It’s a phone, it’s a tablet, it’s a netbook – no wait – it’s the ASUS PadFone! This mighty little device can transform itself from a 4.3 inch smartphone, to a 10 inch tablet and then, with the addition of a keyboard, a netbook. The versatility of the PadFone’s design is an idea out of the future. As this technology evolves, I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies follow suit. Yes, the morphability of the PadFone is undoubtedly impressive, but what about the handset itself? How does it stand on its own? The PadFone has the makings of an incredible device. It’s very light weight, only 9.22 millimeters thin and its Snapdragon S4 dual core processor really packs a punch. Curious to learn more about this transformative smartphone? Keep on reading.
Look & Feel
The PadFone feels well built and sturdy. This isn’t one of those paper light phones that puts you off, nor is it a heavy bulky phone. It’s very comfortable to hold in your hands and the textured back adds to its appeal. I don’t have big hands by any means and I can handle larger phones like the Galaxy Note and Nexus, but sometimes the larger phones feel clumsy in my hands. The PadFone straddles the line between so small you drop it, and so big you can’t hold it and check the notifications bar at the same time. It really is the perfect size for men or women with average size hands. Often smaller handsets don’t get top of the line specs, but you don’t have to worry about that with the PadFone. This handset is small and mighty.
padfone back ASUS PadFone Review   Station, Dock & Smartphone
The PadFone has all the bells and whistles you’d expect on a smartphone of its caliber. Instead of the volume rocker button we usually see on smartphones, the PadFone actually has two separate buttons for volume control. The buttons rest in a metal band that encircles the phone, tapering down to an elegant point at the end of the handset. There is a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack right next to the power button on the top of the phone. On the left side, we have the Micro USB and Micro HDMI ports which connect to the PadFone Station. It’s easy to access the 1,520mAh battery by removing the back cover.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R460qEgTkLQ
As far as connectivity is concerned, the PadFone has HSPA+, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, GPS and A-GPS. The Micro SD slot allows for up to 32 GB storage and with ASUS Webstorage, an additional 32 GB free for 3 years. At a time when everybody is popping out 720p displays, ASUS has decided on a qHD 960×540, 4.3″ Super AMOLED display. The colors are vibrant and you’ll have no trouble reading the display in the sunlight when its in outdoor mode. The display is scratch resistant Gorilla Glass with HCLR Film.
padfone side ASUS PadFone Review   Station, Dock & Smartphone

Perhaps the biggest downside of the design is the excessive branding. ASUS has chosen to place their logo at the bottom on the front of the handset and in addition, has branded the back with “PadFone”. I would have liked to see a lower price at the register if I’m going to become a walking advertisement.

ASUS PadFone Review – Station, Dock & Smartphone

Display

The Padfone has a 4.3-inch qHD Super AMOLED capacitive multi-touch display with a 960×540 pixel resolution and a pixel density of 256 ppi. The outdoor mode bumps up the brightness well enough that we don’t miss the Plus at the end of the Super AMOLED display as much as expected. Although 720p displays are all the rage, until games and video are ready for the HD format, the extra pixels are actually not necessary. The grain and polish of video is virtually identical. And if you’re looking for an excuse to upgrade your phone in a few years, the low resolution will justify the purchase.

The PadFone does have a Pentile display, which means that some of the pixels have only 1 color component instead of the 3 that are standard. The Samsung Galaxy Note has the same type of display and unless you’re a fanatic about your pixels, it really won’t make too much of a difference.

Camera

padfone caemra 2 ASUS PadFone Review   Station, Dock & Smartphone

When you read the specifications, it’s clear the PadFone has a spectacular camera. It has an 8MP backside-illuminated (BSI) sensor, F2.2 aperture and a 5-Element lens. In the daytime, it looks great, but as the sun goes down or lighting conditions become less than optimal, you notice immediately that the camera isn’t up to snuff. Check out our camera review for more details and also, the video below:

Performance

The PadFone is certainly not lacking in power. ASUS wanted to make a big statement with the PadFone and they made an excellent choice with the Qualcomm dual core Snapdragon S4 processor. The Snapdragon S4 8260A (Cortex A15) runs at 1.5 GHz and provides a silky smooth performance. When docked into the Station there are no issues whatsoever with performance. The Padfone is the king of the castle scoring 2554 in the Vellamo benchmark. The handset scored 5057 in Quadrant. In that respect, it’s ahead of the HTC One X which scored 4025 and the Nexus at 2048. For complete benchmarks, click here.

