The PadFone mini is the latest addition to the PadFone series from ASUS, and as the name suggests, the main thrust of the new model is that it is a miniature version of previous ASUS PadFone and PadFone Infinity devices. The main concept of the ASUS PadFone Mini as with previous models, is a combination of both a smartphone and tablet in one seamlessly integrated device. The PadFone mini however attempts this on a smaller scale and at a lower $330 price point.
The PadFone mini from ASUS is the latest in a plethora of mobile devices from ASUS which include previous PadFone devices, Fonepad Phablets, Memo and Zen series series tablets, and more recently ZenFone series Smartphones, plus don’t forget Transformer Pad hybrid laptop/tablets. ASUS is clearly not afraid to mix it up when it comes to form factors, device categories and usage models, which is not surprising thinking back to when they almost single-handedly disrupted the laptop market with their Eee PC netbooks. Let’s a take a look at the Asus PadFone series in isolation and get an idea of where the ASUS PadFone mini fits in.
Before you go ahead and read the full review, check this detailed video review of the ASUS PadFone Mini:
ASUS PadFone: The Back Story
The original ASUS PadFone was released in June 2012 and featured a 4.3” (540 x 960) Smartphone that could be docked with a PadFone Station instantly creating a 10.1” tablet. The hardware integration worked fairly well with the smaller device occupying a compartment on the rear of the tablet station. It was also possible to add a keyboard via what ASUS called a Station Dock, thus offering a phone to tablet, tablet to notebook usage scenario.
ASUS was pretty much the only major player to attempt this kind of device form factor integration at the time, and arguably, although integration continues to be tweaked and improved, the Taiwanese company is still way ahead of most manufacturers in this respect. The R&D involved at this first attempt would mature and improve at the second, but the concept of switchable device screens that could seamlessly move your mobile experience from 4.3” to 10.1” had arrived.
The ASUS PadFone 2 arrived in late 2012. This time the display on the Smartphone was upped to a 4.7” 720p display, again interfacing with a 10.1 PadFone station. The actual device integration was significantly improved so that the Smartphone could simply slide into place on the reverse side of its larger tablet station host. Kudos to ASUS and their R&D dept once again; the new design made it much easier to switch from Smartphone usage to tablet usage in literally one or two seconds.
The ASUS PadFone Infinity was launched in early 2013 and aimed straight for the high-end segment, with generally beefed up specs that included a larger 5” full HD handset running a high-end Snapdragon 600 SoC integrating with a Widescreen 1920 x 1200 IPS display for the PadFone station. The ASUS PadFone Infinity 2 appeared in Q3 2013 and was one of the first devices to debut the Snapdragon 801 processor.
Here’s a table detailing and comparing the key specifications of the ASUS PadFone series:
Note: there are two versions of the ASUS PadFone mini available; one using the Snapdragon 400 processor from Qualcomm, and one using the Intel Clovertrail Atom Z2580 processor. The review sample we used in this article was the Qualcomm version.
ASUS PadFone Series Comparison
|ASUS PadFone||ASUS PadFone 2||ASUS PadFone Infinity||ASUS PadFone Infinity 2||ASUS PadFone mini|
|Phone Display||4.3" Super AMOLED|
540 x 960
|4.7" Super AMOLED|
720 x 1280
|5.0" Super IPS LED|
1920 x 1080
Corning Gorilla Glass
|5.0" Super IPS LED|
1920 x 1080
Corning Gorilla Glass
540 x 960
|Tab Station Display||10.1" IPS|
1280 x 800
1280 x 800
|10.1" IPS |
1920 x 1200
|10.1" IPS |
1920 x 1200
800 x 1280
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon S4|
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 600||Qualcomm Snapdragon 800||Qualcomm Snapdragon 400|
|RAM||1GB DDR2||2GB DDR2||2GB DDR3l||2GB DDR3l||2GB DDR3l|
|Storage||16GB / 32GB / 64GB||16GB / 32GB / 64GB||32GB / 64GB||32GB / 64GB||16GB|
|microSD||Up to 64GB||Up to 64GB||None||Up to 64GB||Up to 64GB|
|Weight||Phone: 129 grams|
Tab Station: 724 grams
|Phone: 135 grams|
Tab Station: 514 grams
|Phone: 141 grams|
Tab Station: 530 grams
|Phone: 145 grams|
Tab Station: 532 grams
|Phone: 105 grams|
Tab Station: 310 grams
|OS||Android 4.1 Jelly Bean||Android 4.1 Jelly Bean||Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean||Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean||Android 4.3 Jelly Bean|
|Battery||1,520mAh + 6,600mAh|
|2140mAh + 5000mAh|
|2,400mAh + 5000mAh|
|2,400mAh + 5000mAh|
|1,500mAh + 2,200mAh|
= 3,700 mAh
The ASUS PadFone mini essentially shrinks down the PadFone concept to offer a 4.3” Smartphone with a 7” inch PadFone station.
