We are no stranger to ASUS and its uncanny concepts of its products and the PadFone is no exception. When we thought we had seen it all with the Eee Pad Transformer, Eee Pad Slider, Transformer Pad Prime and Transformer Pad TF300, we were wrong.
Similar to the Motorola Atrix and its Lapdock accessory, the ASUS PadFone can dock itself to a 10.1-inch tablet, known as the PadFone Station, and power it. What's more interesting is that the PadFone Station can also attach itself to another accessory, the Station Dock which comes with a keyboard and battery pack.
Essentially, the concept brought forth in the ASUS PadFone + PadFone Station + Station Dock is simple - you only need to rely on one data plan on one device to power your tablet without compromising on battery life. The other proposition is to size up and down your usability needs at any one point of time with the aid of these accessories as the PadFone is modular in nature.
The PadFone Station is essentially a 10.1-inch tablet and looks almost identical to the rest of the ASUS tablets - thanks to its bronze chassis and black bezel. The only physical attribute that gives its identity away is the bulge at the top center section of its back, which is the location where you insert the PadFone into the Station to dock'em up.
Weighing at 724g, it's actually quite a tall task to market the PadFone Station as a viable tablet accessory when the rest of the 10.1-inch tablets in the market are considerably lighter and thinner, including its own quad-core sibling the Transformer Pad Prime (586g). Moreover, it has no processor or on-board storage memory of its own, making its weight even more unjustifiable. The bulk of the weight, we feel, comes from the huge built-in 6,600mAh battery in the PadFone Station.
The heft takes its toll on the PadFone Station's handling as we find our hands feeling tired after a few minutes of holding the device. This is hardly surprising as you are looking at a combined weight of 853g, which may turn off mainstream consumers who are looking for a lightweight tablet to tote around.
There are two areas that you have to take note of while docking the PadFone into its Station. The cover and its hinge may look sturdy but care should be taken when lifting up the cover. Lifting it up and over 90 degrees may result damaging the back cove, as advised in the PadFone tutorial. Likewise, removing the PadFone from the Station requires a slight push beyond its normal angle to eject it from the ports.
If the word "patience" doesn't exist in your dictionary, you may want to keep a mental note whenever you dock in the PadFone to the station. When docking a powered-on PadFone into the Station, the tablet will turn on almost immediately. In comparison, inserting a powered-off phone will take the tablet about forty seconds. The wait can be excruciating if you want to send out an urgent email on the larger display of the tablet. Take note that shutting down the Station will also shut off the phone since the phone is the main controller of the whole unit. So if you intend to use the phone immediately, which is usually the scenario we presume, you can eject the phone out anytime without shutting down the Station.
With the PadFone docked, the user interface automatically switches to tablet mode using ASUS's exclusive technology, DynamicDisplay. According to ASUS, the DynamicDisplay will ensure that the app remembers when you stopped so that you can immediately resume where you left off before docking the PadFone and vice versa.This however, applies only for default apps on the PadFone such as Browser, Calendar and Email. Third party apps such as Gmail and Pulse will not be supported.
One area we thought could be improved is the duplication of content on the PadFone's home screen onto the PadFone Station. For example, you put some of your favorite apps into specific folders for easier access. However, the PadFone Station does not display the same arrangement of folders or apps on its home screens.
By the way, docking the PadFone into the Station also gets you telephony and messaging functions similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 and 7.0 Plus. As you are dealing with a 10.1-inch tablet that can make and receive calls, it is recommended that you use a earpiece to converse. In fact, ASUS has an accessory, the Stylus Headset, for the PadFone which works on Bluetooth. As the name suggests, the Stylus Headset allows you to navigate the interface and answer calls. At the point of review, the Stylus Headset is not available. Just for kicks, we did try the telephony aspect without the earpiece, but we found the tablet's speaker quality wasn't good for conversation and picked up a lot of background noise.
While the PadFone Station has a front facing 1.3-megapixel camera, it does not have any rear camera. If you are observant enough, you would have noticed the holes on the back cover of the Station which allows the 8-megapixel rear camera and LED flash on the PadFone to be used.
The concept of a keyboard docking station (which also doubles as a battery pack) was first introduced by the Eee Pad Transformer and it still lives on in the Station Dock, which has a similar 6,600 mAh battery.
Aside from the different materials used between the Station Dock and that of the Transformer Pad TF300, the typing experience is largely similar across the board of ASUS tablets we have reviewed to-date. The Station Dock in our opinion is decent enough for substantial periods of typing.
While we faced no problems using the keyboard, we cannot say the same for its trackpad which has physical left and right click buttons. With a 10.1-inch touch screen display, the trackpad isn't the most necessary item though we understand it's mimicking a netbook experience. In any case, the Station Dock comes with a full sized USB port where we can easily plug in a USB mouse for more accurate pointing and navigation.
The major grip we have with the entire package is the combined weight of 1.499kg when taking into account the PadFone, the PadFone Station and Station Dock. At this weight, ASUS is stepping over into the territory of ultrabooks such as the Samsung Series 5 Ultra (1.47kg) and HP Folio 13 (1.5kg).
Putting these factors into consideration, the ASUS PadFone and suite of accessories may only find itself in the hands of a niche group of consumers who are willing to forgo the processing power, better keyboard, bigger screen and more powerful operating system of a full-fledged laptop. This sounds unlikely unless the user in question has no need of applications running on the Windows or Mac OS and can manage with the cloud-based apps. Even then, the thought of carrying such a bulky unit isn't going to appeal to many. So in reality, it looks like these accessories need to undergo a slimming treatment and shed off notable weight before it's really a viable option for more consumers.