Gadgets: Phablets, keyboards, apps

As smartphones grow to the size of tablets, some have been christened "phablets".

They are practical in many ways, particularly due to their larger displays (measuring up to 15 centimetres diagonally), reports German computer magazine Computerbild after testing five models.

But their size means they can only be one-handed devices for simple actions like reading and phoning. Surfing, typing or gaming require two hands.

Phablets will only really fit in a trouser pocket when a person is standing, meaning they often have to be stowed away in jacket pockets or bags. Additionally, their size makes them look odd when held up to the ear for telephone calls.

On the other hand, they're very good for surfing online, since their size makes excessive zooming and scrolling unnecessary. Videos, games and ebooks all perform well on the phablets.

Hobby photographers are served well by a phablet: the larger display makes it easier to figure out how a picture will eventually look.

However, be aware: even though phablets usually cost 500 euros (680 United States dollars) and up, not every one comes with a good camera.

Otherwise, the magazine found little to complain about with the models it tested. They all received a rating of "good."

Good Android security apps don't have to be costly 

There are a lot of good security apps available for Android devices, according to a recent test of 28 products by German magazine GalaxyWelt.

Although none of the programmes intercepted every piece of dangerous software, 10 of them had a success rate of 99%. Only three of those tested scored below 80%.

In terms of reliability and variety of functions, there was almost no difference between commercial and freeware versions. First place in the ranking went to an app that costs 10.95 euros (14.90 dollars), but second place went to a free app.

But always be careful with downloads. A lot of apparently free apps actually turn out to be a trial version of a programme, meaning payment will eventually be necessary to keep it working.

Tired of virtual keyboards? Find the right external one

Even the best typist would probably find the prolonged use of a tablet computer's virtual keyboard stressful. But how to find the best external keyboard to suit your your needs?

"The available products are, in principle, fairly advanced and allow noticeably quicker work than with virtual keys," says Michael Knott, editor at technology portal Netzwelt.de.

Most external keyboards have a complete set of keys. Often they are made of flexible material that can be wrapped around a tablet for protection. Some cheaper models are smaller, protecting only the display, but they also cost and weigh less.

"It's important to a lot of customers that the devices they use keep their tablet as slim as possible," says Karsten Kunert of computer equipment maker Belkin, referring to keyboards that can be easily removed, are only connected temporarily and transmit data via Bluetooth.

The biggest range is suited to Apple products, where makers like Logitech, Belkin, Kensington and Hama offer a wide selection. The choice is more limited for Android tablets. And users of Windows tablets have to make do with whatever they can get, assuming they can find anything.

Initially, the keyboards only came in black or white. Now they are available in a wide array of colours, meaning they are able to appeal to lifestyle-conscious shoppers.

But even the prettiest of colours is only appealing if the keyboard quality is up to scratch.

"The quality differences are big and, unfortunately, not linked to the price," says Knott. Even if a keyboard costs 100 euros (136 dollars) or more, that is no guarantee of quality. Battery lifespans can also vary.

A recent test of eight Apple-friendly products in Mac & I magazine gave high marks to the ultra-thin Keyboard Cover from Logitech (about 80 euros) and the ZAGGkeys PROplus (about 90 euros). The YourType from Belkin (60 euros) and KeyStand from Kensington (50 euros) also received positive ratings.

But can the new tablet/keyboard combo replace a standard laptop? This seems unlikely, especially among traditional business travelers.

"You can't replace a good laptop or a desktop keyboard with one of these," says Knott. That is because the wider standard keyboards reduce the chance of typos. And there are almost no tablet keyboards stable enough to be used on a person's lap, a deciding factor for many.

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