I’ll start off this review with a little story. Some time ago, I got myself the ASUS Transformer Prime. I was very delighted to receive one of the world’s first quad core devices. That joy was short lived however, because as fate would have it, that device would soon be my most hated Android device that I’ve ever owned.
The device had a multitude of issues, not excluding software that would freeze up, a screen that would flicker and die altogether, a user interface that was seriously laggy and slow for a Quad Core device with 1GB of RAM, Wifi which had crappy signal pickup (1 bar less than 5m away from the AP), GPS that didn’t work altogether, and this stemmed from the fact that it had a full metal back that I’m assuming ASUS did not put much mind into. Couple that with customer service that sent back my tablet 3 times in a row unfixed, while charging me 500 AUD in the process of it all, needless to say, I wasn’t very pleased at all at what ASUS was doing with their product, and of their company, at least as far as Australia goes.
Now that that’s said though, I already know what I’m going to write in this review, and I’m happy to say that it’s a complete 180° of what I wrote up above, but let’s not give too much away and lets just jump straight into the details shall we?
The ASUS Fonepad 7 comes pack in a simple long rectangular box, that has a packaging colour scheme that looks similar to one of the newer Intel processors, but maybe that’s not so surprising after all, since it does pack an Intel processor on the inside of this tablet. Up front, the box shows a picture of the ASUS Fonepad 7, with the specifications on a sticker down the back, and the box opens from the top down. Inside, you’ll find:
- ASUS FonePad 7 phablet
- ASUS Wall Charger (UK head)
- ASUS USB Charging Cable
- Warranty Booklet
- User Manual
- MicroSim Ejector
I wished more manufacturers made wall chargers like these. It has a texture that I really like, a kind of textured matte finish, while being pure black at the same time. It’s also small in size, and has a very solid feel to it when inserting and removing the usb cable. As an interesting feature, the 3rd Earth plastic prong on the wall charger pulls up from the charger, to be used in a wall socket. Normally this is tucked back down. The cable is also quite nice and sturdy, of good construction and build, and it hooks in nicely to the tablet as well.
The manuals that we find inside the box are written in English, so they work fine for most English speakers. For the most part though, everything it has to teach, you should already know.
On to the devices, but first, its specifications.
- OS: Android 4.2.2 Jellybean
- Processor: Intel CloverTrail+ Z2560 Dual Core @ 1.6Ghz
- GPU: PowerVR SGX544MP2 (Dual Core)
- RAM: 1GB
- Internal Memory: 8/16/32GB
- Camera: 5MP Rear Camera, 1.2MP Front Camera
- Display: 7.0” IPS LCD Display @ 1280×800 (216 ppi)
- WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n dual band
- Bluetooth 3.0
- Battery: 3950mAh
- Dimensions: 196.8mm x 120mm x 10.5mm
- Weight: 328g
Walk around the device
On the front of the device, you’re greeted with a large 7” display, pushing 1280×800 pixels out. By 2013, this is not up to par with most devices, given that the Nexus 7 2013 has already ousted it with its 1920×1200 display, but that isn’t to say that 1280×800 is bad. In this case, it’s sufficient, with very little signs of pixelation. Viewing angles are alright, and colours are not the most vibrant, but again, sufficient.
Outdoors usage is not the greatest, as it is susceptible to glare, but it’s not entirely difficult to read the contents on the screen either. Things could be better, but you’re not going to be suffering by any means.
Form factor of the device is almost exactly the same as the Nexus 7 2012. Bezels on the device are big enough to give a nice hand hold either horizontal or vertical, without blocking out too much of the screen, while at the same time not taking too much from it.
The difference then you’d find from the previous model is that there are now two front facing speakers, one at the bottom and one at the top of the device, for a stereo sound experience, a nice touch by ASUS, that breaks up the uniformity of the bezels as well. You’ll also find the 1.2mp megapixel camera beside it.
