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Asus PadFone mini review: The budget hybrid

Asus PadFone mini review: The budget hybrid

Asus's PadFone devices are as unconventional as a gadget gets in the smartphone business. It is essentially a small smartphone that can be placed in a tablet dock, which then synchronizes whatever is running on the smartphone's screen on the larger screen of the tablet. It is aimed at those who want a big-screen device to read e-books, surf the web and watch videos but don't want to carry it around all the time.

The Taiwanese company is set to launch a new iteration of the PadFone in India at the price of Rs 15,999. Having used the device, named PadFone mini, for a few days, we try to find out if it's worth a buy...

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.

The PadFone mini smartphone unit has a 4-inch 480x800p IPS screen while the tablet part sports a 7-inch HD (800x1280p) IPS display.

The smartphone unit's display is bright, has good viewing angles and decent colour saturation. The tablet's screen is similar on most counts, but the colours lack the desired punch and look dull. You can notice a little pixilation if you stare hard enough, otherwise the screen masks over the pixels despite less than desired resolution.


The PadFone mini smartphone unit is powered by a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560 processor with 1GB RAM and 8GB internal storage (with additional microSD support). It has a 1170mAh capacity battery; 8MP rear camera and 1.9MP front camera; and dual sim support. The tablet part only has a 2,100mAh battery.

On the software side, PadFone mini runs Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) operating system with Asus's Zen UI on top. We have previously used this custom software on Asus ZenFone 5 and quite liked the features it offers. For a detailed look at Zen UI, click here.

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.

Once the smartphone is docked, the tablet will be able to open most of the apps that you download on the phone. However, there are a few apps that don't launch including Hangouts and Skype as these require a front camera, which is missing in the tablet portion. Strangely, even the official Twitter Android app does not open returning the same error message.

The downloaded apps that you open on the tablet need to be put into a list, called Dynamic View, in order to transition smoothly from the phone to the tablet and vice versa. While we were able to run most common Android apps in smartphone as well as tablet modes, we found that a number of third-party apps close when you dock the phone unit to the tablet unit. The Asus apps work smoothly though and transition to adapt to the bigger display.

Since the tablet supports voice calls, you will also be able to make and receive calls on the tablet.

PadFone mini gives you the liberty to keep separate layouts for both tablet and smartphone. For example, you can keep the video player app on the home screen in tablet mode, while the smartphone unit can have Skype on its home screen.

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.

The device offers good call quality and signal reception and we did not encounter issues while making calls even in areas where cell signal is relatively weaker. It was able to lock to GPS without any hiccups. We were also able to play most popular video and audio file formats. The external speaker outlet on the phone, located at the back, offers loud sound output but is not stereo. Also, sound gets muffled when it is placed on a soft surface.

One thing that we are extremely disappointed with is the battery life. The smartphone lasts only a little more than half a day with heavy usage. When used in conjunction, the tablet and smartphone still last less than a standard work day.


The PadFone Mini sports an 8MP rear camera and a 2MP front shooter. The camera of PadFone mini though not particularly good, is decent for casual photography. However, the lack of rear flash is a letdown as you can't take pictures in the dark.

Pictures shot in daylight appear good but when you zoom-in, you'll realize they miss out on detail. Macro shots were also underwhelming and same was the case with low-light shots.

The device is capable of shooting full-HD (1080p) video footage but videos were just average with audio quality also being below our expectations. The front camera is good for video chats but don't expect it to take high quality selfies.


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. 

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