Asus Fonepad review: first look

25 Feb 2013

Asus hasn't exactly been tight-lipped about its announcements at MWC 2013. It let slip the fact that at at least one of its devices would be running Intel's new dual-core mobile chip on its Facebook page the day before the conference, and Fonepad rumours have be swirling around all day at the show.

As expected, it announced the latest instalments in its Padfone range – but it was this more practical and affordable Asus Fonepad that captured our attention, despite the confusing naming convention.

It's an 7in Android tablet in the same vein as the Nexus 7 (also manufactured by Asus), but it has a trick all of its own: 3G phone capabilities to add to its 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. It isn't the only phone/tablet hybrid (or "phablet") to be launched at the show this year. Samsung announced its own, 8in Galaxy Note 8 yesterday, but this 7in device looks to be more practical.

When we say the Fonepad is similar to the Nexus 7, we really mean it. It has the same rounded corners, edges and flat rear panel profile, and while it doesn't have the same diamond pattern, cross-hatched finish, it is made from the a very similar type of soft-touch plastic. The screen is also the same aspect, and the bezel looks to be the same width too. It's as if Asus took the Nexus 7, threw in the phone, and left it at that.

Just like the Galaxy Note 8, the Fonepad has an earpiece speaker and integrated microphone, so you're not restricted to making phone calls with a wired or wireless Bluetooth headset. You'll look a little daft, admittedly, but not as much as with the Galaxy Note 8, which looks truly silly up against your ear.

The most interesting aspect of the Fonepad, aside from its ability to make and receive phone calls,  is its price. In Europe, where it will appear without the 3mp rear camera (only a 1.2-megapixel unit on the front), the price is a mere €219 (about £190) for the 16GB model, which will be released in April. That's cheap for a standard SIM-free Android smartphone, let alone one with a 7in IPS display.

And despite the low price, the rest of the specification certainly isn't low rent. The resolution of the screen, like the Note 8, is 1,280 x 800, and it's powered by one of Intel's Medfield mobile processors - the 1.2GHz Atom Z2420; in our brief play with the device after the main press conference, it felt pretty snappy in and around the OS (Android Jelly Bean 4.1).

Alas, we were unable to run any sneaky benchmarks, as the tablet wasn't connected to the hotel's Wi-Fi network and had no SIM card installed. What we were able to divine, though, was the version of Android (Jelly Bean) it's running is pretty clean, with only a few light manufacturer customisations.

It remains to be seen if consumers will fully embrace the phone/tablet hybrid concept when products start to appear in shops later this year. With the Fonepad, though, Asus is giving them every encouragement.

Specifications:

  • 7in, 1,280 x 800 IPS capacitive multitouch display
  • 1.2GHz Intel Atom Z2420 processor
  • SGX540 graphics
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8/16/32GB storage + 5Gb lifetime Asus WebStorage
  • 802.11bgn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3
  • 1.2mp front-facing camera
  • GPS
  • Up to 9hrs battery life

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