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    Asus Fonepad Review


    fonepadbox.png

    Introduction

    If you want to create a 7” tablet nowadays, you have to differentiate. That could be design, it could be specs, it could be price, it could be functionality... but if you’re just going to churn out a ‘me too’ product then don’t bother. The Nexus 7 redefined the category and gave any potential rivals a very tough competitor.

    Here we have some competition for the Asus Nexus 7 from, er Asus. That’s right, they’re competing with themselves, but what they bring to the table with their FonePad is very different.

    USP

    There are a number of key things that make the FonePad unique amongst it’s peers...

    You can make calls on it

    With a name (an awful name) like the FonePad, you’ll not be surprised to learn that you can make calls on the FonePad. Yup, not only does it have a mobile radio on board, you can literally put it up to your face and phone someone on it. No question, you’ll look like an idiot doing it, but that’s a pretty unique feature and more appealing than you might think. With phone bits inside you can of course SMS and connect to the Internet using it too.

    It’s got Intel inside

    The FonePad does away with the trendy quad core processors and instead has a 1.2GHz, Intel Atom Z2420 CPU on board. We’ve seen from previous devices such as the Orange San Diego and Motorola Razr i that Android on the Atom is very capable, and it’s getting better and better.

    Price

    The FonePad is £179.99. Yes, it really is that cheap. That gets you the 3G connected, 16GB, microSD expandable, single model... undercutting it’s Nexus 7 3G sibling (itself touted as a bit of a bargain) by a cool £60. Value for money is guaranteed.

    Review device

    The review device is a full retail unit purchased from Amazon UK, running software version 3.1.11.

    In the box

    In the box you'll find the tablet, a microUSB cable and a mains to USB adaptor. Bare minimum. :)

    Design

    It’s pretty hard to differentiate when it comes to a 7” tablet, but the FonePad, with it’s metallic-feeling back, definitely feels different. It’s a looker... but more on that later.

    Specifications

    The raw specifications for the FonePad are as follows...

    • Android 4.1
    • Intel® Atom™ Z2420 1.2 GHz CPU
    • 16GB ROM
    • 1GB RAM
    • HSPA+ UL:5.76 Mbps/DL:21 Mbps
    • 3G : WCDMA : 850/900/1900/2100
    • 2G : EDGE/GSM : 850/900/1800/1900,
    • 7" LED Backlight WXGA (1280x800) IPS screen
    • WLAN 802.11 b/g/n
    • Bluetooth V3.0
    • 1.2 MP Front Camera
    • Micro USB
    • 2-in-1 Audio Jack (Headphone / Mic-in)
    • Micro SD Card Reader,up to 32GB
    • 3.5mm headphone socket
    • Micro SIM
    • GPS & Glonass, G-Sensor, E-compass, Proximity, Ambient Light Sensor
    • Vibrate motor (yes!)
    • 16Wh Li-polymer Battery
    • Standby Time - 751 hours(3G)
    • Talk Time - 32.5 hours(3G)
    • 196.4 x 120.1 x 10.4 mm (LxWxH)
    • 340 g
      Not bad eh? Pretty astonishing at the price point. It should be noted that in some territories the FonePad gets a 3 Megapixel rear camera (and an 8GB option), but not for the UK.

      Around the device

      The front of the device is the predictable plain glass slab with a black bezel. The earpiece sits up top (emphasising the device’s phone credentials!) flanked by the front facing camera and the various sensors. Below the screen sits the subtle Asus logo. The main buttons are on screen as you’d expect on a tablet, so the look is pretty plain. Smart though.

      fonepadfront.png



      The left hand side of the device is home to the power button and volume rocker. They might have switched sides from the Nexus 7, but they feel and look exactly the same. Convincing to press, how buttons should be. With that in mind the right hand side is free of buttons, the back curves inwards from the black screen edge, it looks good.

      fonepadleft.png

      fonepadright.png



      On the bottom is the microphone, the ‘upside down’ microUSB port and the 3.5mm headphone port, while the top has a secondary microphone.

      fonepadtop.png

      fonepadbottom.png



      The back has a metallic feel in stark contrast to the ‘perforated leather’ style plastic back of the Nexus 7. At the bottom are various certifications (the IMEI is also printed here), the speaker and the proudly worn Intel Inside logo. Near the top is an embossed Asus logo and at the very top is a removable panel underneath which sites the microSIM slot and the, *gasp*, microSD slot!

      fonepadback.png

      fonepadsimslot.png



      Overall the device feels great... I think I prefer the feel actually to my Nexus 7, it feels very well put together and is a joy to hold.

      Software

      The FonePad runs an Asus-ised version of Android 4.1.2 - you are of course at the mercy of Asus for your OS updates. To be fair, their track record is mixed - their updates come out in a very timely fashion for the latest devices, but older models do get left behind. They’re better than many however.

