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I used the ASUS Fonepad with my main SIM card — the one people call me on. So how did it go?

For the past few weeks I've had in my possession an ASUS Fonepad. A 7-inch Jelly Bean tablet with Intel internals and, oh yes, an earpiece. For this is more than just a tablet — it has full phone capabilities. ASUS is even marketing the Fonepad as a phone, too. The manufacturer's first promotional videos clearly showed what they envisaged users doing with this device — holding it up to their head.

So I put my main SIM card into it — the one my family calls me on — and tried it out. Is it really so ridiculous to use a 7-inch "phone" in this way? Read on to find out.

The tl;dr version is this — holding this up to my head made me more self-conscious than any other piece of technology I've ever used in public. With the help of Alex Dobie, we set up a photo/video op in central London for the purposes of the review. Even though there was an element of joking around, I can honestly say I didn't feel at all comfortable. People can't help but look at you strangely when you're holding a tablet to your ear and having a conversation. 

It's not physically comfortable either.  While even my small hands can safely wrap around the rear of the Fonepad, it's just not natural to hold something like that to up to your ear. When I'm out and about too, I generally pack tablets into my gear bag. Not even a 7-incher will fit comfortably in my jeans pocket, and with the Fonepad also being a phone, I missed so many calls through it being tucked away in my bag. In summer it's too hot to wear a jacket too, so for me at least, the bag is the only option. 

Using it somewhere such as on a train, the Fonepad really came into its own. Headphones plugged in, using one device instead of two — or even three, since when I'm using a tablet my laptop generally stays packed away. When someone calls, you hit answer, hands free kicks in and all is well. No uncomfortable moments; instead pure convenience. 

I went into the review with an open mind, but for me, a 7-inch phone is just too big. I'm someone who still makes a lot of phone calls, and the Fonepad is too hefty, too cumbersome for a device intended to be used in that way. If you're mainly chasing an inexpensive 3G-enabled tablet that could occasionally make the odd phone call, you'll be fine. But it's just not for me — especially not as a daily driver. And I felt utterly, truly, totally ridiculous standing on a busy street in the capital with this thing up against my face.


Reader comments

Using the 7-inch ASUS Fonepad: A tale of convenience and looking ridiculous


SONY got this right with the Z Ultra and it's Bluetooth phone clip.

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I wish US carriers would carry a tablet with a dedicated phone. I bet it would become very popular fast since more and more people want large screens for watching media, but don't want to carry 2 devices.

I dont get why they didn't make a dual purpose stylus that also acts like a bluetooth reciver for phone calls like they did with the fonepad 2. But with Google Voice/ Now, you just use a headset and tell google to call who ever or just use speaker phone, I doubt people who really use this will hold it up to their head

Ever hear of Bluetooth? You might try it, works good. Phone in bag, earpiece on, calls no problem. Bluetooth. Try Plantronics to start.

LOL, why didn't you use a bluetooth earpiece. I think it's a great device for sales people and other road warriors such as realtors. (with an earpiece)

Because a) I don't own a Bluetooth earpiece and I don't want one, b) I think they look (albeit less) ridiculous also, and c) ASUS isn't marketing this as something you use with an earpiece. Go back and watch their promo videos, they're suggesting people should use this as a normal phone. So I did :)

Didn't someone toy around with the idea of a combo stylus/Bluetooth handset that docks with a phablet?

Granted, you'd be in public talking into your pen, which is almost, but not quite, as ridiculous as putting that monstrosity up to your ear.

And yes, Bluetooth headsets do look stupid, but regular earbuds look fine, and they work quite well for hands-free phone calls.

Man! that top picture is so "FACEPALM" worthy! lol. It really does look ridiculous. I think a Bluetooth earpiece is really the only sane way of using this device as a phone.

Most recent phone's wired headphone/earbuds already can answer calls, for example I am using an Apple Earpod with my GS4 and it answers calls just fine. No need for Bluetooth devices which drains battery life.

My wife has the Asian version of this with the 32gb storage, faster processor & 5meg rear camera. She uses it as her her daily driver & has no problems using it as a phone & She doesn't give rats backside what people think of her when doing so. Yes she even uses it to take photos, which by the are pretty good when there's enough light.

She says its so convenient not having to carry 2 devices around. She used to have a HTC One X & an iPad Mini.

+ 1 also

But one that has a flip "standby" on it like the Motorola... and when you do that, it will ring and vibrate with a call. That way you can carry it in your pocket and just use THAT as your "phone" and without having it stuck to your head full time... great solution as long as you are in range of the tablet.

LMAO! Now that answers "that" question...

I'm sure it looked crazy! Not sure what Asus were thinking? But hey, perhaps we're getting invaded by giants coming down a beanstalk and they'll pick these up ;)

Yep, looks pretty funny, but with a bluetooth ear piece or speakerphone (in the car), it would be pretty useful to have everything in one device like that.

