This is why people want tablet mode on their phones


We've mentioned tablet mode ROMs in the past. These are custom ROMs that essentially turn a phone into a tiny tablet by manipulating its virtual PPI to make the OS think it's running on a tablet. I've seen this on a whole range of devices, even my own Galaxy S II, and it's becoming an increasingly popular way of customizing a device. The reason for this recent trend is actually quite simple: the phone version of Android no longer fits with a lot of devices. 

Android was originally developed for what we once considered large screens. The T-Mobile G1 had a 320 x 480 3.2-inch screen after all, while today's top-o-the-line models have screens between 4-5.5 inches and normally 720p or qHD resolutions. These new devices are in between "normal" phones and tablets in terms of screen size, but there's no such middle ground in Android itself. There's the single column layout of phone Android, and the multi column layout of tablet Android. The more you view those single column layouts on a large, high resolution screen, the more it becomes obvious that screen real-estate is being wasted, and the more tempting it is to go for tablet mode on a screen too small rather than phone mode on a screen that's too big.


Tablet optimized apps are still few and far between on Android, but it's getting better. Looking at a few of them, you can really see how they're using the space. BeyondPod in the image above really knows how to take advantage of a larger screen, perhaps overly so. What's normally visible on a phone, a single column list, is essentially just a sidebar in the tablet app. This is joined by a larger content view of actual podcast episodes, and a wide playback controls bar on the bottom. Instead of having to jump back and forth between screens, you have everything in one view. Keep in mind that the tablet used above is even a 7-inch 1024 x 600 Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which means that the resolution is lower than many top-of-the-line phones. Having enough physical screen real-estate to be able to operate the controls is of course just as important as resolution, but if a device is capable of displaying a more content filled view, it's easy to see how some people would rather sharpen their fingertips and go with small controls rather than oversized content. 


It's not just the apps though, it's also the OS itself. Phone Android has single column settings, a status bar with icons, and a pull-down notification list. Tablet Android has a combined status and notification bar that also holds the software buttons, as well as a pop-up window that has notifications and other elements based on what sort of customizations the manufacturer has made to the device. Some prefer the tablet version here as well, but I don't. Having a status bar that never goes away even in "fullscreen" mode is just stupid, which is why I have an app on my tablet that allows me to enable and disable it using gestures.

Then again, compared to the phone version on on-screen buttons, I have to say that the tablet version wins again. The comparison above between the PARANOIDANDROID tablet mode ROM for the Nexus and stock Android on it (the right image) shows that the stock soft buttons to take up a lot more space – heck, it uses more space for three buttons than PARANOIDANDROID's tablet mode uses for three buttons, notifications, clock, and various indicators. By a factor of two. Again it comes down to whether you want more information on the screen or more finger-friendly controls, but again the benefits of tablet mode are obvious. 

All in all I think Android in its current state is missing a UI level in between tablets and phones. Apple's 3.5-inch iPhone and 9.7-inch iPad makes sense – one is a phone, one is a tablet. When you start having ~5-inch tabletphones however, having only two distinct classes no longer works. I think the best thing Google could do would be to enable users to choose whether or not an app – and the UI – should run in tablet mode or phone mode. I don't think it actually will do that though, considering how closed Android is out of the box. It's sad to see third party developers having to pick up the slack for Google and manufacturers when it comes to bridging devices, but I doubt that's going to change anytime soon.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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