Asus Padfone 2 £599

8th Mar 2012 | 18:42

Asus Padfone 2

Asus's second generation smartphone/tablet hybrid

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Crisp, clear screen; Snappy performance; Quick and easy docking; Can charge phone from tablet; Relatively uncorrupted Android;

Dislike:

Proprietary micro USB charger; Low-res tablet screen; Poor quality tablet feel; High cost;

Introduction

Undeterred by the lukewarm reception to its first attempt at a smartphone-tablet hybrid, Asus has returned with the Asus Padfone 2. It's sturdier, quicker, and much better specced than its predecessor, but the Asus Padfone 2 hasn't left us entirely convinced that this is a worthwhile concept.

With the launch of the Windows 8 OS and devices such as the Microsoft Surface, the potential for hybrid smart devices that can fulfil multiple roles at least appears to be out there in the public consciousness.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Now could be the perfect time for Asus to enjoy a measure of success with its own convergent take.

The Asus Padfone 2 is primarily a very capable Android smartphone, which just so happens to have the (almost) unique ability to slot into an included tablet dock and become a competent 10.1-inch Android tablet.

As such, we'll discuss the Padfone 2 as a phone first and foremost, but will highlight where notable features or changes are made by slotting it into the tablet peripheral.

Asus clearly means business with the Asus Padfone 2. Packing a 4.7-inch 720p Super IPS+ display, a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 13-megapixel main camera, this is an Android 4.1 Jelly Bean smartphone that stands toe-to-toe (for specs at least) with the Google Nexus 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Of course, the Asus Padfone 2's somewhat tardy arrival in the UK has meant that it won't be considered top-of-the-range for long - not with the Sony Xperia Z and the HTC One virtually upon us.

Indeed, with Asus itself announcing the Asus Padfone Infinity at MWC 2013, the Padfone 2 is on borrowed time as top dog in its own home. But right now, it's a highly capable device in its own right.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Our first impression when holding the Asus Padfone 2 for the first time was one of quiet approval. It's a solidly built phone that mixes a somewhat mid-range feel with several high-end flourishes. On the one hand you have the classy iPhone 4S-like metallic rim that tapers to a fairly narrow point at its bottom edge, effectively acting as a runner for the tablet dock.

You also have what feels like a sealed body - though it's actually just a very well concealed removable back - which, combined with a weight that's only slightly heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S3 and HTC One X, leaves the Padfone 2 feeling robust and well made.

Asus Padfone 2 review

At 9mm (0.35 inches) thick, the Asus Padfone 2 has pretty much the same girth as its 4.7-inch rivals, too.

On the other hand, the other materials feel a little plasticy and occasionally cheap. The rear cover has an unusual textured concentric circle design that aids grip but, in the off-white colour scheme of our test unit at least, almost has a chintzy hairbrush look and feel from some angles.

Asus Padfone 2 review

This sits at odds with a glossy plastic front portion that feels decidedly Samsung.

The aforementioned metallic rim also breaks up its own continuous machined curve with what looks like a separate component along the bottom edge, which looks a little tacked on and almost composed of a different material.

Asus Padfone 2 review

In terms of ports and buttons, the Asus Padfone 2 is a bit of a mixed bag. Its hardware keys are excellent, with the power key sitting just above the volume rocker on the device's upper-right-hand side. These feel truly classy in terms of their positioning, metallic composition and degree of give.

The three capacitive buttons on the lower-front face of the device are par for the course for a modern Android phone, though they look a little murky when lit up, like there's a thick layer of gel coating them.

Asus Padfone 2 review

It's the ports that are a little disappointing here. The top-centre-mounted 3.5mm jack is no problem, but the proprietary micro USB port on the bottom is an inexplicable inclusion. It's ugly, fiddly, and while existing micro USB connectors will fit, they don't do so securely.

Some will also no doubt bemoan the lack of a microSD slot for memory expansion purposes. We're not usually bothered by such things when there's a choice of 32GB or more internally (as there is here), but it feels like more of an issue here when Asus is presenting the device as a tablet as well. Somehow we just associate 10.1-inch Android tablets with more capacity and flexibility.

Asus Padfone 2 review

The real star of the show here, though, is the Asus Padfone 2's 4.7-inch display. Yes, 720p is soon to be superseded by Full HD 1080p displays, but in the here and now this is one of the crispest smartphone displays we've seen.

