Is 13" too big for a tablet?

Yesterday we saw another entrant in the emerging class of 13″ tablets. The HANNSpad has a screen about three inches larger than the full size iPad (10″)… and it has to make you wonder, how large can tablets get?

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We’re increasingly seeing screens grow larger and larger. This is great for your TV – as you don’t have to carry it around with you… but are we not reaching a point where portability is becoming sacrificed? Would you really carry around a 13″ tablet when a fully blown laptop would take up about the same amount of space in your bag?

The case for

A bigger screen means that a tablet becomes an even better option for watching HD content. So if you’ve got a HD video to play – it’ll look better on a 13″ tablet, rather than you 4″ phone.

There’s also a very obvious example: if you’ve got big hands then a big tablet could be good for you. I’m not even joking. Rather than poking at the screen with the shovels on the ends of your arms, and not being able to mash the button you’re looking for – a bigger screen will increase the size of everything on screen. Perfect if playing Candy Crush on the Nexus 7 is a bit too fiddly.

The case against

Frankly – something so large could be unwieldy. I realise that I’m in danger of being one of those people who would have said 20 years ago “Why would you need a TV bigger than 20 inches?” – but surely there’s a limit to just how big a portable device can be?

As mobile phones have grown larger, and “phablets” have become not just a horrible word but a class of device – we’ve already started to see some subtle questioning of whether size actually is everything. Case in point – look at the Galaxy Note 3 – a phablet with a large 6″ screen. To make it more user friendly though, there’s also a “small” mode, which shrinks the screen down to the size of that of a normal mobile phone – so you can operate it with one hand. So what’s the point of that extra space?

Similarly – 7″ tablets (like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire) are popular because you can pretty much reach everywhere on the screen with your thumbs, when you hold it like a book – with a 13″ screen, unless you’re some sort of freak of nature you’ll have to lift your hands up.

I’d bet that battery life is going to be sacrificed too. The biggest drain on a device’s battery tends to be the screen – keeping that big rectangle brightly lit for several hours is exhausting. And obviously if you increase the screen’s size, then that requires more energy than something smaller.

Similarly – generating all of those HD graphics are going to be more processor intensive – which will draw more power compared to similar SD devices. So don’t be surprised if you’re looking around for a plug socket sooner than smaller tablet users. And screen size isn’t everything for HD – pixel density is also important. On the new Handspree 13″, the screen resolution is only 1280×800 – compare this to the 10″ iPad’s 2048×1536 display – meaning that images on the latter’s screen are crisp – and arguably indistinguishable from, say, the printed page.

On balance

As you might have guessed… I’m yet to be convinced. As history has repeatedly taught us, size isn’t everything – especially when devices are designed to be used whilst mobile. Maybe it is just as easy to carry around a 13″ tablet? But then what about when we inevitably start seeing 16″ or 20″ tablets? At some point we’ll have gone too far, right?

By James O'Malley | November 13th, 2013





James O'MalleyIs 13" too big for a tablet?