[MWC 2013] In Barcelona, ASUS has landed a big announcement (and product) with the new Padfone smartphone/tablet combo. It’s not that we did not expect this new product, since ASUS launched the whole concept here at a previous Mobile World Congress, but we did not expect this level of craftsmanship which is absolutely stunning: ASUS has simply outdone itself with this ultra high-end design, and a unique concept.
The Padfone concept is simple: rather than owning a smartphone and a tablet, and thus worry about transferring/synchronizing your content and apps from one to the other, what about putting the brains of your smartphone in the body of a tablet when the time and place are suited for a more comfortable use? This is exactly what this combo has been built for, and it performs without any compromise, thanks to the latest generation of mobile hardware (here, a Snapdragon S600 processor).
Industrial Design (beautiful, solid)
This is truly the highlight of this design, especially when it comes to the smartphone itself. ASUS is using a unibody aluminum design (dark gray) that looks amazing, and feels great in the hand – it is really light too. As usual, the front is pretty much all glass, but the back and the sides are made of aluminum and the minimalist design looks really good. It feels very “high-quality” or “premium”, however you want to call it.
The smartphone supports NFC, and I really like how ASUS has used its backside logo as an antenna: it’s a great functional design feature. Talking about small details, I also like how “crisp” the power and volume controls buttons are. I use the Power button dozens of times a day, so it’s very annoying when it is too recessed, for “aesthetics reasons”.
Tablet: Because it needs to host the smartphone’s body, the tablet can’t be as thin as a regular iPad or something of that caliber. This is a necessary trade-off that you will have to accept if you are to use this combo. In the back, the tablet does not have the same aluminum treatment as the phone, but a soft-touch surface instead. It provides additional grip in my opinion, but I’ll let you decide on whether or not you like the mix. I find iPads to be slippery with the aluminum back, but on the other hand, the aluminum would look good and consistent.
The displays for both the tablet and smartphone are 1080p (1920×1080 pixels), and are high-quality with maybe an advantage for the smartphone, which had better contrast than the tablet when I used both options. The view angle was very nice, and while I’m not sure if this is an IPS display, it certainly looks like one. The tablet screen is very nice too, but the black levels aren’t as good relative to the smartphone, which is a pity since you may watch movies on it — but in absolute terms, it’s still very decent.
The overall system performance was really good, the new generation of smartphone is definitely capable of super-fluid scrolling , and this was one of the smoothest Android user interface that we’ve seen so far. Since Android 4.1, and the Google butter-smooth project, things had taken a turn for the best, but we are now entering into a solid 60FPS user interface on Android and that feels great.
Given that the Snapdragon S600 scores around 12000 in the Quadrant benchmark, it’s clear that this device should do well in a classic suite of tests, whether they are gaming-related or system-performance related.
Given that ASUS is going to sell this combo for $999 or so, this may be not something that everyone can afford, or need for that matter. I think that the company is pretty honest about it and sees the Padfone as one specific tool among many others in their overall offering. You can imagine that if you use public transportation during a significant portion of your day, you may want to be in “tablet mode” when you are sitting in a train/bus, and use the phone while walking around or waiting on a platform. Parents who are accompanying their kids to many activities may want a tablet during the wait periods.
The important part is that people don’t need to worry about synchronizing the data between two devices, and not having to backup/setup two devices. Although it is (barely) possible to do so, most people don’t make the effort of setting up something so that things look, feel and are essentially the same on two devices. Just to take a simple example: none of my devices have apps at the exact same location, and it can be annoying sometime. For a person who doesn’t want to spend time on setup and ongoing synchronization, a phone/tablet combo can be invaluable.
I liked the idea of the first and second Padfone, but this time ASUS really nailed the experience in both smartphone and tablet mode. Both are fast and smooth, and switching from one to the other is quick and seamless. This is the basic promise of the device, and although it’s not meant to be for everyone, what we have experienced at Mobile world Congress shows that it works the way people would expect it to, and that’s why it’s a great design.
To be honest, I would really (really!) want ASUS to sell the smartphone as a stand-alone device, and the tablet as an option. This would be good for them too, since the handset is so nice. But that’s up to them… I know that someone at ASUS is reading this… What do you think? Leave a comment below.