The Asus Padfone 2 is an Android phone that can be slotted into a tablet-like dock called the Padfone 2 Station. It's a hybrid device – a top of the range smartphone that, with one easy movement, becomes a 10.1-inch tablet.
At first glance it makes sense. You’ll rarely be using a phone and tablet at the same time so why spend money on two different devices when you can use one to power the other? With a quad-core Snapdragon processor and 2GB RAM there’s more than enough under the hood. But can the Padfone 2 really provide the best of both the phone and tablet experiences?
To use an old footballing cliché, this will be a review of two halves. On the one hand we have a very high spec 4.7-inch phone and on the other we have a 10.1 inch tablet. For this reason we’ll split the review into more manageable sections.
The Padfone 2 phone is one of the best-specced phones on the market, and it also shows off the great build quality we’ve come to expect from Asus products.
It’s quite reminiscent of a black iPhone 4S - a good thing. A silvery metal trim surrounds the phone, with a metal SIM-card holder at the top, next to a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The trim makes the Asus Padfone 2 look and feel like a premium phone but it’s all slightly spoiled by a plastic section at the bottom of the phone that tries, but fails, to look like a continuation of the metal. This stops the antenna from shorting, but it’s not an elegant solution.
The body tapers slightly from top to bottom, which makes it much easier to hold and reach those corners that can be a bit tricky to get to on larger phones. At 136g it’s not too heavy, but neither is it too light, a common complaint made about the iPhone 5.
Once you turn it onto its black hard plastic back the Padfone 2 phone looks even better. The camera is centred near the top of the phone, with the LED flash sitting below it and a speaker grille just to the right. It even makes a design statement with a series of concentric ridges that spread out from the camera.
Not only does this separate the Padfone 2 phone from most of its competitors, it also provides an extremely solid grip. It’s different but we like it. The one thing that spoils the line is the micro-USB socket, which juts out a little too far.
Oddly the phone’s back is removable but as there no microSD card slot inside and you’re not supposed to change the battery yourself there hardly seems any point.
Unlike the Asus Padfone 2’s phone part, the tablet is quite traditionally styled. A 2cm black bezel surrounds the screen, which houses a 1.2-megapixel front facing camera. The volume rocker and speaker grille are situated on the right of the tablet, while the power button sits on the top left. A microUSB charging socket sits on the bottom edge.
The back is covered in soft touch plastic, which doesn’t feel as premium as some other tablets. The back also houses the Asus Padfone 2’s phone socket. This is a cradle and dock that the phone slots into. It connects with a satisfying clunk and feels very secure once in. There’s no chance the phone will accidently fall out.
Unfortunately having to fit a whole phone inside it makes the Padfone 2 tablet a bit lumpy. Odd ridges and ledges make a bit of a mess of the design, although the tablet does a good job if you’re more interested in function over form. The docked phone doesn’t get in the way of holding the tablet in landscape or portrait mode and it’s actually slightly lighter than an iPad 4.
The Padfone 2 phone has a 1,280 x 720 IPS screenswhile the tablet has 1,280 x 800 resolution. Due to the difference in screen sizes however their pixel densities are very different. The phone is a reasonable 312 PPI, while the tablet has to make do with a measly 149 PPI.
The Asus Padfone 2’s phone screen is very good. It may not have the full HD resolution of the latest new phones, such as the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 but the resolution is more than adequate for all but the pickiest.
Where the Asus’s screen excels is with its rich and deep colours. It manages to provide these without looking oversaturated, and avoids the unpleasant colour tones of some AMOLED screens. If there’s one tiny grumble it’s that the blacks aren’t as deep as those found on OLED displays like the stunning display of the Samsung Galaxy S4.
The scratch resistant corning glass is obligatory these days but the Padfone 2’s phone also has an oleophobic (grease resistant, to you and me) layer. This isn’t a miracle layer, and if you’re tucking into a bucket of KFC while using the phone it will get greasy. However, it resisted fingerprints better than most other phones we’ve tested.
We are also impressed by the maximum volume of the internal speaker. The sound quality at the loudest volumes isn’t great but it’s more than possible to watch a film or listen to some slightly tinny music with company.
It was always going to be difficult for the tablet to live up to the phone’s screen but, unfortunately, it doesn’t even live up to most decent tablets on the market either. The 1,280 x 800 resolution looks sharp on another Asus built tablet, the Google Nexus 7, but that’s on a much more forgiving 7-inch screen. On a 10.1-inch device this resolution doesn't cut it.
The main gripe is that the Padfone 2’s screen is not quite as sharp as it should be and its colours are slightly anaemic. In addition the anti-fingerprint coating on the tablet doesn’t work quite as well as it does on the phone. You’ll quickly find a crisscross of smears all over the screen.
Watching video is a perfectly acceptable experience. 720p footage looks detailed, if a little drab. The main problems arise when web browsing or reading text. Fonts are a little fuzzy around the edges and you’ll notice it even more if you’ve ever used a sharper-screened tablet like the iPad 4 or Nexus 10.
We’d much prefer it if the Padfone 2 Station had a higher res display. A full HD screen would make a huge difference and it’s a bit of a mystery why Asus has decided to cut corners here, other than to keep costs down. The Padfone 2’s bigger brother, the Padfone Infinity, is able to switch between 1,920 x 1,080 for the phone to 1,920 x 1,200 for the tablet, so it’s not because of any technical limitation.
Screen disappointment aside, docking the phone into the tablet provides a seamless transition from small screen to big. It takes just a second to switch over and Asus has cleverly tweaked the Android OS to recognise when you’re in tablet mode, altering the layout accordingly.
It’s a pleasingly intuitive feature and, if you do happen to get a call, the tablet also works as a hands free phone so you don’t actually need to remove the phone form the cradle to answer.
Once again the mono speaker is all about being loud, but behaves better at its highest volume than the one in the phone. It’s a little disappointing that the Padfone 2 Station doesn’t possess stereo speakers, which have become the norm in 10.1-inch tablets. Go to the next page to see how the Padfone 2 does in terms of features.