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Take a 7-inch ASUS Android tablet, add an earpiece and a dialer, and what comes out is the Fonepad. 

The ASUS Fonepad — mainly tablet, but also part phone. And ASUS is definitely marketing this as something you would use to make phone calls — just check out their official marketing videos for proof. But it's also a 7-inch Android tablet, with Intel internals and a competitive price point. It's a device with a pretty specific use case, but for the kind of person who might put the Fonepad to good use, it could be invaluable. But is it any good as a phone, or a tablet, or either? Let's take a look. 

The Good

Relatively untampered Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, displayed through a nice looking 7-inch IPS display. Excellent battery life. Convenience of having an all-in-one device. Well-priced for both a budget tablet and a budget smartphone.

The Bad

Sluggish performance — the Intel chip inside is perhaps not really up to the task of running a tablet. Screen auto-brightness is too aggressive, and outdoor mode isn't really bright enough even outdoors. Holding it up to your head to make a phone call is just bad. 

Conclusion

I really want to like the Fonepad, and in some respects I do. For the price, this is a very competitive device with fantastic battery life, Jelly Bean and the ability to make calls. Sadly, the internals let it down, and I fear that its low price point price may have led to the decision to use the Intel Z2420. It just doesn't feel nearly as smooth and snappy as the Nexus 7, which is similarly priced and a full year old. It hampers the overall experience, which is otherwise typically good from ASUS. 

The biggest issue is the way it's marketed by ASUS, almost more as a phone than a tablet. Holding this to my head in public was awkward to say the least. With headphones, it's a great idea — an all in one that is both a proper tablet and a full featured smartphone. But please, don't hold it to your head. 


Inside this review


More info

ASUS Fonepad video walkthrough

ASUS Fonepad hardware

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From the front, the Fonepad strikes a similar pose to the MeMo Pad 7 and indeed the Nexus 7, so ASUS continuing with a familiar design with all their tablets. On the front we're looking at a 1280x800 resolution IPS display at 7 inches. While it's a nice enough panel to look at — akin to that of the Nexus 7 — the way the auto-brightness is handled is less visually pleasant. It's very aggressive, and even indoors has a tenancy to drop brightness too low. Thankfully, a brightness slider is on hand in the notification try, but even so, I found myself spending most of the time with the Fonepad with "outdoor mode" enabled and cranked up to maximum brightness. 

Also on the front of the tablet is the 1.2-megapixel front facing camera, and the ear piece. We'll examine both in more detail later on, but make no mistake, you're supposed to hold this up to the side of your head while you're making a call. 

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Round the back things are a little plain. The rear of the Fonepad is made from metal, though admittedly not metal of the highest quality. An iPad this is not, but the back is at least very smooth, and not tacky like some plastic cases. My personal preference would have been for a Nexus 7-style rubberized rear to the Fonepad, particularly as ASUS sees you holding this up to your head. It's not overly slippy, but still doesn't offer the same grip as the soft rear on the Nexus 7.

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Also on the back we've got the rear-facing speaker, which while quite small is also reasonably loud, so you shouldn't find yourself in danger of missing a phone call when you set it down flat beside you. The darker colored strip up top is removable, and that's where we find the microSIM card slot and microSD card slot. Our test unit came with 16GB of internal storage, but the microSD card slot will support cards up to 32GB should you wish to expand. Both ports are spring loaded too, so no fiddly times ahead trying to get your cards out once they're in there — just press and release.

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Down below we have the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and a standard microUSB charging port. That's great to see, since on the Padfone 2 — for specific reasons, I know — you had a proprietary charging port with a unique cable. Thankfully there's none of that here. 

And so, onto the stuff we can't see — the internals. Powering the Fonepad is an Intel Atom Z2420 chip clocked at 1.2GHz. This is the same chip we saw at CES in January, commonly known as Lexington, that was marketed primarily for emerging markets. It's backed up by 1GB of RAM and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but there's no getting away from the lackluster performance. Basic tasks such as navigating the tablet are fine, but if you scroll too quickly through the app drawer, things get jittery. Similarly with web browsing, scrolling isn't at all smooth and Chrome takes a few seconds to kick itself into gear upon launch. If this is your first experience with an Android tablet, you possibly wouldn't notice any of this, but if you've ever touched something like a Nexus 7 you'll be disappointed. Compared to that device, every operation on the Fonepad feels lethargic. 

