No one can accuse ASUS of being boring. Since exploding onto the tablet scene at CES 2011, the Taiwanese tablet maker first turned heads with its Transformer and its detachable keyboard dock, which then was one of the first Android tablets to receive Android Ice Cream Sandwich. ASUS also released the first quad-core Android tablet in the Transformer Prime. Now, ASUS is combining a smartphone with a tablet with a netbook, and coupling it with a capacitive stylus that doubles as a phone receiver, and calling it the ASUS PadFone.
The smartphone is the heart of the PadFone. It contains the processing guts: a Qualcomm S4 1.5GHz dual-core processor and Adreno 225 GPU to be precise. That, coupled with its 4.3-inch Super AMOLEDaHD display with a 960 x 540 resolution and Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS, puts the PadFone smartphone somewhere between the high-end and midrange. It’s certainly no slouch, but it's not as impressive as the quad-core handsets also unveiled at the show and dual-core units with 300+ ppi displays, at least on paper.
The same goes for the 10.1-inch tablet. It bumps up the resolution to 1280 x 800, which is in line with current tablets, though the next generation of tablets will have a 1920 x 1280 resolution, and the Apple iPad 3 display resolution is expected to hit 2048 x 1536.
That said, both the phone and tablet looked great during our brief hands-on time at Mobile World Congress, and both were just as zippy and stable as any other dual-core device. The tablet was a bit odd to handle, however. The phone docks in via the landscape side, and adds both bulk and weight, making the PadFone either bottom or top heavy depending on its orientation. The smartphone’s 8-megapixel rear shooter also doubles as the tablet’s camera, putting the lens closer to the center of the tablet than the edges, as found on most other tablets. While there is no obvious disadvantage to the lens placement, it’s definitely different.
What is positive, however, is that the tablet adds extra battery life, to the tune of up to 5x from the phone's 1,520mAh power pack. It’s also loaded with speakers, and ASUS touted the PadFone audio output at the unveiling. ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih even demonstrated its prowess in a room packed with reporters, and the PadFone delivered very audible sound, even to the back reaches. Given the sorry state of tablet speakers, we give ASUS big props for looking to address what is a deficiency in just about every competing tablet.
The Stylus and Keyboard
While ASUS did not explicitly state both the keyboard dock and stylus will be sold separately; smart money is that both are optional accessories, given that’s the case with the Transformer and Transformer Prime.
The keyboard adds an extra 9x battery, and if it’s anything like the other two, also will bring full-sized USB and SD card slots, but we did not receive confirmation on that. Nor did we get a deep look at the stylus and how it functions as a stick. It has a soft rubber tip, like the capacitive pen accessories designed for the iPad and other Android tablets – meaning it is more like a fingertip and less like an active Wacom pen in function. But unlike those basic sticks, the PadFone stylus doubles as a phone receiver. It has a miniUSB input for charging, but given its size, we doubt it will offer excessive talk time per single charge. But just like the tablet dock, it’s different, and for our money, extremely innovative and fun. It gives users the option of not undocking the phone from the tablet, which effectively powers down the tablet, when taking a call.
We’ll see how well it functions in use when we have one in for a full review. We’ll also be following the PadFone’s reception with the tablet and smartphone buying public. Could this innovative device be the answer to the mobile dilemma of carrying too many devices (tablet, smartphone, netbook, etc)?
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