Asus PadFone: experiment in madness or the future of mobile?

Asus PadFone: experiment in madness or the future of mobile?Taiwanese manufacturer Asus first unveiled its PadFone plans way back in May 2011, and the rather unique device was finally launched officially at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

The smartphone-tablet-netbook hybrid instantly made history, picking up Best Tablet in the first annual Mobot Mobies, but now we’re wondering: will anyone actually buy the blasted thing?

Firstly, what the hell is the Asus PadFone? Asus Chairman Jonney Shih explains: "The time has finally arrived when every screen in your lives could transcend into a portal with real time access into your digital world." Uhm, ok.

Asus has clearly been thinking outside the proverbial box with this one. In fact, it’s so far outside the box, the box is a dot to Asus.

The main component is the PadFone itself, a 4.3in smartphone with a Super AMOLED display, dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 8MP camera and Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0).

Not too shabby. But that’s just for starters.

There’s also what Asus describes as the “optional” PadFone Station, which makes us think it might be available separately, a bit like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and Transformer Prime’s keyboards.

Anyways, the PadFone Station is essentially a tablet shell with a 10.1in display. The most important thing to note about the PadFone Station is that it doesn’t function independently; you need to shove the Asus PadFone inside for it to spring to life.

Like the aforementioned Transformer tablets, you can also shove the PadFone Station in a keyboard dock to transform it into a netbook. And, the stylus can be used as a Bluetooth headset for answering calls.

My main gripe with the setup is that using the tablet means sacrificing your phone. But, having said that, I’m hard pushed to think of a scenario where you might want to use both simultaneously. Hmm…

The other major factor is, of course, the Asus PadFone’s price. Yesterday we heard a rather wild estimate of £699.98, but there were whispers from the Mobile World Congress stand that the smartphone and tablet components together might come for as little as £450.

Separately, you’d expect to pay – what? – maybe £350-400 for a high-end dual-core smartphone, and probably a further £400 for a tablet. But again: the PadFone Station doesn’t work on its own.

It’s difficult to say exactly how much that’d knock off the price, as the PadFone Station obviously still has a display, touchscreen and battery, three of the most expensive components in a tablet. However, all the networky stuff is handled by the PadFone.

We’re thinking – and indeed hoping – that the £699.98 estimate is way off the mark. For my money, I’d rather buy a Samsung Galaxy S II (£383.49 on Amazon at the time of writing) and a 16GB iPad 2 for £329. That’d be £712.49 total. Even if the keyboard dock were included at £699.98, we still reckon that’s too expensive.

Ooh, this just in from the horse's mouth: “ASUS is yet to announce pricing and availability of the ground-breaking and shape-shifting PadFone - anything to the contrary is merely rumours and speculation.

“We will be announcing details with our carrier partners in due course, so keep an eye out for updates on the official ASUS website and social media pages for more information as and when it is available."

What do you think, Mobotniks? How much would you pay for an Asus PadFone? And does the tablet shell idea appeal? As Jan pointed out yesterday, if the phone breaks, the tablet is rendered useless. Food for thought…

Read more about: Asus PadFoneAndroid

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13 comments

matt101101 / MOD  Mar. 12, 2012 at 13:06

The phone is almost identical in specification to the HTC One S, so I reckon the phone is worth about £350 and the "zombie" shell tablet can't be worth more than £100. Round that up to the nearest *cough* most expensive figure and you get a nice round £500. Not bad, if you ask me.

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 12, 2012 at 13:39

Not exactly a new idea, though, so what's the fuss?
What was it called? The Redfly - or whatever... A laptop shell for winmo devices. There. 5, 6 years ago. Nobody bought one.

MDrX  Mar. 12, 2012 at 13:47

I can't see the appeal. It is clumsy at best. Look at the image.. just like a car with the bonnet up exposing the engine. Those hooks are going to break if you're opening and closing it all day every day.

What are the advantages? All of your apps and document are on one device. The cloud can manage that trick perfectly and is already available on all Android and iOS devices.

What does it do that a Samsung Galaxy S II and a Touchpad running ICS can't manage?

My main gripe with the setup is that using the tablet means sacrificing your phone. But, having said that, I’m hard pushed to think of a scenario where you might want to use both simultaneously. Hmm…

There's a lot of sitting around on trains watching films and reading books while firing off a few emails and text messages.

jmarcelino  Mar. 12, 2012 at 13:49

Sorry Matt, but It's impossible to slap a 10.1" LCD screen on the shell (plus the rest of the electronics) and sell it for £100 - unless it's a really bad display.