Cellular connectivity is 3G-only, compatible with HSPA+ downloads up to 21Mbps. So, not the dual-channel variety some carriers, and no LTE either, but at the price at which the Fonepad is retailed we'd not necessarily expect any advanced connectivity options. 

For the Far East market, an upgraded version of the Fonepad was recently announced. Basically the same, it comes with more on-board storage and a 1.6GHz Z2420 Intel chip (and a rear camera, for what that's worth). Honestly though, I'm not sure how much difference the extra 400MHz would make overall. I'm a fan of what Intel's doing with Android, I just don't think this particular chip is really tablet-worthy. 

ASUS Fonepad software

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It's Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It's pretty much untouched, and it has a bunch of ASUS' custom apps and wallpapers included. That's about it. Much like Samsung doesn't alter Touchwiz much from device to device, ASUS hasn't altered its software experience from earlier tablets. 

The fact its software remains pretty much untouched might endear the Fonepad to fans of the pure Android experience. ASUS' main visual customizations come through wallpapers and widgets, and changing up the look of the on-screen navigation buttons. Speaking of which, there's also a fourth key added to the bar, and this brings up ASUS' small apps, those which can be used as an overlay atop the main UI. These 'small apps' include a browser, a calculator, a video player to a stopwatch. Most of them are actually pretty useful — I always need a calculator for example, so being able to call one up in this way is pretty darned handy. 

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The pre-installed apps are very much standard ASUS fare, and much the same as we covered in our review of the Padfone 2. One cool addition is the (questinably named) ASUS Splendid app, which does some neat stuff to the display. It's essentially a screen calibration tool, with a "vivid mode" that makes everything pop a little more, and tools for you to adjust the hue, the saturation and the color temperature to your own preference. I like this a lot — I love displays that have bright, vivid colors so being able to pump it up is a welcome addition. ASUS has also included a screenshot editor on the Fonepad. So every time you take a screenshot you can edit or annotate it, and quick share if you so desire. 

And not forgetting that this is a phone, it comes with a 7-inch phone dialer, and a stock SMS app. The SMS app is as Google intended, but ASUS has put a little flavor of their own into the dialer. It's not offensive at all, but lacks the simple style of the stock, Nexus style phone dialer. 

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One element of the ASUS software that needs pointing out (and shaming) is the stock keyboard. It's horrible, it's slow, it's woefully unresponsive, and needs replacing as soon as you turn it on. It really is that bad. There, now I feel better. 

ASUS Fonepad camera

There are far too many options inside the camera app on the Fonepad, for a device that sports just a front-facer. Extra settings aren't necessarily a bad idea, but adjusting white balance and exposure for "selfies" seems a little extreme. We should remember that there is also a version of the Fonepad with a rear-facing camera, but the options seem out of place on the model we reviewed. It's actually a really nice camera app, as it was on the Padfone 2, but its features are sadly lost on the Fonepad. 

Images aren't appallingly bad, but equally you won't be hanging them in a portrait gallery any time soon. Video, it's claimed, is recorded at 720p, but honestly, aside from acceptable video calls, I couldn't recommend much more from the front facing camera. It does what it needs to do just fine, without excelling in any area.

One issue I found particularly troublesome was lining myself up in the middle of the frame. Because the Fonepad has an earpiece, the camera is offset from the center. As such, I couldn't just hold it up in front of me to make a video call. I had to angle it slightly, which was a little uncomfortable. A slight inconvenience, but an inconvenience all the same. 

ASUS Fonepad - Using it as a phone

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I've written up a separate post on several aspects of using the Fonepad as a phone, so I don't want to cover the same ground twice. The short version is yes, you can use it as a phone. I did, and call quality is very good, the ringer is plenty loud enough, and providing you remove the ASUS keyboard, texting is just as easy as it would be on a standard sized smartphone.

ASUS wants you to be in a bar, having a drink, and pick up your Fonepad and stick it to the side of your head to talk to someone. Please don't. Do yourself a favor and use a headset or some earphones instead.

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ASUS Fonepad battery life

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This has been a tricky one to gauge. As much as I've tried to use the Fonepad as my daily driver, for reasons discussed elsewhere, that didn't quite happen. One thing's for sure though, you're looking to at least 2-3 days of average-to-heavy use between charges. The 16 Wh battery ASUS claims will offer 32.5 hours of talk time and 751 hours of standby time. I've seen 9 days of battery life from mostly being on standby. But needless to say, the combination of Intel's much-hyped efficiency and a decent-sized battery results in a excellent longevity on the Fonepad. 