There are no capacitive buttons to be found on the front of the device, as they’re on screen keys, and while they do take up screen real estate, I don’t mind it at all, especially on a device that big, it’s okay to share the space.
ASUS went away with the Metallic backing on the original Fonepad in favour of a more docile glossy backing. It’s not particularly bad though, as while I do like metallic backing, I found the design in the original fonepad rather unflattering, where as where this Fonepad is of glossy plastic backing, it doesn’t look tacky or cheap either (at least the Black version, and ironically the original fonepad looked cheaper)
You’ll also find a metallic branding of the ASUS logo as well as the 5MP camera, that protrudes from the body just a little though not to worry, the actually camera lens itself is recessed within that protrusion, making it less susceptible to scratches.
On the right of the device, you’ll find the power button, as well as the volume rocker, as well as the MicroSD slot. The buttons itself are easy to press, but I found them slightly hard to locate when using the device, and many times mistook the volume up button for the power button.
Up top, is home to only the 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s OKAY, as far as snugness go, but it bothers me ever so slightly that I’m able to push the connector up and down without much force, which I’m guessing will take its effect on the jack itself over time.
Left is only home to the MicroSim slot, which makes all the buttons on the right side. It makes me feel as if ASUS could have at least placed the Volume rocker there instead, to make it a bit more balanced.
Wrapping it up, down bottom, you’ll find the micro USB port, for any data transfer or charging needs. Upon hooking in the USB port, I found myself just a little bit disappointed as the charger head seemed to move up and down as well as left and right, which could possibly mean that it’s slightly more open to wear and tear over the years.
You’ll find the microphone down below as well, but more on that in Sound Quality.
Overall, the phone leaves just that little bit more to be desired in terms of build quality. The phone seems to warp a little as well, if you hold it by its long side and try to bend the device (with a fair bit of force). A little more reinforcement to the frame of the body would have been nice. Given though, that the phone costs about $300 USD from GeekBuying (with a $15 off coupon, that comes to 285), it’s not particularly a dealbreaker. You could do a lot worse at this price point, though the end user should probably keep these points above in mind.
Hands On and Benchmarks
Firing up the device, you’ll see an ASUS ‘In search of Increbile’ short boot animation, followed by a 6 spinning circle boot animation. No funky boot sounds, and I appreciate that.
Once boot up is completed, the device looks very similar to most stock Android interfaces, with nothing much changed. The launcher looks and feels very much like the stock Jellybean launcher, however, the notification pulldown has a quick toggle bar, as well as fast access to things like the brightness settings, as well as Wifi, Audio, and screen casting.
As far as applications go as well, you’re hit up with quite a few non-standard things like a dictionary, Parental lock, Mirror and Splendid to name a few. Some of the usual apps like the clock have an ASUS spin on them as well, which is not a bad thing as they do look quite nice, and graphical. Overall, the amount of preinstalled applications is relatively minimal, while at the same time boosting the functionality of the tablet by a nice amount.
The specs section in Antutu Benchmark match ASUS’s listed specifications on their website, so that’s always a good thing.
A shocking revelation that hit me are the Antutu scores for this device. Take any similar MT6589T device, running on a 1280×800 display, and you’ll see that it’ll score no more than say 14,000 to 15,000. The dual core Intel CloverTrail+ in this bad boy however, clocks in at a VERY respectable 17,411. As a comparison benchmark as well, the first Nexus 7, with its Tegra 3 chip, scored a 13,634. To put things in perspective, Intel’s dual core solution made quick work of both the Quad Core Mediatek MT6589T, and the Nvidia Tegra 3. VERY impressive.
3dMark pushes the PowerVR SGX544MP2 to its paces, and it performs very well, and though it can be a strenuous test, take the results as an extreme test, rather than actual in game performance. In 3dMark, the FonePad 7 did very well for a device in this price segment. In standard graphics tests the phablet got close to 30fps each time.
