Phone + Tablet or Phablet: Two Devices or One?

The 7 inch tablet market is probably the fastest growing in the mobile arena. While phone manufacturers are still experimenting with all manners of sizes for handset screens, there seems to be a general consensus that for a tablet, 7 inches is the sweet spot. Larger tablets are still popular, but for the most part, 7 is where it’s at.

I was recently alerted to the existence of the GOCLEVER Aries 7o. Yes, you read that correctly. That’s a fully capitalized company name followed by a mode name incorporating a sign of the zodiac, and then a number and a letter. Yep, that’s seven oh, not seven zero. But that’s by the by. Having just taken ownership of a Nexus 7, I was keen to see how it compared.

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But before we get started on the review, I thought I’d explain what made me take such an interest in this particular tablet. After all, on the face of it, it is nothing particularly special in many regards. And before we go any further, I’d like to apologize. Not for anything I have done, you understand, but I’d like to apologize on behalf of whoever decided that it was acceptable to conjure up the portmanteau “phablet”. Sorry.

Tablets and Phones Meet in the Middle

You can’t fail to have noticed that in recent years there has been something of a blurring of boundaries between phones and tablets, but I’m not sure this was justification enough to crash the two words into one. Again, sorry. Phone screens have grown larger, and smaller tablets — like the iPad mini and the Nexus 7 — have become ever more popular.

Phones and tablets seem to be clustering in size around the 7-inch mark, just like the Nexus 7.

Phones and tablets seem to be clustering in size around the 7-inch mark, just like the Nexus 7.

Phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 feature gargantuan displays. Samsung’s latest handset has a screen that measures an impressive (if you’re into that sort of thing) 5.7 inches. Obviously the extra screen space is useful; in the case of Samsung, Android has been pimped to allow certain apps to be run two to a screen. But it’s not all good news. A phone is something that many people expect to be able to use with one hand. This was certainly the case with my first mobile (the delightfully quaint Nokia 401) back in the mid-90s, but when screen sizes start to edge towards 6 inches, they venture into two-handed territory.

Bigger is Better?

A bigger-screened phone has other drawbacks. Bigger means heavier and this is a key consideration if you have to carry your phone around with you all day every day. A phone should be easy to slip into a pocket or purse, but when you start to reach these dimensions, you need pretty large pockets to accommodate your handset!

Bigger also often means more expensive. And if you’ve spent a fortune on your phone, you’ll probably want to protect it with some form of case. This may protect your investment, but it also adds further weight and bulk. The near 6 inchers are, in my opinion, too large. HTC’s One range is a good example. I have an HTC One Mini which has a 4.3 inch display. It’s averagely proportioned and is a good everyday phone. I also have an HTC One, the Mini’s big brother. Aside from a change in screen size — a jump up to 4.7 inches — the phones are virtually identical.

The HTC One is available in three sizes -- so there's something to suit every hand.

The HTC One is available in three sizes — so there’s something to suit every hand.

The 0.4 inch difference may not seem like much, but it makes a massive difference. I have received comments that the screen looks “massive”. The latest addition to the One range is the HTC One Max with a frankly absurdly large 5.9 inch screen. This is not a phone I’ve actually got my hands on, but if 0.4 inches makes such a marked difference, a jump of an additional 1.2 inches is a step too far. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with a 5.7 inch display, and this is verging on cinematic. I’ve mentioned that a display of this dimension invites two-handed operation, and this is underlined by the presence of a stylus — this is obviously an input method that needs two hands.

The likes of the Galaxy Note 3 are phones that call for the use of two hands.

The likes of the Galaxy Note 3 are phones that call for the use of two hands.

If you are determined to carry around such a hefty device, you may as well add an extra inch and stick a tablet in your bag instead. With an Android tablet, you can do almost everything you can do with a phone. The likes of Skype, Hangouts and Viber allow for voice calls to be made, but in most instances you’ll need to be in range of a wifi connection. But there are few parts of the world that offer wifi coverage that approaches that offered by regular mobile phone signals. So this is where a tablet with a SIM card comes into its own.

Even on a regular tablet, apps like Skype can bring phone-like features for free.

Even on a regular tablet, apps like Skype can bring phone-like features for free.

