PhoneTablet

ASUS Padfone Review: User Experience

It is a privilege to be one of the first in Singapore to review the ASUS Padfone complete with the tablet Station and keyboard Dock, way before its official sale. Unlike most review sites where they attempt to tear the product apart – figuratively speaking – I am offering a consumer perspective.

Ever since my post last week, I have received numerous comments on the product, and I replied to them diligently. What I want to share with you after one week of usage is: how does this unique product fit into my lifestyle?

The Padfone
If you are familiar with ASUS Transformer tablets, then you would feel at ease with the phone interface. It is basically running on stock ICS with some ASUS customisations. The usual Transformer features can be found in this phone: long-press the “recent apps” button for screen capture, notification screen contains additional icons for quick access,

I like some new apps pre-installed on the Padfone. App Locker lets you select specific apps to be locked, and requests for a password before you can access. Great parental control tool. Block List lets you block contacts. The apps drawer allow includes a “Pad Only” section for you to specify the apps that should only be run on the tablet mode. It doesn’t stop you from executing, but if the app is completely incompatible, it would force close.

All the hardware buttons protrude slightly, a rarity in today’s smartphone design. But I like it, because my fingers can feel the buttons better, thus less tendency to miss them.

The phone generally runs very smoothly, and I have not experienced any horrific incidents when used on its own. Some apps appear to load slower, like under the Phone app, the calls history sometimes take a while to load the list.

Although there is a micro-HDMI port, plugging a HDMI cable does not mirror the display to an external device. It is used for connecting to the Padfone Station. While many high-end ICS phones sport large 4.7-inch HD screens, the Padfone is a mere 4.3-inch qHD resolution, identical to the Samsung Galaxy S2. I like the smaller form: after all, I can always use the device in tablet mode if I wanted a larger higher-res display.

Battery life is normal, and perhaps due to my over-enthusiasm in trying the phone, I seem to use up the battery faster than when on my Samsung Galaxy S2. It does gets heated up when using processor-intensive apps like camera or games.

The speaker is soft and unimpressive. If you lay the phone flat on the surface, the sound is blocked. The rear camera quality is slightly above average and I will use it for general shots, but again not impressive compared to the lagfree shutter of Galaxy Nexus and the continuous shot feature of the HTC One X. Auto white balance fails to correct warm lighting.  The front camera is out of focus and of disappointing quality. Decent self-portraits for online sharing are impossible.

The tablet Station
The tablet comes alive only when the Padfone is docked. Wasted as it may sound, it probably keeps the cost low. It only takes on average 5 seconds to switch from phone to tablet. The Station starts charging the Padfone when docked, and when my phone battery runs low, I would dock it for a couple of hours to juice up the Padfone. The speaker audio is powerful and clear, similar to the Asus Transformer range.

The tablet experience is smooth and feels identical to the Asus Transformer tablets, with no indication of any processor lag. In this age where competitors are trying to make tablets thinner and lighter, the Padfone Station feels bulky. It is possible to keep the Padfone in the Station and use it entirely as a tablet without even realising that this device is made up of 2 components. To answer phone calls, you either need a wired earpiece or bluetooth headset, or the multi-purpose Asus Stylus Headset.

I do find occasional glitches when I dock and undock the device too frequently over a short period of time. And the major bugbear is that the device kills all third-party apps every time you dock and undock. That means your Whatsapp, TweakDeck, even third-party input methods like Swiftkey X all stop running, except for third-party widgets, which gets automatically loaded with the launcher. You would have to manually restart them again after switching modes, but I’m sure someone will create an app to workaround this inconvenience. For other “official” apps like internet browser, the phone process will restart the app and restore the previous session.

The keyboard Dock
The complete Padfone set up comes with the keyboard dock, identical to the Asus Transformer series. The built-in battery lets you charge the tablet Station. It allows you to connect 2 USB devices and SD card. USB mouse is supported. While the physical keyboard greatly improves the typing speed, it’s rather cramp. The trackpad is somewhat hard to control, so I usually turn it off and navigate via touchscreen.

If you have experienced Asus Transformer tablets, then this Padfone keyboard Dock is no different. To understand more on the Transformer experience, I refer you to my Asus Transformer review.

A small issue when using the complete setup is the weight distribution. When placed on a flat surface and opened at the maximum angle, the Padfone keyboard Dock does not tilt over. However, if the surface is not flat, for instance, when using on your lap, it will certainly topple over.

