Overview, Design and Features
Most phone manufacturers generally stick to an annual refresh cycle for their flagship devices as it is a win-win situation for both manufacturers and consumers. Companies not only have ample time to research, innovate and develop their next generation products, consumers will at the very least be assured that their products are not going to be obsolete within a few months.
ASUS, just like Apple with its third and fourth generation iPads, is taking a different path by announcing the PadFone 2 six months after the first generation PadFone arrived in the market. What does the PadFone 2 have that warrants such a decision to rush it into the market so quickly? Well, that's what we are going to find out in this review. Before we do so, let's take a quick look at the specs of the ASUS PadFone 2, and how it differs from the PadFone.
Key highlights of the ASUS PadFone 2
|Device||ASUS PadFone 2||ASUS PadFone|
|OS||Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich
(Upgradeable to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean)
|Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich
(Upgradeable to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean)
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 quad-core 1.5GHz||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 8260A dual-core 1.5GHz|
|RAM||2GB RAM||1GB RAM|
|Display||4.7-inch Super IPS+||4.3-inch Super AMOLED|
|Resolution||1280 x 720 pixels||960 x 540 pixels|
|Cameras||Rear: 13-megapixel / autofocus / BSI sensor / F2.4 aperture / five-element lens
Front : 1.2-megapixel
|Rear: 8-megapixel / autofocus / LED flash / F2.2 lens / 1080p video recording
|LTE||LTE 800 / 1800 / 2600MHZ||N.A|
|137.9 x 69 x 9mm / 135g||128 x 65.4 x 9.2mm / 129g|
Design and Build
The second generation of PadFone looks no different from the first, except that it is longer and wider to accommodate the bigger 4.7-inch display. We spotted the familiar aluminum frame that wraps around the sides of the PadFone 2, which gives a cool, metallic feel to the device.
When you take a closer look at both PadFones, the differences become more apparent starting from the front of the device. The front facing camera is on the left of the earpiece on the PadFone 2, as opposed to the original PadFone where the camera is situated on the right.
We also noticed that there is no LED notification on the PadFone 2, which is fast becoming a standard feature in most of the top Android smartphones today. It would have been more convenient if users are alerted to unread messages or missed calls via a blinking LED than to turn on the display to see if there are any notifications.
While the previous PadFone sports on-screen buttons, the PadFone 2 uses capacitive keys which are spaced out equally. We see this change to be beneficial for users as there is now a tad more screen real estate for applications and viewing content.
ASUS also managed to shave off 0.2mm thickness to keep the PadFone 2 in line with the other high end Android phones such as the 8.9mm HTC One X+ and 8.6mm Samsung Galaxy S III LTE. The difference in thickness between the PadFones are barely noticeable as seen in the photo above.
Replacing the Power button at the top is a micro-SIM card slot. The 3.5mm audio output jack is still located at the center. If you are upgrading from the PadFone, you may need to adapt to accessing the Power button from the right side instead of the top.
Following in the footsteps of Apple iPhones, the HTC One series and Motorola Razr Maxx, the ASUS PadFone 2 also sports a non-removable battery and back cover. By now, you should have realized the absence of a memory card slot on the PadFone 2. The trend of omitting a memory card slot appears to be picking up among Android phone makers these days, which we particularly are not favorable of since it is one key advantage that all Android phones used to have over the Apple iPhones.
Like its predecessor, the PadFone 2 ships with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. As explained in our hands-on article, the main reason for not having Jelly Bean is due to the extra time taken to integrate ASUS's exclusive technology, DynamicDisplay with the new OS.
If you've used or tried the PadFone before, you will have no problems using the PadFone 2 as the interface remains largely the same except for a handful of new software features. Here's a quick look at three new features:-
Instant dictionary is a new and very interesting software feature on the PadFone 2. Essentially an app to translate foreign languages and check up definitions, Instant Dictionary can easily be enabled via the the pull-down notification bar. You can also select the target languages from an extensive list that includes Spanish, French, Hebrew, Russian, Turkish and Chinese.
The app also works within several other apps such as CNN, Gmail, Pulse News Reader, Evernote, Facebook, Flipboard, Instagram, Messages and the default Browser. Strangely, Instant Dictionary is not supported on Chrome and Twitter.
Audio Wizard aims to enhance your audio experience when using the PadFone 2 in both phone and tablet mode. Developed in conjunction with Waves, the Technical Grammy award-winning audio digital signal processing company, Audio Wizard has five preset settings for users to choose from: music, movie, recording, gaming and speech.
According to ASUS, selecting any of the five modes will boost the frequency response in vital areas to produce a more natural sound. Besides Audio Wizard, the PadFone 2 also features SonicMaster audio technology to deliver an optimal multimedia experience.
If you do not like the way the default Gallery looks or functions, ASUS has its own Gallery app, ASUS Studio. Aesthetically, ASUS Studio looks more pleasing to the eyes with its funky animations and modernized interface. You can view photos and videos via time, location and albums. It also comes with simple photo editing tools such as auto-fix, color effects and sharpening.
The New PadFone Station
A major highlight of the PadFone 2 is its new Station accessory. ASUS gave the original Station a complete makeover and we really appreciate the company's efforts in doing so. Just to recap the function and purpose of the Station accessory, it is an accessory that accepts the PadFone smartphone to convert the phone into a tablet form factor.
The first thing you will notice when holding the new PadFone Station is its lightweight form factor, which weighs 514g. Compared to its 724g predcessor, the new PadFone Station is easier to handle and bring around.
The cover and hinge mechanism of the original PadFone Station requires some degree of caution when using it as applying too much force can potentially damage the mechanism. Fortunately, ASUS does away with this mechanism in the new PadFone Station.
To dock the PadFone 2 into the new Station, simply slide the phone in and it will lock itself in place via its 13-pin MHL connector. Due to the use of a new connector, the first-gen PadFone is not compatible with the new Station. Besides the 13-pin MHL connector, ASUS also included four rubber pads along the side to secure the PadFone 2 further in the dock. Once the PadFone 2 is docked securely in the dock, you will feel a slight vibration that affirms the proper docking has taken place.
When we reviewed the first-gen PadFone and its Station, we found out that it took about forty seconds for the tablet to turn on after inserting a powered-off phone. This time round, there is a slight improvement - it took about thirty seconds.
One of the reasons why the new Station is lighter is because it houses a smaller 5,000mAh capacity battery. As a result, it is only capable of extending the talk time of the PadFone 2 to 36 hours. In comparison, the 6,600mAh battery in the first Station can increase the battery life of the original PadFone by up to 63 hours. Choosing between portability and battery life, we rather choose the former as 36 hours is good enough for mainstream consumers.
It is noteworthy to mention that the combined weight of the PadFone 2 and its Station is 649g, which is still lighter than the third and fourth generation iPads (652g for Wi-Fi model, 662g for cellular model). This is definitely a plus point for consumers who value portability and uncompromised connectivity on the go.