Why Windows Phone Needs Phablets

Microsoft has finally updated Windows Phone with support for super-size smartphone screens. Here's why it should have done this long ago.
8 Phablets To Watch
8 Phablets To Watch
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Microsoft is finally going to let its hardware partners make Windows Phone phablets. More than two years after Samsung debuted its original Galaxy Note plus-size smartphone, phablets have become all the rage with smartphone buyers. Until Monday, Windows Phone didn't support phablets. Microsoft read the writing on the wall and made the right call.

The company announced Windows Phone 8 Update 3, which is being referred to as GDR3. The system update to Windows Phone includes a wide range of new features and capabilities. Chief among them are support for additional hardware parameters.

Before Monday, hardware makers were limited to the maximum resolution of 1280 pixels by 768 pixels with their screens. Now, hardware makers can design Windows Phone 8 devices with screens that measure up to six inches diagonally and have 1920 by 1080 pixels. In other words, Windows Phone is about to go full HD, and not a moment too soon.

Today's smartphone landscape is rife with big-screen smartphones, often called phablets. Samsung's Galaxy Note started the trend in 2011 with its then-industry-leading 5.3-inch screen. The Note 2 improved the display to 5.5 inches, and this year's Note 3 stretches the display to 5.7 inches. According to Samsung, it has sold more than 30 million Note-branded smartphones.

[ BlackBerry's latest smartphone has the largest screen it's ever offered. Read BlackBerry Debuts Z30 Phablet. ]

Samsung's Note isn't the only phablet in the market. It also sells the Galaxy Mega, which has a 6.3-inch screen. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra has a six-inch full-HD screen. Just this week, HTC announced the One Max, with a 5.9-inch screen. This list goes on. All of these devices run Google's Android operating system.

Right now, the Samsung ATIV S Neo has the largest screen of any Windows Phone at 4.8 inches and 1280 by 720 pixels. Bigger might not always be better, but consumers have begun to prefer smartphones with larger and larger screens. Wireless network retail stores indicate that shoppers often buy the biggest phone they can afford when picking out a new device. Devices such as the ATIV S Neo can't compete with the big-screen Android phones in the market today; thus, Microsoft's move to support large HD screens.

The Windows Phone update from Microsoft also adds support for quad-core processors, specifically the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip. The Snapdragon 800 is a powerhouse chip and is behind the success of today's best mobile devices. Not only is it fast, it is far more efficient, and adept at conserving power.

Processor performance is not necessarily an area where Windows Phone lags. It is a quick platform that functions just fine with two processor cores. However, a lot of buyers make purchases based on specs. Although the Snapdragon 800 will boost Windows Phone's performance, it's more of a marketing win for Microsoft than anything else.

Microsoft's announcement of GDR3 is timed particularly well. Nokia, which is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft, is primed to announce the first Windows Phone phablet at an event in Abu Dhabi next week. The Nokia Lumia 1520 is expected to have a full-HD screen approaching six inches, just the type of device Microsoft wants its hardware partners to make.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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