If you haven’t heard, the Butterfly is HTC’s recent entrant to the newest craze of phablets – 5-inch plus, super-sized phones which seem to be the next big thing (pun thoroughly intended). Since Samsung popularised this direction with the Galaxy Note range, other manufacturers have been keen to join in with their flagships and even more ‘standard’ devices are becoming much larger, causing a lot of debate over whether this race to provide bigger devices is actually beneficial and speculation over when it might end.
Now the Butterfly looks like a great piece of kit; HTC build quality is generally fantastic and all the top range specs are on show from a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon to a Gorilla Glass 2 coated 1080p display. HTC have it seems though, listened to some of the detractors about large screens and big devices being unwieldy for some users. Their solution – to provide a small, dumb, handset called the Mini (pictured right) which pairs to the Butterfly using NFC and then shares data over Bluetooth. The Mini can then be used to review text messages, calendar entries and even make voice calls, as long as it keeps within range of the Butterfly.
Initial reports suggest that this will be a bundle for the Chinese market and whether it will be available elsewhere remains to be seen. At first glance the idea seems, at least to me, to be a bit ridiculous. If somebody buys the biggest and best handset available, then why would they want to use a comparably tiny piece of out-dated technology for their day to day communication? Probing a little further into the concept though raises a few interesting points.
Smartphones aren’t really just phones anymore. The idea of calling them phones is a remnant of when 2G was king and thinking about accessing the Internet on a pocket sized mobile device was only just coming down from the realms of science-fiction for the average consumer. Network contracts and subsidised devices have kept us in the cycle of upgrading our handsets far more often than many of us would our home computers or laptops, with the result being that many of us now carry a personal computer in our jeans that can outperform the one we likely do much of our day to day work on.
The HTC Mini is born out of this – rather than simply being an over-engineered solution to the phone being too big (to which the correct solution would be to design a smaller phone), it is a companion accessory to your mobile computer. Just like Bluetooth keyboards and mice are normal accessories for a tablet, the Mini should be seen as an accessory for the Butterfly (or any other device that can utilise it) rather than a second phone. The Butterfly does not need the Mini to operate and one could get by without ever pairing the two together, just like you might never use a physical keyboard with a tablet. What is good is that the choice is there and after some thought I think HTC might be on to something.
There are of course some downsides, the first of which that springs to mind is having to have both devices with you. Bluetooth is a short range PAN technology and so the Butterfly is going to have to be on you at all times to make use of it – this stops the Mini from being the kind of ‘second phone’ that you would take out with you instead of the main phone (for instance if you were going out to a club for the evening). Without adding more technology to ‘smarten’ up the dumb Mini for Internet access though, that solution is not feasible. The second has to be the design. Looks aren’t everything and I understand the need to keep costs down with an accessory that is going to be, at least to begin with, given away for free. However I think the shiny front and numerical push buttons make the Mini look extremely dated, almost comical when it is put next to the sleek and modern Butterfly it is designed to support.
So, well engineered modern accessory for a high-powered, mobile computer, or silly solution to a non existent problem? Only time will tell.