Hands-On: Asus Padfone Mini, PadFone X
Asus introduced a flurry of new devices at CES today, the most interesting of which are those that combine a smartphone and a tablet. Here are our thoughts about the PadFone Mini and PadFone X.
Asus' PadFone line of hardware is a curious thing. The idea is to give people a smartphone they can take with them everywhere they go, but offer the the big-screen experience of a tablet, too. Both the PadFone Mini and PadFone X use this premise to deliver what Asus says is a fully-rounded mobile experience.
The Mini is, as the name implies, a smaller form factor than the PadFone X. Where the X has a 5.5-inch smartphone and a 9-inch tablet, the Mini has a 4-inch smartphone and a 7-inch tablet. By itself, the tablet is nothing more than a shell with a screen on one side and a dock on the other. It is worthless without the smartphone. When the smartphone is docked with the tablet, it comes to life.
The Mini is basically a rebadged version of the new ZenFone 4. That means it has a 4-inch screen and a compact, classy design. Asus did a really good job designing a quality smartphone. The PadFone Mini's smartphone portion is easy to hold and use, feels good in the hand, and has an impressive display. I liked the button placement and the overall fit and finish to the device. It is made from plastics that border on excellent. The front, in particular, has a shiny, metallic look that is very appealing.
The Mini slides into the back of the tablet shell. You have to push the phone down firmly to engage the port. Once you do, the tablet screen turns on. The PadFone Mini is meant to be held and used in the portrait orientation, so the phone portion slides into the top of the shell. You can hold it sideways to watch video content, but it is unbalanced when you do. The tablet's screen isn't as impressive as the smartphone's, which has a higher pixel density. That said, it is a larger canvas on which to view content and interact with the device.
The tablet hardware comes off as somewhat cheap-feeling, which is in direct contract with the phone itself. It is light, but feels hollow. The buttons all work fine and are positioned well enough. I didn't have any issues using the tablet with the phone docked inside, but it is bulky and not really svelte.
In the PadFone Mini's favor, it comes in a half-dozen bright and cheery colors, including red, black, white, and bluish green. They are a nice change from the simple black, gray, or white tablets/smartphones available in the market today. If there's one thing to really like about the PadFone Mini, it is the price: it costs just $249 without a contract.
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In addition to the hardware, Asus today announced ZenUI, its new user interface skin for Android devices. The UI takes an interesting, modern approach to design and minimizes a lot of the chrome surrounding apps and services on the various screens throughout. ZenUI is found on both the PadFone Mini and PadFone X. It has a clean look and is rather quick on its feet. I liked the screen transitions, and how fast it was to jump from screen to screen and app to app.
Asus uses a UI element similar to what we saw on the Meizu MX3 for multitasking. Rather than employ a vertical carousel of previously-used apps, Zen UI shows a thin bar along the bottom of the screen that runs horizontally and shows you the last five apps you used. It requires far less finger movement to access and use, which is a benefit for those with small hands.
According to Asus, the ZenUI will be used on all its phones moving forward.
Sadly, the PadFone X was hidden behind glass, so we aren't able to tell you much about how it feels. Suffice it to say, it is much larger and heavier than the PadFone Mini. It uses landscape orientation, rather than portrait, and the phone drops in the top. The phone appeared to be fairly high quality, though, again, we can't really say without putting our hands on it.
The PadFone X is definitely coming to the U.S., and that's perhaps about the best news coming from Asus today. AT&T has agreed to sell the PadFone X later this year, though it didn't say when nor how much the PadFone X will cost. It will, however support LTE-Advanced features, which means VoLTE and HD Voice. AT&T has yet to really launch these services, and it's unsure when they will actually get off the ground.
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