      Asus’ OS skin is pretty light compared to some OEMs, and the additions are largely useful. You get Asus’ customised launcher, which is pretty indistinguishable from stock Android. It has 5 screens by default but you can remove some or add more.

      The notification pulldown is very customised, with additional buttons, toggles and a brightness slider, but they are largely useful additions. If it’s not to your taste however, you can revert to the stock style notifications with an option in the Settings application.

      fonepadss-notifications.pngfonepadss-customised.png



      The button bar at the bottom of the screen - traditionally back, home and tasks on a Nexus - gains a fourth button which pops up a bar at the bottom of the screen. On this bar you can add widgets that then, when selected, ‘float’ on top of whatever app you have open. It’s quite cool, although i’m not sure how much i’d use it in real life.

      fonepadss-notifications.pngfonepadss-poppedup.pngfonepadss-floating.png



      Preinstalled ‘bloat’ apps are fairly evident but many of them - Amazon Kindle, Asus Story, Asus Studio, Block List, BuddyBuzz, Dictionary, File Manager, MyBitCast, PressReader, Sticky Memo, SuperNote Lite, To Do List, Webstorage and Zinio - could all be easily disabled from the apps menu. A few others, App Backup, App Locker, Audio Wizard and MyPainter - couldn’t be disabled, but they are fairly non intrusive.

      Some of the applications are customised slightly, notably the people and phone apps, but Asus have done a good job on the whole. I’m particularly pleased to see ‘smart dial’ functionality in the dialler, something that is all too rare even on the highest end phones.

      fonepadss-launcher1.pngfonepadss-launcher2.pngfonepadss-homescreen.png



      In use

      When you first power on the device it boots up nice and quickly, and feels snappy enough in general use. Of course, the Intel Atom processor is effectively ‘single core with hyperthreading’, but it’s not really fair to compare it to the other quad core devices out there as they are completely different architectures. You’d be hard pressed to spot a performance difference compared to it’s Tegra 3 powered sibling at least initially, although things do slow down under particularly intensive tasks (the good old ‘installing an app from the Play Store’ makes things grind to a halt, something that’s pretty rare on today’s fastest ARM chips).

      The FonePad includes a 1280x800 IPS screen, a much better screen than many of it’s peers, and viewed in isolation, it is a very good screen. A useful utility called ‘Asus Splendid’ (wth?) allows you to enable a ‘vivid’ mode, tweak the colour temperature and adjust the hue and saturation of the image. Impressive! The display also features an outdoor mode which bumps up the brightness, something I found myself using all the time as the auto backlight is once again rather aggressive. The screen is quite easily marked by fingerprints, so you'll find yourself giving it a wipe frequently.

      I caveated my assessment of the screen with ‘viewed in isolation’ for a very good reason - and that is that when placed next to a Nexus 7, the screen just isn’t as good. It isn’t as bright, whites are more ‘yellow’ and even with outdoor mode enabled and everything optimised in the Splendid application... it just doesn’t ‘pop’ like the excellent Nexus 7 screen does. That said, most buyers won’t have a Nexus 7 to compare directly with so I suspect they will be very happy with the screen.

      fonepadss-vivid1.pngfonepadss-vivid2.png



      Touch sensitivity of the screen is good on the FonePad, although as I first started using the device I did find it missing some of my touches... I suspect it’s not *quite* as sensitive as, say, my HTC One... but my fingers obviously became trained to it because I noticed it less as time went on! I'm really glad that Asus included a vibrate motor in the FonePad for haptic feedback, I really miss it when it's not there!

      I must admit to having some concerns about whether all apps would run on the FonePad due to it’s Intel insides but i’m pleased to say I needn’t have worried. The ARM translation features seem to be getting better and better, the FonePad runs some apps that the San Diego and RAZR i balked at. Good news! I feel like I can detect slightly delayed starting of applications when this translation is taking place though...? It’s hard to put my finger on. :)

      I played some pretty intensive games on the FonePad and while it definitely doesn’t quite have the raw graphical performance of the Tegra 3 machines, it is more than acceptable for most uses.

      The speaker on the device, despite being mounted on the back, is nice and loud... I think the curved back helps the sound escape when it’s placed flat on a surface, although if you’re holding it in landscape to play a game you may well find your hand blocking the speaker.

