Tech Talk: The future’s phab

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On the new generation of tablets with David Behrens.

WILL there be a tablet in your stocking this Christmas? Or are you holding out for a phablet?

The retail industry, demonstrating its customary indifference to the fact that summer is barely over, is already looking ahead for new ways to part you from your money 
this December, and iPad clones are its opening shot.

Tablets, especially the Google Nexus and its Apple rival, the iPad Mini, were among last year’s must-give gadgets, but those models are all but obsolete now in the face of technology’s relentless march. Google’s newly-released 2013 Nexus is slightly slimmer and, at £200, more expensive than last year’s model, but boasts a brighter screen and double the memory. A £320 version that hooks up to O2 mobile signals as well as your wi-fi is network is also on its way.

Apple’s second generation iPad Mini is rumoured to be on the way, too, with an upgraded “Retina” screen. Prices currently start at £370 with mobile connectivity or £270 without. Both the Nexus and iPad Mini boast seven-inch screens, but neither lets you make or receive phone calls or texts, even with a mobile hook-up.

That’s where the new generation of so-called phablets comes in. Part phone, part tablet, these devices sport five or six-inch screens – bigger than most phones but smaller than any tablet – and function as both. They took the far eastern markets by storm earlier this year and are now on their way here, principally from the South Korean and Taiwanese manufacturers Samsung and Acer.

Phablets are a good choice if you want to combine your online activities in a single device. They’re just about small enough to carry around with you and not so big as to make you look like Dom Joly when you’re on the phone – and they’re fine for casual surfing, reading and watching films.

On the downside, the increased power needed for the bigger screen and mobile connectivity reduces battery life. They’re also more expensive than tablets, and you’ll need a mobile contract on top.

For general purpose use, it’s the Google Nexus that’s currently the tablet of choice. It has a proper camera built in, and can stream high definition video from sites like Netflix in stunning quality and with stereo sound. Pairing a Bluetooth keyboard lets you type into it almost like a regular computer.