Here are the specifications in detail.
The PadFone Mini: Specifications
• 4.3” qHD (960 x 540) IPS Display (Phone)
• Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.4GHz (MSM8226)
• 1GB DDR2L
• 16GB Internal Storage
• microSD up to 64GB
• Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
• Micro USB 2.0
• Bluetooth 4.0
• 8MP Rear Camera (auto-focus + LED Flash)
• 2MP Front Camera
• 129.27 x 65.59 x 8.68 mm
• 105 grams
• 1500 mAh Li-Polymer
• 7” WXGA (1280 x 800) IPS Display
• 199.86 x 119.45 x 17.7 mm
• 310 grams (inc Phone)
• 2,200 mAh Battery
Hardware in Focus
If we look at the PadFone mini as essentially a 4.3” Smartphone and 7” tablet in one, the hardware specs of each device taken in isolation reveals two devices that sit neither at the pinnacle of device design, nor at the bottom end of the spectrum. However, it more than matches most Smartphones in the 4.3” segment with the exception perhaps of a handful of outstanding 4” inch devices such as the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact with its excellent 20MP camera, larger 2GB of RAM and 720p display. To be fair however, the Xperia Z1 Compact is arguably the leader in this space at the moment and the PadFone mini is a special device due to its Smartphone to tablet integration feature.
The 7” LCD display on the PadFone station is similarly some way short of being industry-leading by current or even 2012 standards – if you can imagine the device is probably not on par with the original Google Nexus 7 from mid 2012 which featured a backlit IPS LED with Corning Gorilla Glass and larger 800 x 1200 pixel resolution. The 7” LCD screen on the PadFone mini is not a bad screen by any accounts, but not bleeding edge either when you consider the 2013 Nexus 7 ramps the pixel count up 1,200 x 1,920.
The Snapdragon 400 is a quad-core, 1.2GHz SoC that features Adreno 305 graphics. We’ve seen this SoC before on several devices that include the Samsung Galaxy Grand, the LG G2 mini and the Sony Xperia M2 – none of which are flagship devices.
To summarize, the hardware you’re getting is indicative of the positioning of the device, which in hardware terms alone means it’s actually pretty unexceptional. The place where it really shines is in terms of its flexibility, as a hybrid device that really allows for seamless transitioning from Smartphone to tablet. Let’s take a look at how that works.
Two Form Factors. One Device
The ASUS PadFone range builds its reputation on the fact that it the handset portion of the device, let’s call it the Phone, can also nestle snuggly inside what ASUS refers to as the Pad Station. So what kind of usage scenarios do ASUS envision for a hybrid device? Certainly one idea that they are talking up, is that you have the added mobility of just being able to carry the phone itself when you’re on the move, but with the advantage of being to connect the Phone to the tablet when you arrive back at home or the office.
From personal experience, I have found in the last few weeks that I tend to keep the Phone in my pocket, but then as soon as I get on public transport, arrive at my office or return home, I’ve found that it’s quite natural to simply take out the Pad Station and revert to being a tablet user. This is a pretty balanced way of getting the most out of both usage models.
For the most part, the Phone is what I’m using to communicate while on the go. Writing text messages, checking emails and of course making phone calls, the Phone offers a simple lightweight device that performs admirably at these tasks. But when you really want to enjoy content, and maybe getting down to actually writing a few emails, the 7” tablet form factor is exactly what you need.
Why not just use two devices? This is an interesting question and raises a couple of issues. Firstly, I have previously used a 7” tablet at home for most of what I would call sofa surfing, i.e. the 2nd screen scenario where you are enjoying online content from the comfort of your sofa, TV in the background. I would argue that sofa surfing is the one of the main reasons to own a 7” tablet, but here’s my question? Do you really want your sofa surfing tablet to be connected to (or in fact integrated with) your phone?
Previously the phone and tablet were separate entities for me; the cell phone would act as a conduit for the outside world, allowing my girlfriend or boss to call or text me for example. It’s where the outside world gets in to my home and thusly my head. So the question is this; do I really need that on tablet when I get home?
I guess what I’m saying is, in the last few weeks, I have on occasion yearned for a separation of phone and tablet. Just being able to mute the phone and leave it on the nightstand while enjoying the Internet, or a book, or Facebook on the sofa… I actually started to really miss that guilty pleasure called down time.
