Consumers Like Super-Sized Smartphones, But Carrying Them Around…

By Julio Ojeda-Zapata
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Ellen Reeher of St. Paul hadn’t intended to join the gigantic-smartphone revolution.

But when her husband accidentally ordered her Apple’s jumbo iPhone 6 Plus, instead of the smaller iPhone 6 she’d wanted, Reeher found herself having to make adjustments — like millions of others with the latest and biggest smartphones.

It’s been trying at times, Reeher said. Her iPhone 6 Plus often will not fit in the back pocket of her jeans, so, “I have been known to stuff it into my waistband.”

Workouts are another issue. She used to clip her iPhone 5 to her waist while running, but the iPhone 6 Plus is too big for that.

She’s now making do with an old iPod Shuffle while running until she can figure how to incorporate the big phone into her exercise routine.

But Reeher’s bottom line with her iPhone 6 Plus?

“I love it,” said the Cathedral Hill small-business owner, who has found herself watching a lot of streaming videos — including her treasured Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese TV shows — on the device.

Extra-large phones have been around for years. But the 5 1/2-inch iPhone 6 Plus, released in August, has helped accelerate the trend towards ever-bigger handsets.

Other such megaphones include the 6-inch Google Nexus 6 and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge, the latest in the Note lineage that helped pioneer the big-phone trend. Obscure options include Chinese-brand smartphones like the 5 1/2-inch OnePlus One and the 6-inch Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which some in this country have embraced.

Sales of such large phones seem to be taking off. They accounted for about 10 percent of phone sales between August and October — up from 2 percent during the same period in 2013 — according to market-research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

The iPhone 6 Plus captured about 41 percent of these 2014 “phablet” sales, said Kantar, which focused its analysis on phones with screen sizes of 5 1/2 inches or larger.

Local business analyst David Pollitt said he used to switch between his phone and iPad “when I wanted a better gaming experience or for reading longer news articles.”

But with his iPhone 6 Plus, “I find the difference so minimal now that I either don’t bring my iPad with me anywhere or don’t use it.”

Seth Long of Washington State, who had previously owned an iPhone 5 and a Google Nexus 5, likewise said the iPhone 6 Plus is so great for complex gaming that his iPad mini gets little use now.

He adds that his Apple smartphone is great for work tasks like Google Analytics and MailChimp e-mail-list management along with the Google Docs word processor and Google Sheets spreadsheet app.

Minneapolis digital-marketing specialist Judy Carter said her iPhone 6 Plus has triggered big changes in her work habits, with more of these likely to come.

“I created a few websites with my work on them and I find myself showing more people” this content with the Apple phone. “The mobile Web looks great on it!”

Carter added, “I am also going to start filming video more and learn how to edit and create films for websites and reports. The purchasing of the phone triggered this because the photos and videos I take are much better quality and are easier to take on the bigger phone.”

Seattle-based software developer Buzz Bruggeman said his Kindle e-book reader gathers dust because his 6-inch Huawei Ascend Mate 2 is “like reading a paperback book.” He’s abandoned plans to buy an iPad.

Reading has become a leading activity on larger phones, largely at the expense of tablets, according to recent statistics from Pocket, a Minnesota-spawned service that lets users save Web content for later.

The bigger the handset, the likelier a Pocket user will choose that device over a tablet for reading or watching videos for those who own both kinds of gadgets, the service found.

Those who own an iPhone 6 Plus along with an iPad will do 80 percent of their reading or watching on the phone (a figure mirrored in the Android realm), according to Pocket. This compares with 72 percent of iPhone 6 users and 55 percent of iPhone 5s users.

Once obtaining such a phone, though, users have to figure out where to stash it. Women with big purses have it easy; Reeher slips her phone into an outer purse pocket. Men, not so much.

“I have always carried a big bag around with me,” Carter said. “If anything, the big phone is easier to find.”

Kristie Glenn, another iPhone 6 Plus user, says she keeps her phone tucked away in her purse partly out of fear.

“It’s huge and I’m scared that I’m going to drop it,” said Glenn, owner of the online Blue Labels Boutique.

Wellness instructor Noreen Braman of Jamesburg, N.J., said she uses “a leather cross body wallet” to tote around her Galaxy Note 3 phablet “when I am going ‘bagless’ (such as hiking or biking) because it just doesn’t go well in a pocket.”

Men also have to get a bit creative because phablets can make for uncomfortably bulky bundles in their pants pockets.

“I keep my iPhone 6 Plus in the left bib pocket of my overalls,” said Kevin King, a nurse in Metuchen, N.J.

Sean Ludwig, a recent phablet convert, loves his iPhone 6 Plus but discovered that, like others, he needed to make wardrobe adjustments.

“I’ve decided to start wearing jeans that aren’t as fitted, because the phone fits better in average-sized jeans pockets,” said Ludwig, head of communications for tech startup.

“Thankfully, we are in winter … and I can keep my phone in my coat pockets rather than my pants pockets most of the time,” he said. “I’m not sure how well it will work when I’m wearing shorts in the summer.”

Ludwig added: “I also am holding the phone differently, in that I hold the phone with two hands most of the time so I don’t drop it. The device is highly fragile, and I don’t want to break it.”

Using such a large phone can be a physical strain for some, too.

Even the relatively compact 5.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S5 used to give Pollitt, the business analyst, hand cramps, so he said he “bought a grip strengthener to work out my thumbs before I got my iPhone 6 Plus. I’m glad I did because it is a beast and extending my thumb to the far side of the screen is a stretch.”

Pollitt added, “Most of the time the big screen is awesome and I don’t find it to be a problem. When it can be a pain is when my newborn son is sleeping in one of my arms and I simply can’t use the phone one handed!”

For some, the bigger phone size is just too big.

“I traded in my broken iPhone 5s last week for a 6 Plus, which is kind of dumb when you are a woman with shorter fingers,” said Lisa Dubbels, president of Minneapolis-based Catalyst Publicity & Promotion Group. “I’m probably going to bring it back for a regular 6, because I can’t do anything with one hand now.”

On the bright side, “I can read text without my contacts now,” said Dubbels, “and joke with my husband that I have the Reader’s Digest large-print-edition iPhone.”

Some have figured out the trick to physically manipulating an extra-big, often awkward smartphone — they don’t (at least much of the time).

When Kevin Schoonover of Cottage Grove switched to a Windows Phone-based Nokia Lumia 1520 handset, he also became a heavy user of Bluetooth headsets from the likes of LG, Phiaton and Sony.

Likewise Paul Saarinen of Shoreview keeps his Note 3 tucked in his back pants pocket while keeping it paired with an LG Tone, a necklace-like Bluetooth device with earbuds for voice calls and other audio, and an LG smartwatch with the Android Wear operating system for getting his phone notifications.

Some phone users, meantime, are pining for even-larger handsets that cross fully into small-tablet territory — but retain full cell-phone functionality, which traditional tablets typically do not.

“I use a (Samsung Galaxy) Note 3 and would buy a 7-inch tablet as a phone if they made one,” said Howard Suissa, a principal at Alberta, Canada-based Suissa Design.

“For the 10 minutes a week I actually use my phone as a held-to-the-ear device,” said Suissa, “I would rather have a tablet with cell capability than a big-ass phone.”

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