The last few months brought us an interesting development. We’ve all been used to cracking jokes about the Galaxy Note series and how it blurred the line between smartphones and tablets. But that line has been fully erased when Samsung, Asus, or Lenovo decided to integrate phone capabilities into their tablets and call it a day.
Here we are today with tablets like the Asus Fonepad (not a very subtle name, we know) that can be used as a phone, provided you’re willing to expose yourself with a 7-inch tablet at your ear. While the Fonepad is one of the few devices in this niche, we were eager to see how this affordable Intel-powered tablet fares against devices like the Nexus 7 or the Galaxy Note 8.
Is the Asus Fonepad worth your money? Is the phone calling capability a compelling reason to buy it? Is it a decent daily driver as a tablet? We find out in our Asus Fonepad review.
In a hurry? Jump straight to the video review.
Design: do we know it from somewhere?
Even at a cursory glance, it’s obvious that Asus hasn’t really tried to differentiate the Fonepad in terms of design. If you’re familiar with the Nexus 7, you will find yourself right at home with the Fonepad, with its unassuming lines and low-key overall feel. The biggest difference is the back of the tablet, which swaps the leathery finish of the Nexus with a brushed aluminum texture, similar to what you see on Asus’ Transformer devices. Overall, it’s a nice feeling device, with an industrial look that many will appreciate.
The bezels of the tablet are a bit large for today’s standards, especially if you tried devices like the iPad mini or the Note 8, but that’s mostly nitpicking on our behalf. On the back, you’ll find a small detachable cover that gives access to the microSD and SIM card slots.
Bottom line, despite the “fone” part in its name, the Fonepad is pretty much your average 7-inch tablet, just narrow enough to hold with one hand, like you would with a phone. But more on that later.
Asus has collaborated with Intel for the Fonepad, which is one of the first notable Android tablets to be powered by the chip giant’s mobile processors. In a sea of competitors powered by Snapdragon or Exynos chips, the Fonepad stands out as an “Intel Inside” device. But is it for the better?
Intel mobile processors have been known to top benchmark scores, but the SoC inside the Fonepad isn’t one of those record breakers. Asus used an Intel Atom Z2420 processor, single-core and clocked at a mediocre 1.2Ghz. We know what you’re thinking – single-core, in 2013. But the truth is the silicon inside the Fonepad is good enough to provide a smooth functioning of the operating system, with occasional hiccups in more demanding applications. Especially when running games like Into the Deador Candy Crush Saga, the Fonepad struggled to keep up, with the PowerVR SGX540 GPU being a possible culprit. The 1GB of RAM probably doesn’t help either.
Save for the nuisances we’ve mentioned above, the Asus Fonepad is a capable performer in most situations. It just won’t blow your mind. The hardware picture is completed by 8 or 16GB of internal storage, an SD card slot, and the usual assortment of connectivity options. You won’t get NFC however.
Display – it’s nice, just don’t look at it from too close
We’ve been spoiled by tech manufacturers with full HD displays and staggering pixel densities, we admit it. So when the Fonepad came in with a 1280 x 800 resolution and a 216 ppi pixel density, we were underwhelmed. However, these two figures don’t tell the whole story of a display, and luckily the Fonepad does pretty good when it comes to color reproduction and vibrancy.
Overall, the visual experience delivered by the Fonepad is satisfactory, as long as you don’t hold it too close to your eyes, so the pixels don’t become bothering. The software offers some customization options, through an app called Asus Splendid, so you might be able to tweak it for a better experience.
Putting the phone into the Fonepad
Probably the most interesting thing about the Fonepad is the ability to make phone calls. The Fonepad is not the first to do this, but while phone call capability was a secondary feature for other devices, Asus has been quite vocal about it with the Fonepad. Once you get over the reluctance to think of the Fonepad as an actual phone, it’s surprising just how natural using the device as a phone feels.
The call and texting capabilities are similar to every other phone, and it’s very easy to think about the Fonepad as a very large smartphone. The only time the magic breaks is when you have to put the device at your ear and speak into it. It’s just so big. You could probably get used to it, though, and we guess you could even become accustomed with the stares you are likely to get when using the Fonepad in public.
Cameras and battery
This section is a mixed bag. The three megapixel rear camera of the Fonepad is the most disappointing part on the Fonepad. Even in bright outdoor conditions, the images are average, and once you decrease the luminosity, image quality plummets.
Camera sample: outdoors. Click to enlarge.
Camera sample: indoors. Click to enlarge.
The Fonepad excels, however, in the battery department. The 4270 mAh unit gives you nine hours of talk time, and about 10 hours of regular usage. Standby time is also great, so we think you can go through two days of regular usage before a recharge, especially if you activate the “ultra-saving mode”.
Software: mostly stock, with a pinch of Asus
The operating system is a lightly retouched version of Android 4.1.2. Asus made some relatively minor additions to vanilla Android, in the form of a power widget and a suite of floating apps similar to Sony’s Small Apps. These let you take advantage of the 7-inch display to do some multi-windowing, such as watching a floating video in one area of the display while working in another window.
The Power Widget
Multi-window: browser and to-do app
Other features worth a mention are Asus’ apps, like Studio, a photo editor, and Storybook, a slideshow maker.
Overall, we feel that Asus did well to keep its interventions to stock Android to a minimum. A benefit of choosing the Fonepad is the fact that you will likely get timely updates to the latest version of Android, an area where Asus excels.
Pricing and wrap-up
The Fonepad will set you back $249 in the United States, and just under €200 in Europe. At this price, it’s an interesting proposition, but it’s clear that the Fonepad won’t be taking home any medals for best in class.
We can’t recommend the Fonepad for everyone. The phone feature is interesting, but we suspect that only a fraction of users will actually use it. The device lacks the portability that we expect from a primary communication device, and using it alongside a phone implies either shelling out for a new SIM or the hassle of constantly swapping the SIM cards between the two devices.
Bottom line, don’t think of the Asus Fonepad as a replacement for your phone, but as a decent tablet with 3G that can actually take phone calls.
Bogdan Petrovan contributed to this review.