Colours are accurate, text is sharp, blacks are reasonably black and whites are just vibrant enough without coming across as over-saturated. In fact, our only issue with the Asus Padfone's display is a software issue - the auto-brightness setting can be overly stingy at times, particularly when viewing in low ambient light.

Tablet

Asus Padfone 2 review

If our impressions of the Asus Padfone 2 phone's feel and design are largely positive, then our impressions of the tablet peripheral are considerably less so.

On the plus side, we're impressed by the actual docking mechanism, which puts us in mind of classic cartridge-based video game consoles (minus the need to blow on the connectors). The phone slots into place reliably and solidly, with the screen pointing inwards.

Asus Padfone 2 review

However, the tablet portion in isolation just feels cheap, flimsy and overwhelmingly plastic. There are notable creaks when handling it, which is possibly down to the fact that the bulk of the extended pad's innards are concentrated in the phone portion. The tablet effectively just houses a 5,000mAh battery, making it somewhat hollow.

This leads to the tablet feeling a little awkwardly balanced in the hand, too. Holding the device in one hand while interacting with the other places undue strain on the former, thanks to the weight being concentrated in the middle of the device.

Asus Padfone 2 review

It's also undeniably ugly - a cheap, plastic shell with a pearlescent sheen to the rear portion and a nondescript black slab feel to the front. It's reminiscent of the first generation of Android tablets, which is not a good thing.

The two key hardware buttons for power and volume are stiff, and feedback is poor - particularly on the almost unmoving volume rocker.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Even more disappointing is the performance of the 10.1-inch screen, especially when compared to the equivalent excellence of the phone portion.

This display is distinctly low-res by modern day standards, at a lowly 1280 x 800. The picture looks grainy and washed out, especially when switching from the bright crispness of the phone - as you inevitably do whenever you use the tablet portion.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Our overall first impression is that the Asus Padfone 2 just doesn't look or feel like a £599 (around US$905/AU$885) 32GB device, regardless of the fact that you're effectively getting two devices in one.

For that price your could buy a Google Nexus 4 and a Google Nexus 10, each of which possesses that uber-desirable, premium feel.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Of course, you wouldn't get to use a single phone contract for both, which is the Asus Padfone 2's one big boast. It's not an inconsiderable one either.

Interface

Asus Padfone 2 review

The Asus Padfone 2 is powered by Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, but what sets it apart from many of the major third-party Android manufacturers is that it's a relatively pure, almost stock version of the celebrated Google OS.

This is a significant plus point for the device, particularly when compared to the heavily customised user interfaces employed in the Sony Xperia Z, the Samsung Galaxy S3, the HTC One X, and pretty much any major Android device not belonging to the Nexus series.

By default there's a non-stock weather and time widget on the main home page, but this is simply a standard AccuWeather widget that can be removed at will.

Other than this, everything from the app icons and the drag-and-drop app folder system to the settings menus and the main app tray is classic Android Jelly Bean.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Drag your finger down to the end of a menu and you get that familiar blue glow to inform you that you've scrolled as far as you can go.

It sounds minor, but these little design flourishes have been pored over and refined by Google - one of the biggest software companies in the world, lest we forget - over a period of years and several major iterations.

We can scarcely believe that more hardware manufacturers don't capitalise on this expertise and make the ready-made stock Android experience at least an option for their handsets.

Asus is to be commended for doing just that.

Unlike the Google Nexus 4, the dedicated capacitive multitasking key on the Asus PadPhone 2 brings up an overlay containing thumbnails of your recently accessed apps at the point at which you exited them.

You can jump straight back in with a touch, or close them completely with a swipe.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Touching and holding the home key of the Asus PadPhone 2 starts up Google Now - arguably the most exciting feature introduced in Android Jelly Bean, and fully intact here.

This advanced Google search picks up on your general Google ecosystem activity and lets you know what your route home is like, how the weather is in your locality, the status of any booked flights you have and more.

Of course, the company can't quite resist tinkering a little with this winning format, and predictably such alterations form the Asus Padfone 2 interface's weak spots.

Our main gripe here lies with the drop-down notification bar which, as always, is accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen when in one of the home screens.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Put simply, Asus has gone to a lot of effort to spoil what is a beautifully clear and intuitive tool on the Google Nexus range.

