Asus FonePad Review

The Asus FonePad falls into the fast-growing segment of small tablets bearing voice calling functionalities, and this is what makes it an interesting product to review. Recently, we had the pleasure of having a go at the 8-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 510 which too bears the same ability. Although we were quite impressed by the device’s overall features, when it came to employing it as a phone by holding the 8-inch surface to our ears, we found it to be quite a maladroit experience. Now it remains to be seen what this new 7-inch tablet has in store for us. Unveiled at the MWC earlier this year, it’s powered by the Intel Atom SoC, and in more ways than one, is identical to the Google Nexus 7, since it was manufactured by the Taiwanese brand itself. Let us try to delve deeper into its attributes to understand more about it.

Design:
When your device needs to be positioned as an affordable one, there isn’t much you can do to give it the premium looks that an iPad or perhaps an Xperia Tablet Z tablet has. What’s commendable keeping this fact in mind is that the Asus FonePad really does grab hold of admirable looks. This is evident from a glimpse of its front surface which is extremely similar to that of the Nexus 7, if the addition of an earpiece and the Asus branding is to be overlooked.

Asus FonePad

An unnoticeable difference however is that while Google’s flagship tablet bears Corning Glass coating, this device settles instead for a heavily charged fingerprint magnet of a surface which even makes it hard for the fingerprints to even be wiped off. The rear of the gadget chooses aluminum as its preferred material. This decision works in favor of the slate since it gives it a stare-worthy exterior component. On its outer edge, towards its right side rests a power button and a volume rocker, whereas its bottom houses a microUSB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack in beautifully contoured slots.

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Another stylish touch is given by the company’s logo which has been carved out into the rear surface. Towards the bottom of the back plate, you’ll find the Intel branding which reminds you about processor that’s ticking inside the slab. Giving it company is a minimal speaker grill. Overall, its size comes up to 196.6mm x 120.1mm x 10.4mm, while its weight stands at 340 grams, which is a bit towards the heavier side, given the rear aluminum plate.

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An unusual yet bold design choice is the adoption of a removable plate on the top which sits right above the gadget’s camera, and is meant to provide safe housing for a microSD card and a micro SIM card. As much as we liked this atypical addition, we did always wish it could have come with some kind of a mechanism to help you easily open it, for it fails to budge without a large amount of effort. The fact that its color is in contrast with that of the tablet’s is also one of the contributing factors towards its striking appearance.

We do believe that since it’s a voice calling device, the company could have gone for something more favorable to helping you grab a better grip while you’re holding it to your ear. As a stark contrast to this slate’s aluminum, the Nexus 7 features a rubber surface on its back, and it doesn’t even kick in the voice calling ability. Lastly, although its appearance gives it a sturdy look, once it’s in your hands, you’ll realize that’s it’s a bit frail overall.

Specifications:
The 7-inch screen estate on the device is practically the same display that we’ve seen on the Nexus 7, with its 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution and its average pixel density of 216ppi. But there’s a massive difference in the chipset department, as this tablet ditches the Tegra 3 setup for a relatively unpopular yet budget-friendly Intel Atom Z2420 unit, proffering the benefits of a 1.2GHz single core processor. The model that’s selling in India comes with a dual camera setup, giving you the benefits of a 3MP rear snapper and a 1.2MP secondary shooter. Infusing high-end cameras into tablets is quite unfeasible, and hence, whatever their capabilities, these twin shutterbugs serve their basic functions and do nothing to impress.

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This device has chosen to stay shy of the Android 4.2 update, and has adopted the 4.1 version of Jelly Bean instead. 1GB worth of RAM and 8GB worth of internal storage memory (32GB model with 1.6GHz processor also available now) make their way into it along with a microSD card slot for expansions of up to 32GB. Flexible storage is indeed an aspect where the tablet scores over the Nexus 7. As far as its battery is concerned, a 4,270mAh Lithium – Polymer power pack has been thrust into this device, with an aim of making its running time a major selling point.

Display and Sound:
After having used the tablet for a considerate amount of time, we’re pretty satisfied with its 7-inch IPS LCD. It produces the right amount of color for perfect consumption of content. But like we said, the fingerprints you’ll leave behind on the screen surface are at times bound to prove as hindrances. The viewing angles on this 7 incher are remarkable, as the visuals don’t lose their vibrancy even when the device is skewed till nearly its limit.

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However, outdoor brightness is a big issue this display faces, apart from its reflective nature. Even with a special Outdoor mode, the amount of generated luminosity is not enough for reading content on it. Indoors though, the readability is pretty decent. A nifty additional app called Splendid might give you some respite, as it allows you to tweak the color temperature of the display according to your liking.

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The sound output on the device is good enough, with its speaker providing satisfactory performance. To test its capability, we docked the slate at the center of an empty room, and pushed it to full volume, while playing a video clip. Dialogues uttered in a hush fashion did ask for some head-turning, but on all other occasions, the listening experience was crisp. Despite this, the in-call audio manages to suffer, as it’s just not up to the mark in terms of volume as well as clarity.

