ASUS Fonepad Review


WhistleOut
12 July 2013

The ASUS Fonepad is a 7 inch call-enabled device that ASUS is actually marketing as a phone. Not a phablet, not a call-making tablet; a smartphone. We decided to take this small tab big phone for a spin and see how ASUS’ concept of ditching the pocket communication device would fly. The short answer: not very far.

Design

The design of the ASUS Fonepad is pretty solid, although it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you’d want to drop. The rear plate is solid metal with a thin, removable rubberised plastic top under which the Micro SIM and MicroSD slots live.

The volume rocker and power button are both located at the top left of the device. The USB charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack are both on the bottom.

Generally, it looks fairly plain, but not ‘cheap’. The bezels around the screen wouldn’t be considered very thick for a tablet, but considering that this is meant to be a phone we were a bit more scrutinising. If this is a device that someone’s going to carry around with them everywhere, bag or no, as much effort as possible needs to be put in to reducing the overall size. This didn’t seem to be the case with the Fonepad.

The elephant in the room is clearly the sheer size of this ‘handset’. At 120.1 x 196 x 10.4mm this is definitely the bulkiest phone we’ve used. It’s definitely unusable one-handed and good luck fitting it in any pocket short of a thick coat or cargo pants.

Holding it up against the ear is a definite no. It’s uncomfortable to hold and you feel ridiculous doing so. The only viable option is a hands-free headset. Still, if you want to check who’s calling before answering it’s still a hassle to pull this behemoth out of wherever you’ve managed to find space and cram it back in before answering.

We understand that phone size is and always will be a subjective thing, but the Fonepad really is just too big. Unless you’re planning on always having a handbag or satchel in which to carry it, it’s going to become a hassle at some point.

User Experience

Worst still, the ASUS Fonepad is a really laggy device, which is unsurprising considering it tries to run Android 4.1.2 on a single-core 1.6GHz processor. This is similar hardware to what we would expect to find in a budget Android phone. 1GB of RAM should have been fine, but it apparently wasn’t enough to cover for the insufficient CPU power.

Switching between screens was jittery and the notification tray often took seconds to register our commands, which was usually long enough for us to give up and try again, only to accidentally select one of the notifications that suddenly appeared beneath our unsuspecting fingers.

They keyboard was reminiscent of a cheaper Android phone from 2 or 3 years ago; it just couldn’t keep up with our fingers. One of the main reasons we like a larger screen is for easier typing, but the default keyboard with the Fonepad was just too slow. We were constantly going back through messages adding letters here and there where it had failed to register. Third-party keyboards were a bit better, but not enough to totally fix the experience.

The IPS 1280x800 display boasts a pixel density of 216ppi. 216ppi isn’t great for a regular sized… phone… but on a 7 inch screen it’s acceptable. Streaming video was generally pretty good, although unexceptional. At times HD video playback could be a bit laggy, but we found this to be inconsistent and couldn’t zero in on what the problem really was.

The speed it opened and closed apps was variable too. Sometimes apps opened fine, but with others there was a good few seconds lag before anything even began to happen.

Performance

We’ve already mentioned the user-end side of performance, but how did the Fonepad do in benchmarking? It’s tough to say seeing as it crashed during every single test we put it through.

It also has a tendency to lock the screen even when the user is in the middle of watching a video or playing a game. Most phones give a bit more leeway, or disable autolock, while these kind of services are running. It could get pretty annoying at times.

It seemed to handle gaming fairly well without too much overheating. It did lag out on the more demanding, modern games, but it performed a bit better than we thought it would, considering the general UI lag, benchmark fails and low-end CPU.

Camera

The 3.15MP camera was surprisingly good for such a low-specced shooter. It certainly wasn’t great and we wouldn’t suggest it over other market options, but it was better than we had expected. Video came out pretty poorly, though this is par for the course.

We were surprised to find it lacking a camera flash of any kind. This wouldn’t be surprising from a tablet, but from something that’s being billed as a phone this was definitely surprising and is just another mark against the Fonepad’s chances of ever replacing what we’ve come to think of as a ‘real’ smartphone.

Verdict

The Fonepad is a failure as a phone. The lack of camera flash, bulky size and complete omission of any attempt to make receiving calls easier (as in with Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra’s Bluetooth handset) make this clear. In the Settings menu one can also clearly see the ‘About Tablet’ option where ‘About Phone’ usually resides.

But even as a small tablet the Fonepad struggles to find a reason for being. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD are both small tablets that absolutely dominate the ASUS Fonepad in terms of specs.

As for making calls on a tablet? Right now there’s very little point. Until mobile operators have support to offer multiple SIMs on a single number and plan having an extra phone SIM for the occasional call or text that would be easier to make from a tablet isn’t really worth it.

The Fonepad is just a confusing device all over. It feels like ASUS couldn’t really figure out what it was going for here and as a result we have a laggy tablet with call functionality that’s being marketed as a smartphone alternative. Either way, you’d be best to stick to a device that isn’t having an identity crisis for the time being.


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