The core functionality remains the same - you get a list of recent notifications, including missed calls, messages, emails, uploaded images and updated apps, which can be accessed with a touch or dismissed with a swipe.

But Asus has fleshed out the minimalistic settings shortcuts to form a somewhat ugly and obtrusive alternative.

On the Asus PadPhone 2 you'll find garish purple bars containing oversized brightness settings, Wi-Fi menu shortcuts and the like.

You also get a chunky revamp of the Wi-Fi on and off button, as well as equivalents for mobile data, a Smart Saving battery-saver mode, an Instant Dictionary function, a Wi-Fi hotspot function and more.

Asus Padfone 2 review

While arguably more functional, it's just too busy, and it takes up a good third of the screen space, leaving too little room for actual notifications while distracting your attention from those that do manage to squeeze in.

What Asus should really have spent its time tweaking is the Android lock screen.

Version 4.2 of the OS (which should come to the Asus Padfone 2 in time) has fleshed out the lock screen functionality considerably, but version 4.1 is a little too basic.

While intuitive enough, all you can do here is touch the screen and swipe right to unlock or left to jump straight to the camera.

You're told when you have a new message here, but you can't then access your messages directly from this central notification, which feels counter-intuitive compared to some rival provisions.

Tablet

Plug the phone in to the tablet and the view switches to the familiar Android tablet interface, which looks much the same as it has since Android 3.0 Honeycomb was released in 2011.

You have the usual array of home key, multitasking key, and back - this time in the bottom left of the screen - as well as a tool for Asus's widget-like app bar.

The latter includes stripped-back widgets for calculator, calendar, email, dictionary, BuddyBuzz (Asus's obligatory social network tool for Facebook, Twitter and Plurk, bizarrely), and AudioWizard.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Selecting one of these overlays the tool on the screen until dismissed - even if you scroll to a different home screen or even open an app they remain in place. This is extremely useful for multitasking or productivity tasks.

At the bottom-right of the tablet home screen you have the usual settings shortcuts and any incoming notifications. At the top-right you have the apps menu key.

While there's a Google search shortcut at the top-left of the screen, holding the home key brings up a lock screen-like dial for jumping straight to a Google Now search.

Contacts and calling

Contacts

Asus Padfone 2 review

Keeping to the stock Android theme, accessing your contacts on the Asus Padfone 2 will be very familiar to Nexus users. That's because it uses the stock Android People app for contact management, which remains similar to the one introduced with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

This means a main screen consisting of a nice crisp A to Z of your contacts, complete with little thumbnail images.

Above these there are three core tabs to navigate - Groups, Contacts and Favourites. Groups enables you to sort your contacts into categories such as family and colleagues, while Favourites is exactly how it sounds - a list of those contacts you've starred due to frequent use.

There's also the usual powerful search function, accessible from a software button at the bottom left of the screen, which quickly hones in on your desired contact as you type.

Tap a contact and you'll be taken to a details page that offers the ability to call, email, or chat to your contact, depending on which mutual communication services you share.

Tablet

As with all of the stock Android apps on the Asus Padfone 2, People adapts to the tablet format beautifully.

Asus Padfone 2 review

For example, when viewing a specific contact, the full contacts list will remain present to the left of the screen.

Otherwise, the functionality is identical.

Calling

Asus Padfone 2 review

As you might expect at this point, placing calls on the Asus Padfone 2 is similar to making a call on a Google Nexus device, though there are a couple of notable additions.

When you hit the phone icon you'll see Asus's own chunky alphanumeric dial pad, which enables you to use smart dialling as a means to shortcut to your desired contacts.

Asus has also added a handwriting-based dialler at the bottom-right of the screen, though we see no reason to go with such a system over the classic dialler.

Above the keypad - and instead of it, if you press the keypad icon in the bottom-right - you get your recent incoming and outgoing calls, which enable you to return or repeat those calls quickly.

Call quality was excellent during our test period, with largely crisp and clear sound. As with most other high-end Android phones, there's a second microphone situated on the bottom of the device, which acts as a noise-cancellation tool, detecting and adjusting for ambient noise.

Tablet

Yes, you can use the tablet form of the Asus Padfone 2 as a phone, but it's only really practical with appropriate earphones attached. We found that the other party couldn't hear us clearly at the kind of range you'd normally hold a tablet - either on your lap or well away from your face - and they noted that it sounded like we were talking from the other side of the room.

