In an ecosystem that has been criticized for a lack of creativity, ASUS stands out as the most “unique” Android manufacturer (much like HTC was in the beginnings of Android). The Taiwanese manufacturer packs in its Transformer line some of the best specs around, but what really made ASUS special is that it managed to go beyond what we consider to be a standard tablet, gaining the customers appreciation in the process.
The principle behind the Transformer line is simple, but very effective: use the tablet when you need extra mobility, but connect it to the docking station to get a physical keyboard and extra battery life when portability is not a priority.
But ASUS did not stop at adding a keyboard to its tablets. The company applied this same modular principle to smartphones, impressing this Android blogger with the original PadFone: use the handset as you everyday Android smartphone when you want a compact device, and plug it into the tablet station when you want extra screen real estate.
But although the original PadFone was the manifestation of a very useful (not to mention way cool) idea, the end product left the impression that ASUS could have done a lot better. Fortunately, chances are that ASUS saw matters in a similar light, as they have announced the ASUS PadFone 2 a mere four months after the commercial release of the original PadFone.
Did ASUS manage to perfect the concept of a the smartphone/tablet transformer with the PadFone 2? How much better is the PadFone 2 when compared to its predecessor? Join us as we find out!
While the original ASUS PadFone featured a 4.3 inches Super AMOLED display running at a 540 by 960 pixel resolution (256 pixels per inch), the PadFone 2 features a Super IPS + panel that measures 4.7 inches across its diagonal and runs at a rather standard resolution (for a top-end Android smartphone in 2012) of 720 by 1280 pixels, obtaining a 312 PPI density. While all of us should salute the extra pixels, I find it a bit unsatisfying that the smartphone part of the PadFone had to carry such a big display.
On a smartphone that has no tablet extension, it is understandable for manufacturers to release larger flagships with larger displays, as most people consume loads of video content on a daily basis using their Android smartphones. But since the PadFone has a tablet extension, perhaps a 4.3 inch display would have sufficed. As the ecosystem don’t have enough medium-sized, easy to pocket smartphones, 4.3 inches + the extension would have been great. I’m probably nitpicking here though so let us move on to the next segment!
On to the tablet extension, it looks like ASUS officials did not feel it’s appropriate to upgrade the quality of the tablet’s display, meaning both PadFone tablet extensions have a 10.1 inch IPS display that runs at a 1280 by 800 pixel resolution. It’s a decent resolution that’s for sure, but given that the PPI density rests at just under 150, you shouldn’t expect super crisp images on the tablet extension of the PadFone (neither the original nor its successor).
However, the addition of a higher resolution display (Transformer Infinity style) would have probably raised prices beyond what most consumers consider acceptable, so this is probably for the best!
Build Quality & Design
The original PadFone measures 128 x 65.4 x 9.2mm (5.0 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches) and weighs in a 129g (4.6 ounces). Although not the lightest smartphone of them all, it’s still represented a noteworthy achievement for ASUS, given that the PadFone features a aluminum frame. The back of the phone is made out of plastic, but can be removed to expose the microSD slot, mini-SIM slot and removable battery. The overall design for the PadFone is nice and borrows from the design elements of the Transformer line.
The second member of the ASUS PadFone line resembles its older brother when it comes to overall design, although some changes were necessary given the extra screen real estate on the PadFone 2. As a result, the PadFone 2 measures 137.9 x 68.9 x 9 mm (5.43 x 2.71 x 0.35 in) and weighs 135 g (4.76 oz). One thing that you are probably going to like about the PadFone 2 is its tear drop profile, one that measures 9 mm at its thickest point and just 3.3 mm at its slimmest.
The main difference between the old and the new PadFone’s tablet extension is the docking port. If on the original PadFone the smartphone fitted inside a cover carved on the tablet extension, on the new and improved version, ASUS came up with a slide-out docking port, one that makes it very easy to remove from or add the smartphone to the docking station. Another advantage is that you get to use the 13 MP camera on the smartphone module of the PadFone when using the tablet extension. The overall design of the smartphone and tablet modules blend in beautifully together, although looks are ultimately a matter of personal preference.
Despite the utility of the new docking port, probably the best thing about the PadFone 2 tablet module is the loss in weight: the tablet module on the original ASUS PadFone weighed down a hefty 724 grams, more than the weight of the PadFone smartphone and tablet module combined. The latter now weighs is at only 514 grams, and it also appears to be thinner and more compact, although ASUS has yet to reveal the official dimensions of the tablet module.
Now that we’re done with the looks of the two PadFone models, it’s time to discuss the internal specs on the original PadFone and the ASUS PadFone 2. Starting off with the freshest of the two, the processor inside the S4 Pro SoC used by the ASUS Snapdragon S4 is a quad-core Krait CPU running at 1.5 GHz per core, while the Adreno 320 GPU was found to be the fastest GPU around at this point in time.
While there are absolutely no reasons to claim that the 1.5 GHz Krait processor inside the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus (the System On a Chip used by the original PadFone) is a slow processor (same reasoning can be applied to the Adreno 225GPU), the reality is that the Qualcomm S4 Pro is much better than everything else currently available on the market.
Moreover, the PadFone 2 uses 2GB of RAM, while the original PadFone used half that amount, 1GB of RAM. Expect multitasking to be significantly improved on the second generation PadFone thanks to both the quad-core processor, as well as the extra RAM that ASUS were kind enough to fit in.
Just in case this wasn’t obvious up to this point, let me spell it out for you: with both PadFones, the tablet module use the internal specs of the smartphone. That’s kind of the whole idea!
Software and Operating System
The original ASUS PadFone still uses Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and there is no word from ASUS regarding a possible update to the freshest version of our favorite mobile OS. Unfortunately though, ASUS have unveiled the PadFone 2 also running ICS. Obviously, officials from the Taiwanese manufacturers were quick enough to promise an update to Jelly Bean in the near future, but I’d doubt that ASUS will manage to update the PadFone 2 to Jelly Bean before its release, an event that has been scheduled for December in Europe, with other markets soon to follow.
Pros and Cons
Usually, we tell about the pros and cons of each device, but since the PadFone 2 is obviously an update to the original PadFone, I’ll just list the noticeable upgrades in the second generation smartphone/tablet combination from ASUS.
ASUS PadFone 2 Pros
- Qualcomm S4 Pro (quad-core Krait CPU and Adreno 320 GPU)
- Larger, crisper display
- Lighter tablet module with a more efficient docking station
The most tech savvy of you have surely noticed this, but the ASUS PadFone 2 is one hell of a smartphone / tablet combination, one that will probably set you back a bit below $700.
The smartphone is definitely one of the best currently announced for the Android ecosystem, while the tablet is light and features impressive internal specs (since it shares the same “engine” as the smartphone). Personally, I don’t really mind that the tablet module could have used a higher resolution and pixel density.
The ASUS PadFone 2 makes it to the top of my Santa wish list for this year!