Then again, we should see it as a testament to the great usability of the PadFone that you can actually use the device pretty much as advertised. The transition from Phone to Tablet is very smooth and (almost) seamless. Many of the ASUS Zen apps have indeed been optimized to deal with the transition from Phone to Tablet use in very much a seamless way (we have detailed this later in the next section).
By this, I mean that the app has been configured in such a way that it knows how to transition from the 960 x 540 pixel display of the phone, to the 800 x 1200 display of the Tab Station. It knows what to do with the extra pixels and just gets on with the job as smoothly as you could reasonably expect. On average I’d say the actual transition is remarkably fast, taking literally two to three seconds to switch from phone to tablet – tablet to phone.
Not all apps fare so well however, in fact as much as ASUS have done a good job in optimizing the apps that are bundled with their Zen UI but other 3rd Party apps don’t fare as well. Let’s look at this issue in some detail.
ASUS PadFone Mini: Gallery
Phone to Tablet App Transitioning
The list below shows all the apps we tested for phone to tablet device transitioning, divided into three broad groups; ASUS Apps, Google Apps and other 3RD Party Apps.
• Play Music ✓
• Calendar ✓
• Email Client ✓
• Tasks ✓
• File Manager ✓
• Story ✓
• Clock ✓
• Splendid ✓
• Audio Wizard ✓
• Camera ✓
• Gallery ✓
• Browser ✓ note: Reloads page
• Web Storage ✓
• Phone ✓
• SMS Messenger ✓
• Gmail x
• Google Maps x
• Google + x
• Google Translate x
• Google Drive x
• Google Hangouts x
• Chrome x (crashing approx 50%)
• Play Store x
• Youtube x
Other 3rd Party Apps
• WhatsApp x
• Line x
• Skype x
• Facebook x
• Smart Voice Recorder x
• Advanced Task Manager x
As you can see from the data above, with the exception of Chrome which crashes about 50% of the time, the only other apps that handle the transition from phone to tablet and back again, are the pre-loaded ASUS apps. ASUS has clearly optimized these apps to deal with the change in screen resolution (from 960 x 540 to 1280 x 800). All other Google and 3rd party apps basically just close during the transition. You move from phone to tablet and the app simply isn’t running on the other side.
In a way, I guess this means that ASUS can claim you are getting better user experience using their app eco-system. For example, why use the Google Gmail app when the ASUS email client is offering a superior user experience? ASUS may not to be too worried about other apps not being quite so optimized.
ASUS PadFone Benchmarks
|As Phone||As Tablet|
|GFX Bench ALU||1820||1031|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||5784||5539|
Overall the benchmarks show us that the Snapdragon 400 at 14.GHz is by no means sluggish, but it’s also someway off the performance of most high-end Smartphones and tablet products which run Qualcomm’s top tier Snapdragon 800/801 series chips. However, the performance is well within acceptable limits when compared to other mainstream 4.3″ Smartphones, and let’s be honest in terms of core hardware, that is what the PadFone mini is.
We did benchmarking twice; in Phone mode and tablet mode. As one might expect, most tests showed a marginal improvement in performance in Phone mode, essentially in GPU intensive testing, where having fewer pixels to manipulate aids overall performance. However, this performance difference is marginal, and does not change the overall performance bracket of the device.
I really quite like the ASUS Zen UI on the PadFone, and anyone familiar with it from previous devices will again see trade mark ASUS design theory at work. The colorful and bright design is fantastic, and I really enjoy the way the UI will add a vivid, strong looking image to each contact on your phone, a vast improvement to the default profile images that we were used to seeing on Android devices a few years ago – yes, you remember the default Android image, right? Currently the Zen UI has my girlfriend as a leaf with raindrops, while the UI has decided my buddy Garry is more suited to various colored tulips…. Go figure.
As a fan and almost constant proponent of the Cyanogen Mod OSes in the last few months, it’s refreshing to see that ASUS is one vendor that is keen to keep Jelly Bean as slick and fast as it should be. The Snapdragon 400 SoC generally keeps the whole experience as slick as possible, with only a slightly noticeable slow-down when doing serious multi-tasking.
As I mentioned earlier, many of the apps have been optimized for transitioning from phone to tablet usage, including the default keyboard that ASUS is using which offers a larger, full sized button keyboard in tablet mode. Likewise, phone call answering is intelligently configured so that the device will answer with default as speaker-mode when in tablet use, but regular mode when being used as a phone.
Overall the ASUS Zen UI delivers a great Android 4.3 jelly bean experience, and is probably one of the best Android UIs currently on the market. I’d even go as far to say that in the mind of this reviewer, that ASUS is ahead of several players including HTC and Samsung.