ASUS Fonepad pricing and availability

Here in the UK, the Fonepad can be had from Carphone Warehouse and Amazon. Amazon are currently selling it for £179 outright, while Carphone Warehouse has it for £169 or free on a new 2-year contract at £21 and above. Either way, the Fonepad is well-priced for both a budget tablet and a budget smartphone, with the added bonus of actually being both of those things. 

The bottom line

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I really want to like the Fonepad, and in some respects I do. For the price, this is a very competitive device with fantastic battery life, Jelly Bean, the ability to make calls. Sadly, the internals let it down, and I fear that the price tag alone may have led to the decision to use the Intel Z2420. It just doesn't feel nearly as smooth and snappy as the Nexus 7, which is similarly priced and a full year old. It hampers the overall experience, which is otherwise typically good from ASUS. 

The biggest thing I don't like is the way it's marketed by ASUS, almost more as a phone than a tablet. Holding this to my head in public was awkward to say the least. With headphones, it's a more reasonable proposition — an all-in-one device that is both a proper tablet and a full-featured smartphone. But please, don't hold it to your head. This is a tablet, whichever way they want you to look at it. 

For some time now, we've longed for ASUS to just make a smartphone. Not a tablet, nor a dockable device, just phone. Sadly that wait continues.

 

Reader comments

ASUS Fonepad review

17 Comments

Well... There is no denying ASUS wants to blur and blend form factors. The transformer series. The padfone.... They can't all be winners.

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Where the lady holds the phone to her head to place a call (it was in the original video not sure if the above one is that) is the best part of a marketing video I have ever seen. I watched it at least a dozen times and showed it to everyone I know...Holding a Nexus 7 to your head, it's comedic gold.

Exactly but not the least bit embarrassing IMHO. Nowadays if anything the bigger your phone the better your phone... "Look my phone is bigger than yours..." haha seriously. I debated between this and the International Note 8. I went with the Note 8 for around a hundred bucks more. I actually can not wait to hold it up to my head then place it back down and proudly look around at who is laughing because I'll probably be laughing harder than they are. It's funny. Not embarrassing. And as often as I talk on a phone it won't happen that much. People who think it's taboo to talk on a large phone must still be living in the 90's. When the smaller your cell phone was the better it was. If anything I'll be striking up many many many conversations.

Now as often as I browse the web, email, etc... that will be sweet. Anyway I almost got a fonepad because of no soft keys. I liked the idea better of being able to grip the bezel anywhere without having to worry about accidentally hitting back or menu. Also I'm stuck with that stupid white color. Hate white. I think I'm going to cover the bezel with electrical tape though. White phones are for girls. lol. Not only that the white color is more distracting to the eyes when looking at the screen. It's the little things. I still may pick up a fonepad and try it out though.

I really wish the US carriers would take notice of this, I'd prefer to have a Tablet with a dedicated phone. All you need is a bluetooth headset and Google Voice/ now to tell it to call who ever you want and you wouldn't have to hold it up to your head.Also a blutooth stylus that is a dual propose headset would be perfect for this, I'm surprised they didn't design one like the Phone pad 2 did. I like to watch a lot of media and the size is great.

Just got my Note 8 GT-5100. Awesome screen. Yes it's large. I'm thinking the Nexus 7/fonepad size might be the sweet spot for tablet-phone. I can hold the Note 8 with one hand like a phone and even put it in my large pant pocket. Snugly... But I can't believe I'm saying it, but it might be just a little too big. We'll see how it goes after a few days. I do still hate the white color. I'm thinking finding the right case is going to make all the difference.

RDP on this device is just great. Resolution is perfect for RDP. Not too low, not too high. Also did I mention the screen is awesome! I mean honestly it could almost pass off as AMOLED. And the brightness... Dang! Maxed out it hurts my eyes.

How crappy does your chip have to be when it can't even handle android Intel? This is exactly why so many people prefer Qualcomm SoCs.

