Tablets vs. Phones: Which Activities Are Better?

Photograph by Asger Carlsen/Getty Images

There’s not only a large amount of overlap in activities between smartphones and tablets, but owners of both device types also agree they want a faster mobile Web experience. The data come from Keynote’s Mobile User Survey (PDF), which the company published on Monday after surveying 5,388 people who owned either, or both, a smartphone and a tablet. The top “mobile frustration” is that slow mobile page load time, even though 27 percent of respondents use their device on a 4G network.

The results may not surprise, as Keynote Systems is a San Mateo (Calif.)-based mobile Web monitoring company. But in speaking to many mobile users on my own, most do cite slow page load times as a challenge, particularly over mobile broadband. So I dug a little deeper into the survey results to see what other interesting insights might surface. It turns out that when looking at which activities both devices are used for, some of the data address my idea of tablets potentially replacing smartphones.

Last week I said there were very few activities that were actually better on a phone than on a tablet and Keynote’s survey results indicate what some of those might be. Social networking is one such activity—46 percent of smartphone users update their networks while only 31 percent do so on a tablet. These updates are small chunks of content, so I could see why one might reach for a phone first.

Maps was another such activity, which I find semi-surprising. Half of the respondents prefer to access navigation and maps from a phone while only 30 percent prefer doing so on a tablet. Map experiences are far richer on a larger display, but not all tablets have the constant connectivity and GPS functionality found in phones. And if you want navigation and directions, a handheld device works just fine.

As I noted prior, digital media content consumption on a tablet often provides a better experience and the Keynote survey data echo that thought: 76 percent of tablet owners watch videos, while 59 percent do so on their smartphones. Other activities where a tablet is used more? Reading news or entertainment; product and services research; reading or posting to blogs; and online purchases, to name a few.

One other interesting note came from the Keynote survey in this regard: Tablet users are skewed toward spending longer amounts of time browsing the Web with their device than smartphone owners do with theirs. According to the data, a whopping 60 percent do so for an hour or less per day on a smartphone, compared with 45 percent on a tablet. For one to two hours of Web browsing, 29 percent do so on a phone while 37 percent do on a tablet. And the percentage of tablet owners browsing for two to three hours is nearly double that of smartphone owners: 12 percent vs 7 percent.

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