I always liked Epic Citadel, as I felt that it was more in line to actual in game performance rather than just being a benchmark. As I feel most devices can handle the ‘High Performance’ Test, I usually opt to run the ‘High Quality’ and ‘Ultra High Quality’ @ 100% rendering tests instead.
For both tests, you’re looking at an average of 56.2 fps and 43.3 fps and a high of 90 fps and 70 fps for ‘High Quality’ and ‘Ultra High Quality’ respectively. A very good score if I may say so myself. You’re definitely not going to run into problems running most games, provided the games themselves are well coded that is.
Sound, Speakers and Usage
The FonePad 7 works quite well as a calling device, if not for its massive size. Calls taken are crisp and clear, and the microphone head from the other side is just as good as well. Despite that though, I still think that it’s a better idea to find yourself using a Bluetooth headset, rather than pressing the FonePad 7 against your face. You’re bound to look like some kind of strange if you do.
Vibration motor on the tablet works well enough, with enough feedback provided when the tablet is ringing (that sounds weird even when typing) or when messages/ notifications are received. The speakers themselves are loud enough to be heard, though to some extents, I do find them slightly softer than I would’ve liked them, but only so ever slightly. The front facing speakers help however, in making sure that you hear the device, unless of course, you opt to flip the tablet screen down, in which things are slightly worse, probably also for your screen. When watching or listening to media however, it’s a nice thing to have the speakers pointing directly at you, making the experience that much more pleasant when using the tablet. Sound quality is not bad for a speaker on the tablet, but don’t expect massive amounts of bass coming out from the speakers. That much is just to be expected though.
A note regarding videos, I tried to play ‘The Thing’ on the tablet, and I couldn’t find a suitable video player that could play it at all. Initially, I couldn’t find a video player at all, and going into gallery and trying to play it didn’t work at all. In the end I had to resort to downloading MxPlayer with the x86 codec, and from there, playback was fine.
I took out my pair of Philips O’Neill the Stretch headphones, the ones I usually pair with a Cowon J3 together with a FiiO e5, and hooked them into the Fonepad 7. I came out just a little disappointed. I tried out Zedd’s The Legend of Zelda, Clarity (Andrew Rayel Remix) and Stay the Night (Kevin Drew Remix), and I have to say that I expected just a little bit more as far as sound quality went. Let’s just say that Clarity lacked the clarity it needed. To further elaborate, on all 3 tracks, I didn’t find the trebles to be crisp enough, and I found the bass to be either lacking or muddy. The 8-bit chip tunes in The Legend of Zelda didn’t really stand out very well, and the vocals in both Clarity and Stay the Night were quite subpar.
I repeated the same test with my JVC HA-M750, and I got the same sort of results, lending me to a sort of subpar listening experience, though I can get pretty petty with my listening experiences.
Hooking in through USB brings up the standard affair of data transfers only via MTP format. Transfer speeds are about 14-15mbps for a 1.4gb movie, which is pretty much standard USB speeds.
The FonePad 7 registers 10 touches at the same time, which probably works out for a larger screen on this device. The only time I can see that it may be helpful is playing multiplayer games on a single tablet screen where you need more than 5 inputs at any given time. Still, a nice thing to have.
Interestingly, the FonePad 7 comes with two sets of Camera softwares, one created by ASUS themselves, the other the default Google Android camera as of Jellybean. For the intents of this review though, I’ll be going over the Image Quality and the Interface of the ASUS camera instead.
Camera interface on the FonePad 7 has its shutter button as well as the video capturing button located on the main screen, without having to switch modes, and I’ve always preferred this layout to ones which you have to constantly change modes. You’re able to take photos as well while taking videos, and the photos come out at the full 5mp resolution, which is pretty decent in that sense.
