TechnoStorm

Review: ASUS Fonepad, a phone-tablet hybrid

The ASUS Fonepad phone-tablet hybrid costs P14,995 as of May 2013.
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Yahoo Southeast Asia Newsroom | Photo By Ramon Lopez/Alora Uy Guerrero / TechLokal.com
Thu, May 16, 2013 10:00 PM PHT

ASUS Fonepad at a glance:

*Price: P14,995
*micro-SIM card slot for voice calls and SMS
*1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2420 single-core processor with Intel Hyper-Threading technology
*PowerVR SGX540 GPU
*1GB RAM
*32GB internal storage
*microSD expansion (up to 32GB)
*7-inch IPS-LCD display (1,280 x 800 resolution; 216ppi pixel density; 10-point multi-touch input)
*3-megapixel rear camera
*1.2-megapixel front camera
*4,270mAh battery
*WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth 3.0 radios
*Dimensions: 196.6 x 120.1 x 10.4mm
*340 grams
*Android Jelly Bean (version 4.1.2)

Next to smartphones, tabletsiPads and Android-based 7- to 8-inchers, in particularare the rage these days. And why not? The tablet segment has become one of the darlings of mobile computing, with more major manufacturers trying to bridge the divide between laptops and tablets with hybrid devices. However, one thing most tablets lack is telephonyyou know, voice-calling and text-messaging capabilities. 

ASUS sees a burgeoning niche in the Philippines, where consumers are keen on using their tablet/phone mash-ups as phones, and so here we have the Intel-powered ASUS Fonepad. The 7-inch device is capable of doing what many people clamor for: running apps, browsing the Web, and watching videos, with the option of making calls and sending messages on a larger-than-smartphone form factor.

The Fonepad comes with a pretty reasonable P14,995 price tag and should be available in stores nationwide in "champagne gold" and "titanium gray" color schemes starting next week. Is it worth your consideration? 

Hardware

The front of the ASUS Fonepad is devoid of physical navigation keys; the device rightfully skips them in favor of four on-screen buttons. Except for the obligatory company branding on the bottom and the chrome-painted earpiece grill, the Taiwanese electronics maker does not make any further attempts to differentiate its latest 7-inch effort.

The back's a different story, though. That's where the Fonepad distances itself from the usual budget or mid-tier offering. The rear cover features a smooth, anodized aluminum finish, which is rare for non-Apple devices. It also houses a down-firing integrated speaker, which pleasantly surprised us with its loudness and better-than-average clarity.

>>READ: Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

The rear offers a nice departure from dimpled, rubberized, and glossy coatings, and it definitely lends a premium appearance. Also, seeing it on an aggressively priced Android only reaffirms this belief: There's simply no reason why phone and tablet makers can't take design cues from ASUS, Apple, and a handful of others. 

The ASUS Fonepad's micro-SIM and microSD card slots are tucked under the backplate's top part. The removable cover, the only foil to an almost-unibody aesthetic, is again wrapped in aluminum coating but can be easily identified thanks to its different color.


ASUS FonePad

Our only gripe at this point is that it requires considerably more effort to slide out, especially on the first few tries. Then again, you'll hardly find yourself struggling to push the cover out, granted you're not keen on switching between carriers and memory cards. 

A comparison of dimensions between the ASUS Fonepad and the ASUS-made Nexus 7 reveals that the two are nearly identical in size and weight, with the former being slightly shorter (196.4mm versus the Nexus 7's 198.5mm). Consequently, the Fonepad lends well to single-handed use despite its chunky bezels and thick, beveled sides. 

Of course, its unnecessarily bloated hardware may be a sticking point for some, although products on the pudgy side are a norm in the Android scene. 

Display

The ASUS Fonepad's IPS-LCD panel measures 7 inches diagonally, and its resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels on a 16:10 aspect ratio is on a par with what we've seen on the Google Nexus 7.

The resulting pixel density is 216ppi, and the clarity showcased here is enough to provide a decent movie watching experience. Photos and websites, likewise, boast natural and vivid colors, except that in some cases, blues seem to stand out more than other hues. 

>>SEE: Surge in laptop revenue drives ASUS' stellar Q1 results

The 10-point multi-touch screen is covered by toughened, albeit reflective, glass, which is largely to blame for the Fonepad's modest sunlight legibility. That said, if you plan on using this hybrid for long stretches of time outdoors, make sure to do so where there's a lot of shade. However, viewing angles shouldn't be an issue because the screen offers decent views from most angles.

Should you feel that a bit of display tweaking is in order, you'd be pleased to know that ASUS bundles the Fonepad with Splendid. The app allows you to adjust saturation, hue, and color temperature, depending on your preference. There's also the so-called Vivid mode, which automatically boosts colors based on an ASUS-optimized profile, so no input is required.

Welcome to the ASUS Fonepad's home screen.
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Yahoo Southeast Asia Newsroom | Photo By Ramon Lopez/Alora Uy Guerrero / TechLokal.com
Thu, May 16, 2013 10:00 PM PHT
 Specs and performance

As already mentioned, the Fonepad wields an Intel SoC [system on chip], which is currently not the popular choice among chief players in the mobile world. And there's totally nothing wrong with that, as we'd soon find out. This ASUS is the first Intel Atom device we've thoroughly tested, and it does not disappoint.

