AT&T Asus PadFone X review: Two devices for the price of one, with some compromises

AT&T Asus PadFone X review: Two devices for the price of one, with some compromises

Summary: The idea of a transformer device that lets you switch between a tablet and phone sounds good, but we have yet to see great execution even though Asus keeps on trying.

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  • PadFone X retail package

    Millions of people own smartphones and tablets, often with different operating systems on each. The idea of taking your phone and popping it into a larger display without having to install and manage apps separately sounds good, but I'm not sure all the compromises make practical sense.

    Asus is good at testing unique form factors in the mobile space, check out their line of Transformers, and recently launched the PadFone X on AT&T. There were two previous generation PadFone devices released outside the US and I have always wanted to give one a try. I spent over a week with the PadFone X and think it just might appeal to the entry to mid-level market where people still view a tablet as an additional accessory rather than a dedicated stand-alone must-have device.

    Hardware

    I was sent the PadFone X and PadFone Station, which are sold together from AT&T. You can also buy a Bluetooth keyboard accessory for $99 that acts as a screen cover and keyboard docking station, similar to what you may see in their Transformer tablet hybrid device.

    PadFone X smartphone: The PadFone X package comes with both a phone and a docking station, the PadFone Station, that serves as the tablet. As you can see below in the specs list, the PadFone X is a very capable high-end smartphone. However, the shell is rather ordinary and reminds me of a phone from a couple of years ago. It's clearly a plain black slab.

    Asus didn't put much effort into designing a colorful, metallic, or curved phone. The edges are rounded though the matte finish does help it feel just fine in your hand. It does feel solidly constructed and definitely does not have a cheap feel to it. It is about as heavy as the One (M8) even though it is made of high quality plastic instead of aluminum.

    You will find a 5 inch high resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) IPS display in a phone about the size of the HTC One (M8) with a mm or two less height. The power and volume buttons are on the right, the microUSB port is on the bottom, and the headphone jack is on the top.

    The back can be pried off to reveal the microSIM card slot and microSD expansion card slot (expandable to 64GB). The battery is visible, but not removable. It is held in place with several screws.

    A 13 megapixel cameara and single LED flash are located at the top of the back with an AT&T logo and Padfone branding on the lower back.

    PadFone Station: The PadFone Station reminds me of my old HP TouchPad tablet computer, meaning that it is rather boring and chunky. The bezel around the display is about 1 inch on all four sides, which looks rather ridiculous when you hold up a modern Android table or iPad.

    The display on the Station is 9 inches with the same resolution. The 1 megapixel front facing camera is centered above the display. A power button is found on the left top with the volume button and microUSB port on the lower left hand side.

    When you flip it over you will see the large docking area for the smartphone. You simply slide it down in place to use the PadFone X in tablet form. The Station will not turn on or do anything without the smartphone docked into the back.

    With the phone in the back, the tablet is a bit bulky. Thankfully, Asus made the two sides less thick so you can hold onto the PadFone Station comfortably with two hands. This is not a tablet you want to read in bed and have fall on your face though so use with caution in that position.

    Like the phone, the PadFone Station feels solidly constructed. It's just a bit boring and chunky. However, if you only want a tablet to extend the display of your smartphone then it might be a perfect fit for you.

    Software

    The PadFone X runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat and offers a nearly pure Google experience. You will find a few Asus utilites, modifications to the lock screen, and a custom notifications area. If you don't like all the bells and whistles of an HTC, Samsung, or LG phone, then you may like the purist PadFone X.

    There are lots of AT&T services and utilties, some are actually useful. You can easily hide these in the application launcher, but I would like to see removal as an option some day.

    Asus designed the PadFone X so that when you slip it into the dock the interface changes into a tablet look and feel. They did a pretty good job with the Dynamic Display software that switches between phone and tablet forms with apps not just getting bigger, but more useful.

    I particularly like using email and the calendar in tablet form. Unfortunately, the web browser (Chrome and standard included one) don't switch into desktop mode so you get all the mobile sites just like you would on your phone.

    Pros and Cons

    To summarize my experiences with the Asus PadFone X, here are my pros and cons.

    Pros Cons
    Solid, high-end internal specifications Plain phone design
    Bright, high resolution display Huge bezel on all four sides of the PadFone Station
    Minimal change to UI, almost a pure Google experiences Still a bit too much non-removable AT&T bloatware
    Great price for dual use environments  

    Pricing and availability

    The PadFone X is only sold with the PadFone Station, but the pricing is even less than flagship smartphones. With a two-year contact you can pick up the combo for just $199.99. The full, no-contract price is $549.99. Most high end smartphones today have full prices in the $600 to $850 range.

    The competition

    There really isn't any competition in this space. You can pick up an entry to mid-level smartphone for free to $200 (with a contract) and then pay $200 up to $800 for a tablet, but you won't find other two-in-one products like the PadFone X.

    Specifications
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.3 GHz processor
    2GB RAM
    16GB internal storage with microSD card slot
    5-inch 1920x1080 pixels resolution Super LCD display
    13 megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front facing camera on the phone and 1 megapixel camera on the station
    2,300 mAh battery in the phone and 4,990 in the station
    Dimensions of 5.67 x 2.85 x 0.39 inches and 5.29 ounces for the phone
    Dimensions of 59.86 x 6.78 x 0.46 inches and 18.13 ounces for the station (23.42 ounces together)

    Conclusion

    Asus is offering a pretty compelling package for the average user who doesn't want to spend hundreds on a dedicated tablet they might just leave sitting around gathering dust. For the price of a smartphone, you get an accessory that gives you a tablet experience.

