Is 7-inches the better size for a media tablet?

It's the question I've been asking since selling my iPad the week before Christmas. I simply found the tablet to be too large to regularly carry about. I wasn't using it. I ask you to answer the question in comments or by email -- to joewilcox at gmail dot com. I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who have used, say, iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Late Friday, Kevin Tofel turned up the volume on the topic with GigaOM/jkOntheRun post "Why I Dumped the iPad (Hint: Size Matters)." While praising iPad's many benefits, Tofel reached the same place as I did. "The problem is that I simply don't use it any more," he writes. "Actually, let me rephrase that: I stopped using the iPad about a month ago, after I bought a 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab running Google Android."


Nine months earlier, Tofel replaced a Kindle, which "would go everywhere" with him, with iPad. He observes that Galaxy Tab and Kindle are about the same physical size. "If you look at the Tab and compare the screen size to the iPad, it's easy to think there's little difference between the two: one has a 7-inch display and one has a 9.7-inch display," Tofel writes. But when flipped on its side "the Galaxy Tab is half the size of an iPad...making it far easier to tote around and use while standing or walking." The Samsung Galaxy Tab commercial (above) aptly captures this user benefit.

Tofel gives many examples, in his post and in response to commenters. I've also considered Galaxy Tab for the size but held back wondering: Is there really all that much difference between a 4-inch smartphone and 7-inch tablet?

Apple executives don't think so. While the InterWebs are rife with rumors Apple will release a 7-inch model when iPad 2 launches, COO Tim Cook seemed to dismiss the screen size's merits during last week's Apple fiscal 2011 first quarter earnings conference call. He responded to a question about iPad competition, which he put into two categories: Bulky devices with shorter battery life running Windows and smaller Android tablets. Cook largely dismissed Android competition in part by claiming the operating system wasn't designed for the form factor.

But it was how he expressed the sentiment that reveals something important about Apple's -- or at least his -- perspective on 7-inch tablets. "You wind up having a size of a tablet that is less than what we believe is reasonable or even one that would provide what we feel is a real tablet experience," Cook said. "Basically, you wind up with kind of a scaled-up smartphone, which is a bizarre product in our view."

This "bizarre product" suits Tofel quite well, and I should point out that GigaOM is a fairly influential and well-read blog. GigaOM/jkOntheRun commenter rightly expressed the usage scenario that perhaps warrants an "inbetweener" sized-device: "Folks are missing the point here, Kevin's use case (and my own) is for a preference for the largest pocketable slate possible." To which Tofel responds: "Bingo! You hit the jackpot in the first sentence IMO."

When I worked as an analyst surveying consumers about portable device benefits that mattered most to them, smaller size and longer battery life consistently ranked near or at the top. Apple's tablet is smaller and lighter to carry than most computers, which suits the size-priority profile. But the device is still much larger than a smartphone. Is there room between smartphones with 4, 4.3 or 4.5 inch displays and Apple's 9.7-inch iPad? Portability is a huge user benefit. I will say this: Amazon finally got Kindle's size (and price) just right.

I've played with Galaxy Tab at my local T-Mobile store and must acknowledge being hugely tempted to buy one. But something holds me back, and it's not size: It's carrier commitment. I want the option of buying without having a two-year data contract. But this seems to be the model by which wireless carriers/tablet manufacturers are taking to market -- other than Apple, which is right to make 3G data plan optional rather than mandatory.

Is a 7-inch tablet an overly large smartphone or the largest pocketable slate you can easily carry? Should Apple release a 7-inch iPad? Please offer your answers in comments or by emailing joewilcox at gmail dot com.

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