Asus Padfone 2 review

With the default headphones (which, naturally, come with a built-in mic) call quality and clarity was exemplary, and it was actually quite pleasant sitting there having a conversation, in stereo, with the tablet sat there in front of you for general use. We can see this being a handy tool for business users seeking to remain productive while waiting for a train or plane.

Messaging

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus sticks to the script with the Padfone 2's messaging capabilities, and with very good reason.

Android 4.1's default Messaging app is a thing of understated beauty.

Messages are formatted in exactly the same way we've seen on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

The inbox is a nice clear list of the latest messages, led by the profile picture of each contact, their name, the first line of the message and the date it arrived.

This fine concentration of essential data was made possible by the advent of large, sharp displays just like the Asus Padfone 2's.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Needless to say, everything's crisp and legible here.

Opening a message thread is a brilliantly clear experience too, with your comments aligned to the right and your contact's to the left.

Adding multimedia attachments such as photos and videos is simple and quick, with a paperclip button present at the top of the screen.

It's here we should note that Asus has implemented its own keyboard into the Asus Padfone 2.

It's not massively dissimilar to the default Android keyboard, but it does cram in an extra row of dedicated number keys.

This makes incorporating digits into your messages a little quicker, but obviously obstructs the overview of the message a little more.

The keyboard also uses a familiar passive word-prediction system whereby you're given a choice of possible words while you type, and you can simply tap to insert them.

Asus Padfone 2 review

This is essentially a mildly tweaked re-skin of a perfectly good default keyboard, and we were glad to see that the default Android keyboard is also included if you want to keep things stock.

Asus also includes its own Swype-a-like, called Trace, which works much as you'd expect.

Just drag your finger from letter to letter and lift when you complete a word.

Email on the Asus Padfone 2 is handled through two apps.

First up there's the stock Gmail app, which is the same as can be found on any modern Android smartphone.

Asus Padfone 2 review

It remains one of the clearest and most enjoyable email solutions around, and now that Google has improved the auto-alignment feature, there are very few faults to be found with it.

There's also a generic email app for all of your non-Gmail POP or IMAP accounts.

This is styled very much like the Gmail app itself, which lends the overall messaging experience on the Asus Padfone 2 a welcome feel of continuity.

One handy feature here is a combined inbox, whereas in the Gmail app you have to switch between accounts manually.

It's this generic email app that feeds into the email widget on one of the main home screens.

Internet

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus provides both the old-style stock Android browser and the current standard Google Chrome web browser from the off on the Padfone 2, which is both potentially confusing and wholly unnecessary.

The first few times you access the web through another app you'll be asked to choose which browser you want to use.

This is silly - the answer will always (or should always) be Chrome.

It's not that the old Android browser is bad, necessarily, it's just that Chrome is better at everything.

It's quicker and slicker, and it also syncs bookmarks and browsing data with your desktop Chrome browser to a far fuller extent.

Still, once you've knocked the old Android browser from its main toolbar perch and established Chrome as your default web browser, things perform swimmingly.

Asus Padfone 2 review

The aforementioned processor and screen combo ensure that the Asus Padfone 2 performs as well as any current generation Android smartphone in general web browsing usage.

Google has really improved Chrome over the past year or two, to the point where auto-aligning now works flawlessly with a double-tap.

You can throw as many open tabs as you like at it.

The bookmark interface still feels a little clunky and unfinished, but we're sure this will be refined in future - and the Padfone 2 has the hardware to capitalise when this happens.

The phone has Wi-Fi (both 2.4GHz and 5GHz) and 3G (including DC-HSPA+) connectivity. Web pages boot up extremely quickly, and text looks super-sharp on that excellent 4.7-inch HD display.

It also fills out the 10.1-inch tablet screen perfectly, practically begging you to fill the top strip with open tabs.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Camera

As you may have picked up on from the review so far, there's a definite in-between vibe emerging from our time with the Asus Padfone 2 - and we're not talking about its phone-tablet crossover functionality.

The device sports specs and abilities that pitch it between the current, about to be superseded generation represented by the HTC One X and the imminent next generation represented by the Sony Xperia Z. One area in which this is especially apparent - at least on paper - is the Asus Padfone 2's camera.

