Finally! A full-featured 'phablet'

The secret that fulfills the promise of 'phablet' computing is -- wait for it -- wearable computing!

People talk a lot about "phablets" -- devices that are a combination of a phone and a tablet. Some people describe their own giant phones or mini tablets as "phablets." It's a buzzword with little real meaning.

The whole point of a phablet is to eliminate the need for someone to own both a phone and a tablet. Most of the gadget-obsessed geeks who brag about their "phablets" usually still carry or own both a phone and a tablet.

In some cases, people buy a giant phone to replace a mini tablet -- say, a 5-in. phone to replace a 7-in. tablet. But they still use a 10-in. tablet around the house.

Others use a single device, but only because they can't afford two.

Sony's Smart Bluetooth Handset and Xperia Z Ultra phablet
Sony's Smart Bluetooth Handset SBH52 functions like a minimalist phone and pairs with a tap with Sony's Xperia Z Ultra "phablet."

To me, a true phablet eliminates the need and even the desire to carry or own two devices smaller than a laptop, even for people who are able to easily afford two devices.

Instead of thinking about phablet computing as a device category, think of it as a new behavior, paradigm or lifestyle in which a small-tablet-size device forms the centerpiece of mobility in an elegant, socially acceptable and convenient way.

This just isn't happening yet. But why?

It turns out that the secret is not just figuring out the perfect intermediate screen size. The way to achieve the phablet lifestyle is to combine the right phablet with wirelessly connected wearable computing.

One company appears to have figured this out. In the past week, Sony announced three products, all shipping in September, that will usher in a true phablet scenario for those who embrace it.

The first of these products is -- you guessed it! -- a really, really big phone.

Sony's fantastic 'phablet' formula

This week, Sony announced a giant phone called the Xperia Z Ultra. It's got a 6.4-in. screen.

That's slightly bigger even than Samsung's ginormous Galaxy Mega, which has a 6.3-in. screen.

It's also thin: At 6.5mm, the Xperia Z Ultra is significantly thinner than an iPhone 5. It's ever so slightly more than one quarter of an inch thick.

Functionally, the phone is like other smartphones, but with Sony's software on top. It's a very powerful phone, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.2GHz quad-core processor and running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

In addition to being big and fast, the Xperia Z Ultra performs two really neat tricks. The first is that it's waterproof. No, I don't mean it's splash-resistant. You can literally jump in a swimming pool with it and take pictures and videos underwater. (It's not for deep-sea diving. Sony recommends using it at a maximum depth of five feet for no more than 30 minutes.)

The second neat trick is that you can use just about anything as a stylus, including an everyday No. 2 pencil.

Such a giant phone is great when you're watching a movie, reading an e-book, playing a game or doing other things normally associated with tablets.

The trouble is: What happens when the phone rings? Do you pull this huge device out of your backpack or purse and hold it up to the side of your head?

Sony's wearable 'phablet' accessory

What happens when you want to find out who's calling, check a social media alert, send a short text message, look up a quick Google Now query or do any number of the actions we all obsessively do all day with our phones?

Taking out a 6.4-in. device is a bigger deal than pulling out a phone. That's one of the problems with the devices we're calling phablets these days.

And that problem could potentially be solved by another product Sony announced this week: The Sony Smart Bluetooth Handset SBH52, which is a really unusual Bluetooth peripheral device designed to work with "phablets."

When the phone rings, you answer it like it's a phone by holding it up to your ear. Or, you plug your earbuds into it like you would a regular phone. The difference is that it's a tiny fraction of the size of even the smallest smartphone.

It's also different because you pair it with the Xperia Z Ultra by simply tapping it against the phone. They both support NFC.

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