Camera:

With the Asus FonePad comes a 3MP sensor which needs quite a good amount of light for it to be able to deliver admirable shots. Forget about low-light capturing, as although the camera does manage to add some luminosity to its final pictures, it isn’t able to prevent them from being extremely grainy. Moreover, all the captured images fail to generate the amount of detail that cameras on basic smartphones these days deliver. Zooming in makes the photographs lose almost all their quality, so it’s a feature best left unused. The camera app features usual traits like exposure adjustments, white balance changes and effects, and bearing in mind that this device does not feature the Android 4.2 update, native support for HDR and Photo Sphere is out of the question.

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Sample image from main camera:

Like its photographs, its videos too come out good in perfect lighting but suffer in dimly lit conditions. 720p is the maximum limit for this snapper as well as the front camera. The latter component is aimed at video calling, but with apps like Vine and Instagram now providing bountiful creative opportunities to shine on the Internet, it could become a handy feature for some. Spot the sample video in the space below, and notice the difference between the clips shot through the front and rear cameras.

Sample Videos with front and rear cameras:

Software:

The most striking aspect of the user interface that this device puts forth for you is its extra button on the system bar. This is to directly control its new Floating apps feature. Just like the Xperia Z’s Small apps and the Optimus G’s QSlide trait, it allows for windows of widgets and apps to be extracted onto the main screen for ease of use. These can then keep running in the foreground, as you perform any other task on your screen. Let’s say you’re too inclined on conducting some research on the Internet, but at the same time, you also need to know the score of the ongoing match. All you do is extract a floating window of the scoring app, and place it wherever you want, and continue with your research while watching the score.

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There aren’t any big changes to other Jelly Bean interface traits here, but small touches like a tiny icon on the home screen which indicates the number of unread emails you have are indeed appreciable. The company has loaded this tablet with a number of its own utilities that include App Locker for password protection of individual apps, MyLibrary for managing your eBooks and other such software which can easily be downloaded otherwise as third-party apps. However, there are a few interesting features that did manage to catch our eye.

For instance, it’s Splendid mode which lets you adjust the color temperature on the display to suit your liking. This is an interesting customization element, especially with its ability to turn your slab’s display into a black and white one. We have to admit we did gain a kick out of using a grayscale-d tablet screen. Furthermore, the device kicks in the Audio Wizard tool which is meant to tailor the sound output based on what tasks you’re employing the tablet for. And since it’s a Jelly Bean 4.1 OS-equipped slate, goodies like Google Now and more can also be spotted on it.

Performance and battery:

We’ve seen the Intel Atom processor and the PowerVR SGX540 GPU perform impressively well on a few devices before. But they were all smartphones, and the Asus Fonepad is the first tablet to feature this chipset, as opposed to the Tegra 3 setup which its cousin, the Nexus 7 offers. Sure, the employment of this technology helps extensively in bringing the product’s price down, but it has only managed to produce satisfactory results. Mind you, the usual apps run pretty smoothly, but if you’re thinking of employing the slab for some hearty gaming pleasures, you’re in for some disappointment, as even the most undemanding of titles stutter their way to the finish line.

Lags and frame-rate drops occurred randomly each time we tried to put in some long runs in Subway Surfers. And even with all the apps killed, we couldn’t manage to get through a lag-free session of Riptide GP. Not to mention, these games took a hell lot of time to load in the first place. On 3D Mark’s Ice Storm benchmark test, the tablet managed to get a score of 2,175, whereas its AnTuTu reading was 7,468, which is considerably more than that of the Xolo X900, another Intel Atom-powered device.

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Lastly, we tested the battery on this tablet, and were indeed very impressed with its performance. Its 4,270mAh power pack never left us searching for charging points. With moderate usage of applications punctuated with some gaming every few hours and the attending of calls and messages, the tablet lasted two days for us. Certainly then, if you’re looking for a device which delivers long-lasting battery life at a modest price, this tablet-phone hybrid is something you can’t afford to overlook.

Pros:

– Offers voice calling ability along with 3G support.
– Battery performance is truly gratifying.
– Affordable price tag.

Cons:

– Camera is highly unimpressive.
– Performance proffered by its internal components is average.
– Smudges seem to make permanent homes on the screen.

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Verdict:

With the adoption of the Nexus 7 blueprint, the Asus Fonepad has a lot going its way, especially its high resolution 7-inch display and its long battery life. The company’s decision to grant it the voice calling ability cannot be considered a bad one, but those who wish to avoid the awkward looks they’ll get when they hold a 7 incher to their ears can think of investing in some good headphones, as they’re not included in the package contents. Like we said, the device is comfortable at handling heavy tasks, but falters when it comes to games. Given its price of Rs. 15,999 for its 8GB model, nothing extraordinary can be expected from it, but still, the device didn’t impress us as much as we had expected it to. We’re giving this affordable tablet a score of 2.3 out 5 based on our experience with it.