Its 13 megapixel camera (with a Sony-made image sensor) would appear to put it firmly in the class of 2013, alongside the aforementioned Sony Xperia Z and the Huawei Ascend D2. But we found the Asus Padfone 2 camera's performance to be merely above average.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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There's no dedicated camera shutter key here, though such a thing seems deeply unfashionable these days outside of Windows Phone devices. Besides the usual software shutter key, you can use the Asus Padfone 2's brilliantly tactile volume-up button to take your shots, although you won't get the halfway focus lock feature that a dedicated button would provide.

Focus is extremely sharp and reliable, with a simple touch of the screen switching focus to that point more or less instantly. Pressing and holding on the screen, meanwhile, will lock focus on that point.

In terms of the quality of snaps themselves, when well-lit without any extremes of light or shade, detail is generally sharp. When taking a picture of a restaurant window-menu, for example, it was possible to discern all of the text even at smaller font sizes.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Similarly, when taking a snap of a sawn-off tree trunk in a park, the detail in the bark and variances in texture and colour were captured more than adequately.

All those extra megapixels come in handy for zooming in and cropping in post-production, with image resolution going up to 4160 x 3120, so capturing such fine detail is important.

Speed is impressive too, with multiple snaps reeling off with barely a pause in between. Hold down the shutter button and you'll get a quick-fire succession of shots that retain their detail impressively. Asus claims that the Padfone 2 can take a staggering 100 continuous shots in burst mode.

Asus Padfone 2 review

While that 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon CPU has to take a healthy portion of credit, this impressive performance is largely down to the Asus Padfone 2's dedicated image signal processor.

The Asus Padfone 2 camera's Achilles' heel will be a familiar one to smartphone photographers. It seems to struggle with variances in colour and light.

Our main shooting day just so happened to be a rather grey day (which is unsurprising for a British winter), and virtually all of the outside shots contained over-saturated, bleached out skies in the background.

Asus Padfone 2 review

This can be counteracted somewhat with the phone's HDR mode, which as you can see from the sample images below works quite well at picking out a broad range of lighting conditions within a single shot.

We encountered another disappointment while taking a picture of a vibrant flower bed, with the resulting images taking on a sickly mauve tinge.

As you'd expect from a modern high-end smartphone, the Asus Padfone 2 features a Panoramic mode that enables you to stick together multiple shots into a single ultra-wide image.

Asus Padfone 2 review

The joins were relatively seamless in our Panoramic mode tests, but the process of capturing the images was a little jittery, with the camera constantly warning us that we were moving the camera too fast. Our first attempt also resulted in some uneven colouring, ranging from muted to extremely bleached out.

All in all, based on our time with the Asus Padfone 2's camera, picture quality is decent but far from the best in its class.

The Asus Padfone 2's camera interface is very tidy and intuitive, though not quite as stylish or thematically consistent as the stock Android Jelly Bean example, thanks largely to thick black menu bars along the left and right-hand sides of the screen.

Asus Padfone 2 review

The range of options within these chunky menus is impressive, however, with an array of custom filters such as Under the Sea, Sepia, Vampire and Lomo, as well as gimmicky face-distorting modes.

More useful are the standard range of scene modes, including Night, Portrait, Landscape, Party, Sunset, Snow and the like.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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The Asus Padfone 2 can take crisp close-ups, but the f/2.4 aperture means that the bokeh effect is subtle.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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An impressive amount of foreground and background detail can be captured.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Note how the whole picture has taken on a queasy purple tinge.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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The camera struggled with the diffused light provided by the sky on this grey day.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Grey sky leads to a dingy foreground and mid-ground.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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HDR mode evens out the brightness nicely on the bush and tree.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Low light performance in default mode produces lots of noise.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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LED flash does a good job of lighting up the subject without bleaching it out.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Though there's a lot of noise, Night Mode works reasonably well when flash is not an option.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Our first attempt at a Panoramic shot resulted in uneven colouring and a bleached-out central portion.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Panoramic results are fairly good, but the process is a little finnicky.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Lack of motion blur on these pigeons shows the speed of the camera.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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This shot is one of half a dozen near-identical shots captured by holding down the shutter button.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Varying fonts, colours and close-proximity lines have been captured accurately.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Impressive foreground detail and colour replication on this tree trunk close-up.

Video

The Asus Padfone 2 is very assured when it comes to taking video. It's capable of taking Full HD 1080p video, but the most interesting inclusion is 720p at 60fps - an unusual option to have in a device that's been available (in certain regions) for some months now.

