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Hands-On: Asus PadFone X

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May 28, 2014, 6:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Asus' smartphone-tablet hybrid is finally here! The combo device includes a smartphone and dock that transforms the PadFone X into a tablet. Can this device really succeed at being two things at once? Here are our first thoughts.

Asus announced the PadFone X back in January, but is only just now bringing it to market with AT&T. The PadFone X is a hybrid device meant to fill a small niche. It is for people who want a smartphone and a tablet, but don't necessarily want to carry around two devices and pay for two wireless subscriptions. The PadFone X is two components: a smartphone and a tablet into which the smartphone docks. The tablet portion doesn't work absent the smartphone. When docked, the PadFone X carries over all the apps and settings to the tablet, which offers a 9-inch screen and its own battery. Here are our initial thoughts on the device(s).

The PadFone X is sold with the smartphone and tablet together, so don't worry about shelling out extra for the tablet dock. AT&T is selling the PadFone X for the reasonable price of $199 (on contract). The primary thing to remember here is that Asus is a low-cost device maker. Sure, it offers premium products in some markets, but it excels at offering value.

The smartphone half of the PadFone X is a rather bland and bulky piece of hardware. It is a black slab that's made of plastic and glass. The front face is glossy and is framed nicely by a gray rim. This rim angles down to form half of the side edges. It eventually meets the battery cover, which wraps around the entire back of the phone. The back cover - which is removable - has a soft-touch finish to it, but is otherwise plain and simple. When viewed from the top or bottom, the PadFone X has a trapezoidal shape to it. Since the screen measures 5 inches, the smartphone is rather big. It doesn't help that the bezels above, below, and around the screen are somewhat thick. The front-to-back dimensions of the device are fairly chunky by today's standards.

The build quality is decent, but the materials are not the finest available, that's for sure. The PadFone X is solid, but not too heavy. It was put together well, though it feels like the low-cost device that it is. The quality doesn't match that of other leading devices, such as the HTC One or LG G3.

The 5-inch display is good and includes full 1080p HD resolution. It looks sharp and bright, though it doesn't bowl me over. I noticed some brightness loss when the device is tipped side-to-side, but otherwise viewing angles are good.

Controls are kept to a minimum. The screen lock button and volume toggle are together on the right side of the phone. The profile of the screen lock button is rather slim, which makes it hard to find and use. Travel and feedback aren't all that good. The volume toggle has a slightly better profile and slightly better feel to it, but not by much. Both buttons need to be better, especially considering they are the only ones. There are no control buttons on the front, as the PadFone X relies on the built-in system buttons to control the Android UI. The microUSB port and docking pins are on the bottom and the headphone jack is on top.

PadFone X  

It's an OK phone. Not high quality, but not low quality either.

The dock is an altogether different story. It has a 9-inch screen, but it practically gets lost in all the bezel that frames and surrounds it. There's a full inch of black around the screen, which really doesn't do much to increase its appeal. The dock has to fit the smartphone, so the dock is mega thick and bulky. I mean, it's no iPad Air. It is heavy and rather unattractive to my eyes. There are stereo speakers on either side of the screen. The smartphone component slides into the back of the dock. The dock could be much more snug. I found that the phone wobbled a bit inside the dock, and in fact I could see it popping out with just the right amount of force. With the phone attached, the dock is really freaking heavy. It's far heavier than any similar-sized tablet would be. Worse, because of the bulge created by the actual smartphone dock, it doesn't rest firmly in place on a table top or other flat surface. This means if you want to type something, it will tip all over the place. On the plus side, it has a built-in battery and can charge the smartphone while it is docked.

Like the phone, the dock is made of middle-grade materials, but it is well put together. The front is all glass, and most of the back is covered with a soft-touch finish. There's a screen lock button along the top edge. It has a great profile, but is very stiff to use. The same is true of the volume toggle, which is on the left edge of the dock. The 9-inch screen is decent and includes 1920 x 1200 pixels. It's not bad. Brightness is pretty good and there are just enough pixels so that I don't mind it. Viewing angles are very good.

PadFone Dock  

Our first impressions of the PadFone X are perhaps most the most favorable, but we haven't lived with the device yet. Give a week or so to put together a full review so we can share all the details.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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May 28, 2014, 11:10 PM

looking forward to the full review

But please leave out the infinite references to build quality. No one interested in this device will care if it has a case constructed of brushed platinum interwoven with threaded zebra skin and rubies and sapphires for physical buttons and a screen made of pure kryptonite.

What we really want to know is if it can be functional as both a tablet and phone. More stuff like the bulge that prevents it from sitting evenly when typing would be welcome. What happens when the phone rings while using it as a tablet? Does an incoming call totally disrupt whatever you're working on? Does docking or undocking the phone have any impact on call quality or data connectivity? How easy is it to mess up the docking connector on either end? Does it support ...
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