ASUS PadFone Mini Hands-On: 4-inch Phone Docks With 7-Inch Tablet

ASUS is once again trying its hand at a phone that docks into a tablet, and adding several new twists in the process. The $249 ASUS PadFone Mini, a 4-inch smartphone, has a number of features that make it interesting in its own right: It's powered by a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom Z2560 processor, has dual SIM card slots and runs ASUS' new Zen user interface on top of Android 4.3. But that's not all: The phone docks into a 7-inch tablet, providing users with two devices in one. We had a chance to go hands-on with the PadFone at ASUS's CES press conference and were impressed with its attractive design and seamless ability to transition from one form factor another.

The PadFone Mini has diamond-cut edges and a spun-metal finish that's a trademark of ASUS devices, such as its Transformer Book T100. The phone is coated with a soft-touch ceramic finish. While the resolution of both the phone (800 x 480) and the tablet (1280 x 800) are low by top-end phone standards, they're both IPS panels, which provide wide viewing angles. In our brief hands-on time, colors were accurate if not overly rich while images were bright as we  swiped through home screens.

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ASUS' ZenUI -- exclusive to the PadFone and other ASUS smartphones -- rides on top of Android, and has simplified menus and icons as well as a What's Next feature that shows users future events, and helps them stay organized. Additionally, ASUS Dynamic Display technology will automatically resize apps for either the 4- or the 7-inch screen. When inserting the phone into the tablet docking station we noticed that the home screen was not only larger physically but also appared to have more screen realestate to match its higher resolution. While we only had time to dock the device with its home screen showing, the device should maintain your place no matter what you were doing when you switched. When ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih demonstrated the feature on stage, he docked the phone with the tablet while the email client was running.

For the rear camera, ASUS is using a Sony 8-MP backside-illuminated sensor, with a f/2.0 five element lens. Additionally, ASUS' Pixelmaster technology will further enhance photos; for example, Low-light mode will adjust the size of the pixels automatically to increase sensitivity by up to 400 percent. Other features include HDR, Panosphere, Smart Remove and All Smiles. We had a chance to try the camera feature and were particuarly impressed with Time Rewind mode, which shoots photos for 2 seconds before you hit the shutter button and 1 second after, allowing you to better capture missed moments like a fast moving toddler.

The phone measures 4.9 x 2.4 x 0.25 inches, and weighs 4.1 ounces. The tablet portion measures 7.9 x 4.7 x 0.55 inches, and weighs 9.17 ounces. The PadFone Mini has a 1170 mAh battery, while the tablet portion has a 2100 mAh battery. When docked, the tablet will recharge the phone. 

We were particularly impressed with the attractive metallic surface of the phone and tablet, which is available in several colors, including a deep red,  white, black, yellow and our favorite . . . teal blue.

The Padfone Mini will be coming to the U.S. for $249 on AT&T's network. No word on exact availability dates.

LAPTOP Reviews Editor