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ASUS PadFone Mini first impressions: one gadget, two avatars

|November 28 2014 |Tablets, Smart Phones, Asus, First impressions

“The PadFone Mini is definitely an innovative product, though it might only appeal to a certain set of users”
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Ever wanted that the smartphone in your pocket can have a bigger display so that you can enjoy movies on it, or reading an eBook? Of course, you can opt for phablets that have become a rage these days, but then you’ll be missing out on the pocketablity factor. Well, if you need a better option to serve such need, then ASUS’ latest offering in the Indian market might be a solution. Dubbed PadFone Mini, the device is a phone that can also convert into a 7-inch tablet. Confused? Don’t worry, we will clear that up to you as we were able to get our hands on the device at ASUS’ press meet to bring you our first impressions.

The PadFone, as the name suggests, is made up of two parts – one of them is a smartphone and the other is a tablet (also called PadFone Station). While the phone can operate independently, the tablet can only be used when the handset is docked in it, since it acts as the slate’s brain. Not only that, the tablet relies on the phone for many other things as well. The Taiwanese brand has launched the mini variant of the PadFone, in which both the phone and tablet bear a smaller size.

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Let’s discuss the PadFone Mini as a tablet first. As stated earlier, the device sports a 7-inch display, making it easier to hold in single hand. Although, to use it, it would be better to use it with both hands. Even though the tablet has a dock for inserting the phone, it doesn’t weigh much and tips the scale at 260g. We did find it thicker than most tablets of this size.

The fascia of the slate is black, with the display panel being the centrepiece and only thing noticeable being an earpiece above and ASUS branding below. However, there's considerable amount of bezels surrounding the display. There are no navigation buttons on the front since they are available as software overlays. The display bears a resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels, which isn’t the sharpest considering full HD displays are the norm nowadays, but looks quite good. The colours were vibrant, although the screen was quite reflective, which might be due to the lighting at the event.

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On the right edge of the tablet, you’ll get the unlock button followed by volume rocker. A micro-USB port for charging or data transfers is also available on this side.

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It’s the back of the device, where its USP lies… since that’s where it holds its brain.. made up by the phone. The white rear (available in black as well) also has a speaker grille towards the bottom, and since it features a matte texture, it offers good grip.

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Now, if you want to use the PadFone Mini as a phone, then all you need to is to pop it out from the tablet. The smartphone available in the PadFone is fitted with a 4-inch display, making it look quite similar to ASUS’ smallest smartphone in its Zenfone lineup, the Zenfone 4 (Review | FAQs). With the resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, the display of the phone looks fine, and so do the viewing angles.

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With similar design ethos as the Zenfone 4, the build quality of the phone seems solid and with such a small size, it nestles in the hand well. Unlike the tablet, the handset has capacitive navigation keys below the display, available in the format of the back key first, home key in the middle and the button to access recent apps last. Above the display, you’ll find the company’s branding along with an earpiece and a front-facing shooter. Up top lies the headphone socket, while at the base it gets a connector to dock into the tablet. The right spine is home to both the power button and volume rocker, while the left side is home to the micro-USB port.

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The rear of the handset is home to the camera unit along side a speaker grille. The white back panel is otherwise empty, except the branding.

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Performance is handled by Intel’s Z2560 SoC, which offers two cores clocked at 1.6GHz. The processor is mated to a gigabyte of RAM, and the combination results in a smooth operation. During our brief usage, the phone felt responsive (and the tab too, since it’s being powered by the handset itself). However, we would be in a better position to comment about its performance when we put it under stress in our review. For storage, the device comes with 8GB of built-in memory, which leaves slightly less than 4GB for the end user. You can add on more storage with the use of a microSD card of up to 128GB capacity.

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Software-wise, the device runs Android 4.4 KitKat layered with the brand’s custom interface. We have already reviewed the ASUS’ Zen UI quite a few times in our reviews of the ASUS Zenfone smartphones, and we appreciate some of the useful features offered by it. One useful feature of having a phone docked in the tablet is that whatever app you were using on the former will directly be opened (and synced) on the larger screen on the slate.

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On the camera front, the phone sports an 8-megapixel sensor at the rear. However, there’s no LED flash, which means it’d not be able to capture any scene in poorly-lit conditions. For selfies and video calls, it has a 2MP shooter on the front.

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While for most things, the PadFone Station depends upon the phone, they have separate batteries. The phone sips juice from a 1,170mAh unit, while the slate draws power from a 2,100mAh unit. Although we haven’t used the ASUS PadFone Mini to comment about the battery life, it’s needless to say that they seem low on the battery capacity.

For connectivity, the dual-SIM smartphone is compatible with 3G and offer the standard set of options, including Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi and GPS. You can use the tab as well for making calls, since it’s being powered by the phone itself.

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On paper, the idea seems really intriguing and will definitely find its use case amongst quite a few people. However, we aren’t sure if the ASUS PadFone Mini will have a mass appeal, considering its sticker price of Rs 15,999 and the fact that its specs are average at best, compared to the standalone phones and tablets available in this price range. Add to it the fact that phablets have taken off in a big way (quite literally), and offer the best of both worlds in one device. That said, we are definitely keen to take an extensive look on the ASUS PadFone Mini and how well it fits our lives. Stay tuned for our review.



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