ASUS' new PadFone X for AT&T is the Voltron of mobile devices. The first ASUS handset to land on a major U.S. carrier since the ill-fated Garminphone, the PadFone is a standard 5-inch Android smartphone. But strap this device into its included 9-inch tablet dock, and you've got a fully functioning slate. What's more, both the handset and tablet sport crisp, full-HD displays. At just $199 with a two-year contract through AT&T, the PadFone X is an intriguing device at an aggressive price. Despite some flaws, this is one combo device that's worth checking out.
As a standalone smartphone, the 5-inch PadFone X' design is attractively low key. Its matte black, soft-touch rear panel gives the handset a comfortable grip. Its faux-metal plastic edges help give the phone a touch of panache. The center of the back panel has a grey AT&T logo, while the lower portion sports an inlaid Padfone emblem. At the top of the phone's rear is its 13-megapixel PixelMaster Camera.
There are no physical buttons on the handset's face, as ASUS instead uses onscreen Android controls. On the device's left edge are its power button and volume rocker. The top edge is home to a 3.5mm jack, while the bottom includes the handset's microUSB port and two slots for connecting the PadFone to its tablet dock.
Measuring 5.7 x 2.9 x 0.39 inches and weighing 5.5 ounces, the PadFone X is nearly the same size and weight as the 5-inch HTC One M8, which measures 5.8 x 2.8 x 0.37 inches and weighs 5.6 ounces. That's a bit heavy considering the M8 sports an all-aluminum frame, while the PadFone is made of plastic. Samsung's Galaxy S5 undercuts both the PadFone and One M8, measuring 5.3 x 2.9 x 0.25 inches and weighing just 5.1 ounces, despite its slightly larger, 5.1-inch display.
Padfone X Station Tablet Dock
The PadFone X's tablet dock is called the PadFone X Station. This device looks similar to most Android tablets, but there are two notable differences: First, there's a bulging cradle on its rear panel for docking the phone. Second, the X Station's face features a 9-inch display surrounded by an oddly thick bezel (about 1 inch).
On the slate's right and left sides you'll find a pair of matching, front-facing speakers. Above the tablet's display is its 1-megapixel camera. Along its left edge are a microUSB port and a volume rocker. The X Station's power button is situated on the device's top edge.
When docked with its X Station, the PadFone X grows to 9.9 x 6.8 x 0.46 inches and 1.4 pounds. That's significantly larger than the $499 Apple iPad Air, which measures 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches and weighs 1.1 pounds. The $399 iPad with Retina display comes in at 9.5 x 7.3 x 0.37 inches and 1.4 pounds.
The PadFone's 5-inch, 1920 x 1080 LED resolution display offers crystal-clear but somewhat dim visuals. When we watched the trailer for "Guardians of the Galaxy," Gamora's green skin popped while explosions from an aerial battle ripped across a beautiful azure sky. Text and images looked equally impressive.
At 338 nits, the PadFone's display brightness falls below the category average of 350 nits. The HTC One M8's 5-inch screen (368 nits) and the Galaxy S5's 5.1-inch panel (373 nits) are considerably brighter, giving videos and images a more vibrant look.
The PadFone X displays 96.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut. (Closer to 100 percent is better.) That's lower than the category average of 119 percent. The One M8 displayed 115 percent of the standard, while the Galaxy S5 displayed 158 percent, but over 100 percent isn't necessarily better.
Colors on the PadFone were slightly inaccurate, with the handset's display recording a Delta-E score of 7.1 (a score of 0 is perfect). That's higher than the smartphone category average of 5.06, as well as the HTC One M8's mark of 4.1. The Galaxy S5 offered a far more impressive rating of 0.9.
The X Station's 9-inch, 1920 x 1200 LED tablet display delivered sharp and bright visuals, with the screen reaching 363 nits versus the category average of 333 nits. The iPad Air, by comparison, measures 352 nits.
However, the PadFone's tablet screen could only display 67.4 percent of the sRGB gamut compared to the category average of 85 percent; the iPad Air hit 99 percent. Still, X Station delivers accurate color, with a near-perfect score of 0.9. That's far better than the category average of 5.44 and the iPad Air's score of 1.4.
If you want to customize the PadFone's display appearance, you can use the included Splendid app to adjust the screen temperature, hue and saturation. We preferred the app's default setting, as it seemed to provide the best viewing experience.
Sound from the PadFone X's rear-mounted speaker was underwhelming to say the least. DJ Snake and Lil' John's "Turn Down for What" lacked any kind of bass, while guitars and snare drum hits in heavier rock songs sounded out of tune. On the Laptop Mag Audio Test, which involves playing a steady tone at a distance of 13 inches, the PadFone X's speakers matched the category average of 80 decibels. This beats out the Galaxy S5, which reached just 73 dB, but it's behind the HTC One M8's powerful 83 dB speakers.
Plug the PadFone X into the X Station tablet dock, and audio performance improves dramatically. Bass hits in "Turn Down for What" were audible, though still not perfect, and guitar riffs rang out cleanly. Like its handset, the PadFone's tablet speakers reached 80 dB on our Laptop Audio Test, beating the category average of 79 dB.