“But I’ve already got a phone that I’m perfectly happy with”, I hear you cry. I hear you, and I understand you, but I’ll counter that with two arguments. Firstly, more and more people own both tablets and phones. Most people buying a tablet opt for the wifi only model. This is usually because of the price difference: wifi-only is cheaper than data-enabled. But there is a lot to be said for thinking about a tablet as a phone replacement rather than yet another device to hump around. Why carry two devices when one will do? Your tablet can do everything your phone can do, and you can probably pick up a more powerful tablet for your money.

A second fear with data enabled tablets is the danger of running up a huge phone bill or having the expense of two mobile contracts. If you’ve already got a phone that you’re determined to hang on to, buy a cheap pay-as-you-go SIM card that you can top up as and when required. If you’re taking only your data-ready tablet out with you, leave your phone at home and just make sure you’re topped up with credit, or you could even just stick your phone’s SIM in your tablet. It’s worth checking sizes here though; while many phone now use mini or micro SIMs, tablets tend to stick with full size SIM versions.


So, what about the device that set me off this line of thinking? Let’s take a look at the GOCLEVER Aries 7o.

The Aries 7o is half phone, half tablet.

The Aries 7o is half phone, half tablet.

It was fairly obvious from the outset that in terms of raw power, the Aries 7o was not going to pose much of a challenge to Google and Asus’ latest baby. But the price tag is very appealing. This is a tablet that is, for the moment at least, only available in Europe. This explains the Pound/Euro price tag (£159.99 or €189.99) as well as a couple of interesting quirks that I’ll come to shortly. Firstly, a virtual unboxing.

Lots for Your Money

Judged by weight alone, GOCLEVER seems to offer great value for money: this is a hefty box that you notice when picking up. Delve inside and it soon becomes clear why it’s so heavy. In addition to the tablet itself, you’ll also find a charger and USB cable. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. There’s also a USB extension cable and a set of earphones with inline volume controls. But it doesn’t end there! There’s also a car charger and a case. A case! And it’s provided with the tablet — other manufacturers take note.

Supplied with a case as standard, the Aries 7o has more in the box than most tablets.

Supplied with a case as standard, the Aries 7o has more in the box than most tablets.

Oh, one stupid design issue that’s worth mentioning. Held in portrait mode, the tablet’s power and volume buttons are on the left. Why is this an issue? They sit right in the crease of the case, making them incredibly difficult to access.

But it turns out the case is needed. The screen, while decent enough and running at a resolution of 1280 by 800, is plastic rather than glass. So in addition to having a lower pixel density than the likes of the Nexus 7, it is also rather prone to scratching. The simple case includes a hard shell back and a soft-feel cover that folds to double as a stand. The low resolution issue continues with the two cameras. The front camera is just 0.3MP while the rear one isn’t much better at just 2MP.

Cheap and Under-Specced?

At just 1.2GHz, the processor is a little on the feeble side, and there’s just 1GB of RAM backing it up. It’s a quad-core processor, but it still feels a little sluggish. In terms of storage, there is 8GB of internal space, but an SD slot means this can be easily expanded. In terms of specs, this is nothing special. Build quality is OK, but nothing to get too excited about. You are very much getting what you pay for.

But there are a couple of things that make this tablet worthy of a second glance. There’s a built-in GPS receiver which is useful for a number of things, but when used in conjunction with the SIM card slot makes the Aries 7o work not only as a phone, but also a sat nav. You essential have three devices in one: a phone, a tablet and a sat nav — and a big one at that!

You'll have to supply your own holder, but the Aries 70 doubles (triples?) as a satnav.

You’ll have to supply your own holder, but the Aries 70 doubles (triples?) as a satnav.

Betraying its European routes, the tablet has maps for Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia preinstalled. In terms of software, there’s Android 4.2.2 which is all but untouched, and there are few extra apps installed, such as a media player, but there’s unlikely to be anything to sway you away from your current apps of choice.

I’m not sure that the GOCLEVER Aries 7o is the phablet (sorry) that will make me ditch my phone, but it’s certainly made me think about it. I could see it happening in the next couple of years — by then, phones will probably have hit 10 inches so it’ll make even more sense than it does now! There’s a lot to be said for “single purpose” devices, keeping phones for phone tasks and tablets for other tasks, but there’s also an advantage in having an all-in-one device. I don’t think that time has quite come yet, or maybe I’m just not ready for it.