Asus Fonepad review

Asus, as a company, is crazy. I’m not saying that because I want to get sued; I mean it affectionately, because out of crazy ideas sometimes come great new product concepts. There’s no doubting that there’s more than a little bit of crazy behind the Fonepad concept. It’s a smartphone… in the body of a small tablet.

Asus Fonepad: On the plus side

Android devices typically run on ARM processors, because that’s what they do, right? Well, they don’t have to, and the Fonepad isn’t running on ARM; instead, underneath its plastic skin you’ll find an Intel Atom 1.2GHz or 1.6GHz processor, depending on the storage underlying the model you buy. Atom’s whole raison d’être is power efficiency, and this it does on the Fonepad about as well as any smartphone I’ve ever encountered. A day’s usage? No problem at all. Two days? Entirely feasible, even three with very light usage.

This is not a logo you see on the back of all that many Android phones.
This is not a logo you see on the back of all that many Android phones.

Asus is also the OEM behind the Nexus 7 tablet, and it really shows in the Fonepad, as they’re clearly from the same design studio. The Fonepad doesn’t have the rubberised back of the Nexus 7, opting instead for smooth plastic, but the overall visual impact of that design choice is to make the Fonepad look more more like a premium device.
One of these things is a phone. One isn't. Can you pick which is which?
One of these things is a phone. One isn’t. Can you pick which is which?

Oh, and it’s a phone.
Yep, a phone. That’s the crazy part of the Fonepad’s value offering, because while it looks like a Nexus 7, it makes phone calls once you drop a microSIM inside it. What’s more, they’re pretty decent phone calls; I’ve used it as a speakerphone and paired with a Bluetooth headset, and for those kinds of purposes, it works quite well. 7 inches is also a decent sweet spot for actual tablet use, which is why people generally love larger smartphone screens.
It should be noted I’m not always one of those folk, and I’d prefer it if a few more small-screen high power options were out there. Based on sales of the Note II, though, I’m clearly in a minority there. I’m certainly not going to argue that 7 inches isn’t a good tablet size, because it is.

Asus Fonepad: On the minus side

7 inches isn’t, however, a great size for a phone. The issue here is one of utility; in order to make the Fonepad make sense, you’ve got to either be using it as a speakerphone (so you’ve got no privacy) or with a paired headset, at which point the Fonepad is most likely going to be sitting in a bag, possibly with poor Bluetooth connectivity. I had that happen a few times when testing the Fonepad, and while it’s always tough to tell if that’s a fault of a headset or a device, a bad call is still just a bad call.

Do I really need to say that you look like a massive idiot holding the Fonepad up to your ear? You do, you will, and you shouldn’t, in that order. The size makes it look appealing, but it’ll also make it hard to stow in a pants pocket; what you really need with the Fonepad is some kind of shoulder bag for carrying it around, and at that point I’m not entirely convinced you wouldn’t be better off with an actual phone.

The Fonepad, resting beside a much smaller phone... except that the smaller phone in this case is the Galaxy Note II.
The Fonepad, resting beside a much smaller phone… except that the smaller phone in this case is the Galaxy Note II. Also, yes, it is a fingerprint magnet.

Atom is good for preserving battery life, but it’s not exactly a high performance product, and that shows both in synthetic benchmarks (where the Fonepad scored a very mediocre 569 in Geekbench; to give that some context, the same test running concurrently on a Galaxy S4 scores 3212) and in general performance. It’s not the worst performing tablet I’ve used; despite the bad benchmark it’s a little snappier than, say, the Metalbox MP10, but it’s by no means a top-notch tablet either.
There’s also the issue that, technically speaking, you might run across an application written with ARM optimisation in mind. Quite how the Fonepad will handle that remains to be seen; while it didn’t wow me with performance, I couldn’t find an application that wouldn’t run on it.

Asus Fonepad: Pricing

The pricing is the sweet spot for the Fonepad, as it retails for a very reasonable $329. You don’t get a lot of onboard storage for that, at only 8GB with around 4GB available, but for the combination that’s quite a good price.

Asus Fonepad: Alex’s verdict

So, crazy good, or crazy bad?
The Fonepad is a little bit of both, and, the truth be told, Asus seem to have a near endless supply of this kind of thing. The Fonepad sits amongst Padfones, Transformers and a whole heaping load of other Asus Android offerings, and it’s nice to see a new form factor.
But that’s not the same thing as saying it’s a desirable form factor, because I’ve got to ultimately say that I don’t think it is.You’re never going to want to use this as a regular phone, but the utility of a mobile phone is that you can grab it at any time and make or take a call. Unless you want to live with a Bluetooth headset always on — and very few do — the Fonepad is unlikely to suit you.

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