Android Central

The Padfone 2 is the second iteration of ASUS' smartphone/tablet hybrid. It's an unusual concept, but does it work?

The ASUS Padfone 2 was first unveiled back in October 2012 as an update to the original Padfone. Beyond mere spec updates, there are design improvements over its predecessor also. It's an unusual concept for sure, but then ASUS is absolutely no stranger to trying out-of-the-ordinary products. This is, after all, the company that brought us the original Transformer tablet with laptop dock, and one which since has released an enormous Windows 8 desktop/Android tablet hybrid. 

And that's why we love ASUS products. There's usually something that sets them apart from the competition, and for that they should always be commended, even if the results aren't always perfect. The Padfone has always intrigued, but it's suffered from limited global availability since the original launched, not to mention astronomical price tags. But, since Mobile World Congress (which also saw the launch of the Padfone Infinity) Padfone 2 availability increased somewhat, and the device finally saw a UK launch. So here it is, one of the more unusual devices to pass through for review, but also one we've been waiting to get our hands on.

But is it any good? Click on and we'll find out. 

The Good

Relatively un-tampered Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, displayed through a very nice looking Super IPS+ display on the phone. Top notch hardware specs, especially for a device that's technically six months old. Battery control when docked in the tablet is superb -- the intelligent mode ensures that the power stays where you need it. Good camera, with plenty of options in the ASUS camera app.

The Bad

Non-standard charging cable is frustrating. Display on the tablet a little disappointing. Prone to crashing when shooting 1080p video, which forces a full device reboot. Sound from rear speaker almost non-existent below half volume levels.

Conclusion

The Padfone 2 is still a niche product, but a very good one nevertheless. For someone who wants both a decent quality smartphone, and a 10-inch Android tablet the Padfone 2 represents good value for money. The smartphone portion is superb, with top notch specs, a relatively vanilla Android 4.1 experience and a great camera. Please, please, please though, ASUS -- won't just you build us a smartphone on its own?

ASUS Padfone 2 video walkthrough

ASUS Padfone 2 hardware - smartphone

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As the Padfone 2 comes in two pieces, we'll take a look at the hardware of each part individually, starting with the smartphone. The tl;dr version -- It's excellent. 

Starting up front, the Padfone 2 contains a 4.7-inch, 1280x720 Super IPS+ display, and it's gorgeous. Everything is crystal clear and razor sharp, colors pop nicely and it's beautifully bright. Blacks could be a little deeper, but whites are crisp and bright with almost no evidence of discoloration. The new Android Central app with its white backgrounds looks exceptional on this display. 

Viewing angles are also first-rate, with no real deterioration as you turn the phone away from you. ASUS has included in the software build some handy quick settings for optimizing the display depending on external conditions. Beyond the standard auto-brightness there's also a one-tap setting for "normal" mode, for regular indoors use, and an "outdoor" mode which basically cranks everything up to 11. 

Android Central   Android Central

Taking a quick tour of the externals, there's little out of the ordinary. Up top is the standard 3.5 mm headphone jack, sitting alongside the microSIM tray. The left hand side of the device is completely bare, and on the right hand side we find the volume rocker and the power button. The charging port is down the bottom, and is the single most frustrating part of the whole device. But we'll come to that in a minute. 

Android Central   Android Central

Inside the Padfone 2 powering everything along is a 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro, coupled with 2GB of RAM. So, definitely no slouch. It comes in a variety of storage options, though the one we have here has 32GB of on-board storage without the option for a microSD card slot. The manufacturer does throw in 50GB of ASUS Webstorage free of charge for two years as well. The phone packs a reasonably sized battery, at 2140mAh, and it is none-removable. 

Camera wise, the Padfone 2 comes with a 13MP f/2.4 rear shooter, coupled with a 1.2MP front-facer. We'll go into the cameras in more detail later on, but needless to say they're -- perhaps surprisingly -- pretty good. By default the camera shoots 13-megapixel images in 4:3 aspect ratio. Switching to a more phone (or TV)-friendly 16:9 reduces this to 10MP, which is still pretty high. 

Sitting next to the camera on the rear of the phone is the rather small speaker. I'm not sure whether it's a hardware issue or a software issue, but from about half volume and below, the sound from the speaker is pretty much in-audible. Once you get over half volume, all is well and max volume is plenty loud. It's as baffling as it is frustrating should you rely on the external speaker a lot. HTC BoomSound this ain't.

