ASUS is one company that has at least tried to create something different in the monotonous tablet market. Its PadFone takes the excellent design of the Eee Pad Transformer Prime tablet one step further by utilising a smartphone that docks inside a tablet, effectively combining two devices into one.
The ASUS PadFone itself is an Android phone with a 4.3in Super AMOLED qHD display with a resolution of 960x540. The phone is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, has 1GB of RAM and either 16 or 32GB of internal storage. A microSD card slot allows memory expansion, while an 8-megapixel rear camera and front VGA camera for video calling rounds out the package.
When placed inside the optional "PadFone Station", the ASUS PadFone effectively turns into a full 10.1in Android tablet. The PadFone Station itself is effectively just a screen: all the processing power, memory and connectivity comes from the PadFone itself, though the tablet does have a 6600mAh battery.
The design of the PadFone is certainly unique and does have some real benefits. Firstly, it effectively creates two products out of one. ASUS is yet to reveal Australian pricing but the PadFone and PadFone station should cost less (in theory) than buying a smartphone and then a separate Android tablet. As the tablet dock utilises the processing power and connectivity of the phone itself, the PadFone also negates the need for two separate data connections.
However, the concept of the ASUS PadFone isn't all positive news. The PadFone weighs 129g and the PadFone station a further 724g, so you're left with a tablet that weighs a rather hefty 853g — significantly heavier than most Android tablets on the market. At 9.2mm (PadFone) and 13.5mm (PadFone station) thick, both devices are far from the thinnest and lightest on the market.
Secondly, the lengthy time to market of the PadFone means that its specifications are no longer cutting edge. The product was first revealed by ASUS in May 2011, is still yet to be released almost 12 months later, and isn't likely to be available until the latter half of this year. At a time where quad-core smartphones and 720p HD screens are all the rage, the PadFone's qHD display and dual-core processor already feel dated. Further, the PadFone appears to be a 900/2100Mhz 3G device only, which means no compatibility with Telstra's 850Mhz Next G network in Australia, not to mention Telstra's new 4G network.
In addition to the Padfone and the optional Padfone Station, ASUS will also sell an optional Station Dock. This is a keyboard docking station that will transform the device into a notebook-style tablet, similar to the Eee Pad Transformer Prime. Like the Transformer Prime, the Station Dock includes an extra battery along with a full sized USB port and an SD card slot.
You're probably wondering how the hell you answer your phone if a phone call comes in while the PadFone is docked and the answer is the "PadFone Stylus Headset". This optional, capacitive stylus doubles as a Bluetooth headset, with an answer button, a speaker and a microphone. Holding a stylus to your head doesn't seem like the most attractive idea, but at least the option is available should you desperately need to answer your docked PadFone.
ASUS is yet to reveal if or when the PadFone will be released in Australia, but the device will begin shipping globally later this month.