Apple’s Steve Jobs famously said 7-inch tablets were ‘dead on arrival’ and, at that particular juncture, he was probably right. But whether it’s 7 or 8.9 inches or something in between, smaller tablets do make some sense.
I own an iPad and love it. It’s well-made, it’s fast, it’s got great battery life and the choice of apps, magazines and newspapers is second to none. The iPad deserves all the plaudits it gets. But, after much reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t mind if it was just a tiny bit smaller.
It’s at this point I should make a confession and an apology – I didn’t always believe this to be the case. In fact, while I can’t recall many specifics, I’ve vociferously argued the opposite with Which? colleagues, friends and other tech journalists. If I were a politician, I’d be castigated for such an about turn – I probably will be, anyway.
Why I’ve changed my mind
It’s been the advent of Newstand, Apple’s home for magazines and newspapers, that’s triggered this change of heart. Sure, newspaper and mag apps have been available before, but since Newstand launched they’ve become a far more regular feature of my daily routine. And the more you use an iPad purely for reading, the more its size becomes an impediment.
In general, it’s more convenient to hold whatever you’re reading in one hand. If you’re at home it leaves your spare hand free to drink, or make notes. If you’re standing up in a train carriage on a busy commute, it means you can hold onto something instead of being launched across the carriage.
However, while you can more or less hold an iPad in one hand, it never quite feels comfortable. It’s awkward, cumbersome and ever so slightly unbalanced when held one-handed.
Contrast this with something like the Sony Tablet S. It’s not even that much smaller – it’s got a 9.4-inch screen compared to the iPad’s 9.7-inch – and it’s about the same weight, but it’s chunky curved side means it’s infinitely more comfortable to read on.
Likewise, smaller tablets, such as the BlackBerry PlayBook or (my personal favourite Android tablet) the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, are small enough and light enough to be comfortable to hold with a single hand.
There is no ‘right’ tablet size
Unfortunately for Apple’s competitors, making a smaller tablet isn’t the golden gun to defeating it. In fact, while the iPad’s size makes it more awkward to read on, it has its upsides, too – it’s easier to type on, for instance.
Apple also has its catalogue of apps to fall-back on, not to mention all the other things (design, speed, build quality etc.) that give the iPad a helping hand.
But one thing is clear – there is no ‘right size’ for a tablet and, treated correctly, smaller tablets aren’t just ‘big smartphones’ as is commonly claimed. There’s a gap, albeit a small one, for tablets that are leaner and more portable. They’re no longer ‘dead on arrival’.