Asus is launching its modular PadFone handset and tablet in Taiwan later this month, giving consumers the option to power a tablet with a phone. The 4.3-inch Android 4.0 handset looks and behaves like a traditional smartphone but fits into a 10.1 tablet shell, which is essentially a touchscreen display. Cost for the phone and tablet is NT$24,980 (US$ 846.75) but international prices don’t often translate into actual local pricing; Asus hasn’t announced additional availability in other countries.
Since the phone has the storage, processor and sensors, all data and apps seamlessly run on the tablet. Asus also offers a keyboard accessory with extra battery for the PadFone, turning the entire package into a phone-powered laptop as needed. Engadget says that pre-orders begin tomorrow with availability on April 20. Here’s an idea of how this solution works:
The phone should have more than enough horsepower to run the tablet. Asus opted for Qualcomm’s dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 chip and a gigabyte of memory. The phone — and therefore the tablet — support 21 Mbps HSPA+ networks, Wi-Fi, GPS and multiple cameras. The phone uses a 960 x 540 Super AMOLED display, while the tablet offers a 1280 x 800 resolution TFT screen. The tablet does add a battery, which Asus extends the phone’s battery life by five times; using the keyboard does the same and offers a 9x battery boost.
The concept of a modular device powered by a smartphone isn’t new: Motorola has attempted this with a few of its phone models over the past year. The Atrix 4G, Droid Bionic, Razr, Razr Maxx and Droid 4 all have a compatible LapDock option. These phones plug into the back of the LapDock to power a keyboard and display shell. But instead of using Android on the larger screens, Motorola opted to create its own desktop environment with a customized Linux build that runs from the phone. I found the experience to be lacking when I first reviewed the LapDock.
Asus is taking a different, and I think smarter, approach. Rather that have completely different user interfaces and environments between the phone and the PadFone tablet, both use Android 4.0, which essentially unifies the experience. Android apps written to take advantage of Google’s latest Android version will have the same look and feel, but will automatically adjust to fit on either the phone or the tablet. Non-optimized apps could appear like large phone apps on the tablet, but I’d have to get a review unit to verify that.
Is there room in the market for such modular designs? I think so, especially when essentially all of today’s tablets are built with smartphone guts. Instead of paying for two of all these components — processors, memory, storage capacity and such — paying for all that in a phone that can power a tablet-like display can be a cost saver. And if the software is done right, it can provide an intuitive interface that works for both the tablet and the phone as needed.