In terms of usage the rear 8MP camera presents a very usable and fairly well thought out camera experience. The auto focus is fast and easy to operate with icons that allow easy switching from front to back cameras and video mode. You can see for yourself some of the shots we took with settings on ‘Auto’ mode. Generally speaking the Camera is similar to what you would get on the majority of mid-range Smartphone devices. You can take decent photos if you tweak the settings and have a ounce or two of patience, but if you’re in a low light situation or non-ideal conditions, good quality snaps might prove to tough.
The front facing 2MP camera, like most products of this category, fails to deliver anything approaching good quality snaps or high-quality selfies. It’s also important to note that in tablet mode, the front cam is essentially disabled as the tablet front face features no such camera. It’s almost like ASUS feels the front facing camera needs to be on the spec sheet, but in reality, they know it’s a feature seldom used for anything approaching serious photography. However, some users may feel aggrieved that video calls are basically thrown under the bus.
ASUS PadFone Mini: Camera Shot Gallery
Of course with the ASUS PadFone Mini you are actually getting two batteries; a fairly small 1,500mAh in the phone plus an additional 2,200mAh in the Pad giving you a total of 3,700mAh of juice to keep you running. My testing saw the phone get a full day’s regular usage but heavier users would need a bit of help from a battery pack unfortunately, while the Pad adds and subtracts energy; adding an additional battery but sucking more juice with its larger 7″ screen. If you consider that the Nexus 7 (2013) alone packs a 3950 mAh battery, more than the PadFone Mini in total, you can’t help but ASUS could have added more.
Audio playback quality is pretty standard with the usual common codecs supported including MP3, WAV and eAAC. Video support also includes MP4, H.264, H.263. We found 1080p playback to be smooth without issue. The internal speakers of the phone itself are loud enough for ringtones, alarms and such but for audio playback leave a lot to be desired compared to devices the HTC One and other high-end devices. However this is remedied somewhat when you employ the Tab Station in tablet mode, with a beefier, bassier overall sound. I also like that the ‘Play Music’ app seamlessly transitions from one mode to the next, only stopping the music for a second or two.
Pricing and Availability
The ASUS PadFone Mini is currently still not widely available, as far as we know few carriers have opted for the device globally. Here in Taiwan the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 version can be had for a snip under NT10,000, which is around $330 US. This is pretty aggressive pricing for a hybrid device, but is also indicative of just how aggressive the entry-to-mid range tablet and smartphone markets have become.
At one end you have devices like the HTC Desire 500 which approximatley $200, where as the high end is only another $100 up from the PadFone Mini in the shape of the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – a classy wee device. ASUS themselves have a great value offering with their ZenFone line up, including the ZenFone 5 for around $200. In the 7″ tablet space we have the vastly superior Nexus 7, also developed by ASUS.
The ASUS PadFone mini is a unique product on the market right now (or at least when it finally become available) carrying the innovative PadFone concept to more price conscious, smaller form factor segment of the mobile market. The specs have been pared down compared to previous iterations of PadFone, but I am sure ASUS felt that they had to remain within the broader price of the 4.3″ and 7″ device strata. I am also convinced that strategically ASUS felt the device needed to be competitive on price to entice end-users to its more radical design approach.
The hardware build quality of the device is as you would now expect from ASUS, pretty good. I would still argue that their zenith so far was the original Nexus 7 tablet, but considering the R&D involved to create these hybrid devices, and the relatively seamless transitioning they have achieved, you get the feeling that ASUS are stretching their muscles with the PadFone Mini.
I can’t help feeling that the ASUS PadFone in its ‘mini’ form kind of takes the PadFone brand to new places; cheaper places. The is always a risk when you work hard to create a halo product brand such as ASUS, escalate it to the top of your product portfolio as the ASUS Infinity successfully did, and then change tactic somewhat and develop a cheaper, smaller device under the same roof.
For me, it’s almost typical of the aggressive nature of many Taiwanese companies who are, by their very nature, incredibly sales-oriented. The ASUS marketing department may well squealed in opposition to the PadFone mini, after having created a high-end device segment they could call their own, why cheapen it?
Credit must go to ASUS who are proving to be a company that is willing to take risks and develop truly unique, and potentially game-changing devices. They did it back in the day with the Eee PC, and it is fantastic to see them continue the journey.
In terms of genuine daily usage, I have been impressed with PadFone mini overall and certainly recommend it to any user who want these two particular form factors in one device. If that is your ideal device, then there is only one choice – the PadFone mini.