Look and feel
The Padfone 2 has a straight-up business look and feel. Combined with the tablet station dock, it’s a weighty device similar to Apple’s iPad. The only real issue is the uneven rear when the two devices are combined, which means the tablet rocks when used on a flat surface.
Ease of Use
The smartphone is quick and responsive with a smart Asus-tweaked Android 4.1 interface. Combining with the tablet is quick and easy.
A capable 13MP camera shoots decent daylight photos and video and offers plenty of editing and manual features.
The Padfone 2’s quad-core processor, backed up by a mighty 2GB of RAM, means your games and apps will run without a hitch.
The Padfone 2 smartphone survives for 24 hours even with regular use, and streams media for around seven hours before dying. You can keep it alive for up to three days with the station, which has an extra built-in battery.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,3/1/2013 2:28:33 PM
Ease of use
Sharp, bright, colourful screen;
Tablet conversion is simple and extends battery life;
Capable feature-packed 13MP camera
A little pricey;
Wobbly rear when phone is docked;
Plasticky back panel
Asus’ Padfone 2 is the Transformer of the smartphone world. Give it a fondle and you’d swear it’s just a normal mobile, but combine it with the special ‘station’ dock and it suddenly becomes a 10-inch tablet, with 3G/4G connectivity. Nice.
The Padfone 2 handset is a no-nonsense chunk of black with the trademark Asus concentric circle pattern on the plastic back and a tapered silver edge. Being big fans of Asus’ Zenbook laptops, we were hoping to find a similar metal backing on the Padfone 2. Still, the phone feels solid in every respect and is a perfect weight at 135g, which gives it a suitable heft without aching our puny boy-muscles.
The back doesn’t pop off so you get a pin-hole SIM card slot on top, with volume and power buttons on the right edge. A bizarre proprietary USB port on the bottom accepts normal micro USB cables, but they wobble pretty badly – you’re best off sticking with Asus’ funky custom USB cable.
The Padfone 2’s station is your typical black-bordered tablet (similar to Asus’ other tabs such as the Transformer Prime), and combined with the phone it weighs as much as Apple’s iPad. A rubbery grip on the back keeps it from sliding out of your sweaty mitts. Our only real bugbear is that the tablet/phone combo has an uneven rear, where the phone sticks out around 2mm from the back of the tablet. If you lay it on a table, prodding the edges of the screen makes the whole thing shake, so you’ll need to hold it to use it.
Still, the phone slides easily into the slot on the back of the tablet, which kicks into life instantly, displaying whatever you were cracking on with before, and the mobile sits securely inside the station and won’t slip out even with excessive shaking.
The power of two
Slipping the Padfone 2 into the tablet dock gives you a number of benefits. The most obvious one is that all of your phone’s content is immediately transferred into tablet form, giving you a larger screen to check out and edit your photos, play your games, watch movies and so on. You can also use the phone’s 3G/4G connectivity to browse the internet still, making this a great option for movie/TV streamers and web fiends who demand a larger screen.
You also get extended battery life, as the station has an inbuilt battery of its own. Asus reckon the Padfone’s 16 hours of talktime will bloom to 36 hours when combined with the station, and it’s not a bad estimate. We streamed video for around seven hours on the phone by itself, already an excellent result, but this was extended to something approaching a day when stuck in the tablet. Under moderate to heavy use with maximum screen brightness we still easily got a full day of life, especially with the power saver mode enabled.
The Padfone 2’s station doesn’t operate by itself, which is a shame – it would’ve been nice to have some simple usability, perhaps as a digital photo frame or a simple web browser, but as we always have our phones on us, it’s not really a problem.
One thing you might be wondering is, ‘what happens if the phone is docked and I get a call?’ – well, the Padfone 2 Station will interrupt whatever you’re doing and give you the option to answer, reject or reply with a text message. Taking calls is best done with a headset, but you can – if you must – lift the back of the tablet to your face and speak into the built-in mic. It’s about as comfortable and dignified as you’d expect. We’d rather just yank the phone out of the station, which usefully doesn’t interrupt the call, and speak into the handset like a normal human being.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean has been touched up by Asus and it looks great. The custom widgets look good, from the battery indicator to the weather/clock combo, and are resizable as usual. You do get a fair amount of bloatware pre-installed, but we still had 25GB of usable storage space and you can quickly delete anything you don’t want. We also loved Asus’ notification bar tweaks, which add a sliding brightness bar as well as a quick button for changing your Wi-Fi and other settings.
Asus’ virtual keyboard is more complex than the standard Android one, with a lot more characters crammed in – for instance, you get a full row of numbers as well as the most useful punctuation. This does mean some keys, such as the space bar, are a little more cramped. However, it intelligently updates depending on the scenario – for instance, type in a web address field and you’ll get an ‘@’ and ‘.com’ button. You can also swap the board for a full-on handwriting recognition pad (which does a great job of recognising finger scrawls) or any other Android board.
A quad-core Qualcomm processor running at 1.5GHz keeps the Padfone 2 running smoothly at all times, even when you get some hardcore apps on the go. The only issue we saw was a single browser crash, which thankfully was a one-off, and NFC and LTE support means it’s future-proof.
Although the Padfone 2 is great for business, it’s also a brilliant little device for keeping you entertained on the move. The 4.7-inch screen is bright enough to be used in sunny climes thanks to the uber-powerful ‘outdoor mode’ (not that that’s an issue in the UK) and boasts fantastic wide viewing angles. Movies, websites and games are all crisply presented thanks to the 1280 x 720 resolution – try zooming right out of a busy website and you’ll still be able to read the tiny text, if your peepers can handle it. We also liked the super-thin glass, which gives the impression that the screen is resting on the surface (just like on the LG Nexus 4).
An example of how sharp the Padfone 2's screen is - the tiny text is still perfectly readable even zoomed right out
The Padfone 2 rocks a 13MP camera on the rear. You can hit the phone or the tablet’s volume buttons to take a photo with near-instant results, and our daytime photos were crisp with strong colour reproduction, even when viewed back on a large monitor. The autofocus works admirably in almost every situation, although some of our macro shots did come out a little blurry (you can always manually tap the screen to manually sort out any fuzziness). Low-light photos are far too dark to be of any use, but the Padfone 2 packs a strong flash that does a great job of lighting up a small room without over-exposing the subjects too badly.
You get plenty of manual options if you’re patient enough to tweak them, plus panorama mode, burst shot and a sharp front-facing camera for self-portraits. You can edit your snaps right there on the device, sorting out any brightness issues and adding in all kinds of super-fun adjustments. Being able to plug the phone into the station to edit your snaps makes things much easier when you’re posting pics on the fly, for instance throwing holiday photos up on Facebook. No cables or other messy transferring, just plug and play.
An example of the hi-larious editing you can do on the Padfone 2
Asus’ Padfone 2 may be pricey at £599 but if you were going to buy a tablet and premium smartphone separately, it would work out around the same. It’s an all-round excellent smartphone and not only does the station dock give you a larger screen for enjoying movies, more comfortable web browsing and so on, it also massively extends the already-strong battery life.