Can't decide between a phone and a tablet? Asus may have just the thing for you. The PadFone is a 4.3-inch phone that sits inside the body of a tablet to give you the freedom of a 10-inch screen.
It's running the latest version of Android, but will a dual-core processor be enough to power a massive screen?
As a standalone deivce, the PadFone isn't at all bad to look at. The bottom of the phone has a sloping ridge, that meets with a subtle metal banding that goes around the outside. The back of the phone features an expanse of grey plastic that's been given a rather smart circular textured effect.
Our CNET Asia colleagues report the materials all feel pretty firm and don't give the impression they're liable to break easily. Whether you like the design or not, there's no denying that it's a change from the standard monolithic black rectangle that most smart phones seem to be going for these days.
There's no physical button on the front, so you'll be using touch-sensitive buttons at the bottom of the screen to navigate your way around the Android interface. Around the edges you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro USB port and a micro HDMI port.
The screen is a 4.3-inch AMOLED affair with a resolution of 540x960 pixels. That's not as high definition as some new blowers like the Sony Xperia S or the LG Optimus 4X HD, both of which sport 720p screens, but it's still a pretty good amount and when you're just booting up the Facebook app, you're not going to notice the difference. It's reportedly bright and vivid too, so your movies and pictures should look delightful.
Around the back you'll find an 8-megapixel camera that Asus reckons will be better than the snapper on the iPhone 4S. That's certainly a bold claim -- the pics you can get from the 4S can be stunning, especially with the built in HDR function switched on. I'll be putting the camera's skills to the test in the full review soon.
The PadFone comes with what is effectively a tablet skin. It's the screen and chassis of a 10-inch slate, but without the processing brains inside. The idea is that you pop the phone into the tablet shell and use the phone's processor to power the tablet.
We've seen similar ideas before on phones like the Motorola Atrix and it's a pretty nifty concept. It means you don't need to make the choice between buying a new phone or a new tablet, which will be great news if you can't afford the latest smart phone and a shiny new iPad to go with it.
It's also not the first such device we've seen from Asus, as the Transformer Prime tablet wowed us with its ability to turn into a laptop with a keyboard dock. You can get a keyboard dock for the PadFone too, making it a phone, within a tablet, within a laptop -- a weird Russian doll of tech.
The phone is running Ice Cream Sandwich, which is the latest version of the Android operating system -- and one that's luckily designed to run on both tablets and smart phones. The phone has an interface that's similar to the ICS experience on the glorious Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but when docked in the tablet shell, the bigger screen displays an interface much more similar to other Android tablets and looks identical to the one on the Transformer Prime.
The phone itself is packing a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, which last year I would have been very impressed with, but with quad-core beasts like the LG Optimus 4X HD on the way, the bar has been raised too high for me to be bowled over by the PadFone.
The problem is, once you pop the phone into the tablet, there is instantly a much bigger screen making harsher demands on the chip, so the lesser power may well become even more noticeable. Ideally I would have liked to have seen Asus plop the same Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core chip seen in the Prime in the PadFone to help with the tablet operation.
Still, 1.5GHz is still a good speed from two cores and let's not forget that the Transformer Prime is so far the only quad-core tablet we've seen, so the PadFone is at least keeping up with the current competition. How it stacks up against the ultra-powered blowers coming soon remains to be seen.
Popping the phone into the tablet dock is an easy task at least, and is comfortably hidden behind a big flap. There's a little hole in the lid for the phone's camera to poke through, allowing it to be used while in tablet mode. There's also a little 640x480-pixel front-facing camera on the phone or a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front of the tablet if video calling is your thing.
So what happens when your phone rings when it's stuck inside a tablet? Well, Asus has you covered with a special stylus that acts as a headset to receive calls. It looks like a normal stylus and allows you to write on the tablet's screen or doodle silly faces. But when that call comes in, there's a microphone and a speaker in the stylus, so you can hold it up and chat.
It's a very cool idea and I think it's a great way to solve a problem that could have been overlooked until it started annoying customers. On the other hand, you will look pretty daft sat on the bus, talking into your pen.
Asus hasn't explained whether the stylus and the Prime-style keyboard dock will come as standard with the PadFone or not, but I'd frankly be amazed if they were all one package. After all, why give items away for free when you can make 30 or 40 quid off them?
The PadFone's ability to turn into a tablet certainly won't be a feature that appeals to everyone, but if you're desperately trying to make your mind up between a new phone or a tablet, it might be worth checking out. Stay tuned for a full review soon.