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