Tablet screen size is a big deal. As manufacturers wrestle for your cash, striving for you to choose their machine out of a (let’s face it), pretty similar-looking line-up, we take a look at where you should be spending your cash. We leave the choice of make and OS up to you, but tackle the age-old question: does size really matter?
Tablets sales are storming, and the range of devices on the market is baffling. In the last week of October alone each of the big hitters – Apple, Microsoft, Google and Samsung – launched their new flagship devices, frantically trying to gather traction and steal the spotlight ahead of the Christmas rush. In the business world, tablets are increasingly being leveraged as a platform to drive productivity – not simply as a screen to show pdfs, but as a new way to present, to have sales conversations, to interact with prospects and to showcase content.
Each of the devices are no-doubt capable and while each has a slightly different approach, they all set out to offer a similar range of functions. Designs are different, although the ongoing barrage of lawsuits between Apple and Samsung amongst others is testament to the fact they might not be different enough. What is interesting however, is how the tablet market seems pretty divided as to which screen size is optimal for this kind of handheld device.
There seem to be two distinct camps – the 10 inch tablets and the 7 inch tablets. I say camps, because the specifications do stray either side of these numbers (such as the Amazon Kindle Fire HD at 8.9 inches), but most fit the pattern. Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Amazon, Apple and Sony are all members of the 10 incher team. And most offer similar tablets in 7 inches. Lesser manufacturers tend to belong to one or the other, and cheaper less well known tablets tend to come in 7 inches only. The delineation is clear, but what is the reason for it? Why have manufacturers not been able to decide on single size for a tablet? And which size will you find most useful?
An element of the distinction is price. Manufacturers have used the smaller end of the market to create entry-level devices, typically 8GB, with a high resolution (subtly distinguished from high definition) screen and middle-range processors. These devices are typically speedy enough for everyday tasks such as email, web browsing, playing games, enjoying media, but are limited in their battery life and storage.
The £249 price point informs consumers that this device represents significant value over a laptop, but is still a premium product that will perform. Prices below that mark tend to come with catches, be they an obvious drop in specification or more subtle confinement to a media eco-system. Amazon famously sells its products at breakeven pricing in order to encourage consumers to shop using its online services. It also offers a small reduction on the list price if users accept advertising on their device’s lock screen. Google’s Nexus range is designed to work seamlessly with its Google Play service. Each are methods of enticing you to buy – taking a hit on the bottom line in the hopes of securing your business for years to come.
10 inch tablets tend to be more expensive – packing higher tech specs and crowding around the £299 – £399 price range. The fact that a smaller tablet is cheaper than a bigger one makes perfect sense, and if cost is a motivating factor for you, then the 7 inch market is where you should be looking.
All tablets have been designed to be carried around – they work wirelessly and generally without the need to be sitting on a desk or on your lap. While both the 7 inch and the 10 inch tablets are portable, I would suggest that they are so in different ways.
The 7 inch form factor is base on the size of a common book – near to A5. The use of these dimensions is based partly on utility – a 7 inch tablet is a decent, ‘handy’ size – but also on consumer acceptance. We understand how big a book is, we are used to carrying them around, we can imagine ourselves using something book-sized, and we have largely accepted that this is a ‘good’ size for to keep us entertained on the train. When it comes to fitting a new device into our lives, it makes sense to choose one that can literally fill the gap left by the thing it is replacing.
Anatomical considerations come into play with smaller tablets too. A 7 inch tablet just about fits into the palm of your hand. By designing it to do so, manufacturers not only allow their devices to feel comfortable to use, but also to feel as though they have been designed to work with us, rather than forcing us to work with them. Human-led design is becoming increasingly common in all areas of the tech industry. Motion sensors, voice recognition and touch are all innovations that work because they tap into the way humans naturally act; devices that use them speak our language – they do not rely on us learning theirs.
Fitting into a hand is an important feature for a handheld device, but it fitting into a handbag is also important for one that is designed to be portable. While it is a stretch too far to say 7 inch tablets have been created for female buyers, their ability to fit into buyers’ lifestyles should not be underestimated.
So where does this leave the 10 inch tablet? Why bother if 7 inch screens have so much going for them? My view is that a 10 inch tablet is just as easy to carry around, but it is treated in a different way. Something with a 10 inch screen needs to be kept in a laptop bag or rucksack – it simply won’t fit in a pocket, nor in a handbag. It is designed to be used in two hands or rested on a lap or desktop. It is less likely you’d simply have your 10 inch tablet on you, unless you were commuting or travelling with a purpose. And, even then, it is unlikely you’d simply have the device to hand. These characteristics lead me to conclusion that a 10 inch tablet is intended to be used stationary, inside, at home or in the office. It is highly portable in the sense it can be used wire-free, and can be passed around, but not intended – I would argue – as the best choice for using on the road.
The difference in three inches is not a lot, but has a profound impact on the way we use the technology. For those looking for a highly portable (not merely handheld) device, a 7 inch tablet is a stronger bet.
The 10 inch tablet still has a great argument in its favour: utility. This is where the compromise of the bigger screen (and its associated increase in cost and loss of portability) really pays off. A 10 inch screen is built for media – allowing you to watch movies in HD, enjoy photos at a decent resolution, to surf the internet without too much scrolling and see full page documents and books without having to zoom. It is also a much better size for working – creating documents and spreadsheets, being able to work with the device at a distance or on a surface – a much more natural way than holding it up towards your face.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of lugging around a screen three inches wider is the fact that 10 inches also offers you the ability to easily share your screen, to collaborate and to work with others. It is large enough to present with, to whiteboard on, for multiple people to interact with, and can be shown to a small group without feeling clumsy or awkward. We’ve led really successful meetings with an iPad, with 2, 3 or 4 people no problem. What’s more, you can whip out a tablet more quickly than you could a laptop, and quickly bring up relevant material to show. This gives meetings a spontaneity, and a slick professionalism that leaves laptop users looking tired and out of touch. For more info on presenting on iPad, look here.
Using a 10 inch tablet can be shared experience, and feels completely different to a 7 inch screen – which is much more personal and isolating. If collaboration is important in what you do, and you need a device that is handy yet still big enough to display content at a decent size, then a 10 inch tablet should be what you go for. You’ll be glad of the flexibility the size offers and grateful of the added real estate for most everyday tasks.
So, what have we learnt?
While there doesn’t seem to be a definitively answer to the question which size is best, it does seem clear that both form factors have their strengths. As such, it is unsurprising that manufacturers are increasingly aiming to offer devices in both sizes. It will be interesting to see how the market matures, and whether we will in fact see a further splintering of the tablet market into ‘personal’ 7 inch tablets and ‘collaborative’ 10 inch products. If so, it will be intriguing to see how manufacturers tweak the functionality of each device to better reflect their intended purpose.
Exciting times lie ahead – and the choice for the consumer I’m afraid to say is only going to get more difficult. Leave a comment