Yeah as a car phone it'd work nicely with the huge screen, and played over the speakers of the car.

But still LOL at ASUS and the picture in the article.

"The tl;dr version is this — holding this up to my head made me more self-conscious than any other piece of technology I've ever used in public. With the help of Alex Dobie, we set up a photo/video op in central London for the purposes of the review. Even though there was an element of joking around, I can honestly say I didn't feel at all comfortable. People can't help but look at you strangely when you're holding a tablet to your ear and having a conversation. "

This seems so shallow to me ... I can't imagine caring about how I look to other people. (But I understand this is only my opinion.)

"This seems so shallow to me ... I can't imagine caring about how I look to other people. (But I understand this is only my opinion.)"

Would you wear a pink tutu in public if you had one that fit you perfectly? No, because you'd feel ridiculous.

There's any number of things people can be self conscious about. It's no more shallow to be self conscious about holding a tablet to your head than it is about any other atypical practice.

Yeah but a pink tutu is slightly different to this. Some phones are nearing the 7" size anyway, isn't the new Sony xperia going to be like 6.2" or something? Correct me if I'm wrong. I don't really think people are going to look at you and think 'look at that twat talking into a tablet', in the digital age we live in most will probably just wonder what it is, not automatically make a negative judgement.

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"Correct me if I'm wrong. I don't really think people are going to look at you and think 'look at that twat talking into a tablet'"

I might not think a person is a twat for talking on a 7+ inch phone, but I would think it to be a bit absurd and wonder if the person was compensating for some deficiency in his/her life.

Seriously, does anyone *really* have a need to be *that* connected every moment of their life? Just what might they need to do online at any given moment that carrying around a tablet is necessary?

Watching movies? I'd say they should get a life.
Posting on message boards? Again, I'd say they should get a life.
Facebook? Well, if they're on Facebook, it's a given that they need a life.
Instant messaging? Do you see a pattern here?

> Seriously, does anyone *really* have a need to be *that* connected every moment of their life?

That's exactly why I don't use a smartphone.

The 'correct me if I'm wrong' part was actually referring to the Sony phone. Sorry if that wasn't clear. But I agree, I don't carry a tablet round, though I have only recently upgraded from a £10 phone to a htc one, and I love it. None of what you mentioned are particularly necessary, but it's nice to have. It kills abit of time on my way to work to check the AC forums, play a game of Super Mario and see what my friends are doing on facebook. Sure, it's not to everyone's taste, but it's the digital era we live in.

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I don't think there's any life deficiencies as you put it, id think they just love gadgets and we ARE living in the digital age. There's a world of devices available to us besides dinky iphones and feature phones thank goodness.

I don't see a reason why people CANT stay connected. Besides social and content consumption, its great to have that mobile power in your hands, don't think I need to explain the advantages of smart devices to you: Price comparisons, research, email, field work (not everyone is trapped in a cubicle for 8 hours),blah blah blah...

I do have to agree that it looks ridiculous, and I understand the way they are marketing it, but I don't think they are truly expecting a person to hold it to their ear. What we generally recognize as a phone call is by holding a device up to the ear. If you just showed a person talking over a headset, it could be Skype or another voice-capable app. It's about the only way you can market a feature in an understandable way.

That being said, this is one of the features I've been wanting for a long time. I almost always use a headset (wired or bluetooth) when talking on the phone and rarely ever put my phone up to my ear. I'm taking notes, checking the calendar, looking something up, all while talking to someone at the same time. If I had this tablet, I'd be doing the same thing.

Years ago, before smartphones, I carried my phone, an mp3 player, a small camera, and a pda. I felt like Batman with so many things clipped to my utility belt. The smartphone made it so I only had to carry one device everywhere, and my laptop while traveling. Now that tablets are out, I carry mine with me all the time (preferring the larger screen) and using it more than my phone. The phone only gets used for calls and areas where I don't have data on my Nexus 7. So I'm back to carrying multiple devices. I love the idea of going back to caring one device.

Yes, it's a big phone. Yes, it looks ridiculous holding it up to your ear. But, for someone like me, who would use it as a tablet even during phone calls, it would be a great device.

I use a Nexus 7 Wifi+3G as a phone with VoIP (Google Voice/GrooVeIP, Fongo, Skype) but to be honest I rarely talk to people. I'm all about data and email/IM. I do use a BT headset for calls but I also have a stereo BT headset for music and calls as well.

Like you, I'm looking for the "one device to rule them all". I wish the Microsoft Surface Pro had built-in cellular or that the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix which does have a cellular option wasn't so expensive and came with Haswell.

I totally get what you're saying, and you are probably exactly the kind of person a device like this is targeting.

