Android Central

Having teased it for over a year, today ASUS publicly unveiled the Padfone in its final form, at its Mobile World Congress press conference in Barcelona. In addition to the much-hyped phone-within-a-tablet functionality, ASUS has brought along a few surprising new features, including a capacitive pen which doubles as a handset. It's also expanded upon the Transformer concept, introducing a keyboard docking option for the Padfone. That's right, you can plug the phone into the tablet, then plug the tablet into the keyboard dock. Crazy stuff to be sure.

Read on to find out what we thought of ASUS' ambitious three-in-one device.

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The Padfone's hardware has changed a little since we first saw it back in 2011. The handset itself is undeniably sleeker than what was first unveiled last year, and the tablet dock -- though a little bulkier than we'd like -- at least looks attractive and sports a bright IPS display.

Most of the magic happens inside the handset itself. It runs a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on a 4-inch qHD SuperAMOLED display. We've since been spoiled by a glut of 720p smartphones, but on a 4-inch display, the Padfone handset's 960x540 pixels are more than sufficient. ICS itself has been moderately skinned on the phone side, mirroring what ASUS has done with its tablet UI. It's closer to vanilla ICS than most phones, but it definitely has its own personality. Throw in 16GB to 64GB of storage, an 8MP rear camera and you've got what we'd describe as a decent mid to high-end phone. The ICS phone interface -- and its tablet counterpart when docked -- fly along on the speedy "Krait"-based dual-core Snapdragon.

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The tablet dock is best described as a slightly chunkier version of the original Transformer. There's a bulge at the back where the phone slots into place, and there's no denying that it's a bit heaver than the other two ASUS tablets on show at MWC -- the Transformer Pad Infinity and Transformer Pad 300. We didn't have any trouble holding it comfortably though, and performance was just as smooth as you'd expect.

The IPS-based tablet screen was equally impressive -- bright, sharp and colorful. Besides the screen, the only thing of interest in the tablet dock's hardware is the battery, which ASUS says boosts battery life by up to 5X (in the same way as the keyboard dock for other Transformer devices).

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Add in the keyboard dock and ASUS claims a 9X increase in battery life for the Padfone, as a result of yet another battery found in the base station. If you've used a Transformer before, you'll be right at home with the Padfone's keyboard dock. There's a latch to lock it in place, and when you do, Android adapts itself once again to go from phone, to tablet to laptop, complete with mouse control options.

The morning's big surprise came when ASUS chairman Jonny Shih introduced yet another component into the mix -- a capacitive stylus, which doubles up as a handset when the Padfone is in tablet mode. Like the on Galaxy Note or Optimus Vu, you can use the pen to draw and interact with the screen. But if you want to make a call, you can also hold it up to your head and take advantage of the built-in speaker and earphone. Very cool, but we'll freely admit it looks more than a little ridiculous. Voice calling over the pen was demonstrated to us at today's press conference, though how it'll work in the real world remains to be seen.

There's no doubt that the Padfone is a technically impressive device, and ASUS deserves credit for even attempting to brew up such a crazy pot of mobile technology. But we have to wonder how practical this will end up being in every day use -- time will tell whether consumers will want to take ASUS up on its offer of a three-in-one dockable device with pen input.

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There are 31 comments

Gekko says:

are those fixed or virtual buttons at the bottom of the display?

drant22 says:

those are definitely virtual buttons, very exciting. If you look close you can see the black difference between the button background and the edges of the phone and notice they are part of the screen.

Gekko says:

and IMO this is what manufacturers should do - VIRTUAL buttons with some CUSTOMIZATION of those buttons if they'd like for differentiation.

fixed buttons date and obsolete the device before it's even released!!!

do you hear me Chou???????????

Taz89 says:

how does fixed button obsolete the device.ics uses 3 buttons the new htc phones uses 3 buttons in the same position with same function...side not i agree virtual button is better as it allows for bigger screens on smaller form factor.

fakiesk8r333 says:

true, but if you use virtual buttons they become user configurable. For instance on the AOKP rom you can rearrange them, add the search and menu button, change their color, and even flash a different image for the button

Son37Lumiere says:

Who gives a shit, they're buttons. Plus the onscreen buttons just waste screen space.

DWR_31 says:

And ASUS told the masses, it's cheaper for us to make, but it will cost you nearly the same as buying a phone, a tablet, and a netbook together.

But I still want this.
Sent from my OG Transformer....

