The Asus Fonepad is a curious mix of devices. At first glance, it’s a standard 7in tablet, but look closer and it also includes 3G and a fully integrated smartphone; it’s basically a giant phone handset, so you can go all Dom Joly on the bus home. Gimmick or genius, it certainly stands out.
The chief appeal, aside from being a
talking point at the pub, is its great
value. It will set you back only £180, and
when you think of what you’re getting
for that money – a smartphone and a
7in 3G tablet similar to the Nexus 7 in
one handy package – it’s a pretty
The physical similarity between the
Fonepad and the Nexus 7 is striking,
which is not all that surprising given
that both are built by Asus. The bezel is
the same width, and the screen itself
had the same size and 800 x 1,280
resolution as the Nexus 7, until Google
released its higher-resolution 2013
update. In the UK, the Fonepad is
available with only a front-facing
1.2-megapixel camera – just like the
original Nexus 7.
However, there are big differences.
T a k e the rear panel: the Fonepad is
made of smooth, matte plastic, while
the Nexus 7’s was textured and rubbery,
and there’s a pop-off panel at the top
for access to the tablet’s SIM and
microSD card slots. The Nexus 7 had no
way of expanding storage, but the
Fonepad can accommodate another
32GB on top of its internal 16GB.
The other big difference lies inside
the Fonepad: you might think its
single-core 1.2GHz Intel Atom processor
would fall behind the quad-core of the
Nexus 7, but benchmark performance is
actually comparable. In general use, the
Fonepad feels fluid and responsive.
Swiping between homescreens and
panning and scrolling pages proved a
pleasant experience, and it handled all the demanding games we threw at it,
from Real Racing 3 to Modern Combat 3:
Fallen Nation, with few dropped frames.
Plus, it has a very big battery. Curious
as to its mobile credentials, we first ran
some standard smartphone tests on the
Fonepad to see how long it would last,
and it proved right up with the very best
of today’s mobile batteries. And back in
our more familiar video-looping tablet
test, its result of 12hrs 58mins was the
best we’ve seen from a tablet of its size.
Even the screen quality is good. Its
maximum brightness is better than all
the compact tablets except the Nexus 7,
and colour reproduction is okay, albeit a touch less vibrant than the best. Our
only serious complaint is that the glass
picks up greasy fingerprints all too
easily, hindering readability outdoors.
The Fonepad is a solid tablet and,
technically, a perfectly adequate
smartphone, and since it uses a
near-stock Android 4.1.2 there’s very
little wrong with the dialler or contact
management side of things, either. But,
of course, it has its practical limitations.
It’s far too wide to be comfortably used
in one hand, and the matte rear of the
device is slippery, making it difficult to
get a secure, one-handed hold on it.
Without the usual Gorilla Glass on the
front, it’s likely to pick up scratches, too.
Its size also means it simply isn’t
as practical as a phone to keep on or
around you at all times. In the car, you
can’t place it into any old cubbyhole,
and you’ll need large pockets if you
want to carry it to the shops. Still, a
tablet that also doubles up as an
occasional phone may appeal, and even
if you choose not to make calls the 3G
data capability is well worth having.
The Fonepad does have weaknesses,
not least the fact that you’ll have to
wait on Asus for OS updates. But there’s
no denying the Fonepad packs a hell of
punch for a budget tablet.