Generally, though, all is well on the hardware front when it comes to the smartphone. There's a great display, and it's packing some good power under the hood, along with a pair of good cameras. But, remember earlier we mentioned the charging port? Yeah ...

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The charging port is microUSB, only it isn't. Not quite. In a move no doubt related to how the phone docks with the tablet, the charging cable has a kind of extension on the top of it. Maybe I was just doing it wrong, but I couldn't make it accept a standard microUSB cable, and actually destroyed two of them trying. It's not a major disaster, but you only get one in the box. And if you lose it, or if you break it, tell me the closest place you can buy a replacement from. Apple can get away with proprietary charging cables, as you can head to any big-box electrical retailer and pick up a new one. ASUS doesn't have that kind of coverage. So look after that cable. 

ASUS Padfone 2 hardware - tablet

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The tablet part of the Padfone 2 is basically just a case, a screen and a battery. In terms of internals, it uses the Snapdragon S4 Pro and 2GB of RAM in the phone. The battery in the tablet is a pretty decent 5,000mAh, and will work in conjunction with the 2,140mAh battery in the phone. With intelligent mode enabled, the unit will divert the power where it's most needed -- but more on that later. 

The display is pretty average fare, being a 1280x800 IPS panel. It isn't bad, but it's not as nice to look at as the one on the phone, so there is a sense of disappointment when you dock and fire up the tablet. But, it's responsive, bright and colorful, and has all the same brightness options as the phone. 

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It'sa round the back of the tablet where things get a bit different. The rear is home to the docking station for the phone, and there's a hump in the middle where it sits. The docking mechanism on the original Padfone was awkward -- hidden behind a door no less -- but this is smooth, and quick to dock and un-dock. The phone just slides into the channel, clicks into place and you're all set. There's then a momentary delay while the tablet fires up, but it's not like waiting for a bus. Just a second or two and you're ready to go.

The tablet has the same charging port as the smartphone, and you can charge both while the phone is docked. Otherwise there's nothing much to look at -- the usual array of switches, and a single speaker off to the left hand side. On a tablet, I'd personally prefer a central speaker, but the design of the docking mechanism pretty much rules this out. 

ASUS Padfone 2 Software

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The Padfone 2 comes running Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, and purists will delight that in typical ASUS fashion it's a mostly unmolested version of Jelly Bean. In fact, the UI is pretty much as Google intended, with the most noticeable changes coming in the notification tray. The app drawer is stock in appearance, and  the main ASUS customizations take the form of a bunch of pre-loaded applications and widgets. 

Because the Padfone 2 has capacitive keys, that gorgeous 4.7-inch display is just full of Jelly Bean top to bottom. The ASUS wallpapers and widgets fit well with the aesthetics of stock Android, complementing Google's software design.

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When docked, the tablet interface takes over, and we're looking at a more 'traditional' tablet layout, not as we've become accustomed to with many recent Android tablets. Notifications and the clock are bottom right, on-screen buttons can be found on the bottom left, with Google Search taking one top corner and the app drawer occupying the other.

The great thing about the tablet being powered by the phone is that every single application installed on the phone suddenly is accessible on the tablet. And that includes the messaging app and the phone app. Nothing is disabled, meaning you have in your hands a 10-inch telephone. Let's ignore the ridiculousness of using a phone of this size for a moment and consider the benefits. You're sat on a train, for example, playing a game and someone calls you. Instead of having to put down the tablet and reach for your phone, just hit answer and you're on the call. That's just one example, but if you spend a lot of time using a tablet, it's a nice little time saver. (Since there's no earpiece you shouldn't be tempted to hold it to your head.)

You can also personally identify any apps as "Pad only" within the app drawer. Whether these are specific tablet-only applications, or just some games that you only wanted to play on the bigger screen, identifying them this way hides them away until the phone is docked. 

ASUS has thrown in a selection of its own apps too, including a gallery, a photo story maker, the Webstorage app complete with 50GB for free for two years, and some kind of social widget called BuddyBuzz that kept crashing. Polaris Office and a file manager are nice, and useful additions -- the former is especially useful when using the Padfone 2 as a tablet. 

The software on the Padfone 2 performs fantastically well for most of the time. The smartphone's performance is superb all of the time. Speedy, silky smooth, no visible lag or stuttering anywhere. The tablet is generally good most of the time. From time to time things can get a little jerky, but this is perhaps more a by-product of the docking system. 

Remember too that ASUS is traditionally speedy when it comes to delivering updates. 

