Asus Fonepad 7: Canny combo of phone and tablet

02nd May 2014
Asus Fonepad 7:  Canny combo of phone and tablet

When Apple launched the first iPad , followed swiftly by Samsung's Galaxy Pad, the makers believed  big was beautiful -- on the premise that customers wanted  their tablets to look and feel differently from their phones. So  both competing companies  launched those 8 inch and 10 inch models for starters -- till the buying public  gave them a sharp lesson on two.  The message  blowin' in the wind was:  Who wants to lug two devices, one to make calls, one to  access the net, view movies and do all this PC -era things?
The industry finally got the message -- which is why seven inch is emerging as  the  most popular size in tablets -- especially the ones that add a slot to insert a phone SIM.
ASUS had the advantage of a late starter in this particular race -- the ability to leapfrog over the flop designs and   focus on a please-all combo of size, features and affordability.  The ASUS Fonepad 7 is the result -  a phone -tablet or phablet as they are calling them these days -- that  fine tunes things like display and  wireless features and throws in a host of  home screen app choices limited only by what the Android operating system allows.
The IPS backlit LED  screen is sharp and  readable even in bright  ambient light.  The built in speakers are  better than what most tablets in this price range offer -- I usually end up having to use headphones because the speakers on most tablets are so under powered that I  can hardly hear a  typical YouTube video file.  Not so with the Fonepad.  The resolution is 1280 by 800 pixels   which makes it better  than 720 p HD but shy of  1080p full HD --- which is fine for viewing the best quality available in YouTube -- and let's face it on a tablet one doesn't want to slow down things any further than what a 720 p video will stream.
The WiFi a/b/g/n  antenna is very fast in  latching on to your home or public WLAN and can take advantage of the fastest  WiFi speeds available today from  home routers.  There is a slot to insert a  2G or 3G SIM  -- you need to ensure it is a micro SIM -- but opening the slot involves using a special pin provided... seemed to me a needless complication.
The  1 GB of RAM memory and 8 GB of storage is fine  for starters -- and OK to work with the dual core 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor. But  Android users know that the Achilles Heel of that OS is  the difficulty in copying files from one device to  another -- so they  will probably invest in an additional 8 to 64 GB of  storage and use the micro SD slot provided.
Two cameras in a tablet are  a luxury  that not all makers provided. ASUS goes all the way here, with a 1.2 MP front camera with 720p video recording ( great for Skype type calls) and a 5 MP full HD 1080 p rear camera with auto  focus... you really don't need a handy cam for almost all of your personal video shooting. Built in GPS ensures you can also use the Fonepad for  running  map and direction finding apps.
With all these physical; features, ASUS has managed to keep the weight down to some 328 gms -- an achievement in itself, considering the Lithium -polymer batteries promise 10 hours of operation.
I am not even going to try and talk about the software because let's face it, these are mostly bells and whistles, not all of them useful for everyone.  I would I have thought Android 4.2  is slightly old  but I imagine one could upgrade to 4.3 Jellybean without too much hassle.
All in all a  very good-value bundle of hardware and software for a  tablet that thinks it is a phone ( or is that  vice versa).
Now for the pricing. When the Fonepad was launched in India some months ago, it looked to be a good buy for Rs  14,999. Then in recent weeks ASUS has launched a dual SIM version of the Fonepad 7 and  as far as I  can make out all other specs remain with the OS upgraded to  Android 4.3, except that the Intel dual core chip is marginally slower at 1.2 GHz. The dual SIM Fonepad is priced at Rs 12,999,  that's Rs 2000 cheaper than the single SIM model. This anomaly  has already been addressed  by some online retailers and I can see the single SIM Fonepad being priced at Rs 12,999 or thereabouts in some comparison sites.
That's progress for you! I personally can't see much point for 2 SIMs on a tablet but whose complaining when it comes  at no extra cost?  I would recommend carefully selecting the Fonepad  model  if you are shopping online to ensure that  you get the best -- and latest-- deal.  And believe me either way it's a good one.

Anand Parthasarathy / May 2 2014