Look and feel
The Asus Fonepad looks like your typical seven-inch tablet, from its glossy black screen border to the silver backing, but it’s well constructed and solidly built. At 340g it’s also light and comfortable for one-handed wielding.
Ease of Use
Between the lightweight build, responsive touchscreen and helpful notifications bar, the Fonepad is a highly usable tablet. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean proves as slick as ever.
Although lacking a rear-facing camera, the Fonepad does sport a front-facer for video chats. The seven-inch screen is sharp with good viewing angles. The inclusion of 3G means the tablet also doubles as a (massive) phone, and allows you to get online wherever you roam.
A low-power Intel Atom processor is on board and handles most tasks well, including a light spot of multi-tasking. However, we did witness some slowdown while messing around with apps and games.
With a whopping nine hours of movies from a single charge, the Fonepad will keep you entertained for entire Trans-Atlantic plane flights.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,5/9/2013 4:36:01 PM
Ease of use
Slick updated Android interface
Long battery life
Occasional laggy performance
No rear-facing camera
Not to be confused with the Padfone, the Asus Fonepad looks just like your typical seven-inch tablet, but there’s a bit of gender confusion here. Some areas have billed the Fonepad as a giant mobile phone thanks to its 3G compatibility, which allows you to slot in a SIM card and make calls or browse the web wherever you roam. Asus itself brands it a ‘tablet with phone functions’, and we’d be inclined to agree – no one besides clowns and Suggs have pockets big enough to hold this beast.
It’s a great value device at under £200, especially considering the 3G compatibility, but with stiff competition from Asus’ own Google Nexus 7 tablet and the likes of Apple’s iPad Mini, does the Fonepad do enough to stand out?
From the front, the Asus Fonepad resembles the Google Nexus 7. The identically-sized screen is surrounded by a black border, just thick enough for comfortably gripping the tablet without adding unnecessary bulk. It’s slender enough to easily wrap your hand around the back, leaving your other hand free to stab and swipe the screen. At 340g it’s also a good weight, both solid enough to withstand some punishment but also not so heavy that your arm aches after just a few minutes. The silver back sticks to the hand nicely and looks smart.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean has been tweaked with Asus’ own visual style, which looks neat and pretty. The main addition is the multi-tasking button, which joins the omnipresent back, home and apps buttons at the bottom of the desktop. This allows you to open up multiple apps in windows, so for instance you can browse the web side-by-side with a virtual notepad for jotting down pieces. We slightly prefer LG’s handling of multi-tasking, with its ability to ‘fade’ windows in and out of view, but the Fonepad ably handled a number of windows at one time.
Performance isn’t perfect all of the time, sadly, and the Intel Atom processor (last seen in Motorola’s Razr i smartphone) does occasionally chug a little when you’re browsing the web or playing around with an app or game. Not often to an annoying degree, but it’s not quite the buttery smooth experience we were hoping for. Gamers should check out the Nexus 7 by Asus instead, as its quad-core power can handle all of the latest titles with ease.
Of course, the Fonepad’s main advantage over the Nexus 7 is its 3G compatibility, a real boon at this price if you’re after an always-online tablet. You can actually hold the Fonepad to your face and use it as a phone to make calls, but we’d recommend using a Bluetooth headset if you don’t want to look like a plonker. Installing the SIM card is easy enough – just prise off the top edge of the tablet, which conceals both the SIM slot and the Micro SD memory card slot. With that done, simply pair up your headset and you’re ready to rock – and of course you can send text messages or indulge in some instant messaging too.
Tablet battery life varies wildly, with the very best devices such as the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini able to stream ten hours of video before biting the dust. The Asus Fonepad comes damn close, surviving for an impressive nine hours while playing movies. If you’re looking for something that can last you for a Trans-Atlantic plane flight, the Fonepad will do the job.
As well as adding its unique visual style to Android, Asus has designed a new virtual keyboard that is the default when bashing out emails and documents. The keys are well spaced out and you can tweak the auto-correction and word prediction to suit your typing speed and style. Our main bugbear is the backspace key. We’re used to having this near the top of the board, as on a physical keyboard, but Asus has planted it at the bottom for some reason, which meant we kept fumbling for it. If it bothers you, you can always change back to the standard Android board.
We’re big fans of the updated notifications bar, however, which not only shows you any unread messages and alerts, but also gives quick access to a host of essential features. You can change the volume (also adjustable via the physical side buttons), connect to a Wi-Fi network, toggle power-sapping features such as Bluetooth and GPS, and even scale the screen brightness, all with a tap or two.
Although the seven-inch screen isn’t quite bright enough to overcome harsh daylight glare, it’s crisp enough to make your HD movies look pretty. Viewing angles are strong enough to nestle up with a loved one and enjoy a movie together. While colours don’t quite leap off the screen, they’re realistically reproduced and pleasing to the eye.
Although many modern tablets come with rear-facing cameras to capture shots on the go, the Asus Fonepad slashes this entirely to cut costs. We’re not sad to see it go, as we personally dislike taking snaps with an unwieldy tablet – we’d much rather have a front-facing camera for chatting on Skype, and here the Fonepad delivers. The 1.2 megapixel lens isn’t the sharpest around, but it more than does the job for an online video chat.
If you absolutely need a tablet that’s always online, or can make phone calls at a pinch, the Asus Fonepad is an affordable option that’s very well put together. The occasional bout of stuttering performance means that demanding users and gamers should stick with a more powerful option, however, such as the Nexus 7.