That said, during the announcement and marketing, ASUS had videos of people holding this thing to their face and using it like a phone. I think Richard Devine is kinda poking fun at that marketing aspect here.

Sorry to nit-pick. Sounds like a device like this would be great for you, just so long as you use a headset ;)

My take is probably similar to that of most others, in that it does seem impractical to use a 7" tablet as a "hold up to your ear" phone, even if it didn't look absolutely ridiculous (or even if you didn't care how it looks). I was thinking to myself, how could a full-featured phone be a practical feature on a device of this size? I certainly wouldn't want to use my everyday SIM that has the number most people call me on, primary for the same reasons the author mentioned (because I wouldn't want to carry a 7" tablet with me everywhere like I do my phone). It did occur to me though that if I were to use a Google voice number, for example, and have it ring both my primary phone *and* the tablet, it could be quite useful. When using my tablet with headphones, I could quickly answer incoming calls without needing to reach for my phone, but I could still pack my tablet away in a bag or leave it at home without worrying if I'm missing calls. I'm not saying I'm in any hurry to adopt this kind of setup...but that is one scenario I thought of where having a fully functional phone on my tablet would be useful.

Of course, the Samsung Note 4 will probably by even larger than this, then others will maybe we should just start getting used to it! (this part is a joke)

Point taken but I do wonder why many as yourself prefer not to carry a tablet. I think it is purely size. If a tablet were designed to fit in your pocket and not look ridiculously huge, would you then carry it more than your smartphone? Probably. This is what the Notes, Megas, Ascend Mates, and Z Ultras are trying to do here. Its all about product convergence, or all in ones.

This thing would be perfect with the $30 T-Mobile plan. It only includes 100 minutes, so it's for people who don't need to talk on the phone much. But on the occasion you do need to make a call, you can.

Heck, this would be awesome to have alongside my phone.

Phablets look idiotic next to the head.

The only thing that comes to mind with these is the old picture fo the "ghetto hands free", where the guy had a big Motorola phone strapped to his head.

I've seen people with the Note and others using them as a phone and they look like clowns, IMHO.

With these devices an earpiece is the only way to go, IMHO.

ASUS should have really reduced the bezel on this device if they expect you to hold it up to your ear. It could have been reduced by at least 30mm in width. Would look a lot less conspicuous at 90mm wide.

I'm gonna have to call BS on the "[it won't] fit comfortably in my jeans pocket" comment. My Nexus 7 fits in my jean pockets.
Of course, you can't easily sit down with one in your pocket. But I don't even sit down with my regular S4 in my pocket...

Just don't wear those ridiculous skinny jeans and you'll be fine!

Honestly, it doesn't look any dumber than taking a photo with an iPad, and few seem self-conscious about that.

Too true, but it's not limited to just the iPad. Was at a "graduation" ceremony for my son's kindergarten a few weeks back and saw a woman filming with a 7 incher (looked like a cheepo Android tablet) that was in a ziplock back. And I'm not even joking. Too cheap to buy a case or screen protector, so she put it in a ziplock back. Probably recording HD video through that stupid bag, too.



Who holds a phone to their head anymore. My phone is only 4.2"s and I hate having to hold it to my head. Stereo Bluetooth clip on so the mic stays right next to my mouth.

Richard, once you reach the wise old age of 30 or so, you'll realize that the risk of people thinking you look silly isn't worth fretting about.

There will always be someone somewhere that thinks you look silly. or stupid. or dumb. or out of style. Period. some people think wearing their pants down around their knees is the way to go and wearing tighty-whiteys makes you unsuitable. Bah-humbug.
I use my OG Note all the time and if that's all people can find to make fun of then they aren't looking hard enough.

Ugh, people said all this and more about the Dell Streak and now 5 inchers are the norm. When are you people going to wake up and see that most people don't really care what they look like as long as it's convenient.

This will catch on just like the Streak did and people won't bat an eye. Can't wait to say I told you so....

The best part is the price. Less than 180 quid sim free. Go see what that buys you in the smartphone market and then realise your getting a tablet included in the price. Add a 30 day notice sim only contract from Virgin unlimited data, unlimited text, 150 min voice for 12 quid a month and then ask why phones cost so much and laugh at the ones paying 3-5 times as much amonth on a 24 month contract and still have to go buy a tablet

I don't see that it's any more rediculous than talking into a four inch slab. Or even a 3.5 inch slab. Just watch the people on TV using thier smart phones. It looks rediculous. If you don't think so, you're in denial.

Granted, I'm also right there talking into a 4 inch device, but I know I look rediculous doing so. (I almost went back to a flip phone in January, but nobody has flip phones anymore. And I like having maps available where ever I am.)

Hi, i'm using Note 8.0 as my normal phone. All my friends says that is ridiculous, i say "the 'ridiculous' is in your eyes". 8 inch is the perfect size, only one device for phone, game's tablet, work's tablet ...