By now, you’ve probably heard of phablets — those mobile devices that aim to marry the benefits of a smartphone (portability) and tablet (large screen) into a single gadget. Maybe your friend has one, or maybe you’ve considered getting one yourself. After all, the idea of buying one device instead of two is certainly appealing. But Taiwanese electronics company Asus has another take on that idea.
Coming to AT&T later this month is the Asus PadFone X. At its core is a five-inch Android smartphone that offers many of the features you’d find in today’s high-end models like a full HD display, quad-core processor and a 13-megapixel camera. The difference here is that the phone can be transformed into a nine-inch tablet when docked into an accompanying accessory.
The latter, which Asus calls the PadFone Station, is simply a shell of a tablet and doesn’t work until you insert the phone into a slot on the back of the device. Once docked, you can view everything you have on your phone on a larger screen and connect to the Internet via AT&T’s cellular network or Wi-Fi. The tablet will even provide extra battery power for your phone.
The PadFone has actually been out for a while in other parts of the world, with several models before it. But this is the first time Asus is bringing it to the U.S. It’s a good concept in theory, but one I found a bit flawed in execution.
For example, some apps aren’t optimized for the bigger display, which make them frustrating to navigate and interact with. Also, the tablet is pretty clunky and hefty. Plus, it’s not really reducing the number of gadgets you have to carry with you, so you’d probably be better off going with a standalone smartphone and tablet, which can provide a better experience.
All that said, the PadFone X might be appealing to those on a budget. At $200 with a two-year service agreement, it costs the same as the Apple iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S5, but you’re getting two devices for the price of one. Also, you don’t have to get a separate data plan for the tablet. Just be mindful of how much data you’re consuming in order to avoid costly overage fees, or make sure you choose an adequate plan.
The PadFone X will be available for preorder starting June 6. In addition to buying on contract, you can purchase it on AT&T’s Next program for $29.80 per month if you choose the 12-month option or $22.92 per month with the 18-month plan.
The smartphone part of the PadFone X works fine, but it falls short of other top Android devices like the HTC One and Galaxy S5. The five-inch, 1080p display is sharp and bright, and the slightly tapered back makes the phone comfortable to hold. But the overall design is bland, and its plastic design doesn’t compare to the One’s all-aluminum finish.
I took some pictures with the PadFone’s main 13-megapixel camera, and while photos taken outdoors looked nice, indoor and low-light shots came out dull. Plus, the camera app doesn’t offer the breadth of editing features available on the Galaxy S5 like HDR preview or refocus.
The PadFone X runs the latest version of Google’s Android operating system (KitKat 4.4.2), and Asus has largely left the user interface alone. But the phone is cluttered with extraneous apps from AT&T. Things like AT&T Family Map for keeping track of kids might be useful to parents, but not so much if you don’t have children. Thankfully, you can disable these apps in the Settings menu.
Call quality was good with clear audio and little background noise. With a quad-core processor from Qualcomm, the smartphone performed smoothly. But I ran into a couple of hiccups once I docked the phone into the tablet.
Before I get to that, though, let me back up a bit and talk about the docking process. It’s really quite simple. You just slide the phone into the pocket carved out into the back of the PadFone Station (with the screen facing in) and press down. Once connected, you’ll feel a little vibration as confirmation and within seconds, you should see your phone’s screen mirrored onto the tablet’s nine-inch, 1,920 by 1,200 pixel display.
The transition was very smooth in my experience, but working on the tablet was another story. First, the tablet is pretty heavy once you have the phone docked into it. Together, the contraption weighs about 1.47 pounds. By comparison, the iPad Air weighs 1.05 pounds and the Nexus 10 weighs 1.32 pounds. Plus, the PadFone X slightly protrudes in the back where the phone sits.
Also, some apps don’t display correctly with the PadFone X in tablet mode. For example, I had Instagram open on the phone and after docking it to the tablet, I got an alert saying that I had to a) restart the app or b) add it to a Dynamic Display list, which is supposed to automatically adjust the app’s layout the next time you dock it into the PadFone Station. In another instance, I launched Twitter and was greeted by an enlarged version of the phone app, with a bunch of white space on the sides when viewed in landscape mode.
In each case, the app still worked, but it wasn’t a very elegant solution. And going back to the performance issue, I found that navigating some of these apps and scrolling through websites wasn’t very fluid.
Asus claims that battery life for just the phone is upward of 20 hours. I didn’t run a formal battery test, but with moderate usage, I was able to go a full day before needing to recharge the phone. The company says the PadFone Station can extend battery life up to 54 hours.
Like a lot of two-in-one devices, the price of convenience comes with sacrifices. Asus PadFone X isn’t an exceptional smartphone nor is it an outstanding tablet. But if you want both and don’t have a lot of cash to spend, it’s certainly worth consideration.