While we can’t think of any good reason to put a 7-inch device to your face, clearly, manufacturers think along different lines. The Asus FonePad, not to be confused with the same outfit’s PadFone, is a 7-inch Android slate that comes with full voice calling capabilities. And while it’s definitely not the first one to do so, it’s notable because of its build, the attached promise of delivering more bang for the buck, and also the fact that there’s another extremely noteworthy 7-inch tablet in the market made by the same manufacturer – the Nexus 7. And while the two devices come with similar screens in terms of both size and resolution, they differ significantly as far as other core specs are concerned, including choice of processor, voice calling features and memory expansion capabilities. So let’s put the FonePad under the TechPP microscope to figure out if it has what it takes to blow our socks off.
Design and hardware
With the Nexus 7, Asus has proven that great build quality can be achieved even with the use of plastic and at affordable price points. And with the FonePad, it has managed to follow the same path, and yet, come up with a device that not only feels premium, but also, successfully differentiates itself from its sibling – not an easy thing to accomplish. While the Nexus 7 attains its premium feel using high-quality plastics and a ‘dotted-for-your-pleasure’ design on its rear, the FonePad achieves it by using a faux metal finish.
The fascia is all glass, surrounded by a black border with an Asus logo at the bottom and the phone earpiece and front camera on top. The rear is where things stand out – and you get a metal finish back, with Asus and Intel Inside branding, a speaker near the bottom, and a chrome-encircled camera lens closer to the top. While the battery is sealed inside, there’s a grey plastic strip on top that comes off to reveal the micro-SIM and microSD slots. The bottom has the microUSB and 3.5mm audio socket, while the left spine is home to the volume rocker and a power / sleep key. Tipping the scales at 340 grams and measuring 196 x 120 x 10.4 mm, the device is quite portable, and you can just about hold it one-handed and use it as a phone, provided you don’t have tiny hands.
The 7-inch, 1280 x 800 IPS screen is similar to that on the Nexus 7, and boasts great viewing angles, and vivid colors. We feel that the 7-inch size is the sweet spot as far as usability and portability are concerned – it’s large enough for playing games and consuming media / content, and small enough to be tucked away easily into a bag or a purse, or slipped into a pocket, provided you love trench coats. However, the display is extremely reflective and smudge prone, and you may find yourself cleaning it ever so often.
The FonePad has a 1.2-megapixel snapper at front for video calling, in comparison to the Nexus 7 that only has a VGA cam. However, the FonePad’s 3.15-megapixel autofocus rear camera is a 100 times better than the one on the Nexus 7. Sounds great, until you realize the latter has none! On a serious note though, the FonePad’s shooter offers a surprising degree of creative control and features, including ISO, white balance and exposure settings, effects, and scene modes. And while it has a panorama mode, it misses out on HDR and burst modes. As far as video capture is concerned, it can do 720p in 3GP format. In terms of video quality, it’s quite average and nothing to shout about. Notwithstanding the fact that tablets are hardly the most convenient image capture devices, it can take reasonable stills and videos in good lighting. And if you’re looking to share them mainly over social networks, the quality should suffice. Don’t try that with images captured in low light – they turn out grainy and lack detail.
If you prefer stock Android, the Nexus 7 is like manna from heaven – virgin and pure. On the other hand, the FonePad offers a slightly flavored (read lightly skinned) build of Android 4.1.2 Jelly bean, which doesn’t drastically alter the stock look and feel. Basically, Asus has toyed around a bit with the notification bar to provide connectivity toggles, and added a fourth soft key below that launches mini apps, akin to what we’ve seen earlier on Samsung and Sony’s devices. These mini apps include a browser, calendar, stopwatch, video player, email, and calculator. These can be accessed anytime and appear as resizable windows atop whatever else you’re using.
Text input is handled by a proprietary keyboard, which is reasonably feature-rich with word prediction and correction capabilities thrown in, but has a bit of a learning curve due to the backspace key placed directly to the right of the space bar. This apart, Asus has left the stock Android feel mostly untouched, but has loaded the tablet with a slew of bloatware. This includes a backup tool, an app locker, a call blocker and a dictionary, along with BuddyBuzz, a social feeds aggregator. There are also a few Asus-branded apps including Asus Splendid, a screen tweaking utility, Asus Story, a photo album creation and sharing app, and Asus Studio, a custom gallery. The Web Storage app provides 5GB free cloud storage, while Audio Wizard tweaks the sound output depending on usage. Quite a few reading apps are also thrown in – including Amazon Kindle, MyLibrary, Zinio and Press Reader. While we appreciate Asus’s enthusiasm in providing all these apps (likely helping newbies in the process), the software occupies precious storage space and may not be welcomed by those who don’t need all these.
Performance and battery life
It’s Intel Inside for the first time in a tablet. The ticker is a 1.2GHz Atom Z2420 chip that powers the show along with 1GB of RAM. Out of the 8GB of internal storage provided, only a little over 4GB is accessible, but thankfully, there’s that microSD slot to add more. Connectivity options are par for the course, and you won’t find anything fancy like NFC or DLNA.
In terms of performance, it’s clear that the FonePad won’t break any speed records, but performs routine tasks reasonably well. There’s a slight bit of delay launching heavy games, but they play smoothly for the most part. Some games like Shadowgun are incompatible though, and refuse to run. The video player is a little finicky with some formats, but otherwise, plays full HD videos smoothly. Another huge plus in its favor is the battery life. The 4,270 mAh battery packs enough juice to keep the slate alive for about a day and a half with regular usage.
While different individuals may have different reasons to consider the Asus FonePad, and their usage patterns will vary as well, we feel that if a device of this size is considered as a primary telephony device, it works best for those who are not in the habit of carrying their smartphones in their pockets, including members of the fairer sex who can slip into their handbags. For others however, it works best as a secondary device with 3G data access on the go (and calling features being a bonus).
Priced at Rs 15,999 (~ $300), it competes head on with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 P3100 which has slightly better connectivity features. However, the FonePad trumps it with its better build and screen resolution. If phone calling features aren’t critical for you, you can also consider the Nexus 7 which offers a much faster Tegra 3 quad-core processor. However, it will not give you 3G data features at a similar price and you’d have to go for the more expensive 3G model for that. In other words, if you’re looking for a 7-incher with good build, reasonable performance, 3G data access and an affordable price tag, the Asus FonePad is as good as it gets.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10