Asus PadFone X mini Review: Half Smartphone, Half Tablet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- On paper, the Asus PadFone X mini is a terrific idea. In simple terms, it's an smartphone and tablet combination running on the Android operating system. It comes in two pieces - the phone and a slide-in, tablet-shaped cradle. Execution of that terrific idea is another story.

The PadFone X mini offers a number of firsts. It's the first smartphone marketed in the United States to run on an Intel (INTC) processor and it's the first device of its type to be sold by AT&T's (T) Go Phone prepaid service division. A much larger PadFone X model is also available on AT&T's Website.

To understand the PadFone X mini, we need to examine the parts separately. The smartphone half is small, black and basically not much different from other mid-range Android smartphones of similar size. It measures 5.2 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches, weighs 5.26 ounces and runs Google's (GOOG) Android 4.4 software. The phone works on AT&T's 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE bands and includes the usual Wi-fi, Bluetooth and GPS connectivity.

The X mini utilizes a dual-core, 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor mated to 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage and it has a microSD card slot where you can boost it up to 64GB. The mini has a touchscreen listed as 4.5-inch FWXGA (Full Width XGA). That translates to 480 x 854 pixels and 218 pixels per inch (ppi). The back camera is 5MP with an LED flash and a 2 MP front-facing shooter. The rechargeable battery pack capacity is 2060 mAh and is user replaceable.

The dock portion consists of a tablet-shaped, slide-in cradle with a second rechargeable battery pack and larger screen. The tablet adds its own 7-inch, XVGA touchscreen measuring 1280 by 800 pixels. The non-replaceable battery pack is 2200 mAh. The "Pad" portion also has a 1 megapixel front-facing camera for use when the phone is in its dock. 

The Pad portion measures 8.0 by 4.7 by 0.83 inches (with a hump on the back for where the phone is cradled) and weighs 10.6 ounces. When you place the phone into tablet you're holding a nearly one pound brick. The worst part is that with the phone docked near the top of the device the entire package is top heavy. It's something you may need to pay attention to.

Being the first U.S. phone with an Intel processor the PadFone X mini is our first chance to put it through its paces. It didn't take very long to realize that when mated to 1 GB of RAM the Intel chip was able to provide a medium-speed experience on the phone. When used as a tablet, with its 7-inch HD display, everything slowed-down even further. Using the combo with a number of apps open at the same time produced some long-ish waiting times for processes to start and finish.

All that said, the PadFone wasn't bad to use. It was slow opening some apps and Webpages but wasn't terrible overall. You can carry your phone with you when you're out and then slide it into the tablet at home. Aside from ultimate processing speed, the combo device performed well.

The 5MP PixelMaster camera took nice pictures for a smartphone with mid-range specifications. The 4G connections on the phone (as well as when using it as a tablet) were consistently fast and solid. The phone battery lasted a day with normal use making voice calls, messaging and surfing the Web. Adding the extra tablet/dock internal battery and we were able to squeeze nearly three days of life from the combo.

Asus has added a few of its own software items to the mix, It described its concept as "a holistic user interface, responsive and snappy - the intuitive ZenUI simplifies the user experience." I won't go that far -- it adds some Asus-branded apps that get in your way less than some from other manufacturers but isn't very revolutionary past that.

In a perfect world, I'd love to see the X mini gain a little more operating memory and lose a little weight. The device should deliver a faster user experience with 2GB of RAM and be a lot more stable to hold in one hand if the combo weighed less and wasn't so top heavy. A little more internal storage would be nice too. But, I realize, the X mini was built to a specific price point that my wish list would change the current equation.

But, I have to admit, I found the PadFone X mini to be enjoyable when used as either a smartphone or a tablet. It's not perfect by any means but could be a good solution for users who understand its benefits and are willing to overlook its pitfalls.

The PadFone X mini retails for $199.99. It's available from AT&T, WalMart (WMT) and other retailers. Prepaid service plans from AT&T's Go Phone range from $25 each month for 250 minutes of voice calls and a scant 50MB of data to $60 a month for unlimited voice and 2.5GB of data.

Final Grade: 6.5/10

-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.


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Gary Krakow is TheStreet's Senior Technology Correspondent.

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