Asus Fonepad review
If you've never heard of a phablet then meet the Asus Fonepad. Read our Asus Fonepad review to find out what the cheesy name is all about. See also Group test: what's the best cheap tablet PC?
First off, do not confuse the Fonepad with the Asus Padfone. Asus' Padfone was a smartphone that slotted into a tablet docking station; the Fonepad is a tablet with a SIM card slot and the ability to make phone calls. It wants to compete with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0.
You'd be forgiven for mistaking the Fonepad for the Google Nexus 7 - they look extremely similar in appearance. Both are 7in tablets, using the same screen in the same shape. One subtle difference on the front is the ear-piece so you can hear the person on the other end of the phone.
Whether you feel comfortable holding a 7in device up to your face to make a phone call is the key question here. Many people laughed at us when we introduced our new phone to them. You can, of course, use speakerphone but this isn't ideal for many situations. So Asus UK supplied our review unit with a Plantronics Voyager Legend UC Bluetooth earpiece, which says quite a lot about whether you're really supposed to hold it like a regular phone.
The Fonepad is pretty thin and light at 10.9mm and 317g, making it easy to hold in one hand like the Nexus 7. It felt less unwieldy than the larger Galaxy Note 8.0. However, at 7in the Fonepad is a small tablet but a huge phone. It's not really pocket-sized (only for men's trousers and even then it's very awkward) which means you'll need to carry it around in bag. In turn, this makes it difficult to know when you're being called or have received a text message or similar notification.
What it does do is solve the problem of having to spend much money to be able to own a smartphone and tablet. At £179 we can see this as a viable option for those wanting a value hybrid offering. The Galaxy Note 8.0 is likely to be a much more expensive option.
The backside of the Fonepad looks quite different to the dotted rubber of the Nexus 7 though. It has a metal rear cover which comes in two colours - Titanium Gray and Champagne Gold. The metal finish gives the device a more premium feel than the Nexus 7.
Build quality is good for the price despite a couple of minor downsides. The Fonepad is quite flexible and the metal rear cover doesn't sit flush with the plastic edging all the way around.
Asus Fonepad: Hardware and performance
Component specifications are a little different to the Nexus 7. In its favour, it's rocking the same spec 7in IPS display with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, but internal components are altered.
The Asus Fonepad is powered by an Intel Atom Z2420, a dual-core PC processor clocked at 1.2GHz, backed with 1GB of memory. The tablet – sorry, phablet – runs Google Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean) reasonably well but there is lag present occasionally.
The shortfall in performance was reflected in our benchmarks tests too. The Fonepad could only manage a score of 557 points in Geekbench 2, where in general we're used to scores well above 1000 points.
It also failed to impress on the graphics side with a framerate of just 12 fps in GLBenchmark. This is only a couple of fps short of the Nexus 7 and isn't too bad for a budget tablet. But it does mean some games won’t run as smoothly as you’ll see on the premium devices.
The Fonepad is available in 8 GB or 16 GB capacities; the £179 price is for the larger of the two options. Unlike the Nexus 7, there's a microSDHC card slot for expansion (up to 32GB cards). Also included is 5GB of Asus WebStorage, free for life.
There's little else remarkable about hardware apart from the typical single-band 11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0 and GPS. It's worth noting that the Fonepad doesn't support 4G LTE networks.
Asus Fonepad: Camera
Unlike the model we saw back at MWC in 2012, the UK model of the Fonepad that finally appeared doesn't include a rear-facing camera. It only has a 1.3Mp front-facing camera for videos calls. This camera is reasonably good, although nothing to get excited about.
The lack of a rear camera may prove a big omission, considering most smartphone users rely on their phone's camera for day-to-day snaps. You'll have to be prepared for the sacrifice in this area if the Fonepad is really going to replace your smartphone and tablet.
Asus Fonepad: Software
Asus has loaded the Fonepad with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), which is almost the latest version. However, it's not quite vanilla Android as we saw on the Nexus 7. The interface is closer to that of Asus' Transformer Pad range of tablets – and quite good looking for it.
Everything is where we would expect it to be. And there's an extra button alongside the usual back, home and menu.
This extra button is for Floating Apps, which is a bit like having separate windows on your PC desktop.
Apps must be coded to work this way but there's a fairly wide choice of what you can have floating around the Android OS, such as Sticky Memos, Dictionary, Calculator and Browser. You can also switch many of them into full screen if you wish.
Asus adds some of its own apps alongside the usual Google services and third-party apps like Zinio and Amazon Kindle.
Asus Studio and Asus Story are both nice additions letting you edit photos and collate them into a digital book respectively.
Editing is a bit slow due to the mediocre performance of the device, though. And we're not so keen on BuddyBuzz which is yet another social-network aggregator – combining feeds from numerous social networks just doesn't make sense to us anyway.
Something more unusual is Asus Splendid which allows you to adjust the screen settings like saturation, temperature and hue.
We didn't find ourselves needing to make any changes but it’s a nice feature if you want to customise the look of the screen.
Asus Fonepad: Battery life
Inside the Fonepad is 16Wh lithium-polymer battery. Like most tablets, it's non-removable. The battery did seem to hold its charge well – over the course of 6 hours of medium usage with power-saving set to ‘optimised’ we lost around 20 percent of the battery.
If you're only going to use the Fonepad occasionally then you could well get two days out of it. However, if you're going to use the device for the kinds of tasks you would use a smartphone and a tablet combined, you're unlikely to get more than a day’s use out of it. See also: What's the best tablet PC?
For those genuinely interested in a phablet, the Asus Fonepad is a bit of a bargain. It does the job of two devices for a budget price. However, you'll need to be prepared to make sacrifices including practicality and, in this case, no rear camera and slower performance issues. Not to mention the inevitable Dom Jolly impression, should you decide to use as a phone without a separate earpiece.