Does your phone need a phone of its own?

A new mobile gadget category gives you a tiny phone for talking via your giant phablet

Phablets are fabulous. But they're awfully large objects to be constantly pulling out of purses, backpacks and pockets. As we embrace giant smartphones for their big, beautiful screens, we'll have to find new ways to cope with the absurdity of holding enormous devices up to the sides of our heads when we want to talk on the phone.

Some people will just endure the absurdity and use a 7-in. phablet like it was a normal phone. Others will rekindle their love of in-ear Bluetooth headsets. Still others will gravitate toward microphone-equipped earbuds. Some wearable devices will help as well -- gadgets like Google Glass and some of the upcoming smartwatches will let you make calls without taking out your phablet.

But there's another way: Bluetooth handsets.

Wait. What's a 'Bluetooth handset'?

A Bluetooth handset is a small phone-like gadget that works like a phone, but actually uses Bluetooth to receive, and sometimes place, calls through your regular smartphone, phablet or tablet.

Sure, you may look a bit like Zoolander, using a conspicuously tiny "phone." But using a Bluetooth handset is better than holding that giant phablet to your ear. And Bluetooth handsets are far more acceptable in formal business settings than any of the alternatives.

At a minimum, this newish category of device enables you to answer phone calls without taking your smartphone out of your purse, backpack, briefcase or pocket; you can even use a Bluetooth handset if you're on the other side of the room (up to 33 feet away) from your phone. And some of them let you do a lot more than that.

Here's what's available from Sony, HTC, Samsung and Alcatel.

Sony

Sony recently launched a product awkwardly named the Smart Bluetooth Handset SBH52. The device is about the size of a Pez dispenser and has on/off and volume controls on the skinny edges. A low-resolution OLED display shows you caller ID information, text messages and other notifications. It's got a clip, so you can clip it to your shirt, pocket or workout clothes.

The Sony Smart Bluetooth Handset SBH52.

The SBH52 can pair with any major smartphone via Bluetooth, according to Sony -- in fact, the company says it can connect to two at the same time -- and let you answer phone calls, listen to music and listen to FM radio (built in). You can use it like a regular handset, plug in earbuds or use it as a speakerphone.

The SBH52 uses HD Voice, and Sony claims it offers super high-quality sound. It's also water-resistant, according to Sony.

You pair it via NFC (near field communication) with Sony's newer phones and phablets by simply tapping it against the phone.

The Sony SBH52 is shipping in Asia and Europe and should arrive in the U.S. soon.

HTC

HTC offers the most phone-like and feature-rich device in this category. The new HTC Mini+ has a full numeric keypad, so you can use it to dial out in addition to receiving calls.

The HTC Mini+.

I think the HTC Mini+ looks really cool, too. The body is brushed aluminum and the buttons are round and appealing. It's even got a small, 1.5-in. screen with two rows of icons.

The HTC Mini+ has an IR blaster and can also be programmed as a TV remote, a remote camera shutter or even as a PowerPoint slide controller. It's even got a laser pointer built in.

The bad news is that the Mini+ pairs with HTC phones only, specifically the HTC One Mini, the Butterfly S, the Desire 200 and the Desire 500.

The HTC Mini+ should cost about $85 and will be available by the end of the year.

Samsung

The Samsung HM5000 Slim Stick Type Bluetooth Headset looks almost like a fat pen and clips onto a pocket like a pen does.

The Samsung HM5000 Slim Stick Type Bluetooth Headset.

Like the Sony device, the Slim Stick can be paired with two devices at the same time. When a call comes in, it vibrates. You answer it by pressing a large button.

Because the HM5000 has only one big button, plus a volume-control rocker, there's a small learning curve to remember the button-pushing commands for putting calls on hold and picking them up again and other functions.

The handset automatically increases the volume of the speaker in a noisy place.

The HM5000 has been around for a couple of years, and it's possible to buy it for less than $60.

Alcatel

Alcatel deserves special mention because its upcoming OneTouch Hero smartphone comes with a full-featured Bluetooth handset with a full numeric keypad, rocker switch and screen. It looks like a high-end feature phone from 2003.

The Alcatel OneTouch Hero remote.

The company has demonstrated the product at European trade shows, and the device will be shipping only to China, Latin America and a smattering of European countries.

Fear not, phablet fans. Help is on the way in the form of tiny, phone-like devices that let you talk on the phone via that giant phablet -- without looking like a complete idiot.

This article, " Does Your Phone Need a Phone of Its Own?" was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Read more about smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.

Join the Computerworld newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Mobile/WirelessGoogleconsumer electronicsNetworkingsmartphoneswirelessPersonal Technologymobile

More about GoogleHTCNFCSamsungSmartSonyTopic

CIO
ARN
Techworld
CMO