At long last, the Asus PadFone 2 is here. The transforming phone/tablet is on sale in the UK, months after its big reveal last year - and it’s got strong competition, from Android phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 to full-on Apple iPads. Can a slate with a pop out smartphone stand on its own in 2013? And does it stand a chance with an asking price of £600? We find out.
Here’s how it works: all the software and processing power is in the phone, which behaves like a normal Android 4.1 smartphone. Slot it into the accompanying tablet though, and all your apps and websites pop open on a larger 10.1-inch display - you can then send text messages and even take calls through the speakerphone. Better yet, the tablet has an extra battery inside it for all day use.
Now, the first PadFone had some problems - not least how fiddly it was to pop the flap at the back open and slap the phone inside. The good news is that Asus has all but eliminated these issues with the PadFone 2, which uses a simple slot in the back to hold the phone.
It’s a bit thick in the middle, but there’s not really any avoiding that - it has to house a 9mm thick phone, after all. As a phone, it’s pretty decent - the 4.7-inch HD screen is sharp, and the quad-core 1.5GHz processor handles all the latest apps and games smoothly, and since it acts as the camera for the slate too, the solid thirteen megapixel sensor might just make it the best tablet camera ever.
As a tablet, it’s impressive too: the firm plastic frame is easy to hold and use, and clutter free. That’s also courtesy of Asus’ software - it looks like untarnished Android, but the Taiwanese tech giant’s had to do a lot of work under the hood to make it work as two different screen resolutions so seamlessly. Everything’s been well thought out, from the ability to field calls in tablet mode, right down to the battery life - you can see how much is left in both parts, have the tablet charge up the phone, or held back in reserve.
It’s very smart, and it makes sense - over the course of a few days, it became second nature to carry it about, keeping the tablet section of the PadFone 2 in the bag for use on the sofa in the evening, or on the train home.
The Asus PadFone 2 is well executed, but it still lacks a few tech specs to match its rivals. The phone lacks the svelte beauty of rivals like the HTC One, the tablet display’s 1280x800 resolution looks a bit grainy next to a super sharp iPad 4 or Google Nexus 10, and it doesn’t run the latest Android 4.2 out of the box - though to Asus’ credit it’s been very swift with updates in the past.
The bigger problem however is simply the concept: if you don’t fancy lugging a separate tablet around with you, or having to field calls through it if someone calls you while the phone is docked, or having a tablet with a slot at the back for an entire phone, you’re simply never going to enjoy the PadFone. If you can overlook all that though, you’ll have a blast.
A lot of readers have also asked about battery life - and with a total of 6,140mAh of battery split between the phone and the tablet, powering the tablet, it lasts for several movies on end, much like other high end Android tablets, and the full fat iPad.
Here’s the thing about it though: since it’s a phone at its core, you have to think about it battery life in the same way. It’s not like an iPad, which you can leave on standby for even weeks on end - it’s a phone pulling down email and Twitter updates around the clock, and while the tablet’s extra juice means you can always get through a day, you will ultimately need to charge it up every night to be safe.
The bottom line
We have to admit, we had reservations about the PadFone concept - it just seems a bit impractical. Yet given the constraints, Asus has made it work as well as it possibly could - and if you’re the sort prepared to buy a phone SIM-free rather than on contract, its £599 pricetag isn’t extortionate, especially if you compare it to the price of an iPhone and an iPad. It’s one for Android fans and bleeding edge tech chasers only, sure - but if you fall into either camp you’ll likely fall in love with the PadFone 2.