Are 4G Tablets Better Than Smartphones For Older Users?

In the comments on my review of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 from Verizon Wireless, reader Karen Murray said something interesting. She told us that she bought the tablet on contract plus a basic phone instead of a smartphone. Since no one offers family data plans yet, it made more sense for her to ditch the smartphone and just pay for data on the tablet. Also:

“Data is so much more comfortable for my 50+ eyes on this large screen than on my Droid 2.”

I can see suggesting a tablet to someone who wants the benefits of a smartphone but doesn’t like the small screen under certain circumstances. There are drawbacks, too.

(Read: Why Would You (Or Did You) Buy A 3G or 4G Tablet Instead Of Wi-Fi?)

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7


What are the benefits of tablets over smartphones?

The screen size issue probably can’t be overstated. Even though smartphones are getting bigger in general (much to the chagrin of some) they are still relatively tiny screens. There aren’t many options of adjusting text size and even if you could get the text bigger, the whole UI goes out of whack. On tablets you can make the text big and not limit yourself to three lines per screen.

7-inch (and, to some extent, 8-inch) tablets are a perfect size for this scenario because they’re small enough to hold one-handed, easy to carry in a small bag or large pocket, and you can whip them out in tight quarters.

Tablets are more versatile in part because the large screens make more complex apps possible.

Thanks to services like Google Voice and Line2 you can even push some phone functions to your tablet, like answering text messages and listening to voicemails. Using a big, comfortable tablet keyboard instead of a small smartphone one for this is pretty sweet.

(Read: How To Use Google Voice With Android Tablets)

And with a small flip phone you no longer have to worry about whether it will fit in your back pocket.

What are the drawbacks?

Though a 7-inch tablet is pretty easy to pull out, it’s not as easy as a smartphone when you’re on the move. People who often use their phones to text, look up directions, or quickly scan emails while walking down the street will find this more challenging with a tablet.


If you’re a mobile shutterbug there are two issues. First, cameras on tablets aren’t that great. Certainly not on a par with most new smartphones. Plus it’s harder to pull it out and snap a quick picture.

If you’re more attracted to the iPad than an Android tablet then you only have one size choice right now: 9.7 inches. While it’s not entirely cumbersome, dealing with it is quite different than dealing with an iPhone on a daily basis.


All of the major carriers and likely most smaller ones have a selection of basic or flip phones. That selection may not be very large, but there’s usually at least one free model. If you go with this plus a 3G or 4G tablet, you’ll end up paying the same every month in minutes, text, and data as you would if you had a smartphone. The only higher cost is the tablet itself. And, on some carriers, even the price is the same.

On AT&T you can get the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 for $479 on contract and data plans starting at $35 per month. The new iPad is available for $629 with no contract and the plan I’d suggest is the $30/month 3GB tier.


Verizon Wireless has a wider selection of tablets that includes the iPad ($629), the Galaxy Tab 7.7 ($499), and Droid XYBOARD 10 and 8-inch models ($529 and $429). You can also get the original Galaxy Tab for just $50. All prices are with a 2-year contract except the iPad. Verizon data plans start at $20 for 2GB and $50 for 5GB.

Sprint has the original Galaxy Tab as well for $199 with a contract and data plans starting at $35.

T-Mobile has the Galaxy Tab Plus 7.0 for $99 and the SpringBoard 7-inch tablet for $249. Data plans start at $40 for 2GB or $50 for 5GB.

Depending on the tablet you want, you may end up paying the same as you would have for a good smartphone.

Also keep in mind that you may be able to get an even better deal or discount on the tablet if you’re an existing customer or if you buy in person. Sales staff do offer discounts on devices to get you signed up for a plan. Karen reports that she got her Galaxy Tab 7.7 for $100 off and a free phone.

It looks like a flip phone + 4G tablet combo is a good choice for older users and perhaps even a few geeks who don’t necessarily have an issue with screen size but don’t actually use the smartphone as a phone much. The next time your contract is up, would you consider ditching your smartphone for a tablet?