ASUS also included its AudioWizard app, which lets you choose from six audio profiles that adjust overall sound quality. Of the six, we found Music Mode to be the most natural sounding, while Speech Mode sounded the least appealing, making everything overly harsh.
The PadFone X runs a lightly skinned version of Android Kitkat 4.4.2. ASUS' biggest changes to the OS include a modified lock screen, a settings menu and a notifications drawer. The lock screen includes three customizable quick-launch shortcuts for the Camera Mail and Phone apps. Below that is a quick-launch icon for Google Now. In tablet mode, the lock screen is limited to swiping to unlock and the aforementioned Google Now quick-launch icon.
ASUS developed the PadFone X's interface to recognize when the device is being used as a phone or tablet. When it is in phone mode, you can use the PadFone as you would any other Android device. You get a main home screen with a weather widget, Google Search bar and shortcuts for the Mail, Calendar and ISIS apps. Along the bottom are five customizable omnipresent icons for the Phone, Messaging, Apps Drawer, Browser and Camera apps. Beneath those are the handset's onscreen Android Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons.
One-finger swiping down from the top of the screen reveals the PadFone's blue and white notifications drawer. Two-finger swiping down from the top displays the PadFone's quick-settings drawer complete with a display brightness slider and 11 quick settings. Unfortunately, unlike with the Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8, you can't edit or otherwise adjust the PadFone X's quick-settings shortcuts.
In tablet mode, the PadFone X's home screen completely transforms to look like an Android-powered ASUS slate. You get a large desktop with a Google Search bar and weather widget, as well as shortcuts to the Play Store and folders for Google apps, ASUS apps and AT&T apps. Along the bottom of the screen are shortcuts for apps including the Phone, Messaging, Email, Calendar, Apps Drawer, Browser, Gallery, Camera and Settings apps. Below those are the slate's onscreen Android Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons.
To make a 2-in-1 device like the PadFone X, ASUS had to do some serious thinking about how apps would transition from phone to tablet mode and back on the fly. That's where the company's Dynamic Display software comes in. The feature manages an app's appearance and functionality by quickly changing its layout from phone to tablet style, depending on how you're using the device(s).
For example, when using the Mail app in smartphone mode, the screen will only show your messages. Drop the handset into the tablet cradle, and you'll be able to view all of your messages and the mailbox sidebar at the same time. It's a slick feature and one that works surprisingly well.
Unfortunately, the PadFone doesn't automatically enable Dynamic Display for all installed apps out of the box. Instead, you have to turn on the option to automatically add apps to the Dynamic Display list in the PadFone's settings menu. It's a minor annoyance, but one that could have been easily avoided. What's more, not all apps work with the feature. Facebook, for example, doesn't switch over to tablet mode when viewed on the slate, but instead stretches out the smartphone version of the app.
We also found that Web browsers such as Chrome and the standard Android browser don't recognize when they are in tablet mode. Instead, they always show the mobile versions of websites regardless of whether you are viewing them on the phone or tablet.
If you want to view a site in desktop mode, you'll have to select the option in your browser's settings. The problem with that solution: You'll still see full sites when you go back to the smartphone, until you disable desktop mode.
If you want to use your PadFone X for business, you can opt to purchase ASUS' available $99 Bluetooth keyboard, which also adds a protective screen cover. At 1.7 pounds, however, this accessory adds a considerable amount of heft to the PadFone X. In fact, with everything combined, the setup tips the scales at 3.1 pounds. What's more, the keyboard doesn't quite sit well when used on your lap, toppling over backwards when the tablet is angled further back.
In terms of the overall typing experience, the PadFone X's keyboard leaves much to be desired. To save on real estate, certain keys (like the comma key) only work when holding down the function button at the same time. In general, we found keyboard to be too cramped for our liking. That said, the unit's clickpad was responsive and far more comfortable to use.
The key travel on the keyboard was 1.5 millimeters, which is average for most laptops. Key actuation required 60 grams of pressure, which is a bit more than the average of 55g.
Camera and Camcorder
A 13-megapixel PixelMaster Camera pulls shooting duty for both the PadFone X's smartphone and tablet. Photos captured using the camera were sharp and full of detail, though colors were too bright. A shot of a flower pot, for example, offered crisp lines along the various flowers' stems and buds, but the plants' purple petals and green leaves looked unnaturally white. A similar photo taken with the Galaxy S5 produced more-accurate colors while offering equally sharp details.
Full-HD videos taken with the PadFone X were clear and colorful, but the amount of lens shake made it look like we were shooting during an earthquake. A video taken at the same time using the Galaxy S5 was far less jumpy.
Thanks to its Snapdragon 800 processor, the PadFone X can shoot 4K videos. Unfortunately, you can't watch those videos on either the smartphone or tablet, as neither can display 4K content. What's more, there's a noticeable amount of jitteriness on 4K videos, as the camera records at just 17-18 frames per second. A standard 1080p video records at 24 fps.
The ASUS' tablet and smartphone portions both get their own front cameras, though the PadFone X's smartphone gets the better of the two, with a 2-MP "selfie" camera versus the tablet's 1-MP shooter. As expected, the phone's selfie camera captured the best photos, with more details and colors visible compared to those taken with the tablet.
