Most of the people I meet have both a smartphone and some sort of tablet, myself included. Whether they’re using their tablet for games, emails, surfing the web, reading books, or just want to look cool, it’s often a chore to carry two devices around. So wouldn’t it be simpler if we could have one device that functioned both as a smartphone and a tablet? Of course, there are a number of tablets in the market currently that have calling capabilities, but what if you want to go out and not lug around a 7” tablet that’s trying to masquerade as a phone? Well, it seems like the geniuses at ASUS have hit the nail on the head, with the ASUS PadFone 2.
Build quality & design
The PadFone 2 is a follow up from the original PadFone, which was met with quite positive feedback despite having a few flaws to work around. Now ASUS have polished up the PadFone and made a model that will silence almost any critic of the first version. The PadFone is a beast of a smartphone that easily slides into the back of the PadFone 2 Station to transform into a tablet. It’s a genius idea because your data is technically only on one device but accessible on either screen. Going out? Grab the PadFone 2. Want to watch some HD video? Slide it into the Station for full-screen bliss. It’s a seamless switch from one form to the other, with the screen taking a mere second or two to turn on.
The build quality of the PadFone 2 is superb – the back is decorated with concentric rings that give it an interesting yet sturdy grip in your hand. The front is dominated by the large 4.7” screen, and around the edge you’ll find the headphone jack, SIM tray, power button, volume rocker, and charging port. Unfortunately you don’t have access to the PadFone’s battery, nor is there the option for additional microSD storage, which is a bit of a bummer.
Likewise the PadFone 2 Station is also sturdily built, with just a power button at the top and volume rocker. The back has a slight matte finish to it, which again helps to keep a firm grip. At the back you’ll also find the special groove for sliding in the PadFone 2 – this again is an excellent example of ASUS’ engineering, as once the phone slides in, special connectors at the bottom and rubber points at the side keep the phone from falling out, no matter how vigorously you shake the device.
Benchmarks and Performance
Powering the PadFone 2 is the Quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait processor, which when coupled with Android Jelly Bean makes for a blazing-fast user experience. Apps fire up almost instantly, and running several programs in the background proved to be a walk in the park for the PadFone 2. No matter what app I ran, whether the device was docked or not, there were zero delays.
You also have something called ‘Dynamic Display’, which is a rather interesting trick for when you’re docking the PadFone 2 into the Station. All it means is that as soon as the phone is docked, whatever content that was on your screen will appear uninterrupted on the larger tablet screen. By default this is turned on only for select apps, so most of the time docking your PadFone 2 will present you with the unlock screen on the tablet. But turn it on and you can watch a video clip on YouTube and then seamlessly continue watching in on the larger screen as soon as you dock the PadFone 2.
UI and Apps
ASUS has kept the PadFone 2 UI as close to the stock Android as possible, which is a huge bonus. There are a few subtle tweaks here and there, but nothing too overwhelming. ASUS have however included a few interesting features of their own in the PadFone 2. The first is the inclusion of floating widgets. These widgets consist of a calculator, calendar, email, dictionary, buddy list, and the audio wizard. Each of these widgets can be activated when the PadFone 2 is docked, and the corresponding widget then floats on the screen, on top of other running apps and the interface. I’m not sure if you’d want to have a floating app on your screen all the time, but at least the option is there for those who choose to use it. The Audio Wizard from ASUS is a no-nonsense way to quickly adjust to what you’re listening to. A simple tap will let you toggle different listening modes so that your audio experience is flawless. The effect is certainly noticeable, with most tracks benefiting from the Audio Wizard’s adjustments. You also have access to a dockable dictionary and translator, that instantly lets you translate or look up words by simply highlighting them on the screen.
There are a number of other apps that ASUS has thrown in, such as an advanced photo gallery, App Backup, App Locker, a DLNA player, and a few others. You also have access to 50GB of free ASUS WebStorage, which lets you upload photos and documents to an online cloud storage, similar to DropBox. Presumably ASUS is including this to make up for the omission of a microSD slot for extra storage.
Screen and Camera
Regardless of which display you want to be using, the PadFone 2 looks crisp and clear. The PadFone 2’s 4.7″ Super IPS+ display sports a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels, which may not be on par with some of the recent smartphones, but still manages to offer great screen brightness and contrast. Both video and pictures looked clear on the PadFone 2, and even in sunlight the screen was quite legible, compared to other smartphones I’ve recently tested. When the PadFone 2 is docked into the Station, the image quality does drop very slightly – the 10” display has a resolution of only 1,280×800, which can be bested by most recent smartphones. Despite this, the 10” screen is a much better platform to view videos on or for reading and web browsing.
The 13 megapixel camera on the PadFone 2 is great, offering a good balance between colors and image exposure. You also have a burst mode that is automatically enabled if you hold down the on-screen shutter button; after you release the button you can simply mark which pictures you’d like to keep and discard the rest. There’s also a number of very cool effects that you can automatically apply to your photos – I especially liked the Dropper filter which lets you automatically pick out only certain colors in your photos.
Sound & Call Quality
Audio quality on the PadFone 2 was quite decent. With the Audio Wizard enabled, I was able to enjoy quite wholesome-sounding tracks, though I have to comment that when headphones are plugged in the Audio Wizard automatically switches off. Using the PadFone 2’s speakerphone resulted in crisp and clear audio, and my callers said they could hear me perfectly even in slightly noisy environments. When docked, the PadFone 2 has to rely on the Station’s single speaker, but even though you don’t have stereo speakers, the Audio Wizard helps to deliver a surprisingly loud and enjoyable listening experience.
Heat levels & Battery Life
Despite having a monster processor under the hood, the PadFone 2 never felt very warm despite the numerous apps I was running on it. Even when docked and running HD videos, the PadFone 2 was barely lukewarm, which was a pleasant discovery. Battery life on the PadFone 2 is phenomenal, given that the PadFone 2 automatically charges when it’s docked into the Station. On average the PadFone 2 should last about nine hours with Smart Saving mode turned on, and docked into the Station. Of course there are further tweaks that you can do to extend this battery life even more, but from a starting point the PadFone 2 has some pretty impressive battery life to boot.
The ASUS PadFone 2 is in a few words, one of the best devices I’ve had the joys of playing around with. It seamlessly flips between being a smartphone and a tablet without compromising on performance or user experience. If there was only a matching physical keyboard dock, then this would be the ultimate transformer, but as it stands the ASUS PadFone 2 is one heck of a device. Despite not having additional storage or a better screen resolution, the PadFone 2 is a great buy for anyone looking to have the best of both the tablet and smartphone world in one device.