The thing is, as even the insane bill of materials we get suggest, the CPU+Memory+Network are not really the most expensive part of a tablet, they account for about 30-35% of the total cost. The display, battery and enclosure then eat up the most, but this solution doesn't avoid them.

With this in mind I'd reckon the tablet part will be about £250 and both devices will be at least £600.

MDrX  Mar. 12, 2012 at 13:50

Not exactly a new idea, though, so what's the fuss?
What was it called? The Redfly - or whatever... A laptop shell for winmo devices. There. 5, 6 years ago. Nobody bought one.


Remember those dodgy concepts around the time bluetooth was introduced? They were saying that all of your devices will 'just work' with their very own Personal Area Network. That never happened. This isn't as refined an idea. The cloud has already taken over. I don't get it.

barrybarryk  Mar. 12, 2012 at 16:45

Just port "Ubuntu for Android" to it so you get a full Ubu desktop when the keyboard is docked to it and I'll gladly upgrade my phone and bin my current tablet and netbook. It would make for an amazing hot desking solution and I won't have to rely on "the cloud" for storing sensitive info

Edit: Also the picture is out of date, the design has changed since that was shown: http://www.asus.com/Mobile/PadFone/

StarrWulfe  Mar. 13, 2012 at 03:10

This American in Japan wants this device.
Read the details of why I do on my blog, but the gist of it is quite simple:
One device, One Tariff.
Right now in Japan there's no such thing as a shared data plan for devices. Of course it also doesn't exist in the USA either. This means when you have a smartphone AND a tablet, they go on your wireless plan as separate devices and are charged separately. You can go and get a wi-fi only tablet and tether it to a smartphone, but then you're still going to get charged extra for the privilege still, and creating a wifi hotspot with your phone eats battery--your tablet will still have another 5 hours to go but your phone will be dead.

This is simple-- Keep the smartphone in my pocket, keep the tablet and keyboard bits in my backpack. When I'm commuting on the train, I can pull out the tablet dock and read my newsfeeds with a bigger screen (while charging the phone's battery). When I get to the office/meeting/someplace stable, I can then snap on the keyboard and get some work done.
As for the whole "what if someone calls me while in tablet mode" issue... I use a bluetooth device you can plug a regular pair of headphones into just so I don't have wires going everywhere.

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 13, 2012 at 12:43

How are you being charged extra for tethering? You aren't using the tab and phone simultaneously, are you? Same with the PadFone, you can't use the phone and the pad separately.
So, I'm not sure I follow your logic, but I'm not familiar with US carriers. Thing for me is: you lose/break the phone, the pad is utterly useless. A long time ago we had a B&O TV set that couldn't be operated at ALL without its remote. Try getting a B&O replacement remote when you travel back to the 80s ;)

barrybarryk  Mar. 13, 2012 at 12:53

If you break the phone the tablet is useless until you get another phone, it's kind of obvious, it's essentially just a second screen, a pair of speakers and a battery.

Some countries charge extra for tethering on a data plan, this solves that problem.

I think it's a fantastic device and I see no reason why I should be carrying 3 full devices around with me when one and a few "empty" shells will get the job done with the added bonus of not having to worry about battery life and one set of storage just simplifies everything.

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 13, 2012 at 13:01

I don't know... I get it, but I'm just not convinced. When docked, I use the pen to answer the phone? Sorry, but that alone puts me right off...I don't talk through stationary :p

Nah, I'm intrigued, but without actually experiencing the whole package in action, I just don't get excited...

barrybarryk  Mar. 13, 2012 at 13:09

You could use any other bluetooth headset as well, the stylus is optional.
I'm just not looking forward to spending weeks trying to get Ubuntu ported for it ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyeFcldavTk ) but hopefully ASUS will take care of that before launch. And the padfone is much more powerful than the Atrix 2

Without having to use "the cloud" for storage it means I could actually use it for a lot of work stuff (Where I'd pretty much get fired immediately for upping stuff to external servers just to move from one device to another)

JanSt / MOD  Mar. 13, 2012 at 13:21

Yes, I hope Canonical get their act together. THAT would make the PadFone very interesting.

jaybear88  Apr. 2, 2012 at 15:33

Am I completely missing a trick here or is there an open possibilty for a manfacturer to create a nice screen, minimal processor with a wifi display module built in (wifi-directs replacement) and it will work with almost any of the newer generation of high end phones coming out? Phone to tablet in a swipe and no reason to lose access to the phone while using the tablet.

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