How many times have you gone to an event, walked into a meeting or even just got onto a plane and seen someone open their bag to reveal an iPad or Android tablet, while their laptop just sits there unloved because of its bulk? The person might then fish around awkwardly for their smartphone to tether to the tablet before they actually get down to what needs to be done. Asus knows these people, and is here to help with its new convertible: the Padfone.
Update: We've updated the review to include local pricing information and retailer details.
More Updates: We've been told that because the unit we reviewed wasn't the official Australian unit. As a result, the one that's set to hit Harvey Norman stores later in the month will have better specifications. Furthermore, the bundle you'll get for your $999 will likely be better value, also. We'll keep you posted on what's in the bundle when we get it.
What Is It?
The Padfone is a 4.3-inch Android smartphone running Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.3. It boasts a 1.5Ghz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB worth of internal storage.
What makes the Padfone special, though, is its docking station. It's essentially a big, 10.1-inch screen and a big battery with a caddy in the rear for your Padfone to sit in. Once you plug the Padfone into its screen dock, it seamlessly turns into a 10.1-inch tablet with a screen resolution of 1280x800 pixels and a 6600mAh battery attached. That tablet dock can also clip into a keyboard dock that efficiently turns the device from a tablet into a laptop. Nifty!
The Padfone is the latest attempt at creating a phone, tablet and laptop in the one convertible device since the lacklustre Motorola Atrix last year. It's an interesting beast, but Asus look to have done a great job getting a decent convertible onto the market.
The Padfone runs the monstrous dual-core 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and boasts the now-standard 1GB of RAM. The phone sports a 4.3-inch 540x960 pixel screen with 256 pixels per inch (ppi) that reproduces great blacks (but doesn't do much else but we'll get to that), and the tablet dock sports a 10.1-inch, 1280x800 pixel display. We tested the model with 16GB worth of internal storage, but it can be expanded up to 32GB via an additional microSD card. Asus have told us that the Padfone will soon cater to 64GB cards thanks to a firmware update.
As far as benchmarks go, the Padfone blows the competition out of the water thanks to that 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor. Quadrant scores see it trounce the HTC One X and its cousin the Transformer Prime TF201, while GeekBench 2 scores see the device come up just short against flagship Android devices like the (also Asus-made) Nexus 7 and the Transformer Prime TF201 with a score of 1548.
Going about your business on the Padfone is really easy, both in phone and tablet mode. It's a fast experience thanks to the fact that Asus haven't really bloated the device with crapware, and the switching lag involved in turning the phone into a tablet isn't bad either, taking a mere five seconds in our tests. That's convertible tech done right in my books.
It runs Android 4.0.3 out of the box and Asus have promised that devices in the Transformer family, as well as the Eee Pad Slider will soon be updated to 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, most likely thanks to the close relationship with Google. One assumes that the Padfone won't be far behind that.
The best thing about the Padfone is the price. We got our device from MobiCity, and you can pick up the phone and the dock there for $889. You can pick up the Padfone's keyboard dock for a few hundred bucks extra, too. Now if you think about what it would cost to buy a specced-up Android smartphone, a 10.1-inch tablet and a netbook, you'd be looking at more than $1000 easily. With the Padfone, you get all of it for less and it's far more convenient to lug about with you.
Asus have announced that as far as Australian retailers go, Harvey Norman will carry the 32GB Padfone exclusively for $999 starting on August 14. Despite the local price difference, it's still cheaper than buying three devices — phone, laptop and tablet — separately.
When you make a convertible anything, be it a car, a pair of zip-off pants or even a phone and tablet, there's a real risk that you drive yourself to the middle ground in terms of specifications and user experience to keep the cost down and to actually get it off the ground commercially. There's the problem of setting out to do too many things in one product and doing them all badly when you get to the finish line. I personally don't think that the Padfone suffers from this problem, but you can see where Asus has tried to cut corners.
For example, the 4.3-inch screen on the phone leaves a lot to be desired. Sure it has deep blacks, but on occasion, it can suffer the same problem that the Asus-made Nexus 7 does in washed out colours, lacklustre brightness and low-resolution icons. The phone display is also atrociously unreadable in direct sunlight that there's just no point in pulling it out of your pocket when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds.
The design is nice to look at but once you really get down to playing with it — that is, popping the phone in and out of the tablet docking station or removing the phone's back cover for example — you notice that a lot of the parts are very thin and flimsy. It wouldn't shock me if 12-18 months down the road, you'd be putting in a service call to Asus to tell them that the switch mechanism on the docking flap door had stopped working, or worse that the flimsy door had come off all together.
I also have no earthly idea why the tablet uses a rectangular connector for a charger rather than the traditional microUSB that the smartphone sports.
The tablet, when docked with the phone, is also extremely heavy for a 10.1-inch device. The Padfone handset is incredibly light at 129 grams, but add that weight into the 724 gram (853 grams in total) screen dock and you get a real case of tablet arm if you hold it up for a while too long.
Just on that weight: a lot of it is actually the 6600mAh battery in the tablet, and despite the fact that it's so huge, the Padfone seems to chew through its power pretty fast. Quite often I had this device sitting with 80-90 per cent of its battery power when I put it on standby for the night, and when I woke in the morning it was down to around 30 per cent. It's definitely something you'll be charging everyday, but on the upside, you can charge the phone and the tablet dock at once by leaving the handset in the dock.
As I said, I haven't been able to test it with the keyboard dock, but there's no reason to believe it won't add more battery life to the unit as it does with the Transformer units that can last 10-plus hours.
Should You Buy One?
In its most basic form, the Asus Padfone is a passable Android phone and a decent 3G-enabled Transformer-like tablet. If you were to buy two of those separately, you'd be looking at a few hundred dollars more than the cost of the Padfone, meaning it's got the good value argument on its side.
It's certainly got its flaws, but if you're after a convertible device, this is the best one on the market right now, with specs that blow the competition out of the water and a design that might actually help you get something done on a tablet for a change.