 

The Intel Atom Z-Series silicon inside this gear is single-core, with a clock rate of 1.6GHz and Hyper-Threading technology, which enables the CPU core to perform two tasks simultaneously.  

There's Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX540 graphics, 1GB of RAM, and a generous 32GB of storage onboard, which you can augment via microSD expansion for an extra 32GB of space, bringing the total to 64GB. Unsurprisingly, the tablet packs WiFi, 3G, and Bluetooth 3.0 radios as well.

Another highlight: The ASUS Fonepad has a Glonass-capable aGPS receiver, allowing for improved satellite signal detection and more precise tracking. We fired up Google Maps with GPS on and found that Glonass indeed delivers on its promises. The phone/tablet had no problems figuring out where we are, accurately at that, even indoors.

Hardware performance, for the most part, is top-notch. The Fonepad's Intel chip really shines in daily operation simply because almost everything happens rather quickly. For example, scrolling is noticeably silky-smooth, and transitions and animations occur with minimal hesitation. There's also a lag-free experience when flicking between home screens and jumping in and out of apps.

All these coming from a single-core SoC makes it all the more impressive.

With an aging PowerVR SGX 540 GPU in tow, it's expected that this Taiwan-bred tab-phone would deliver a modest gaming experience, and as such, casual gamesthe Temple Runs and Angry Birds of the Play storeshould behave without jerks and stutters. In contrast, more graphically taxing titles like Dungeon Hunter 4 and Shadow Gun: Deadzone 2.0 will give the device a hard time.

>>READ: Intel revamps chipsets in new mobile push

It's worth pointing out that the ASUS Fonepad runs a moderately skinned Android Jelly Bean overlay that's mostly clean and pleasing to look at. Better yet, the cosmetic changes don't seem to have a negative effect on the user experience. In other words, ASUS' take on Jelly Bean doesn't slow down the machine a bit, something we can't say about many Android-based UIs we've come across.   

Running benchmark tests resulted in mixed scores, as shown below. Vellamo Mobile, which evaluates browser performance, among other things, recurrently crashed on us, possibly because of incompatibilities with Intel's Atom architecture.

The ASUS Fonepad scores 6351 on AnTuTu benchmark.
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Yahoo Southeast Asia Newsroom | Photo By Ramon Lopez/Alora Uy Guerrero / TechLokal.com
Thu, May 16, 2013 11:00 PM PHT
 The ASUS Fonepad has a pair of cameras which are capable of video recording. One feels more obligatory than the other, though, meaning you probably won't use it much. The 1.2-megapixel front-facer is fine for selfies in bright sunlight and video chats, and nothing more, as images taken with the front cam have middling sharpness and colors.

The 3-megapixel rear shooter, in spite of its slightly great megapixel count, is far worse in comparison. We'll let the photos do the talking from here, which should only help to drive our points further home. Needless to say, photography is one of the Fonepad's compromises.

This is taken with the ASUS Fonepad's rear camera.
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Yahoo Southeast Asia Newsroom | Photo By Ramon Lopez/Alora Uy Guerrero / TechLokal.com
Thu, May 16, 2013 11:00 PM PHT

Call quality is excellent on both ends. Voice calls with or without a Bluetooth headset came out fairly loud. We didn't experience dropped calls during testing, too. One thing to note about the retail package, though: Oddly, and in a negative sense, the call-capable Fonepad does not come with its own headset.

ASUS' phone-tablet hybrid packs a 4,270mAh lithium-polymer battery, which is hardly standard fare for 7-inchers. It's quite nice, actually, topping out at about one and a half days of normal use. With power-saving mode on and 3G networks sparingly used, runtime could easily be extended for up to two full days.

In our looped-video battery-endurance test, the ASUS Fonepad averaged close to 10 hours---about an hour longer than the official video playback time for the device. That's at half brightness, with WiFi and app syncing on.

ASUS Fonepad battery-rundown test result

Verdict

So, what's our verdict? Well, if you've been keeping pace with us, you already know that the ASUS Fonepad is impressive. And it's not surprising; after all, ASUS is largely responsible for the value-for-money Google Nexus 7.

Because of its tempting tag price, finely crafted aluminum housing, and Hyper-Threading Intel processor which somehow manages to exceed expectations (and ultimately redefine our perception of single-core computing), this phone-tablet hybrid has earned our strong recommendation.

There are only two major drawbacks to the device. First, both cameras are subpareven for tabletslacking brightness, focus, and all the other good stuff quality shots are made of. Second, its gaming performance leaves a bit to be desired, as evidenced by the sluggish gameplay of some high-end games we've tested.

Again, this is to be expected on a device sporting an aging PowerVR SGX 540 graphics chip. But given that there aren't any similar nice tablets that can make calls and send/receive texts in this price range, it's easier to forgive the Fonepad's shortcomings.

All told, the ASUS Fonepad is a fantastic package. Make no mistake: it's a serious contender that should please would-be tablet, smartphone, and tab-phone shoppers alike.

PROS:

*Reasonable price tag
*Loud integrated speaker
*Premium appearance
*Decent screen
*Generous internal memory
*Top-notch hardware performance
*Accurate GPS tracking
*Excellent call quality
*Long battery life

CONS:

*Reflective glass
*Aging GPU
*Underwhelming cameras
*Lacks headset

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