Our sample footage is all in this 720p 60fps mode, since it provides an excellent - and really quite unique - mixture of detail and smooth motion.

You can even put the frame rate up to a super-fast 90fps. You'll have to drop the resolution to 480p to do so, but it's still a great option for tracking and capturing fast-moving action.

Elsewhere, the Asus Padfone 2 camera handles shifts in light quickly and effectively.

Asus Padfone 2 review

One disappointment was the general level of shake noticeable in footage captured on the Asus Padfone 2. It certainly lacks the advanced anti-shake technology found in the Nokia Lumia 920, while the iPhone 5 also keeps things on an even keel much better.

The video settings menus are accessible from within the core camera app, and can be switched to by tapping the little camera icon at the top-left.

Asus Padfone 2 review

These include a gimmicky Silly Faces option that enables you to distort a close-up subject's facial features with big eyes or a small mouth.

When actually shooting video, these menus are shunted out of the way to leave you with a nice view of what you're shooting, and only minimal interface elements to control recording/pausing, flash on and off, and digital zoom.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Media

Asus Padfone 2 review

When it comes to consuming media on the go, the Asus Padfone 2's strong hardware features and 32GB of storage make it a formidable contender near the top of the Android pile.

What's more, with the current array of Google media services, cloud storage solutions and streaming video services, putting media onto the Padfone 2 is as easy as downloading an app and signing in.

One curious function that covers all of the Padfone 2's media output is Audio Wizard, which presents a couple of level presets for Music, Movie, Recording, Gaming and Speech.

We found it slightly odd that these enhancements don't work with a headset plugged in - which is really the way we should be consuming all media on a smartphones, both in terms of quality and being considerate to your neighbours. It's the way HTC does it with its Beats audio enhancement, and we expected the same here.

Instead, they govern the output levels from the Asus Padfone 2's tinny single speaker, which is mounted on the rear of the device for added garble. Strange.

It's far better to ignore the Audio Wizard function, plug in the Asus Padfone 2's surprisingly decent default in-ear buds and enjoy this potent Android phone's media chops the way they should be experienced.

Music

Asus Padfone 2 review

Google's Play Music is the default music app for the Asus Padfone 2, which is more than fine with us.

This phenomenal service enables you to upload up to 20,000 music tracks to the cloud for free.

These can then be streamed or downloaded to pretty much any web-connected device.

Of course, the Play Music app found here is one of the best ways to consume this music.

By swiping left and right you can switch between playlists, recently added or listened to music, a list of all albums, songs, artists or genres.

There's also a typically powerful and snappy intelligent search function that returns songs, albums and artists while you're typing.

Album art is attractively presented, and flipping the Padfone on its side will bring up a swish 3D carousel.

When it comes to playing your music, you can opt either to stream the tracks or pin them to your device - the latter downloading the tracks direct to the Padfone 2's internal storage in the background.

There's also an FM Radio app that enables you to - you guessed it - listen to the radio, provided you have a set of headphones plugged in.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Video

Again, watching video on the Asus Padfone 2 is a pleasure - and that's as much due to the improvement in video services and apps as it is the device's excellent hardware.

Still, that 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 Super IPS+ display does justice to streamed high definition Netflix, Lovefilm and YouTube video content. The screen's deep blacks and accurate colours really are impressive.

Asus Padfone 2 review

High definition content doesn't cause the Asus Padfone 2 any trouble, thanks to that swift 1.5GHz quad-core CPU.

In terms of files, the Asus Padfone 2 handled our usual AVI and MP4 videos flawlessly - again, thanks to that stellar Qualcomm processor, generous RAM allotment and superstar Adreno 320 GPU.

Photos

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus has gone with its own Asus Studio app to manage and view your photos and videos, though the default Android Gallery app is also present.

On this occasion we don't particularly mind this extra tinkering, since Studio is quite a pleasant piece of software to work with.

The main menu clearly separates images, videos and screenshots into separate categories, while there's also one for the SD card.

The latter is a confusing piece of terminology given the lack of a physical SD card slot on the Padfone 2, but it's used as a storage point for certain saved files such as e-books.

Camera view presents your latest snaps and videos as an attractive collage of thumbnails of varying sizes.

Asus Padfone 2 review

In addition, pictures can be manually tagged to go in one of five themed albums.

