing distance.

Pixel density basically comes down to screen resolution vs. display size. To help put things into perspective, a 7-inch display with a screen resolution of 1920×1080 has a PPI of 314. Compare that to a 6-inch display with the same resolution and you get 367, which will be noticeably sharper and more pleasing to the eye.

Pro Tip: You can calculate pixel density with the following equation: PPI = sqrt(w^2 + h^2) / d. If you’re not a fan of math, there are plenty of PPI calculators available online.

Since phablets are naturally large devices, it’s a good rule of thumb to never settle for anything less than a 1080p full HD display, but know that 2K screens are noticeably better. Full HD will save you some processing power, which in turn will save battery life, just keep in mind some phones have power saving capabilities that automatically adjust the screen resolution to squeeze extra juice out of your battery.

When choosing your new phablet, trust your eyes over anything you see on paper. If you are interested in using your new phablet for VR, you will most likely be looking at getting a 4K (2160p) display. With a screen only inches from your face, any additional pixels make a dramatic difference to the quality of the image and the immersive effect.

Phablets with the best screen resolution and quality

3. Audio Quality

How to choose a phablet smartphone with stereo sound
Nothing kills multimedia on your phablet faster than a cruddy, misplaced sound system. Photo: LG.

More often than not smartphones don’t have forward facing speakers, let alone true stereo sound. Nothing kills multimedia on your phablet faster than a cruddy, misplaced sound system. Big beautiful displays need to be accompanied by great sounding speakers.

Front facing stereo speakers put you right in the middle of the action when watching videos or playing games. As you might guess, this setup also offers the best sound experience when listening to music directly from the device.

Best phablets with front facing stereo sound

4. Camera – Can it replace your point and shoot?

How to choose a phablet smartphone for mobile photography
The Nokia Lumia 1520 features a 20MP BSI CMOS sensor that measures 1/2.5-inches.

No matter how compact a point-and-shoot camera might be, many people don’t want to carry around multiple devices everywhere they go. Unless you normally carry around some kind of bag or purse, finding a place to comfortably pocket a camera in addition to your smartphone can somewhat of a challenge.

While no one can argue with the fact that DSLRs are the best choice for serious photography, as the old adage goes: “the best camera is the one you have with you”, making convenience the primary reason why smartphones are starting to push the dedicated point-and-shoot out the door. Here are some things to look out for when choosing a good smartphone camera:

  • Don’t be fooled by megapixels – more megapixels does not mean a better image. Megapixels are a measurement of the size of the image captured, so the more megapixels there are, the larger the image is. However, bigger is not always better. You can have a 20-megapixel camera, but that does not mean the sensor can capture clear, sharp images at that size. This is where lens quality comes into play.
  • Know that smaller apertures are better – Lens aperture refers to the size of the opening that allows light to hit the camera sensor. What gets confusing here is that the lower the aperture, the more light is allowed into the lens. This is an important factor because more light means sharper images and better performance in low light situations. A camera with a lower aperture and less megapixels could easily outperform a 20-megapixel camera with a higher aperture.
  • Optical Image stabilization – OIS can be implemented in a number of different ways, but the goal is the same – reduce the effect that motion has on the sensor’s ability to capture an image. This is important when you’re taking video, moving around while snapping photographs, and when you are taking pictures in low light situations. This is a great feature to watch out for when choosing a camera but don’t let it be a deal breaker.
  • Camera Modes and Controls – Knowing how your camera’s different modes work will help you have more control over the final look of your shots. Just about all smartphones come equipped with presets for easy shooting in various conditions, but serious photographers will want a camera that allows you to change ISO, aperture, and shutter speed independently. Some important camera app features to look out for when choosing a good smartphone for photography include grid lines (for aiding in composition), silent mode (to disable the shutter sound), timer, panorama, HDR (High dynamic range), focus and exposure lock (for quick composition changes without the need to readjust).
  • Flash type and placement – Generally speaking, the camera flash on smartphones are usually too harsh and rarely helpful. A powerful LED flash on the back of your phone is best suited for low light video and finding your way around in the dark. Some phones feature a “selfie flash” that use your display as a light source by cranking up a bright white screen to produce much softer highlights, similar to what you could get with a light box.