ASUS Padfone 2 Camera

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The rear camera on the Padfone 2 is pretty good, perhaps surprisingly good. (Perhaps because ASUS is best known in the Android space for its tablets, where cameras tend to be an afterthought.) The shooter is billed as 13-megapixel unit, and it is, so long as you don't mind shooting in the 4:3 aspect ratio. If you prefer 16:9, the resolution drops to 10MP, but lets face it, 10MP is more than ample. 

The camera app is equally impressive. It's absolutely chock-full of options, from the regular exposure and ISO settings, through to some Instagram-style filters, scene modes and even a user-definable setting for zero shutter lag. Everything is laid out perfectly too -- the settings menus are off to the left, and the shooting controls are off to the right. This means you can hold the Padfone 2 safely and steadily in two hands and still have the ability to reach all the controls as you're lining up your shot. 

Android Central   Android Central

Talk of cameras is no good without samples though, so here's a selection of snapshots from the Padfone 2 taken in ever-changing conditions. All were taken at 10MP in 16:9 aspect ratio, no effects, just stock settings. 

The only criticism I can really direct towards the camera is that it seems to struggle a little focusing on close objects in more direct sunlight. You have to really fight the auto-focus to try and sharpen up your subject. The camera seems to handle changing light conditions reasonably well, though I did notice sometimes the white balance get thrown off a little. However all those images were taken with stock settings. If you dive in and tweak things, the results could be even better.

Android Central   Android Central

Oh, and just for the sake of this review, I shot a couple using the 'hipster' filters. My advice; add such things in post processing with another app, as the ASUS filters aren't that great. 

The Padfone 2 is capable of full HD 1080p video recording, though I can't say I would necessarily recommend it. For whatever reason, trying to record a 1080p video would almost always cause a total crash and reboot of the phone. It's surely fixable, but when the resolution was dropped the crashing seemed to disappear. However, perseverance pays off, and you'll find a sample video below. The sound collected could be a better, but all-round it's not too bad.

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The front facing camera is a 1.3MP unit, and again is surprisingly good. For a front facing camera, the still images are more than acceptable, leaving you with some pretty decent looking Instagrammable selfies. If only it could do something about the person it was shooting the footage of... 

Video quality from the front facer is also decent enough. Considering a common use of the front facing camera is video calling, the Padfone 2 does a decent job of this. Folks on the other end should see a reasonably clear image, and it seems to capture plenty light to keep you looking clear throughout.

ASUS Padfone 2 battery life

Android Central   Android Central

This is where things get a little confusing. During testing, battery life was incredibly hard to gauge for one simple reason -- the tablet dock. Because the battery in the phone and tablet work together, the tablet was charging the phone when required. The bottom line is that using it this way resulted in plugging in to charge every couple of days. 

This is the result of the so-called intelligent mode that can be activated when the phone is docked into the tablet. This will divert battery power where most required; since the tablet requires the phone to be able to work, it will charge the phone from its own battery. This is actually a great way to go about things. During camera testing, I spent a whole afternoon walking around my local town and as you might imagine the battery took a bit of a pounding. Because I also had the tablet dock in my rucksack, I threw the phone into it, put the whole assembly into my bag, and left it charging while I walked to my next destination. Importantly, that meant the phone always had enough battery power, and that's the way it should be. 

You can set things up so that the tablet will always charge the phone, regardless of the phone's own battery level, but intelligent mode works really well. When the phone is full, instead of wasting power trying to keep it full, the tablet will start using its own battery to power what's on the tablet display. Granted, setting things up this way requires frequent use of the tablet, but then if you're buying a Padfone 2 you're likely going to use the tablet part a fair bit anyway. 

The bottom line

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I'm still not sold on 10-inch Android tablets, but that's just me. Some people are, and the Padfone 2 offers a great way to get into that space. The UK price is currently around the £600 mark, which is a lot of money -- around US$1000, in fact. But you're getting both a decent 10-inch Android tablet and an excellent Android smartphone. I've always been intrigued by the idea of the Padfone, and considering ASUS generally doesn't do phones, it's done really, really well. I love the smartphone part of the Padfone 2.

It's a niche product, but for someone who wants both a good quality smartphone, and a 10-inch Android tablet the Padfone 2 represents very good value for money. The smartphone portion is superb, with top notch specs, a relatively vanilla Android 4.1 experience and a great camera. Please, please, please though, ASUS -- won't just you build us a smartphone on its own?

 
There are 35 comments

the good " very nice looking Super IPS+ display"
the bas "Display on the tablet a little disappointing. "
really?

