Is it possible to use a tablet with a 7” screen and telephony capability as a phone? If you asked me this question two years ago, I would say that it was crazy and totally out of the question. However, the trend nowadays tends to make our phones get larger and larger. For example, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra has a 6.4” display but it is still considered a phone. The border between a tablet and a phone is not as distinctive as before now. Another thing is that the bezels are getting smaller so devices with same screen size are typically smaller than previous.
So, it is becoming more practical or less silly to use a small tablet as a phone today? I could not answer this question until I got my hands on the ASUS Fonepad 7 lately, which is a small tablet with dual sim capability. I have been using it for more than a week and there are some pros and cons of using the Fonepad as my phone.
Portability & ‘Pocketability’
Carrying a larger device is more difficult than a smaller device. Although we are expecting this right from the beginning, it is still the biggest trouble I had for the week. Using it with one hand is totally out of the question. You definitely need both of your hands free to operate it. Luckily as technology advances, the side bezels have been trimmed down. You just need to check if you can hold the device comfortably with one hand before you buy it.
When you are on the go, you need to keep it somewhere. Although the pockets in our trousers is sufficient for most phones, the same could not be said for tablets. For the whole week, I really had to choose pants with larger pockets to fit the tablet. It was harder for me to move around with the tablet in my pocket as well. Its hindrance of movement is more noticeable when you are sitting down, climbing stairs and squatting down. I also wondered where I should place the tablet when I am having my meal on a narrow table and seat. The problem is present too in a public washroom as I cannot leave it outside. I decided to ditch it for a smaller phone while having a trip to town as I needed to walk a lot and carry a lot of things.
Although using the Fonepad as a normal tablet will not catch much attention in public, making calls with it definitely is. It is very awkward to put a big slab over my face and I simply cannot ignore the way people looked at me while I was talking over the tablet. No people will laugh at you but you do not need any mind reading skills to tell that they are not admiring your device by their looks. The microphone is typically placed at the bottom of the device and when the front speaker is placed on my ears, the microphone is nowhere near to my mouth. The quality of the call is not as good because I have to speak significantly louder.
If you think that loudspeakers and headphones are helping, you are not wrong, they really help to improve the experience but they have their own problems too. I am unable to use the loud speaker in noisy environments or when I would like to keep my conversation private. If I wanted to use a pair of headphone, I would have to make sure that I remembered to bring it. Bluetooth earphones might seem like an elegant solution. However, I am sure we all have met someone who we thought was crazy as he or she is talking to the air until we realized that he or she is having a conversation over a Bluetooth earphone.
Mobile photography is now getting more popular due to the advancement of camera quality on mobile devices. However, you can only find the best camera in smartphones (compared to tablets). Although cameras in tablets are getting better, they are no match for smartphones like the LG G3, Lumia 1020 and iPhones. Some tablets have moderate cameras but most of them are equipped with mediocre shooters to be honest.
Even when you have the same cameras in tablets, the weight of the tablets will be a problem too. Your hands will inevitably shake while holding a heavier device. This means that any photos with longer exposure time will be blur. Thus, low light photos will either be very dark and blur due to short exposure time or grainy due to the high ISO needed. If you are a photography enthusiast, you might need another camera and this will defeat the purpose of using a tablet as phone as you need to carry more than one device.
Extra Screen Space
We all know that the main difference between a phone and a tablet is the screen size. Larger displays can show more content to you at the same time. This is noticeable from the homescreen to the applications. The larger screen allows more and larger widgets on homescreen. I found out that I interacted with widgets more on tablets than on phone which brings a lot of convenience to me. Although phones do have widgets, my eyes somehow tend to miss its contents and swipe away from it easily, probably due to its cramped contents.
I also found it much easier to find something in apps, especially in settings as the main menu will be kept at one side. Applications like Flipboard and YouTube are more enjoyable on tablets too thanks to the extra screen space. Typing is much easier and more accurate too as the buttons grows with the larger screen. If your device can support multi-tasking or window applications, the bigger screen will be even better.
Longer Battery Life
Smart devices are less useful than a brick if it is running out of battery and sadly, they do not have very long battery life. What is great about tablets is that they typically have much larger battery than phones. Naturally, a larger capacity equates to a longer battery life. While I usually have about one and a half day battery life on a phone, the ASUS Fonepad 7 can last for more than 2 days without problem. However, I do have to use the device conservatively because I worry that it will run out of juice before the end of the day. It would be very convenient too while travelling as you cannot guarantee that you can feed the hungry beast in your pocket anytime, anywhere.
Saving Your Wallet & Effort
Using a tablet as a phone means that you can get the best of both worlds in one device. You do not need to spend extra money on a phone plus a tablet. The starting price of tablets with telephony capability can be found right from around RM400 (USD130), which might be cheaper than what you think. Only one data plan needs to be paid and it should help to cut down your monthly expenses. Although it is possible to share Internet connection by using your phone as WiFi hotspot, it kills its battery fast and it means that you need to carry two devices at the same time with maybe a powerbank or two.
Speaking of carrying two devices, it means that you have to pay for both devices, charge both of them and find space to keep them on the go. You would also spend time considering which device suit your need at that instant the most and swapping them if you realize you made the wrong call later. Depending on your practice, you might need to spend some effort to keep its contents, such as documents, in both devices in sync.
For me, the week with the Fonepad 7 changed my mind and I can live with that as my daily driver as long as I do not have to move around too much. Currently I am working so I am satisfied with it as I have a relatively inactive lifestyle. I should not have problem using it even back in classes when my semester resumes. However, I cannot imagine bringing it to my sports sessions. For making calls, I actually do not mind how people see me so it is still fine for me.
Most problems I have while using a small tablet as a phone actually occur when I am not using the device. Firstly, I have to find ways to carry and keep it. While using it, the experience is largely positive as I can do stuff easier and faster. The awkwardness of putting the tablet on your face is something you should consider too. As the new analysis shows that voice-enabled tablets are doing great in terms of sales, it might be a norm in the future doing this. In the meantime, if you have very big pockets or carry bags all the time and you are able to ignore strange looks that people might give you, I think you can give it a try. Who knows? You might get hooked and be unable to live with just a normal smartphone anymore.
Note: I am referring to Android tablets in this article as we cannot make phone calls directly on their iOS and Windows counterparts.