Android has a long history of playing host to ridiculously large smartphones. First there was the Dell Streak. Next came the original Samsung Galaxy Note. And now in 2013 we have the ASUS Fonepad, a 7-inch tablet that's also a 7-inch phone. On first inspection the Fonepad looks a little bit like a another 7-inch ASUS tablet, the Nexus 7. But unlike that device it's also a full 3G/HSPA phone, complete with earpiece and microphone. That's right, you can hold this seven-inch slab of electronics to your head and make telephone calls.
Where other large smartphones -- including Huawei's gigantic Ascend Mate -- trim down their bezels to make them more pocket and hand-friendly, ASUS has chosen to incorporate a tablet-sized screen trim on the Fonepad. As a result, using the device as a telephone in the usual way is the binary opposite of ergonomic. If you felt awkward making phone calls on a Galaxy Note, that's nothing by comparison. Assuming you posses digits large enough to palm the Fonepad to your ear, you're going to look and feel like an idiot walking around with it pressed to your face.
So how does the Fonepad hold up as a tablet? Well, the overall experience is pretty close to the Nexus 7 in both size and software. You've got Android 4.1.2 running the show, along with ASUS' own UI layer -- still fairly close to stock, but slowly becoming more feature-laden as time passes. One interesting addition is small, windowed apps, accessible via the on-screen button to the far right. Like similar implementations from Sony and Samsung, this pops up a menu from which you can choose a variety of miniature applications, including notepads, calculators and the like.
The Fonepad has a metal back, and the build quality is decent, though not outstanding. That should come as no surprise when you consider the Fonepad's budget pricing -- £179 in the UK and €219 in the eurozone. It lacks the finesse of the brushed aluminum on devices like the HTC One and ASUS' own Padfone Infinity. Overall, it's about as well-made as the Nexus 7 (a pretty well-constructed tablet, if you ask us), but there's a gulf between it and certain other premium tablets made out of metal.
Powering the ASUS Fonepad is an Intel Atom Z2420 CPU -- a 1.2GHz single-core part with HyperThreading tech. There's also 1GB of RAM and 8 or 16GB of internal storage, backed up by a microSD card slot (accessible by snapping the top area off). Overall, you're looking at pretty modest internals, but enough to provide a reasonably snappy Android 4.1 experience.
In our view, the Fonepad makes more sense as a cheap tablet that doubles up as a phone in an emergency. However it isn't branded as such -- it's the Fonepad after all. It'll make for a decent budget tab, but it falls flat when presented as a smartphone competitor.
The ASUS Fonepad will launch in Q2 in Europe and Asia. In Europe, it'll come with 16GB of storage and no rear camera; in Asia, you'll get 8GB and a 3MP rear shooter.