Alex Dobie says:

Yeah. The display on the phone is great. On the tablet less so.

This is a little disappointing....you think the screens could match each other in quality...not that it matters to us in the states....

mwara244 says:

Would love a Tablet 10" or 7 " that has the phone built into it, and just use a headset, like bluetooth, or some ear buds to answer the calls, or speakerphone. I use speakerphone a lot, plus I don't like to hold phones close to my head, the WHO (world Health Organization) said people need to keep their phones a minimum of 4 inches away from you head because of the long term affects of the microwaves.

Next tablet should just build the phone into it, too bad we can't get these in the States, but the carriers won't allow it because it would take away money from them to charge us for a Tablet and Phone separately per month per device. We need to take back all this power the carriers have given themselves, and they need more regulations. They Lease OUR spectrum (we the people of the US own the airwaves) from the FCC on our behalf. More regulation is needed from all this crap they do to customers in deciding everything for us all for the sake of profit and no other reason, limiting us and innovation, and price gouging.

tokuzumi says:

Look at the non-US spec Samsung Galaxy Tablets. They come with ear pieces in the right spot, and microphones in the right spot.

Added "on the phone" just to be super clear

Lolken21 says:

I'm sorry .. but I think this is a stupid and wasteful idea. But, to each their own.

wanted this phone ever since it was announced. Too bad the networks over here in US won't work with it. Heard some people have got it to work on 2g speeds... GG Verizon/ATT/TM/Spr.

littleemp says:

I really like the concept, but they need to offer it for the american market as well. If they could somehow standardize 7 and 10 inch dock accessories to go with Smartphones that would be really nice. (Wouldn't have to get two different devices for one)

bboyairwreck says:

To people who think this is a wasteful gimmicky idea, I would argue that this is more of a step towards the future. Having one device with all the processing power, and everything else is just a dock that can be sold for cheap. Tablet is an external monitor. and with that it can be docked on a keyboard to make a laptop. Many people would argue that if you carry this dock, you might as well just carry a regular tablet/laptop. But once phone processing gets more sophisticated, that will no longer be the case. You no longer have to buy THREE devices. everything else is just an accessory.

So for what the Padphone 2 is right now, yes it has a long way to go, but I still won't argue this is gimmicky or wasteful idea. I applaud ASUS for pushing the boundaries

Dutchmasta says:

The only reason i would argue that this is wasteful is that it is from a monetary standpoint. I would think the whole idea of using the phones processing power to power the tablet would be to save money on buying both a tablet and a phone separately. For $1000 you can buy an equally nice or nicer smartphone and a nicer tablet (something with a better screen and speakers). If this was priced around $600 maybe $700, perhaps you might have a point. For $1000 you could get a HTC One and a Nexus 10. just sayin.

bboyairwreck says:

I agree completely as well Dutchmasta. The docks in reality should be a much lower price. It's just a screen and speakers. But at these prices, it's definitely worth getting two great standalone devices instead of 1 PadFone. So yes its wasteful from monetary standpoint. I was just arguing more on a technology evolutionary standpoint.

Aw yes, but does both devices connect to cell towers? And if they do, do you pay for two different devices? I would buy this in a heart beat if it was on Verizon in the USA. I think many other people would too.

jeffreytz says:

Totally agree - hopefully this is the future.

g8rzz187 says:

I agree. I tried the Bionic Lapdock - great concept, poorly implemented in my experience. Currently tethering a Samsung ARM Chromebook to Bionic - love the Chromebook, but it would be SO much nicer if it supported Android apps.

I think the Padphone is the perfect set up - just lacks a keyboard. The convenience and mobility of your smartphone combined with the practicality of a tablet/netbook-type device using the smartphone's data.

Silver Veloz says:

Even though a lot of people are still hating on the Bionic and the Lapdock, since the Jelly Bean update on the Bionic, the Lapdock has increased in utilization tremendously. To this day, I still take the Lapdock with me on vacation and am still asked what I just did, when I dock the Bionic to the Lapdock. The same question also comes up "Can my phone do that?"

The Lapdock has the keyboard, and I attach a wireless mouse to it as well as an external hard drive at times. I love that the Lapdock also has an internal battery that charges the Bionic while you are using.

The PadPhone is somewhat the same concept, and I've always been intrigued by it and would love to try it out. I am confused by the high price for it. You can't utilize it by itself until the phone is docked, so why would they charge a full price like it was a separate tablet?

bboyairwreck says:

// Comment removed. [double post.]

