I’ve been using the Asus PadFone X Mini for nearly a week now, and I think the company actually has something here. It isn’t perfect, no product is, but if you were put off by phones that were too large but needed the extra screen real estate for web work, or simply wanted a deal where you’d pay for one device but get both a tablet and a phone as part of a bargain. Sales growth for tablets has been slowing, and part of the reason is that with larger phones people are having trouble justifying new tablets but what if you got both for the price of one?
The Asus PadFone X Mini is interesting in that is uses the phone as the core technology, and then you can attach a tablet screen if you need a larger screen for some things. Realize that the technology inside a Smartphone and tablet is pretty much the same stuff, why not use the same technology for both given you are likely only going to use one at a time? This is at the heart of the PadFone concept and it is actually kind of brilliant.
The PadFone is a nested design. You basically take a Smartphone and nest it in the back of a tablet when you want something bigger. The screen automatically resizes for the new display in a few moments and you instantly have a tablet. The PadFone X Mini is currently offered through AT&T’s Go Phone monthly pay-as-you-go service so there is no contract you have to sign and the introductory cost is a rather amazing $200 when it goes on sale on the 23rd of October. This configuration has typically sold in the mid-$300 range previously.
Performance isn’t going to knock your socks off, it is a $200 device after all, but it is in line with other $200 Smartphones. An iPhone 6 has more performance but it starts at nearly 2.5 times the price so it had better. But with the PadFone you get what other Smartphones lack, a bundled tablet. So it is basically a two for one deal for the value segment. So the performance for the phone is in line with $200 phones and the performance for the tablet is in line with $200 tablets but you got both for $200. That’s really this product’s “killer feature”. This is really the first Intel-based product available in the U.S., and given it is their older technology the performance is impressive for the price.
Unlike most of the more expensive Smartphones on the market you can upgrade this one with Flash memory, which makes it an even better deal (a fully loaded unlocked large iPhone 6 can set you back nearly $1,000).
Because it will launch with the Go Phone service this actually makes a better gift because you sure don’t want to have to pay someone’s annual contract price, and folks tend to look at gifts that come with a monthly commitment you aren’t paying for as less than favorably. I can picture giving someone a car where you just made the down payment and left them with the monthly payments they hadn’t planned on would be equally poorly received.
One big one is that you don’t have to update two things. Right now you buy a new tablet or phone and both become largely obsolete within two years. Now folks generally update their phone, because of their contract, every two years anyway but the tablet just falls farther and farther out of date. With this design, in theory, if you buy a new phone you basically update the tablet, and you could in theory update the tablet as well if they came out with one that had a larger and/or better screen as well though this would require Asus to keep the dimensions consistent going forward which has been a problem with designs like this in the past.
In addition you can keep to the smaller 4.5” form factor for the phone, which many prefer to carry because you don’t look like such an idiot if you hold it up to your head and it fits more easily in a pocket then the monsters that are coming to market now. Because the Smartphone is the heart of the tablet, the tablet is also connected to the LTE network leaving you the cost of either turning on tethering (so you could use the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot) or buying a second LTE service for the tablet. So this not only saves you around $200 (the cost of a similar tablet) at purchase it can save you an additional $25 to $40 a month depending on the redundant connectivity service you’d otherwise have to use.
I carry a small tablet everyplace I go mostly to read, email, watch movies or TV shows and play games. Movies and TV shows are generally gated by network quality and this tablet performed as well as the other tablets I have and it was fine for email and reading as well since those don’t exactly push the performance envelope. Gaming was slower than I’d like for rich games though the ones I tried were playable. Glare protection and resolution aren’t as good as on more expensive products making me wish there was an up-market version of this, which I’d have preferred using. I’d have been willing to pay more for something a bit more capable, but I was amazed at how much this did for $200. Think about it, $200 for a connected tablet or a smartphone is typically a good deal, for both it is an amazing deal.
Other than performance, the other thing I missed was a case that would protect the screen of the tablet and a kickstand so I could sit back and watch movies. I have a third party kickstand that worked but it is one more separate thing to carry and unless I have my computer bag with me I don’t have it.
Wrapping Up: The Future
I think the idea of having a Smartphone that will nest in a tablet is a great concept. You get a ton of value and the result, at least in this case, was rather impressive for the money. I’d like to see more choices so that you could upgrade the components to better fit your needs, a higher performance phone if you were into gaming, a better screen on the tablet or maybe even a bigger one, and some kind of case and kickstand for the combined unit would be really handy.
But overall I’m impressed with this initial unit, which used Intel’s last generation chip technology. Makes me wonder how good one of these would be with their current generation. This is a rather decent start for Intel in this market and a nice differentiator for Asus who often appears more innovative in their designs than Apple now does.
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