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It's more a point of which Intel chip is being used, as mentioned in the review. The Z2420 aka Lexington was announced at CES as their chip for 'emerging markets' which often means smaller, lower spec'd smartphones. It also usually means a lower price, and I fear that either ASUS, Intel or both compromised performance in trying to make the Fonepad to a price and used the Lexington chip. 

Don't know what this reviewer is talking about the Atom chip@1.6ghz can Handel WindowS 7 full version in a 10.1,inch Netbook! why would it have a problem running Android? Ps Crazy Talk?

Yeah a lot of the other reviews on this "Phone" across the web say the performance is actually not bad unless trying to play high end games...

Been using this tablet since it came out and love it. Benchmarks in the low 9000's on antutu. Excellent screen, I never use auto brightness. There is no lte or 4G where I live and not likely to be for years to come. It's rooted, has usb otg, expandable storage, bluetooth, gps, wifi, plays riptide, pocket rally etc, makes calls, sms. Stop harping on about holding it to your head they came out with an amazing invention a few years back called hands free wired and unwired. Try it you'll like it. This works where ever I am no running around looking for hotspots etc. No worries about throttling due to tethering. 12 quid a month sim only unlimited data, sms and 150 min on Virgin.

If we ignore the size, it is hard to find an android 4.x phone for this price unsubsidized. I hope for a version 2.0 with a faster SoC next year.

We need devices like this to basically spread the knowledge to non-techies that phones don't really ever cost $600+ to build. Many phones sell for near 100% markup unsubsidized.

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Who holds their phone to their head anymore? I could count the number of times I've done that in the last two months on one hand without including the thumb. Headphones, speaker phone, bluetooth all work fine if you're really that concerned about what strangers think you look like holding your tablet to your ear.

Hi Guys,

I came to know something weird about ASUS fonepad. Once the battery is drain out then your pad will not work. Need to send to customer service. I am owning it and keeping the battery charged. So please if you have bought it ensure your battery is charge time to time to avoid drain out and non functioning of it.
Thank you,

Im no stranger to large handsets, Dell Streak 5, Motorola Atrix with laptop dock, Samsung Galaxy Note 1 and 2, ASUS Padfone 2 and now the ASUS Fonepad. All apart from the last, very expensive on early adoption. Two words on the Fonepad, "BUY ONE!" What fantastic value for money. Ive read reviews on lagginess, seen none (maybe early reviews on previous Firmware recently uodated?). Taking and receiving calls, excellent. Embarassed lifting to your head? Grow up your an adult arent you? It hangs onto 3g signal like a limpit in areas that my Padfone doesnt, zings around the net on 3g, bluetooth connection to my wireless earhpones excellent with no signal black spots, all movie formats play nicely (with approriate apps). Ive stuck a £10 64gb Micro SD in it and its playing nicely, just dont load to much on at once. Battery? Phenominal - Ive been getting two days fairly heavy useage. Now the minuses: it will scratch front and back due to "economy" non Corning Gorilla glass screen and tinny metal rear case. Ive got a screen protector, finding it difficult to source a gel / case thin enough to enable it to slip into my jean pocket though. No rear camera, suits me as I have a camera for that. I have to say its been a revalation in two weeks of ownership. AS per Padfone though, ASUS seem unable to market and release their products well - try buying one of these in stock on the high street, near impossible. You are going to still need your smaller "pub" phone but for all else, this product and I cant believe as a UK citizen that I am saying this, "it rocks".

Richard

Thanks for the detailed analysis and info on Asus FonePad.

I bought this tablet recently and find it very useful, but one problem is unable to move phone apps to the external SD card.

Installed the external SD card in the slot provided and the tablet is recognizing the SD card.

Installed several apps (such as (move 2 SD and several others)but none of them work on this tablet.

Some say the tablet should be rooted.

Please give your opinion and the solution to this problem.

Regards

A. S. Bhasker Raj
Bangalore
India

Bah humbug! What's wrong with you young fellas? You're all so damn conformist these days, no one wants to stand out from the crowd. I LOVE THIS FONEPAD!! It was built for an old fella like me - I can actually read what's on the screen!! It's light enough to carry all day. The size is a pleasure compared to trying to see my 4.2" Sony Xperia screen, particularly when typing, which I do a lot of for work. The only thing I would've liked is a higher resolution rear camera for work & play - mine has the 3MP. I'm still looking for some info on whether it can use standard headphones or needs it's own kind. Go on, stick it on your head young fellas, I dare you!