Just a Guy says:

I personally like the concept as it is similar to the lap dock Motorola had. A system like this (or the lap dock) works great for my situation as I travel semi regularly for work. I have a company laptop, but they're pretty strict on what you use for even on personal time. With that being said, I don't care for the added bulk of packing 2 laptops, but sometimes I want something bigger than my phone while sitting in a hotel (ie streaming Netflix, etc).

rdybala says:

Personally, I agree with the concept but not the price. $1,000 is too much for, what is essentially, an external monitor with speakers. That being said, the concept is awesome and from what I understand on the original Padfone, the transition between tablet and phone is excellent. The real caveat here is, 1 data plan for 2 devices! Which is where I guess ASUS gets off asking so much.

This would NEVER fly in the US, because of that very reason. The cell phone companies here make way too much money of data plans and buying a separate device with an additional data plan only makes them see $$$.

Wonder if the carriers here in the US told ASUS not to release it here

i found it prety cool.... a small device to the go and a big device to use at home

thebizz says:

This is such a great concept but man they need to bring the price down. At this point I would rather have two separate devices before I paid a grand for this.

benurd says:

*embarrassed* This review just showed me that there is an awesome AC widget. Not sure why I never checked for widget options. I live in the AC app. Sheesh. Shows how much I use my app drawer.

Gearu says:

Maybe go for the Padfone 3 (Infinity). But before that gets on the shelf they'll unveil Padfone 4. Getting nowhere fast.

ScottJ says:

When ever I see Padfone, I see Padawan for some reason. Distracting, though the Padawan would be a cool name for a phone. That way if Siri/S-Voice/Google Now gets too uppity you can remind them of their rightful place in the pecking order.

ctys2ard says:

Good review Richard. But I think you are missing out the main points that Padfone series is trying to sell. The idea of being to work everything from the phone itself is in fact the core of the concept.

For instance, one sim 2 device. With the exorbitant cost of 4G plans in the UK, this is the best possible solution forward. And no syncing of data is needed in both devices. The music you listen to, the games you play and the files you work on are always with you regardless as long as you have your phone with you.

The rest of the bundle like battery packs and better speaker on the tab itself serves as accessories, which will boost the user's productivity.

It's a shame that ASUS no longer includes the keyboard dock in PF2 onwards. Bluetooth keyboards and OTG works just fine but it's much neater with the dock.

Suntan says:

Honestly, I'd rather have a 7" sized tablet that slips into a 14" sized laptop dock.

-Suntan

dngelica says:

Maybe go for the Padfone 3 (Infinity). But before that gets on the shelf they'll unveil Padfone 4. Getting nowhere fast.

ctys2ard says:

pf infinity is already on shelves in the far east

Spence1115 says:

See, I like this idea, and I'm glad its finally out, but why bother doing it when you announce the Infinity? I'm just going to wait for that, but then they'll replace that when that's finally out here as well.

The Infinity has specs to match the HTC One/Xperia Z/Galaxy S4, so why isn't it out at the same time when it has a hope of selling rather than some unspecified time in the future?

What I'd want from the Padfone 4:
- Top specs, matching whatever flagships are out/coming out at the time, like the Infinity has done.
- Release outside of Taiwan at the same time, rather than making us wait for months and months.
- A keyboard dock. I'd love to use this for work. Yes I'll need a laptop as well at some point, but for more casual work use when I just need to type up a few documents, this would be perfect. The original Padfone had a keyboard dock, and its much easier than using bluetooth as it gives you a stand as well, so why can't we keep doing that?

Am I the only one who can't help but cringe every time I read one of these reviews and see the device screen face down on top of rocks or some other abrasive surface?! Why, just..... why?!

pcjona says:

ok so why is this getting reviewed a year later? especially when the 3rd gen of the combo is out.

really behind on things.

s2weden2000 says:

ePic!

plunder says:

I like ASUS, but wonder how this version will do in the UK. I like and use a Transformer with that nice keyboard all the time; but they are actually becoming harder to find here. Special cables are another worry, finding spare like that can be tricky.

So will you be using this beast after the review? That is the real test.

dngelica says:

Maybe go for the Padfone 3 (Infinity). But before that gets on the shelf they'll unveil Padfone 4. Getting nowhere fast. http://friendship.in.net/

john hozy says:

There's usually something that sets asus laptop tablet
apart from the competition, and for that they should always be commended, even if the results aren't always perfect.