- Poor stock keyboard
The Asus Fonepad; big phone, little price-tag.
Made by the same guys who put together the excellent Google Nexus 7, the Fonepad sports a very similar design, but it’s a phone.
Yes. A 7-inch, larger than palm (and pocket) phone. It’s also a very convincing tablet with its HD display, 16GB internal memory and expandability, not to mention 3G connectivity and a £179 price-tag.
In fact, at that price and with those specs, it’s easy to recommend off the bat – but is it really a phone?
Asus Fonepad review: Design
The Fonepad is a variation on a theme. Virtually identical to the Nexus 7 at first glance, it sports a couple of key differences.
Firstly, the back is metal, and secondly, there’s a removable portion under which sits the microSD card and microSIM card slot.
Being so similar to the Nexus 7, it’s unsurprisingly perfect for tablet use. It fits in one hand, it fits in two hands, and it feels rich without being too heavy. Reading a book on it is enjoyable, save for the backlit screen, so all in all, ergonomically, this is an ace tablet.
As for the Fonepad being a phone, we’re less convinced. Holding it to your ear isn’t our idea of a good time, with the width being too broad, even for our large hands.
Using it with a headset though worked a lot better.
We’d recommend either a Bluetooth ear-piece, such as the Plantronics Voyager Legend or a Bluetooth receiver such as the HTC BH S600, which you can plug your own cans into.
Perhaps our biggest point of contention with using the Fonepad as a phone is where we’re meant to put it.
The 7-incher fits in an inner jacket pocket or a bag. London has seen a freak spell of summer of late, so we didn’t tend to wear a jacket, so a bag ended up being where we tended to stow ours.
Stowing a phone in a bag throws up all kinds of annoyances, such as missing text messages, notifications and even calls unless plugged in with a Bluetooth headset.
So what have we learnt? The Fonepad is a tablet first and foremost. A great value, well designed tablet, but a tablet nonetheless.
Asus Fonepad review: Screen
The screen is a high-point of the Fonepad. IPS, 800 x 1280 resolution, 256 pixels per inch, it even packs an outdoor mode for extra oomph.
Despite being vibrant and well calibrated out of the box, this is the first device we’ve come across with advanced display settings.
We’re talking about Asus Splendid, an app that enables colour balance and saturation adjustment, pictured below. Everyone’s eyes are slightly different, making Asus Splendid is a great addition. The fact that its customisations pervade across the UI is just an added bonus.
All in all therefore, for the price, the Asus Fonepad screen is best in class.
Asus Fonepad review: Operating System
Android 4.1 and Asus’ custom interface fuse together to deliver variable number of home screens, oodles of customisation options and a host of pre-installed apps.
The main UI comprises of a minimum of five home screens and a maximum of seven. These can be filled up with widgets and shortcuts.
Asus has also introduced floating widgets into its UI, so you can pop up sticky memos, a calculator and a dictionary within the main android interface without having to open an entire app. Check out our tips and tricks video to see these handy widgets in action.
Some other elements of the Asus Fonepad’s UI aren’t as successful. Software like Buddy buzz, Asus Story, My Library and SuperNote light make the tablet feel bloated. Were it a little more powerful, they might run a bit smoother and the experience might be better, but as it stands, they seem superfluous.
The keyboard is also lacking. Clumsy haptic feedback coupled with a hit and miss predictive experience means you’d do well to swap it out for the likes of SwiftKey.
Does any of this kill the experience though? When it costs £179, we’d say no.
Asus Fonepad review: Multimedia
The capable screen is perfect for text, images and movie playback. Apps like Netflix and iPlayer work well with the strong battery life. The fact that it’s loaded with 3G capabilities means you can stream content wherever you have network coverage. Coupled with the 16GB of storage and expandability, the Asus Fonepad makes for one capable media player.
It’s also perfect as an ebook reader. Whites are pure and pixel density great for apps like Kindle and Google Play Books. With its hand-holdable size, it sits well in either one or two, perfect for a train journey or a spot of bedtime reading.
Thanks to good colour reproduction and Asus Splendid, outlined earlier, photos also look great. There’s no rear camera, but the front facer does a decent job with its 1.3-megapixel resolution.
Asus Fonepad review: Storage and connections
With 16GB of internal memory coupled with expandability, as we said, you’ll have plenty of room for all this content.
While there’s no 4G or DC-HSPA on board, web browsing is still a good experience over 3G and the screen is a pleasure to thumb through. There’s also Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a GPS, not to mentiona microUSB port for charging.
Asus Fonepad review: Performance and battery
Probably the tablet’s weakest area is performance, with browsing and general use throwing up a few stutters and hanging moments here and there.
With its 1.2GHz Atom processor, the Fonepad isn’t going to be a fantastic 3D gaming powerhouse. It can handle basic 3D games like Reckless Racing well, but more intensive games won’t look as great or playback as smoothly. Sufficient for the needs of most, just not the hardcore gaming elite.
Add to that a 4,270 mAh battery that lasts for days and the Asus Fonepad is a true mixed bag.
Asus Fonepad review: Conclusion
The good times when reviewing the Asus Fonepad were great. Starting with its mind-boggling £179 price tag, moving onto its 3G connectivity and voice capability, then wrapping up on that HD IPS screen and battery life made it a dream.
The reality, unfortunately, fell slightly short in day-to-day usage. Thanks to awkward ergonomics when using the tablet as a phone, mediocre performance from the Intel Atom processor and the heavy UI, it’s outclassed by the Nexus 7 in almost every respect.
It’s therefore a piece of cake to recommend the Fonepad as a multi-purpose, cost effective data-enabled tablet, or secondary phone solution.
We find it hard to recommend as a primary phone. Even when paired with a Bluetooth headset, the ergonomics or texting and calling just aren’t viable, for us at least.
Still, at the price, you won’t find a cheaper, better, 3G enabled tablet, or a tablet / phone combination. That’s why the Asus Fonepad gets a Recombu recommendation, despite it being far from perfect.