The padfone getting well into its third generation clearly doesn't mean that Asus have given up tablets. The Fonepad is a proper tablet that's going after the likes of the Google Nexus 7 (incidentally also made by Asus).
It’s powered by an Intel Atom Z2420 chipset with a single-core CPU at 1.2GHz, 1GB of RAM and PowerVR SGX540 GPU. It will run Android 4.1 Jelly Bean at launch.
It feels much like the Nexus 7 apart from the metallic back. It literally sits in your hand the same way as a Nexus 7 tablet. Although similar in size and weight it feels slimmer than the Nexus 7.
The screen of the Fonepad is a 7" 1280 x 800 IPS unit. We're pleased with its contrast and viewing angles - it easily bests what Asus achieved with the 7" Nexus tablet.
The Asus Fonepad is a pretty straightforward 7" tablet - with the added bonus of telephony. The concept is by no means new - Samsung have quite a few slates with support for voice calls.
With phone screens hitting 5" and above in size, the term "phablet" pretty much ceased to exist. Asus claims that there's no need to pay for a smartphone and a tablet, when a tablet can do both. So, is the Fonepad the new phablet?
Well, the Fonepad certainly has a lot going for it. It's going to sell at nearly the same price as the Nexus 7, but it has a number of advantages. Not the least of which is the screen - it's a 7" WXGA screen again, but of better quality than that of the Nexus in terms of contrast and viewing angles (two things we complained about when reviewing the Nexus 7).
The Fonepad also has a microSD card slot to expand the built-in memory, which is either 8GB or 16GB in the different regions. Europe will get the 16GB version, while the APAC region gets only 8GB but a 3.2MP back camera too.
And the tablet is almost exactly the same size and weight as a Nexus 7, but with a metal back. Not that the plastic on the Nexus was bad, but metal always feels better.
The biggest difference between the Asus Fonepad and the Nexus 7 is the telephony. The Google tablet has a 3G version, but no support for voice calls. You get a standard Phonebook and you can place calls with the tablet though we wouldn't recommend doing it without a headset.
Both the microSIM and microSD card slots are hidden under a plastic panel on the back. The antennas are also here (metal blocks wireless signals, so such plastic "windows" have to be made for the antennas).
The Asus Fonepad does have its disadvantages though. It features some of the same customizations as the Padfone Infinity, including the mini apps, but not all of the customizations. It runs Android 4.1, instead of 4.2 as well.
The older version of Android might have something to do with the chipset - the Fonepad is Intel-powered with an Atom Z2420 chipset. This means single-core 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and PowerVR SGX540 GPU. Android 4.2 has been ported to the x86 architecture that the Atom uses, but that branch usually sees slower adoption compared to the much more popular ARM branch.
Reading the chipset specs you might have imagined that the Fonepad isn't the fastest device around. And you'd be right - it feels quite slow. We ran a Quadrant benchmark to make sure it's not just our imagination and the results were less than stellar.
Higher is better
The Asus Fonepad priced low-enough to be attractive, especially when you consider the better screen, metal body and expandable storage. There's the voice call functionality too, though we're still not sold on the idea. Maybe for a second phone line, maybe, but certainly not as a primary device. And we really wish Asus used one of the beefier Intel Atom chipsets, the Z2420 is out of breath way too often.