These include Family, Food, Party, Travel and Wedding, while there's another album for favourites (assigned by tapping the heart icon that accompanies each image during playback).

The Location tab, meanwhile, shows you where images have been taken on a Google Maps view, which is a really nice way to sift through your images and lend each snap a sense of place.

Finally, the Time tab splits your photos into the dates they were taken.

As with video, viewing pictures back on the Asus Padfone 2 is a pleasurable experience thanks mainly to that sharp, vivid screen.

Tablet

You'd think that plugging the Padfone 2 into the tablet dock would enhance the media experience, but that's not necessarily the case here.

Where videos positively pop on the phone, they underwhelm on the tablet, looking slightly dim and fuzzy by comparison. Of course, it will probably be more pleasurable watching a two-hour film on the tablet in the long-run, but it's not the massive step up it should have been.

Asus Padfone 2 review

One of the key benefits of watching movies on HD tablets is the ability to get the most out of Full HD 1080p video content, but of course that's not the case with the Padfone 2's 720p display.

With photos you get the benefit of blowing the pictures up to a larger size, but colour reproduction isn't nearly as good as when viewing them on the phone.

Battery life and connectivity

Battery life

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus has equipped the Asus Padfone 2 with a sizable 2,140mAh battery, which means it's good for an estimated 16 hours talk time and 352 hours standby time.

In real world usage, with Wi-Fi and GPS on and the display brightness set to auto and a fair amount of web browsing, emailing, Dropbox uploading and game-playing (strictly for testing purposes, you understand), we found that we were easily getting a full day's usage out of the phone with a decent amount to spare.

It certainly put our HTC One X to shame.

As well as having that larger-than-average battery, we put this added stamina down to the famously efficient Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor.

In our standard battery test of playing a 90 minute video with the screen on full brightness with all notifications switched on, the fully charged battery dropped to an average of just 79 per cent, which is pretty strong.

Asus Padfone 2 review

As is the norm for modern Android smartphones, Asus has implemented its own Power Saver mode, which can be accessed at any time from the notifications bar.

This reins in various power-leaching functions such as screen brightness and email update frequency.

The battery is removable, but Asus clearly isn't encouraging you to take the rear cover off too much, as we outlined in the Introduction page of this review.

With such a strong battery capacity allied to the backup of the tablet dock - not to mention the top-loading SIM tray and the lack of a microSD slot - we don't anticipate you having to do so all that often.

There's a prominent battery power widget on one of the home screens, which seems a little pointless until you slot the phone into the tablet dock.

Tablet

The tablet portion of the Asus Padfone 2 has its own relatively meaty 5000mAh battery. That's smaller than roughly equivalent rivals such as the Sony Tablet S or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, but of course you also have the 2,140mAh battery of the phone portion to add to that.

This results in a tablet experience that lasts as long as pretty much any other. You'll likely be able to get several days of moderate usage out of a single full charge.

Asus Padfone 2 review

There's also a neat feature whereby a fully charged Asus Padfone 2 tablet can recharge the phone portion three times over. It means that even if the core tablet experience isn't the best around, the Padfone 2 tablet dock is an excellent travel companion - if only to juice your phone up on long journeys.

When you slot the Asus Padfone 2 phone into the tablet dock, a second custom battery widget appears alongside the usual phone one, showing you the power levels of both devices.

Connectivity

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus has included all of the connectivity options you'd expect from a modern smartphone.

You have Wi-Fi (both 2.4GHz and 5GHz), 3G (including DC-HSPA+), A-GPS and DLNA.

There's Bluetooth 4.0, but with the inclusion of Wi-Fi Direct technology, you can hook up to eight devices together and share files without the need of a Wi-Fi network to act as an intermediary.

Only one device needs Wi-Fi Direct for this to work, too.

You can also use the Asus Padfone 2 as a Wi-Fi hotspot, which is handy when working away from an internet connection.

It also has support for Near Field Communication (NFC), which means it's ready for any contactless mobile payment systems that get adopted (as they inevitably will) in the near future.

It also enables simple peripheral pairing and the exchange of information with other NFC-equipped smartphones through a simple tap.

Maps and apps

Maps

The Asus Padfone 2 offers the standard Google Maps mapping solution - which is to say that it's excellent at helping you to get around, provided you maintain a 3G connection at all times.

