The Asus PadFone comprises of two separate pieces — a smartphone unit and a tablet dock. The smartphone is a conventional Android smartphone with the company’s own software customization; in fact, it is almost the same as ZenFone 4 in terms of features and design. What’s different is that it has a docking point at the bottom, so that data can be relayed from the smartphone to the tablet part.
The smartphone is pretty compact to hold and has the same metallic strip with concentric semicircles at the chin that we have seen in the ZenFone range. The Home, Back and Task Switcher keys are below the screen and are not backlit; the loudspeaker is positioned next to the rear camera. The metallic power and volume keys look good and feel nice to the touch. The plastic back is not slippery, so you won’t find yourself dropping it too often.
The tablet dock, officially called the PadFone Station, is a 7-inch slate that is devoid of basic features like front and rear cameras, loudspeaker, and earphone jack. For all these, PadFone mini relies on the smartphone. What the PadFone Station does have is a battery pack, micro-USB port, power and volume keys and the usual array of sensors.
Asus has cut some corners in designing the tablet, dumping the metal in favour of plastic. Gone too are the soft keys that the smartphone sports; instead, you get on-screen keys. Similarly, the power and volume buttons are made of plastic and there is not even a hint of metal on the dock, except the small strip on the back that carries the Asus and PadFone Station branding. Wielding the PadFone mini in one hand is a little cumbersome due to the bulge on the back.
The differences in the design languages of the smartphone and tablet portions make it seem as if Asus has just strapped together two separate devices instead of making a product which is more cohesive.
Using the PadFone mini
PadFone mini is pretty simple to use — you can just place the smartphone unit in the dock and the tablet portion will detect it in a couple of seconds. However, you need to place it securely in order to dock it securely and prevent drops. If you want to eject the smartphone, you need to give a firm tug.
The device lets you know when the smartphone has been docked/removed through a vibration alert on both units; there is also a small notification light in the power button of the tablet that blinks for a few seconds to let the user know when the smartphone has been docked.
In terms of performance, Asus PadFone mini is not the best device around. It is fast enough, but not the fastest, when it comes to opening and switching between apps as well as running games. Due to just 1GB RAM, a couple of heavy games including Real Racing, crashed while we were using the tablet, which is now seen in only a few other phones in this price range. Graphics intensive games like Asphalt 8 also exhibited some lag.
In synthetic benchmarks, the phone scored 23,764 in Antutu, 9,263 in Quadrant and 58.7 in Nenamark 2 benchmark tests. However, we do not recommend a phone based solely on benchmarks as real world performance is different at times.
Asus isn’t targeting the mainstream buyer with PadFone mini; instead, it is looking at the niche consumer who wants a hybrid device with the convenience of two devices rolled into one. We have our reservations about PadFone mini, mainly because of the rather low screen resolution, poor battery life, average camera and chunky build. While the overall performance is good enough, you can get a big-screen phone with much better performance if you add a couple thousand rupees more.
Then there’s another big problem for Asus: its own ZenFone 6 (which has much better features and a 6-inch screen) that costs nearly the same as PadFone mini, and we wholeheartedly would recommend the former.
Nevertheless, if you are serious about buying a device that can be used as a smartphone and as a voice calling tablet, then PadFone mini is a safe (and the only) bet.