      That good speaker volume means that the FonePad makes a great speakerphone. Calls in general on the device are very clear, whether by bluetooth or wired headset or when holding the device to your head. With the focus on data use nowadays, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of people buying the PadFone for mainly data use and just making the occasional call with it up to their face. :)

      The front camera on the FonePad is about what you’ve come to expect from these devices - it’s a 1.3 Megapixel unit with lots of options in the camera application (and at least there IS a camera application this time, right Google?!?) but it really is designed for video calling and not for high quality shots. With that said, the performance of the camera itself in poor conditions is better than I expected, so for those late night video calls from your darkened room, er, it’ll be fine. :)

      Wireless reception on the device is good. There’s no 5GHz option in the WiFi settings which will be disappointing for some and no NFC support (who cares?) but on the whole the wireless portion of the device is well up to the task. It doesn’t hang on to WiFi signals quite as well as my benchmark device (the HTC One, incidentally) but that’s not to say there’s anything to be concerned about.

      Battery Life

      I have found battery life on the FonePad exceptional. It seems to outlast any other device I have and although battery life is hard to quantify on these devices, it just seems to go on and on. It positively sips juice in standby and doesn’t drain when in intensive use anywhere near as quickly as the powerful quad core machines. Power saving features are built into the software, but I haven’t even bothered to turn them on yet. Bear in mind that i’ve been using the device mainly with the screen in high brightness mode and the FonePad seems like another Intel device that is setting the bar high when it comes to low power consumption.

      fonepadss-power.png



      What it’s not got

      So the FonePad has lots of good stuff like microSD, 3G etc., but what’s missing? For me, the one big disappointment is that, like the Nexus 7, there’s no MHL capability. I really value the ability to be able to plug my tablet into a TV and play media content, particularly when there is expandable storage on board but no, unless i’m missing something, that’s not possible on the FonePad. There’s no rear facing camera on the UK units as discussed previously... the non UK units have a poor 3 Megapixel camera which is no great loss, but I think for a lot of people having a half-decent camera might be the tipping point between the FonePad being a real viable replacement for their main phone and it not. A little bit of a missed opportunity perhaps.

      Rooting and ROMs

      Rooting and ROMs are very much an unknown quantity on the FonePad. Although Asus generally provide the ability to unlock the bootloader on their devices, there's no confirmation this will be possible for the Fonepad as yet. The usual root tricks don't work on the device so if you absolutely need root and custom ROMs, it might be worth holding fire.

      Conclusion

      The Asus FonePad is a great device, regardless of price. There are a few little niggles, but nothing that's really anywhere near a show stopper... and there's so many good points that those niggles are easily outweighed. So it's a great device... but at £179.99 it's insane. There's really nothing that can touch if for the price! If microSD expansion and voice capability aren't an issue then the Nexus 7 3G is well worth considering, but I can see the FonePad selling like hot cakes. MoDaCo recommended!

      Pros and cons

      Pros

      • Price
      • 3G connection and phone calls
      • Smart design
      • Good build quality
      • microSD expansion
      • Vibrate motor
      • Excellent all rounder

      Cons

        [*]Performance not as high as the latest quad core tablets

        [*]Screen slightly yellowy

        [*]No MHL support

        [*]Updates at the mercy of Asus

        [*]Root / custom ROM status TBC

        [*]Annoying name

        Have your say

        Do you have an Asus FonePad? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!


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    Posted · Report

    that delay when apps start is there on the San Diego also so perhaps it is the translation kicking in

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    Posted · Report

    great review Paul. i shall wait to see if we can get root&roms before i buy one.very good

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    Posted · Report

    I would seriously consider one if it had a decent rear camera. The main uses for my phone in order of frequency are as a baby tablet, camera, and a phone.

    Will stick with the S2 plus the N7 for now.

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    Posted · Report

    OK open a board on modaco, create a community active the halft of the ZTE blade, and TAKE MY MONEY!!

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    Posted · Report

    bought it yesterday, anyone managed to get xbmc running on it?

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    Posted · Report

    that delay when apps start is there on the San Diego also so perhaps it is the translation kicking in

    Yes. The native code is translated from ARM to Intel and cached for future launches. I'm glad to see that the compatibility has improved a lot on Intel devices. Apps that struggle on the San Diego now work fine on the FonePad. Adobe Air apps, iPlayer etc.

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    Posted · Report

    Had my Fonepad for a week and it has been great. I hope someone manages to find out how to root as that is the main thing I miss from my old phone. There is also no notification light so you need to switch on the screen to see if you have missed any SMS/calls/emails arriving.

    Does anyone know where you can configure the number of home screens Modaco mentions in his review as I have not been able to find that option?

    Thanks

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    Posted · Report

    Link to update procedure

    http://dlcdnet.asus.....Fonepad_V2.pdf

    Firmware

    http://uk.asus.com/T....epad/#download

    Is this is known format ? Are there tools to create this "SD DOWNLOAD" or tools to extract the various components?