It's the mapping solution that famously came to the rescue of Apple following the iOS 6 Apple Maps debacle, and the core experience is much the same here on Android.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Its turn-by-turn navigation system is superb, while Google's layered data for traffic and public transport is a step above most of its rivals.

As we've hinted at, Google Maps's offline capabilities are somewhat lacking - you can save portions of maps to the Asus Padfone 2's internal storage, but not complete countries as you can in something like Nokia Here mapping on the Nokia Lumia 920.

But overall it's one of the best all-round navigation tools you can get.

The Asus Padfone 2's A-GPS technology ensures a quick and accurate global positioning lock-on every time you enter Google Maps.

Apps

Asus Padfone 2 review

As we've already mentioned, the Asus Padfone 2 comes with a full suite of Google apps, including Google Maps (which is featured twice on the home screen, oddly), Gmail, Chrome, Google+, Messenger, Talk and YouTube.

In addition, Asus has included a bunch of its own apps, some of which prove quite interesting.

App Backup enables you to save app data should you need to replace or restore your phone, while App Locker enables you to protect your apps with a password.

File Manager does exactly what it says on the tin, providing a way to access and manage the Asus Padfone 2's files as you would on a computer.

MyBitCast essentially replicates the memo-taking and sharing capabilities of a more popular solution such as Evernote.

It's decent enough, but if you've already invested in a high profile alternative there's little of interest here.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Web Storage is arguably the most attractive of the Asus app suite, offering up a generous 50GB of cloud storage space for two years.

It's not as attractive, intuitive or ubiquitous as Dropbox or Google Drive, but you can't argue with that level of generosity - and you can always supplement it with the aforementioned apps for free.

Speaking of downloading apps, the Google Play app store has improved massively in recent years, to the point where it's biting at the Apple App Store's heels in terms of sheer scope and polish.

We'd argue that the browsing experience is actually preferable to the iOS equivalent, with an attractive (and relatively speedy) UI and preview videos making it feel fresher.

Tablet

Thanks to the fact that the tablet portion of the Asus Padfone 2 shares a similar resolution and aspect ratio with the core phone, even Android apps that haven't been optimised for tablet use look pretty decent when blown up.

The few apps that are tablet-only (and there really aren't many at all) are given their own icons to signify that you won't get any joy out of them on the smaller form factor - a somewhat clunky but arguably necessary measure.

Asus Padfone 2 review

Default apps such as Gmail and YouTube take full advantage of the extra screen space, adding in side menus and other extra UI elements, as do big apps such as Flipboard.

Tip: download the free Tablified Market HD app for a rundown of all Android tablet-optimised apps.

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

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Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Asus Padfone 2 review

Verdict

With the Padfone 2, Asus has created a compelling smartphone-tablet hybrid, though it's something of an uneven partnership. It's a fine top-end smartphone married to a mediocre tablet experience, and at the current price this simply doesn't quite add up.

What's more, thanks to its delayed UK launch, the Asus Padfone 2 is already on the cusp of being superseded by sharper, faster smartphones.

In the here and now, though, this is a fine effort, and will suit frequent travellers with a space and contract budget down to a tee.

We liked

The Asus Padfone 2's 4.7-inch 720p display is one of the finest we've seen on an Android device, and it's matched by a potent quad-core processor.

We also like how the tablet dock doubles as a portable charger for this solidly built phone, and the thought of using a single phone contract for phone and tablet usage is compelling.

We disliked

The tablet dock itself is distinctly underwhelming, with a low res display and plasticy build quality. For this kind of money, we expect a slightly more consistent standard across both phone and tablet elements.

We're also a little disappointed by a 13-megapixel camera that promises so much on paper, but delivers merely adequate image results.

Final verdict

Buying GuideBest Android phone - which should you buy?Best Android phone

The Asus Padfone 2 may be a smartphone-tablet hybrid, but the star of the show is undoubtedly the smartphone element. It's powerful, well built and energy efficient, and the camera is capable of taking decent photos and videos in the right conditions.

However, that's only half the story, and the tablet part of the Asus Padfone 2 package is sadly lacking when stacked up against rival devices such as the Google Nexus 10.

This would be fine if the Asus Padfone 2 came in at a bargain price, but £599 (around US$905/AU$885) is simply too steep when one half of this unusual partnership isn't pulling its weight.

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