As far as image size goes, you’re given the option in shooting from 1MP all the way up to 5MP, in 1MP steps. Same goes for video, where you’re allowed to change in between the standard fanfare of resolutions, from 176×144 all the way to the full 1080p. The one thing that I like though, is ASUS’s approach to the UI design when it comes to the settings. When tapped, everything comes out in a nice scrollable menu, and going past camera settings takes you into Video settings, and going past that takes you into the other settings. Certainly a nice touch from Asus.
In terms of video quality, I find it flaky at best. Even at 1080p, videos don’t seem all that sharp, and there seems to be an issue where patches of white appear in my video, as if the software is unfamiliar with how to deal with overly bright light sources. Certainly something funky going on here. Don’t expect to be able to take much videos as night either, as things will most likely come out dark, and if not, noise laden. Videos are best kept in the daylight, and even then, sparingly.
Photo quality on the 5MP snapper seems a bit washed out too me. They also have a blu-ish tint, and photos are either overexposed or underexposed. If not, a bit heavy on the noise. I noticed something a bit funny in one of my photos as well, where there seems to be lines of what looks almost like interlacing running across the image, that honestly destroys the image quite a bit. Possibly something to do with the post processing that ASUS may have in the camera in itself, and it almost shows it’s incompleteness in that sense. Certainly, it feels like you may just be better off using the stock camera, despite the niceness that the ASUS UI may bring.
Connectivity is a wonderful story on the FonePad 7, to my delight.
In both the 25m and the 5m test, the FonePad 7 had the strongest pick up signal, besting that of even my Galaxy Note 3, much to my surprise
Signal strength is pretty good, even in indoor conditions, and pretty much on par with the other devices. Data usage isn’t an issue either, as you’re backed with a quick HSPA+ data connection.
GPS usage was a wonderful story on the FonePad 7, where I managed to get a lock almost instantly in outdoor conditions. I then proceeded to use Google Navigation on the tablet, and it worked fine as well, never losing the GPS signal at all.
I ran some applications, collected their battery usage, and based on that, extrapolated the results to bring you these estimates on battery life:
- 8 hours 45 minutes of video playback
- 15 Days 3 hours of pure standby (GSM, Wifi)
- 2 Day 23 hours of normal usage
The FonePad 7 does very well for what it should be judged as: a budget 3g tablet for those unable to get their hands on the Nexus 7 the same price as they’re available in the US. In other markets, the Nexus 7 costs close to double that of the official pricing, making cheaper tablets more of a temptation to purchase, and ASUS may have something up their sleeves here. Sure, it’s not without its drawbacks; it’s slower processor, less ram, slightly lackluster display, subpar camera, but I have to say that at this price point, it’s easily forgiven for what it does best, a good and reliable budget tablet that lasts pretty long on a single charge, doesn’t have any slowdowns in UI performance, plays games decently, and has great connectivity, and at time of writing, has just received an OTA of Android 4.3
- Nice packaging and box
- Nice looking device that is arguably better than the first one
- Lag Free Dual Core performance that bests even some Quad Cores
- Smooth 3D performance thanks to the PowerVR SGX544MP2
- Useful array of preloaded software, that look great, while not being too bloated
- Great connectivity, especially WiFi and GPS.
- Front facing stereo speakers add to a nicer experience where the sound is heard directly.
- Great battery life, thanks to the Intel CloverTrail+ processor.
- Price Point. At 195 USD, unless you live in the USA, it’s a price that is hard to beat. Even then, the Nexus 7 doesn’t come with 3G connectivity.
- Glossy back attracts fingerprints to no end; Could have used a matte body
- Slightly on the heavy side, given how light tablets are these days
- Thick bezels
- Weak camera and video taking performance
All in all, I give the ASUS Fonepad 7 a great 8.5/10
EDIT: At the time of writing, ASUS has released an Android 4.3 release for the FonePad 7, that brings forth more features and optimisations. It’s nice to see continued support for this device by ASUS, with the released of this new operating system. I’m hoping they keep it up with the release of 4.4.2 Kit Kat as well.