The Experience
When you buy the Padfone and its components, you are not just buying a phone, or a tablet, or a netbook. You are buying versatility. With the Padfone, you can choose to use the device in any way you want. When you need a compact device, you have the Padfone itself for all your communications, messaging, social updates, photo capturing. When you need a larger screen, you dock the Padfone to the Station for laid back browsing, content viewing, while continuing to manage your messages on the same device. You can immediately browse the photos you took, edit it, post it online. When you need to do some extended typing, you dock the Station to the keyboard and work away.

The real convenience is that all the apps, storage and settings are accessible without any need for cross-device synchronisation. Many people would be baffled at the practicality of a tablet that doesn’t work on its own without the Padfone, and would rather purchase a separate workable tablet so that multiple devices can be used at the same time.

Imagine this: after taking photos or videos using your Padfone, just dock it to the tablet and instantly show the content on the larger screen. Meanwhile, you are messaging your peers over Whatsapp or SMS on the tablet. You can download files and work on them on the Padfone Station with keyboard Dock. You can play Angry Birds Space or Draw Something on the large-screen tablet. While on the go, you could still continue the same files, the same games, follow through the message history on the Padfone. If you had separate devices, you won’t be able to enjoy this seamlessness. Even if you have online storage, there are some things that simply cannot be shared across devices. That’s when the Padfone shines brilliantly.

As a pioneer device, the Padfone unavoidably faces several usability bumps. One of the most critical constraints would have to be the forced closing of all apps in-between modes. It’s disrupting to the tasks you are trying to do on the respective modes. It actually discourages me from switching modes frequently because I would have to manually restart all the apps (only apps supported by Asus Dynamic Display will auto resume, like stock browser), and even change back the input method to my favourite third-party one.

Another “unfortunate” side effect of creating a device in 2 modes is that the apps settings are also shared. This means you cannot specify different font sizes or notification profiles for the phone and the tablet modes separately.

To Summarise
If you want answers to whether this product actually works, my answer is an astounding YES. While the Padfone system has room for improvement, it is a remarkable solution that morphs from a smartphone to a tablet and even a netbook. The question you have to ask is: do you really appreciate a singular device that you can use in various forms, or would separate independently-run devices be a better choice for you.

I know of many friends who bought tablets for casual gaming and content browsing, and they ended up not using very often because of the hassle of maintaining separate sets of apps and data. They would prefer to use their smartphone because it holds all their apps, data and app history. With Padfone and Station, you would be able to access everything in your smartphone from the tablet form.

For full-resolution unedited sample photos and screen captures taken from the Padfone, visit my facebook page.

8 comments
  1. Squeek Vermintide

    Thanks for sharing this review. Although I live in Japan so can't get a Padfone, the biggest PLUS for me would be having two devices (tablet/ phone) with only ONE data plan. (In Japan, free wifi is very rare, so connecting via wifi on a tablet freely is difficult…)
    I hope it makes its way over here!
    Thanks again for sharing your review.

  2. Jason L. Gatewood

    I also live in Japan, and am wholly prepared to pay full price for this setup. What Squeek says is true; you can't find free wifi in most places, but carrier-supported wifi is everywhere. But this blows my US-based use-case of smartphone and wifi only tablet out of the water–you cannot connect to the carrier's hotspots without an onboard app that checks against the inserted SIM card first! Try to access the hotspot without the app, and you'll be asked to fill out a form with subscriber info, and be billed on a per-use basis for the extra device!
    The Padfone solves that problem!
    I currently use an unlocked Motorola Atrix in the same fashion here in Japan, and am looking forward to getting my Padfone in the next few months!

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for your review. I live in Australia and am hopeful I will only need to wait another month or so for the Padfone to arrive. Noticing you are a composer I am curious as to whether you use any apps such as Music Notes Reader 4 for taking your work mobile and viewing scores etc. I work with Sibelius and am a little envious of the link that Sibelius and Avid Scorch has with iTunes. Is Music Reader the best Android option in your opinion or do you know of any other software/apps that do a good job?

  4. Joakim Jerkenhag

    Great reviews, I've read the Asus transformer review and both about the padphone. It came to my thought that you have only done a review on Transformer model 100 when it has come model 300 and 700 since then, do you know the difference and improvements on those new models? And also does the keyboard to the transformer pad work with padphone? So for example if I buy the padphone 3 – in – 1 and only the tablet of a transformer pad, can i use the keyboard from the padphone on my transformer? Really good work here and nice photos, keep on!

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