ASUS packed the PadFone X with a host of excellent camera features that should keep both advanced and novice users occupied for quite some time. In terms of shooting modes, you get Auto, HDR, Beautification for selfies and close-ups, Panorama, Night, Low Light, and Smart Remove for taking out unwanted objects.
The All Smiles mode lets you capture five photos and select and save the best of the group, while GIF Animation lets you create short gif files. Video modes include Normal, High Speed, Slow Motion and Time Lapse.
Beyond shooting modes, the PadFone X also has 10 photo filters, as well as a comprehensive list of customizable settings ranging from white balance and ISO to video exposure level and face detection.
The brains of the PadFone X sit in its handset, and include a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage with support for a 64GB microSD card. Swiping through the home screens and apps drawer was buttery smooth, while games like "N.O.V.A. 3" looked excellent in either smartphone or tablet mode. Transitioning from tablet to smartphone mode took about 2.4 seconds.
On our real-world VidTrim test, the PadFone X took 6 minutes and 19 seconds to transcode a 204MB, 1080p video to 480p. That's nearly two minutes faster than the category average of 8:09. The HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5, which both run quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processors and 2GB of RAM, completed the test in 4:47 and 5:07, respectively.
Unfortunately, opening apps such as the aforementioned "N.O.V.A. 3" took nearly 10 seconds longer than the smartphone category average, 25 seconds versus 16 seconds. The Samsung Galaxy S5 took 18 seconds to launch the app, while the HTC One M8 took 12 seconds.
On the Geekbench 3 benchmark, which tests a device's multicore performance, the PadFone X scored 1,352. The HTC One M8 (2,480) and Galaxy S5 (2,927) performed markedly better, and the category average is also higher, at 1,806.
The PadFone fared slightly better on the Quadrant benchmark, which tests a device's overall performance, scoring 19,447. That's better than the category average of 12,780, but well below the HTC One M8's score of 24,645 and the Galaxy S5's mark of 24,859.
In terms of graphics and gameplay, the PadFone X and its Adreno 330 GPU scored 16,059 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. That's higher than the smartphone category average of 12,036, but lower than the Galaxy S5's score of 18,204 and the One M8's showing of 20,965.
ASUS and AT&T loaded the PadFone X with a host of apps, though only some are useful. ASUS apps include SuperNote and Power Saver, which lets you choose between three battery modes, each with increasingly strict settings to maximize battery savings. The ASUS Splendid app allows you to customize the display's color temperature, while AudioWizard is for adjusting audio modes and settings.
AT&T saddled the PadFone with myAT&T, which lets you monitor your account activity; AT&T Locker cloud storage; AT&T Smart Wi-Fi; Mobile Hotspot; Usage Manager; AT&T Mobile Locate; Drive Mode; AT&T Ready2Go, which helps you setup your device; and Beats Music. There's too much stuff here.
Parents who want to keep their kids from accessing inappropriate content may be interested in the included Famigo app, which provides you with a variety of kid-friendly games and learning tools. For the security minded, the PadFone X includes Lookout Mobile Security and the Keeper password-protection app.
In order for the PadFone X to run in tablet mode, ASUS had to include batteries in both the device's phone and slate portions. The smartphone gets a 2300-mAh battery, while the tablet gets a 4990-mAh battery.
On the Laptop Mag Battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE with the display brightness set to 150 nits, the phone portion of the PadFone X lasted 6 hours and 45 minutes. That's shorter than the smartphone category average of 7:29. The Galaxy S5 for AT&T lasted a marathon 9:42, while the One M8 lasted an equally impressive 9:52.
As a tablet, the PadFone X lasted 9:42, more than an hour longer than the tablet category average of 8:09.
The PadFone X's biggest selling point is its impressive value proposition. For $199, you get a 5-inch smartphone with a 1080p display, strong performance and 13-MP camera, as well as a 9-inch tablet with a full-HD screen. What's more, rather than paying for two separate data plans for your smartphone and tablet, you only have to pay for a plan for your handset.
On AT&T, a 2GB Mobile Share plan costs $80 per month for the first device, and $10 per month for a second, such as a tablet. Since the PadFone X counts as just one device, you would end up paying $1,930 over the course of two years, not counting the cost of the hardware itself.
If you were to purchase two devices separately, such as a Samsung Galaxy S5 and an iPad, you would end up spending $240 more, or $2,170, over the course of the contract. Plus, you would need to spend extra on the tablet hardware. An iPad mini with Retina Display, for instance, starts at $429 with 4G LTE.
The PadFone X is an intriguing device that packs a smartphone and tablet into a single, affordable package. On their own, the two devices are good, but not great. The handset's battery life is relatively short, while the slate is on the heavy side with a distractingly large bezel. Together, though, they make the PadFone X a fairly impressive hybrid at an aggressive price.
If you're searching only for a new smartphone, we would suggest picking up either the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8, as both offer better overall performance and endurance. But if you're in the market for a smartphone and tablet in one -- and you don't want to pay extra for data -- the PadFone X is certainly worth a look.