Lastly, be patient and wait until the reviews come out to get an idea of what the camera is capable of and how easy it is to use. Review authors usually upload photo samples taken with the camera, just be mindful that many reviewers reduce the quality of the photos when uploading to the internet.

Remember this when viewing sample images and try to find answers to the important questions, like how well the camera performs in low light, and how much editing, if any, is required to make them look better.

Best phablets for mobile photography

5. Internal Storage Capacity

Best phablets with maximum storage capacity
It’s best to choose a phablet with expandable memory. Photo: Phablist.

How much multimedia can you store locally? High quality cameras require a lot of space. Expandable memory is key because you can easily store multiple files on different cards. Apps can also take up a lot of space, especially if you enjoy gaming and downloading television and movie apps. It’s a good idea to get a phone with as much memory as you can afford.

Best phablets with maximum storage capacity

6. Hardware under the Hood – How much power do you need?

How to choose a phablet smartphone
If you enjoy gaming, it makes sense to buy the best hardware you can afford in order to make your device as future proof as possible. Photo: ifixit.

All of that photography and media consumption you will be enjoying with your fancy camera and big screen requires a lot of processing power. If you enjoy gaming, it makes sense to buy the best hardware you can afford in order to make your device as future proof as possible.

Phablets with the most processing power

7. Battery Life – What good is everything previously mentioned if your battery is dead?

You battery is like the sun in the universe of hardware that lies underneath your screen, bringing energy to all of the components necessary to bring your phablet to life. The important unit of measure here is mAh (milliamp-hours), which tells you how much power the battery can supply over time.

Obviously more is better but how much you actually need depends on a few factors discussed previously – like screen resolution, camera and sound quality, processing power, etc. To save yourself the confusion, just know that the best way to measure your battery life is by how long you can make calls, watch movies, or browse the web with it.

When choosing a phablet, you can judge a battery by paying special attention to the talk, web, video, and standby time specifications. These are usually expressed in hours and are based on tests provided by the manufacturer. Be skeptical of marketing ploys and always compare the manufacturer’s numbers to a third party battery test, if available. GSM Arena is a good place that frequently publishes battery performance benchmarks.

Another factor to consider is how fast the battery can be charged. Not every phone has the same battery capacity or charging technology, so it’s obvious that some phones will juice up faster than others will.

Some manufacturers have different technology they use for quick chargers, which use voltage regulators to allow batteries to charge up much faster. One of the most common technologies out there is Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, which can be found in devices like the Note 4, the Nexus 6, and the HTC One (M8).

Phablets with the most battery life

8. Build Quality

How to choose a new phablet smartphone best build quality
The days of plastic phablets will soon be a faded memory as more smartphones are sheathed in metal and glass. Photo: Flickr.

There is no question that smartphone hardware has come a long way, especially in the last decade, but it’s only been a few years that we’ve seen drastic changes in cell phone build quality. The days of plastic phablets will soon be a faded memory as more smartphones are being increasingly sheathed in metal and glass.

When picking your new phablet, consider how good the device feels in your hands and keep in mind how a protective case would affect the size and accessibility of its controls.

Phablets with the best build quality

9. Availability and Compatibility

How to choose a new phablet mobile carrier
If you’re planning to buy a phone somewhere else and bring it to your carrier, there are some compatibility questions to ask first. Photo: Wikipedia.

Is it compatible with your mobile carrier? You might expect to find this higher on the list because without a network to make calls on, all you have is a miniature Wi-Fi tablet. If you buy your phone from the carrier itself, you probably won’t need to worry about which network your phone runs on unless you plan to travel internationally, but if you’re planning to buy a phone somewhere else and bring it to your carrier, there are some compatibility questions to ask first.

Top 5 mobile carriers in the United States

10. Special Features and Accessories

How to choose a phablet smartphone by features and accessories
VR and other wearable accessories should be taken into consideration when choosing a new phablet. Photo: Phablist.

Some people use phablets to manage their entire lives. Many smartphones offer exclusive features while most others can be found via third-party apps. Operating system, wireless charging, biometric sensors, VR and other wearable accessories should all be taken into consideration before buying your new smartphone.

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