UPDATED: Asus PadFone - specs, stylus, keyboard dock review
First unveiled at Cebit, we’ve now got our hands on the final iteration of the Asus PadFone, which is set for an April launch. Despite its name change, the PadFone undoubtedly fits into the same product category as the excellent Transformer tablet-laptop hybrids. In a way it’s the ultimate evolution of those products. Thanks to the keyboard add-on demonstrated for the first time today, the PadFone will be a smartphone, tablet and laptop in one.
As well as the keyboard, Asus also announced an ingenious stylus. Not only can it be used to make graphical notes and sketches onscreen, but it also doubles as a Bluetooth headset, ideal for answering calls when the phone is tucked away inside the tablet.
If you’re unfamiliar with the PadFone, it’s basically a powerful Android handset that slots into a tablet-style docking station when you want a larger screen. That unit then slots into the keyboard dock to turn the PadFone into an ad-hoc laptop. It’s an ingenious idea that has numerous advantages for casual computing on a day-to-day basis.
Battery life is one of these advantages. The handset has a fairly typical 1,520mAh battery built-in, but by adding the tablet dock this is increased by five-fold, add the keyboard too and this goes up to nine times. The battery capacity is always transferred to the smallest device so the keyboard charges the tablet and the tablet charges the handset. This way you can top up the handset battery while still using the tablet wire-free.
With just a single device like this, the PadFone will massively simplify keeping your apps up-to-date and your data synchronized. For those who currently maintain and lug multiple gadgets about with them for every possible need, this could be a huge time saver. There’s also the fact that you only need one SIM and one data contract for both phone and tablet, without any fiddling switching or tethering.
The pad feels as well constructed as any of the Transformer line, which have been excellent to date. It does feel a little weighty with the phone docked, but then you aren’t carrying two seperate devices, so it’s a fair swap we reckon.
We found docking and un-docking the phone easy, you just push it home and shut the door to dock it, which also elicits a little haptic/rumble feedback to let you know you've connected it properly. To udock it you push up the door and that eases the phone smoothly off the connectors, so you won't damage them or the handset with repeated use.
The PadFone at the heart of all this is no slouch. It uses a 1.5GHz top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with a fast Adreno 225 graphics chip. It will come with options for 16, 32 or 64GB of RAM, plus a micro SD slot for more affordable storage expansion. The phone’s screen is an AMOLED qHD (960x540) display, which then upgrades to a 1,280x800 LCD panel when in tablet mode. Asus’s DynamicDisplay technology means that you got a practically seamless switch between phone and tablet, letting you dock the two even while watching HD video.
It also a brilliantly realised handset in its own right. It's good enough to make you wonder why Asus don't make their own range of smartphones. The design cues come from the ZenBook, with a subtle tapering down the length of the handset. The metallic finish on the rear bears the circular pattern that the company has made its trademark, making it look really striking.
Despite all the customization that must have gone into the PadFone, it will be launching with Android 4.0 when it goes on sale in April. No prices have yet been announced.