There is a lot of talk of convergence in the technology world. Instead of having to buy lots of gadgets to perform each task we need to do, there will one day become one gadget that can do it all!
It's easy to see why some people might make this claim. The humble mobile phone has become very successful at absorbing the functions of other gadgets. Obviously the first to go under threat was the landline, then as phones became 'smart' the point and shoot camera, sat-nav, books and, if reports are to be believed, they'll soon be our web devices of choice, with data traffic from mobiles surpassing the traffic from PCs by 2015.
Yet, we still walk around with more than one gadget as new ones continue to appear. The big recent success has to be the tablet computer. A decent tablet owes much to the smartphone. It's portable enough to travel round with you, is ready instantly when you press the power button and the web-connectivity and apps help you do whatever you have in mind with instant gratification. A longer battery-life and a bigger screen give it the edge over even the best of smartphones in many circumstances. No, the tablet has earned its place and will never succumb to it's smaller brother, right?
Perhaps it shouldn't rest so easy, the smartphone fears nothing and will absorb the functionality of anything around it - swallowing a tablet isn't pleasant, but it's possible!
Enter the Samsung Galaxy Note II. Affectionately known as a 'phablet' (phone and tablet) - this beast of a smartphone attempts to be all that a smartphone is and then go one step further and devour the tablet too.
Can it possibly succeed? I was lucky enough to get an hour hands on with one after a friend recently bought one and has been singing its praises ever since.
Much has already been written about what's under the Note II's lid, so I won't cover old ground. Suffice to say it's a flagship phone and has all the processing power you could ever need. No, what I'm interested in is whether to me, as a heavy tablet user, I could ever imagine a smartphone replacing my need to carry both a phone and an iPad around.
My first impression was one of shock. This phone is really big. The 5.5" screen looks huge next to a traditional smartphone and I wondered if I'd be happy to always carry round something of that size. Unless you're a hot pants or skinny jeans kind of person though this very slim and incredibly light device slips into a pocket surprisingly unnoticed. If you carry a bag everywhere, you really would not notice at all. Should you be old enough to remember when phones had to be really small, you will wonder as you put it to your ear if you will look a touch silly - but big phones are all the rage and hey, who actually speaks to each other now anyway?!
I decided the best test to see whether this could be my tablet as well as my phone would be to list the things I most regularly do with the iPad and spend a short amount of time using the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 in the same manner.
First and foremost, my iPad is an entertainment device, movies, books and games. A nice big screen is essential for these and the iPad delivers. But so does the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. For a device that can fit in my pocket, I was stunned how watchable movies and TV shows were. My friend had a 64GB card on-board (way more than my iPad) filled with shows and the idea of having that kind of library IN-MY-POCKET is hugely appealing. Connected to WIFI I also watched a bit of daytime TV (who watches this stuff?!) and again, I could see I would have no problem spending time with it comfortably. The fact that it would fit anywhere, including the smallest train carriage table only adds to its success in this area.
Books were much the same. I didn't read much on my original iPad, but the upgrade to the iPad 3 (RIP, Apple you kill these things young) saw the introduction of the retina display and suddenly reading became a pleasure. Almost. You see the iPad is a tad bulky to be a book. The Note II isn't. Its screen is perfect for reading with text looking razor sharp. Holding it in one hand is so comfortable that a book is much more accessible than it is on a tablet which can only be used in any comfort when seated.
Finally gaming. I think Apple's App Store is still ahead of Google Play when it comes to both quantity and quality of gaming, but not by so much and the gap is closing. As a piece of gaming hardware, the Note II is amazing. The screen rivals dedicated portable gaming consoles like the PSVita and the graphics on games like 'Dead Trigger' and 'Trials Extreme 2' are smooth and detailed. The iPad is annoyingly bulky for gaming. It plays fine at a table, but the Note II allows you to hold the thing comfortably in both hands with your thumbs more ideally positioned for games like the above that need a little bit more skill to control. It's a brilliant portable games console and, if you know what you're doing, I've seen it's even possible to connect proper games controllers for console style gaming!
So there's potentially no room for boredom with a Note II. It has entertainment all wrapped up and its large screen, whilst smaller than a tablet's, is more than enough to get totally immersed in what you're doing.
It's a similar story for web-browsing. Google Chrome on the Note II is so fast that browsing was a pleasure. I would say that my iPad edges just ahead here because the (non-widescreen) allows comfortable viewing of entire webpages without needing to zoom in. The Note II's screen will display a full page with enough detail to let you read a headline before zooming, but longer paragraphs will always need a zoom. In practice, the extra portability of the Note II may outweigh the compromise, but if like me you spend many hours reading of an evening, you may miss the extra screen real estate.
Cameras on tablets don't make much sense to most people and if you use it to take photos in public, I'm afraid you look like an idiot. I'm a bit of a fan though, as I use mine to photocopy paperwork to store digitally. Cameras on phones make wonderful sense. A point and shoot always available in your pocket, ready to take more than good enough photos or fantastic HD video. The Note II is class leading at both of these and that lovely big screen shows off your snaps with the best of them. Yes, it's not as big as the iPad's screen, but I don't think I enjoyed it any less and being able to whip it out to show friends pictures down the pub etc puts it just ahead here too.
Smartphones are already well established at work. Most people in my office have one and use them to keep an eye on incoming emails and check their calendars for times and locations of the next meeting. Tablets aren't so prominent yet, but mine goes everywhere with me as it has become an essential productivity tool. Every day I use Evernote, Dropbox and NoteShelf, not only to read back information, but to enter it too.
If there's one area that should challenge a smartphone of any size it's data entry. An iPad can connect to a bluetooth keyboard for long periods of work, it provides a large touchscreen keyboard for notes and emails and will also work well with handwritten notes using something like a Jot Pro from Adonit and the aforementioned NoteShelf. Surely the Note II has finally fallen at a hurdle? Well, not so, although it may not clear that hurdle quite so gracefully. The big on-screen keyboard is excellent and you can get up quite a good speed, but I'm pretty sure I'd wind up with RSI if I used it for my EverNote work. I'll sometimes spend three hours in workshops regularly annotating progess in a timeline in order to keep track of everything that happens. Easy on an iPad, I'm not convinced it would be on the Note II. Shorter notes? No problem, better than any other smartphone.
Things look much better with regards to keyboards, as the Note II happily connected to the Logitech that I use with the iPad and I could imagine writing up a blog article using say Google Drive in relative comfort, even if I'd still prefer to have a litte more screen to create the post before uploading to Wordpress.
When it comes to handwriting, the Note II has a bit of a trick up it's sleeve, as a tug at a slot reveals a dedicated stylus which is not only incredibly accurate, it's pressure sensitive too. There are some fascinating videos on Youtube showing what artists can do with one of these, but I found that note-taking was best left to short memos or lists. I'm not sure I'd keep up minuting entire meetings as I do with the iPad. However, if it's more occasional for you, this feature is brilliant.
When the original Samsung Galaxy Note was launched, it was generally praised in the reviews, but people were sceptical about its possible success. Millions of sales later, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is being met with much more open praise and rightly so. It's one of the best smartphones out there and if you spend a few minutes with it, the shock of its size wears off quick. Yes, it's not for everyone, but if you 'get it', you may find that the relative expense against other smartphones is clawed back when you leave the tablet on the shop shelf, especially if you are drawn to the 7" tablets rather than the larger 10".
For me, I'll be running a smaller smartphone and an iPad for a little bit longer, but I'll be watching those tablet eating smartphones next upgrade time with interest, as I think one day they might just manage it.