    The phone is not a marvel of design like many modern smartphones, but it has the right internals and it does a fine job performing everday tasks. The nice thing about this combo is no separate data plan is needed and the same data always appears in phone and tablet modes.

    I would like to see the next generation slim down both the phone and the station to give it more of a high end smartphone look and feel. I would bump up my rating by at least a full point if the design was more modern.

    Contributor's rating: 7.5 out of 10

  • Opening up the retail package

Topics: Mobility, Android, Smartphones, Tablets

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9 comments
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  • Another all in one destined to fail

    The price isn't bad, I guess, but both devices are compromised in one way or another. I'd rather just get the ideal phone and forget the tablet part.

    As a separate rant - why is it google has been pushing "rich" master/detail responsive design but on the nexus 10 the system settings screen even in landscape is still just a single column list view, with about 90% of the screen is just unused space. They've been pushing that tablet oriented design for years now.
    drwong
  • Main problem is OS

    If this thing used Windows instead of Android, it would be a much more useful device. Maybe when Windows RT and Windows Phone OSes are finally merged, we'll see one of these things actually succeed.
    Sir Name
    • yeah, right

      and maybe if they put android on surface or windows phone *those* would have succeeded.
      drwong
  • Super fail.

    Phone shoved to the back of a tablet is not going to sell. (No matter what OS it runs)
    Owl:Net
    • Agreed...

      To add detail to the earlier comments...

      A phone is a personal thing - more and more of your life is managed with the phone as your partner. The idea of an 'automagical' transition from phone to tablet makes obvious sense, but there are so many poorly considered conditions with this product:
      1 the tablet HAS to be clunky because it has a dock fat enough for a 'phone to fit into,
      2 the idea that you have to have THIS phone with THIS tablet is going to restrict the market to some very specific verticals.
      3 the destruction of one of the main features of a tablet - its seamless, easy-clean, childproof character - by the vulnerable-to-ketchup dock, the vulnerable to snagging protrusion of the docked 'phone is a complete 'miss'.

      Apple's iOs8 announcement sounds as if they are pursuing the cordless automagical experience, with app interfaces moving smoothly from device to device by virtue of simple proximity, although it remains to be seen how it works in practice. However, apple, as a device maker, want you to buy two or three devices - all with their own processing, storage, networking capabilities. This is obviously not what consumers want.

      In the next 5 years a billion or so young people in the developing world will begin their networked lives with a 'phone as their only computing device. And another billion in the decade after that. And another billion in the decade after that.

      The overwhelming logic must surely be that we own a single device which runs everything, controls everything, keeps our personal data with us at all times (ie safe[ish] from the cloud/NSA/black hats) - and this device must always be with us - it will have the form factor of a 'phone. It will have the computing muscle of most current desktops (for starters).

      Then the logic dictates that all other devices (tablets, displays, keyboards, projectors, printers, heart monitors, remote control helicopters - EVERYTHING personal that needs access to computing power) are dumb (because it will always be cheaper to make a dumb, interfaceless device with a controlling app than a 'clever' device with a dedicated OS/interface), but can be cordlessly slaved to your 'phone.

      And of course, the first people that come up with peripherals like these that are hardware/OS agnostic will clean up. We just have to hope that the comms protocols are open-source and standards-based.
      dilgreen
  • no competition? really? just because a major telco copies . . .

    this?
    http://alwaysinnovating.com/products/smartbook.htm

    have you looked at this or did any research into the history of open handsets and tablets and such?

    so sad.
    :(
    .
    wessonjoe
    • intriguing, but...

      ...fussy!

      Without the slightest disrespect, no-one but a geek could love this. But the killer is - it's everything - APART from being a 'phone. With 4G/LTE already incredibly fast, and with massive innovation in mobile leaving cable/ADSL in the Internet stone-age, a device without mobile signal capacity is not going anywhere.

      Nevertheless - a team to keep tabs on - thanks for the link.
      dilgreen
    • No competition?

      If you are going to use the Smartbook as an example, it fails as it is not yet available for purchase. According to their own website, "Since 2011, Always Innovating doesn't sell any more to individual consumers as we have focused our activities to a licensing business model.

      If you have any interest to license one of our products, please follow this link.

      If you want to be notified when one of our licensees makes available one of our products, please fill your email address below:"

      Why don't you license and produce the Smartbook? I might buy one.
      mtabasco
  • what a Padfone can do that a phone+tablet cannot

    I have a Padfone Infinity and it allows me to use phone apps on a tablet.
    You cant use apps like Whatsapp on a tablet, but you can on a Padfone.
    Same for other apps like Line, and so on that only lets you use it on 1 device.
    The thing I hate most about having a tablet at home is needing to have the phone with me as well.
    Sure, you can remote desktop the phone, but it doesn't solve everything.
    A padfone does solve the issue.
    The lump is not even an issue.
    My only issue is the slight lag with touch and display because it is basically pumping the display and touch data thru the USB connector.
    He form factor is awesome, don't poo poo it.
    Asus deserves huge credit for doing it.
    warboat