I have always fancied ASUS as one of the more creative and ambitious Android manufacturers in the space.
No, ASUS isn’t exactly one of the top smartphone or tablet manufacturers; it’s nowhere near as successful as many other brands in the mobile realm, especially here in the States. But that hasn’t stopped it from trying to push boundaries, thinking outside the box, and daring to be different.
Today, ASUS isn’t exactly creating groundbreaking products. The Transformer tablets from early 2011 to mid-2012 were novel, Android-powered tablet-netbook hybrid devices that no one else – at least at the time – was making. Samsung, HTC, Acer, Lenovo, and practically all other manufacturers were solely focused on making direct iPad alternatives. ASUS was intent on making something more, and it showed from the very start. The company has stayed true to its originality ever since.
In 2012, ASUS announced yet another hybrid device, the PadFone. PadFone was a combination of an Android-powered smartphone with a tablet terminal that supplied louder speakers, a large battery (for powering the terminal and charging the phone), a larger display, and the simplicity of a single device. The phone aspect of the combo was hardly any different than any other Android smartphone, except it was already somewhat dated at the time of its announcement in February, and even more so at its launch in June, after devices like the Galaxy S III and HTC One X were available for purchase. The PadFone offered a qHD display in comparison to the 720p displays on competing flagships. It had a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU when other flagships had made the jump to quad-core CPUs at similar clock speeds.
And lest we forget about price. The PadFone was originally quite expensive in comparison, particularly if you wanted to take advantage of the sole purpose the PadFone existed: the tablet shell. The combination was originally set at the equivalent of roughly $920 USD (€699). (The conversion rate brings it a little closer to $950 USD these days.) Here in the States, that meant no subsidy. With a two-year contract, you could have bought a Galaxy S III and an iPad or Galaxy Tab for roughly $200 less.
Later models, like the PadFone Infinity, launches for prices upwards of €1,000 ($1,353.97).
In other words, price sort of defeated the purpose.
No less, the PadFone, at first, seemed like a truly compelling concept and product. The execution may have been flawed, but it was a solution to a problem that had only just started with mobile tablets with cellular connectivity: additional data fees for extra devices.
Those fees have been significantly reduced with shared data plans, but it’s still something many are trying to avoid today.
The other half of the PadFone was, as Michael called it, “an answer to a question no one was asking.” Did anyone actually want a phone that could dock into a larger faux-tablet? With the decentralization of computing and so many adopting cloud storing and sync, is storing all your important files on a single physical drive smarter or more efficient? And do you really want all the applications which you would probably only install on a tablet on your phone (or vice versa)?
Once given some thought, there are a lot of use cases which make sense, and about twice as many that don’t. You still have to carry two separate devices around to take full advantage of the combo device. If your phone goes missing, the tablet portion is missing, as well. If your phone crashes or gets wiped, for whatever reason, so does your tablet. They’re one in the same, and given some real world experience, reasons for why such a device isn’t practical begin to arise.
I’ll be honest, I’ve always been intrigued by the originality of PadFone. But ASUS has always seemed to miss the mark, either by specifications, software, polish, or price. Two years in, it seems ASUS has honed in on a workable recipe, for the most part. The PadFone X has passable specifications, even if they’re a smidge dated these days: Snapdragon 800 SoC with a 2.3GHz quad-core CPU, 5-inch 1080p display, 13-megapixel camera, 2GB RAM, 16GB storage with support for up to 64GB microSD cards, and a 2,330mAh battery. This time around, the tablet dock offers full HD resolution, as well – 1,920 by 1,200 pixels – and a 4,990mAh battery.
However, as cool as the PadFone concept has been all along, it’s simply taken ASUS too long to only get it mostly right.
The price of the PadFone X is the most compelling feature. With a two-year agreement, you can pick up the PadFone X and its PadFone Station Dock for just $199.99 through AT&T. Sans contract, you’re looking at a less alluring $595.92 for the combination. It’s still a major improvement over the original PadFone price.
ASUS has continued to develop its original idea, a smartphone that transforms into a tablet, while competitors have started to approach the concept of a hybrid mobile device from the opposite direction. Microsoft, Lenovo, and others are now building tablets which transform into fully-fledged, compact laptops. Apple is also rumored to be working on something similar with the iPad Pro (though we can’t speak to its legitimacy). And it’s safe to say fewer people want more out of their phones while an increasing number of mobile consumers desire more powerful tablets.
The PadFone X is tragically at the wrong end of the equation. While the new, lower price will definitely attract some, it’s hardly the alluring hybrid device we dreamed about in 2011. Tag the keyboard dock on the PadFone X and you’re looking at over $700 after taxes. Spend another $100 and you could get a base model Surface Pro 3 – a far more viable and logical tablet hybrid, one that could possibly even replace your laptop, too – with Windows 8.1. Granted, you wouldn’t have the keyboard, which is another $130 before taxes, but you’d be getting a far more powerful machine that would most definitely cover a larger swath of use cases.
Point being, ASUS has finally come around and created a better formula for its PadFone concept, but the market has changed and adapted around said concept. What was so lustrous in 2012 is now an antiquated idea. Our wants and needs as consumers have changed. So have our expectations.
PadFone X is cool, sure. But in light of the newer, more innovative products, it’s too little too late.