Having already blurred the line between table and notebook computer with last year’s Transformer, Asus will fold yet another device into the equation with this year’s PadFone: A smartphone that turns into a tablet that turns into a laptop. After teasing the device as far back as Computex 2011, Asus formally announced final details for its ambitious project Monday afternoon at a Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
As with the Asus Transformer, the PadFone will be marketed as one device (a smartphone) with different accessory “docks” to unlock its dual life as both a tablet and notebook. But even before you add those frills, the basic phone is no dud. It sports a 4.3-inch qHD AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass, an 8-megapixel rear camera using a Fujifilm sensor, and 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of built-in storage, with 1GB of RAM. Interestingly, Asus went with a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor rather than the 1.5GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 powering many of the other superphones unveiled at MWC, like LG’s Optimus 4X and HTC’s One X.
The phone itself looks a bit like an oversized iPhone from the top, thanks to its rounded edges, flat black face and a brushed-metal band around the edges. Further down it deviates from the familiar Apple trope with a tapered chin, while the back features a textured brown plastic.
The PadFone Station — basically just a tablet with no brains — accepts the phone via a trunk in the back, just like in prototypes. Asus’ proprietary Dynamic Display technology allows it to precisely mirror what’s on the screen of the phone on a larger 10.1-inch display with 1280 x 800 resolution. Besides just blowing things up for easier reading and watching, the PadFone dock has a 24.4 Watt-hour battery to extend the life of the phone, and its own speakers. Asus hasn’t yet clarified whether the PadFone station will need a specific dock, or function with the existing dock from the Transformer.
While Asus revealed full specs, the company was not as forthcoming with pricing, which could make or break a three-in-one device that essentially has to undercut all the other devices it poses as in order to make sense. The original dock for the Transformer listed for $160, making it an expensive purchase on top of a $400 tablet. After all, that put it into the same price range as a full-power laptop. With standalone Android tablets like the Kindle Fire selling for as low as $200, Asus will have to price the PadFone aggressively in order to convince consumers they need a phone that turns into a tablet, not just one of both.