    00000000 50 61 63 6b 61 67 65 20 6f 66 20 53 44 20 44 6f |Package of SD Do|

    00000010 77 6e 6c 6f 61 64 00 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |wnload..........|

    00000020 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |................|

    *

    00000080 0e 00 00 00 61 97 4a bb ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |....a.J.........|

    00000090 ff ff ff ff 00 00 00 00 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |................|

    000000a0 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |................|

    *

    000001f0 72 65 63 6f 76 65 72 79 2e 66 73 74 61 62 00 ff |recovery.fstab..|

    00000200 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff 00 04 00 00 32 04 00 00 |............2...|

    00000210 64 6e 78 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 65 5f 6d 66 6c |dnx_firmware_mfl|

    00000220 64 5f 67 69 2e 62 69 6e 32 0a 00 00 e0 03 01 00 |d_gi.bin2.......|

    00000230 69 66 77 69 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 65 5f 6d 66 |ifwi_firmware_mf|

    00000240 6c 64 5f 67 69 2e 62 69 12 10 01 00 5c 91 1d 00 |ld_gi.bi....\...|

    00000250 30 37 5f 69 66 77 69 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 65 |07_ifwi_firmware|

    00000260 5f 53 52 31 2e 62 69 6e 6e a3 1e 00 5c 91 1d 00 |_SR1.binn...\...|

    00000270 30 33 5f 69 66 77 69 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 65 |03_ifwi_firmware|

    00000280 5f 53 52 31 77 2e 62 69 ca 36 3c 00 5c 91 1d 00 |_SR1w.bi.6<.\...|

    00000290 50 5f 64 6e 78 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 65 5f 6d |P_dnx_firmware_m|

    000002a0 66 6c 64 5f 67 69 2e 62 26 ca 59 00 e0 03 01 00 |fld_gi.b&.Y.....|

    000002b0 50 5f 69 66 77 69 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 65 5f |P_ifwi_firmware_|

    000002c0 6d 66 6c 64 5f 67 69 2e 06 d0 5a 00 5c 91 1d 00 |mfld_gi...Z.\...|

    000002d0 64 72 6f 69 64 62 6f 6f 74 2e 69 6d 67 00 ff ff |droidboot.img...|

    000002e0 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff 62 63 78 00 00 82 88 00 |........bcx.....|

    000002f0 62 6f 6f 74 2e 62 69 6e 00 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |boot.bin........|

    00000300 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff 62 e7 00 01 00 86 69 00 |........b.....i.|

    00000310 73 79 73 74 65 6d 2e 69 6d 67 2e 67 7a 00 ff ff |system.img.gz...|

    00000320 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff 62 6f 6a 01 82 2b 12 25 |........boj..+.%|

    00000330 72 65 63 6f 76 65 72 79 2e 69 6d 67 00 ff ff ff |recovery.img....|

    00000340 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff e4 9c 7c 26 00 5a 82 00 |..........|&.Z..|

    00000350 72 61 64 69 6f 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 65 2e 62 |radio_firmware.b|

    00000360 69 6e 00 ff ff ff ff ff e4 f8 fe 26 fc 5d 87 00 |in.........&.]..|

    00000370 30 37 5f 72 61 64 69 6f 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 |07_radio_firmwar|

    00000380 65 5f 53 52 31 2e 62 69 e0 58 86 27 84 17 84 00 |e_SR1.bi.X.'....|

    00000390 30 33 5f 72 61 64 69 6f 5f 66 69 72 6d 77 61 72 |03_radio_firmwar|

    000003a0 65 5f 53 52 31 77 2e 62 64 72 0a 28 84 17 84 00 |e_SR1w.bdr.(....|

    000003b0 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |................|

    *

    000003f0 4e 6f 6e 65 00 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |None............|

    00000400 45 56 42 00 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |EVB.............|

    00000410 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |................|

    *

    00000480 4d 45 33 37 31 4d 47 00 ff ff ff ff f4 1c 8b 65 |ME371MG........e|

    00000490 57 57 5f 65 70 61 64 00 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |WW_epad.........|

    000004a0 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |................|

    *

    000004d0 41 53 55 53 00 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |ASUS............|

    000004e0 ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff ff |................|

    *

    00000600 23 6d 6f 75 6e 74 20 70 6f 69 6e 74 20 20 20 66 |#mount point f|

    00000610 73 74 79 70 65 20 20 20 64 65 76 69 63 65 20 20 |stype device |

    00000620 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 | |

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    Posted · Report

    init=/init pci=noearly console=logk0 earlyprintk=nologger loglevel=4 hsu_dma=7 kmemleak=off androidboot.bootmedia=sdcard androidboot.hardware=mfld_gi ip=50.0.0.2:50.0.0.1::255.255.255.0::usb0:on emmc_ipanic.ipanic_part_number=1 vmalloc=384M build_version=3

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