Too slow to be a contender.
Price: $299 | By: Asus
ASUS has built up a reputation for experimentation over the last few years, launching a host of unusual devices such as the PadFone — a unit which pairs an Android smartphone that docks into the back of (and powers) a 10-inch tablet.
Despite the similarity in the names, this Fonepad takes a completely different tack to the PadFone: it’s a 7-inch tablet that includes the ability to make phone calls, thanks to the addition of a 3G radio (HDPA+ 21Mbps) and a micro-SIM slot in the top.
The main attraction here is the low price — the 8GB version goes for around $300. By comparison, a 4G-equipped iPad Mini starts at $509 and the new Nexus 7 with 4G is $439.
If you’re looking for an always-connected mini tablet, then you’ve basically got two frugally-priced choices: the Fonepad or Google’s older 2012 Nexus 7 ($349). Indeed, the Fonepad does look a lot like that older Nexus 7: both have 7-inch, 1,280 x 800-pixel screens and are very similar physically.
That’s perhaps not surprising, considering that both tablets are made by ASUS. The Fonepad does arguably do better than the Nexus in a couple of spots, however, with a tougher-feeling metal chassis and a microSD slot allowing for storage expansion. And as usual, ASUS hasn’t messed with the Android interface much — the company’s custom skin is very close to the stock design, so it’s straightforward to use.
On the downside, in use the Fonepad often doesn’t feel too fast or smooth. That may be down to the dual-core Intel Atom Z2420 CPU (running at 1.2GHz) and 1GB of RAM.
While those specs don’t sound too bad on paper — these x86 parts can match their more common ARM competitors when it comes to things like battery life (managing to stream ABC News 24 for 9:22hr) — in real-world tasks the Fonepad just wasn’t as snappy as our 2012 Nexus 7, something that was also borne out in benchmark results, where it was often over 30% slower. Considering that the Nexus is coming up to being a year old and has effectively been superseded, that’s not encouraging.
If you’re after a low-priced 3G tablet, we’d grab one of those older Nexus 7s before they all disappear.
Pros: Solid chassis, 3G enabled, microSD slot.
Cons: Poor performance, even by last year’s standards.
Rating: 6 out of 10.