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In praise of small tablets

October 8, 2017

Galaxy Tab S2I’m a fan of small tablets. When Samsung released the first Galaxy Tab (way back when I was still at IBM Research), I thought the 7″ form factor was a strange choice: it wasn’t as portable as a phone, and yet it didn’t offer as much screen space as the recently released iPad. But we got one to experiment with at work, and I discovered I really liked the size. It was great for reading, with a combination of lightness and weight distribution that made it very easy to hold one-handed, while still offering full access to email, web browsing, etc. in a way that a Kindle e-reader (which has a similar form factor) does not.

When Amazon released the first Kindle Fire, I went ahead and pre-ordered one. While the Kindle Fire was slightly constrained in its functionality (let’s face it, the email and web browser were mediocre at best, and the thing was pretty pokey), reading Kindle books was my primary use case for a 7″ tablet (and it was inexpensive to boot). And I liked it; even now it’s still totally usable.

When I went to replace the Fire, I opted for a regular Android device for access to the Google Play Store. I’d recently joined Samsung, so I bought a Note 8.0 (the tablet, not the recently released phone). That device served me well for several years, but when I went to upgrade I decided to switch to something with more regular Android updates: the Nexus 7 (the 2013 version). Even though it was released the same year as the Note 8.0, Google had been providing updates to the latest and greatest Android version, so it served me well for another couple of years. But Google stopped providing updates with Marshmallow, so this year I went looking for another new small tablet.

Sadly, while I’m a big fan of the form factor, it seems the marketplace as a whole is not. Samsung released the Tab S3 this year only in the larger, 9.7″ form factor. Apple seems to be de-emphasizing small tablets as well; the iPad mini 4 is now over 2 years old, and there are rumors that Apple won’t release another one. In the end I opted for an 8″ Galaxy Tab S2. Samsung quietly bumped the internals in the summer of 2016, so it’s still relatively up-to-date. I like it: it’s fast, the screen looks great, and it’s very light. But it’s probably only got another year of OS updates (at most), and I’m not sure what I’ll do then.

So although small tablets might be getting squeezed by large tablets and increasingly large phones, I still think there’s value in the 7-8″ form factor. It’s great for reading, highly portable, and to mind the best choice for one-handed use. Have you ever tried to read in bed with a 9-10″ tablet? It’s ridiculous. And reading long-form content off an 18:9 aspect ratio phone? Ugh. Give me a small tablet any day. Every day. Please.


From → Hardware

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