Software

We are very pleased that ASUS kept the modifying to a minimum in regards to Android 4.0. The few additional widgets, email app and dynamic switching when you want to dock the phone into the tablet, just add to the experience. If you prefer Android apps and widgets to the customized ones, they’re easy to remove. What’s really interesting here is dynamic switching. It allows you to seamlessly use applications between smartphone and tablet.

ASUS altered the pull-down notification tab. They added a row of quick settings to toggle, like a shortcut to toggle the outdoor mode which lets you crank up the display brightness. ASUS also added an extra column in the apps and widget section since you can download both tablet and smartphone apps with the PadFone. The “Pad Only” section is for tablet-specific apps so that you don’t confuse them with your normal smartphone apps. This is easily done when the phone is docked in the tablet. All you have to do is drag an app from the home screen to the top right hand corner of the display where you’ll find the option to add a “Pad-Only app tag” which palces the app in the Pad Only section. If you want to remove it from this section, just drag it out from the tab onto the home screen.

The fun continues with additional customizations in the Settings tab. You can take screenshots by holding the Recent Apps key and switching between the three system modes (Power Saving, Balanced and Performance). I tested both modes and found that performance mode had me looking for an outlet to charge up before I went out for the evening. Power saving mode allowed for all day email use, light internet use, 2 hours of music playback and 1 hour of music streaming. The speaker on the Padfone is not that great and the sound is most definitely not rich and has no bass, but it’s better than nothing.

Check out our video to see how Dynamic Switching works:

PadFone Station

Why have three different devices when one killer accessory will do? It’s a brilliant concept. The PadFone Station has a 10 inch tablet that looks a lot like its cousin the Transformer, it just doesn’t have a processor! You dock your phone in to charge the tablet and all your content on the PadFone, shows up on the tablet. No second SIM card, no battery tethering necessary – it’s totally streamlined.

padfone dock ASUS PadFone Review   Station, Dock & Smartphone

Great concept, but the weight of the PadFone, tablet and docking station combined is a little too much to be comfortable. The tablet itself is way heavier than most tablets on the market at 742g. In comparison, the Transformer Pad Prime weighs only 586g. The Station does come with a huge 6,600mAh battery built and is great for charging your phone. But once you add your phone to the tablet it tips the scales at 853g. I found my hands getting tired quickly and I kept looking for different ways to hold it.

If you’re looking for a lightweight couch surfing tablet, this one probably isn’t for you. But I have high hopes for the second generation.

PadFone Docking Station

If you’re really interested in a smartphone that turns into a netbook, then I’m back on board for you picking up the Station. With the phone and docking station combined, this is definitely a thicker heavier version of the Transformer. It’s more similar to the original Transformer then the Prime in terms of form. We’ve actually already tested the original docking station and it works, check out our detailed article here for more information on that.

But if you’re considering the PadFone because you want it to be a tablet too…well then you should save your money for a different device. The docking station is too thick and heavy to be useful as a tablet. It doesn’t fit easily into a purse or man-bag, but the next generation will be interesting if they can cut it down to size. The ecosystem needs work and there are only a hand-full of apps that take advantage of the dynamic duo. I recommend the phone itself, but I’m hesitant to recommend the Docking Station at this stage.

padfone ASUS PadFone Review   Station, Dock & Smartphone

Conclusion

The ASUS Padfone is thin, light and powerful. It has all the features that make up a dream smartphone, but like any phone, it’s not perfect. There is too much branding on the phone. One branding would have sufficed. We find the concept fascinating, but we think it needs to slim down a lot before it becomes practical. On paper, the camera should be one of the best on the market, but its performance is lackluster. It will do, but you won’t be leaving your point and shoot at home.

We do love the performance. The pure form of Android 4.0 with useful software additions is great and the display is gorgeous. Those are actually three really important things, so I’m going to say them again, the Ice Cream Sandwich version is fantastic, it runs as smooth as butter and the display is viewable in full direct sunlight.

The 4.3 inch size will appeal to a wider demographic of users than the larger phones that seem to be flooding the market. It has an elegant design, but the build is robust and to top it off, it has a gorilla glass display. The phone does heat up, but so do all others with amped up processors.

At the end of the day, we recommend the phone, but we think you can pass on the Station & Dock. ASUS will do better in the next generation.

If you haven’t had enough, here is our unboxing video!

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