15israellai says:

Finally someone's doing the virtual buttons.
This combination is the ultimate, I guess - at least it's like the Always Innovating one.
And of course I expected more. 720p at least and optionally Tegra 3. That'd make it the best device ever.

PlanetJumble says:

720p would have been nice, but then the tablet dock would have had just 80 lines more. :)

Also Snapdragon S4 is in many cases FASTER than Tegra 3!

http://www.anandtech.com/show/5563/qualcomms-snapdragon-s4-krait-vs-nvid...

inuchan says:

The one thing that would make this perfect is to load that Ubuntu onto the phone so when you dock it into the tablet it runs the Linux.

Gekko says:

ChromeOS would be better.

Grahaman27 says:

you must be on crack.

chrome OS is only chrome, Ubuntu is anything you want including chrome.

curl2k1 says:

Now THIS is something I can get behind. The real question is, which one of our carriers will pick it up and how bad will they screw it up...

DrDoppio says:

Awesome technology, for sure. I'd also like to see this converging with Cannonical's efforts to merge Android and Ubuntu.

Off topic, who cares about the buttons or about US telcos? Focus on the big picture...

hmmm says:

This is pretty cool. I would probably get it and sell my Prime if I had the opportunity. I doubt us losers on the CDMA side will ever get anything like it though.

Xroid says:

Since I bought the buggy Transformer Prime, And have had to deal with there really bad tech support.I am done with ASUS. In my opinion a product is only as good as the company that stands behind it, and they have not given me any reason to do repeat business with them. I waited over 3 weeks for them to tell me. " Try installing the latest firmware update, and see if that helps". I had already installed it, I am now waiting to hear something from them again and it has been 2 weeks this time.

sleepyrohan says:

I was thinking about buying a prime.. what problems are you facing with it? I don't mind the GPS issues.. are you facing any other problems?

Volvogga says:

Oh dear god. So an article on AnandTech shows the specs in table-form, and the resolution gets bumped up to a very nice 1280x800 once you pop it into the tablet.

http://www.anandtech.com/show/5587/asus-reveals-padfone-specifications

I don't really care about the slightly sub-par resolution if that is the case (I don't see a point in getting this phone if you are not at least going to pick up the tablet attachment). Finally seeing virtual buttons is a big plus as well. Some other sources around the web are saying that Asus expects to have a LTE version available by Q3 of this year. As far as I am concerned, all other manufactures (Samsung... going to keep quiet in the corner still or would you like to play with the other children?) have until then to make a high resolution phone with ICS and virtual buttons, a TEGRA 3, S4, or new Exynos processor, and LTE to even put in a decent bid for my money. Hell, if the price is right, I may even pass on LTE for this.

Well done Asus. My wallet feels outmaneuvered.

alekso9 says:

That is one kick ass looking phone.

Nate Rules says:

I got to hand it to Asus, this is speced really well. I was expecting Asus to use mediocre specs and hope the dock would sell it. I can see Asus getting alot of my money in the near future.

JonJJon says:

I must be the only person left who likes hardware buttons on my phone, the tablet gives me the virtual buttons, but I always want hardware buttons on my phone.

Just my personal preference :)

Suntan says:

So when you're running a demanding game with the phone inside the tablet, just how warm is that processor going to get?

-Suntan

vicw926a4 says:

Glad to see the virtual buttons, for dual use screen real estate and less overall Height. Would have liked quad core and 720 screen, but there always seems to be a compromise on every device.

How big is the battery in the phone, and is it removable? Is there a microsd slot in the phone? I'm hoping that ASUS isn't going to follow the current bad trends on these two items.

Hbomber110 says:

Pentile matrix ?
Next...
And i was thinking about buying this.

curl2k1 says:

I really don't mind the pentile if its as good or better than the GNex

Hbomber110 says:

15% less pixel density than the Gnexus. The pentile is noticable in certain conditions

15% more dense than the Nexus s display. Text is all blury and white lines are made of points spreaded out...

Never again

False_Aesop says:

Wait, so it is a phone, that plugs into a tablet, that plugs into a keyboard, with an micro HDMI slot to plug into a tv... All powered by the phone... We're through the looking glass here people.

vawwyakr says:

Shut up and take my money!

Mes3 says:

Those aren't virtual buttons. Take a closer look. That 4 inch screen would be way more cramped looking if they were.

ayoo456#AC says:

Other sites are saying its a 4.3" screen

jangleton13 says:

my guess is that it wont do to well in the U.S. to much going on with this thing, not a very attractive package either