Not long ago we had the opportunity to share our experiences with a unique device: the Asus PadFone X. If you haven’t checked out our full review, make sure you find out why we call it “a beginner’s flagship with a tablet in the box”. Just like most of our reviews, we get our hands on the device, we run it through its paces, we write up our thoughts, and move on to the next device.
This one was “different” and we wanted to give it a little bit more than just a normal review, because it’s anything but a “normal” device. The PadFone X is a smartphone. It’s also a tablet. Add on it’s accessory keyboard, and it’s a laptop, too! But is it really any of those? Or is it a just “poor substitute” for each?
We took the ASUS PadFone X for an extended spin over the course of a little more than a week. Here’s what we found out.
What is it?
Technology has gotten so good that for about US$300 (with a contract) you can get a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop all in one. When assembled, it looks an awful lot like a computer, but the question is: is it a computer you can really use, let alone one that you’d want to use? To answer that we need to go back to what this “thing” really is.
Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? Is it a laptop? Yes! To all three! Well, Sort of.
Some apps simply don’t work with tablets. They’re not designed to work with them, and even though they technologically might be able to function, ultimately the developer gets to decide what devices are “compatible” with their app. For example, Pocketnow Reader AndrewMD asked if the PayPal Here app will work on the PadFone X.
The answer is, yes, absolutely yes! The app downloads and installs without any complaints from the Play Store, and setting it up is a snap. Luckily, virtually every app that I installed assumed the PadFone X was a phone – which it is. Apps didn’t seem to care about the “tablet” aspect of the device. Some apps, as you might expect, forced the screen into portrait, which usually wouldn’t be a problem, but was somewhat comical when the tablet was docked and the screen was sideways.
Part of the benefit of the PadFone is being able to quickly dock and undock the phone into and out of the tablet. From a physical standpoint this is quick and easy. Software, on the other hand, is a little different.
When you plug the phone into the “tablet” you get an entirely new homescreen. Pretty much everything that you’ve set up on your screens while it’s a “smartphone” aren’t there when it’s a tablet – and vice versa. This is actually a feature, albeit a confusing and slightly frustrating one. When you use your tablet, especially when connected (wirelessly) to the keyboard and trackpad, it’s an entirely different experience. Yes, it’s the same operating system and set of apps, but you use them differently.
Because of this, the homescreens that you see when thusly configured are built such that you can configure them separately from your smartphone screens. It’s brilliant – and frustrating.
Some apps are perfect for this “I don’t care what device I run on” scenario, just dock or undock and you’re on your way. Other apps aren’t so smart and require that they be shut down and re-opened when switching between configurations. Sure, this happens automatically, but it’s still time consuming and you lose your place in whatever it was you were doing.
When docked and using the keyboard with its trackpad, there are a few inconsistencies you’ll run in to when compared to the same kind of experience on a laptop. Want to scroll through a web page or other document? In some places you can, but others make you touch the screen to scroll. While that’s not a problem in and of itself, if your fingers are already on the keyboard and thumbs hovering over the trackpad, you should be able to simply scroll, but you can’t. This isn’t a PadFone X problem: Android doesn’t have this ability built-in, although it should.
Typing on a normal “laptop-sized” keyboard was a joy! However, inadvertently dropping one of my thumbs onto the trackpad and having my cursor jump all over the screen caused me to curse out loud – more than once. This is something that could be fixed with software, but if there’s a setting to turn off the trackpad while typing (like there is on my laptop) I couldn’t find one.
So, no, the experience isn’t perfect – but it’s amazing.
At my other job I sit at one computer all day and remotely connect to several other machines. Some of them are web servers, others are terminals. The one that I use most of the time is on the corporate network. Because I’m a software developer I “live” in the Development Network, which is an environment entirely separate from the Production Network. To get and send email, review and edit documents, and do a third of my job I have to remotely connect to that network via RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).
To make matters worse, the Development Network uses a shared DSL connection that serves the entire network: our development servers as well as all of our developers. We regularly fill that pipe and everything is understandably slow.
Utilizing AT&T’s LTE network and the PadFone X, I was able to RDP into the corporate network using either Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app for Android, or the Jump app (which is also available for iOS). Once connected, the experience was significantly faster than remoting over DSL, and looked almost as if I were running a laptop local to that network. The experience was nothing short of breathtaking: dock my phone, tap an icon, and BOOM! I’m online, connected, and working – in Windows no less!
Writing documents (again, aside from the thumbs-on-the-touchpad issue) was a delight. I wrote approximately half of my Pocketnow articles, all of my Pocketnow emails, and virtually all my social media interactions using the PadFone X for the entire week. The experience changed the way I look at tablets.
The ASUS PadFone X isn’t perfect, and some would argue that ASUS took too long to make a viable PadFone. However, for under US$200 on contract, to get a very capable phone that turns into a tablet is a great deal. For $99 more, the ASUS keyboard dock makes the entire solution almost entirely capable of replacing your laptop. Altogether, the PadFone X deserves a closer look and a hands-on experience of your own.
This is one of those devices that I don’t look forward to sending back.