We all want to have the latest gadgets, and nowadays that means tablets and smartphones. But having both is tough. Both are expensive and fairly similar in use and design. Tablets are better for viewing media, playing games and for video chat. Smartphones are better for calls (obviously), typed communications (text, email, etc.), and they’re far more portable.

But what if you could have both as a single system? Not a single device like the Samsung Galaxy Note, but two devices that work in tandem to the extent that they are sold together, plug into each other, and remain in sync? That’s what ASUS will attempt with the Padfone, an improperly-spelled tablet-smartphone combination that will attempt to fill that gap.

Size

While the iPhone 4S and iPad are both small devices compared to the respective devices’ fiercest competitors, less so for the iPad, more and more people are buying bigger phones. And the iPhone has stayed the same 3.5″ over five years. Meanwhile phone sizes go up to 5.3″, but the Padfone stays at a manageable 4.3″, the current mainstay for all non-iPhone smartphones. It’s simply a more popular size.

As for the Padfone Station, or the actual tablet portion, it has a 10.1″ screen, barely different from the 9.7″ the iPad has. There are some clear differences between the devices, which are discussed more below, but in terms of size alone the Padfone is thicker and larger. For tablets thicker isn’t always better, and in my use of the iPad I’m very happy with the thickness. So it’s a tough call.

The Padfone is also heavier, as expected for a bigger device. Ultimately though, the phone is the bigger part of both pairs, so unless you have tiny hands, we have a clear winner.

Winner: Padfone, with a larger, more comfortably-sized phone.

Appearance

Apple’s design of both the iPad and iPhone 4S haven’t changed at all from last year’s models. Common belief is that Apple does such a great job the first time that they don’t need to make significant changes for at least two years. So far that belief has held true, because both the iPad and iPhone 4S are expertly crafted and adored for their looks. The ASUS Padfone also has a suave design with a graphite back cover that swoops around to the front, but it doesn’t match the classy glass look Apple has built, even if iPhone’s look much worse cracked.

As for the Station, it looks decent, but the phone connector takes away from the design and it’s fairly banal look doesn’t flaunt so much as do the job.

Winner: iDevices, which look better in nearly every way.

Display

In this age of 720p smartphones, it’s surprising to see an Android 4.0 phone with a 1.5GHz processor not only avoid the HD resolution, but match the older yet still excellent Droid Razr’s qHD. At 960×540, the Padfone is a pixelated mess compared to the iPhone’s 960×640 3.5″ display. Instead, ASUS hopes to impress with a SuperAMOLED display, which are often hit and miss depending on the type of OLED technology used.

What makes this decision more curious is the Station’s display resolution, 1280×800. This is in 720p range (720p is 1280×720), which means the Padfone itself is capable of running that resolution. Why it doesn’t is beyond me. Then comparing the 1280×800 TFT display to the iPad’s 2048×1536 screen…it’s not even comparable. At least in terms of resolution. As I’ve found, video and websites actually appear slightly better on lower resolution screens because that’s what they’re made for. Upscaling takes away from the video, especially up close.

Even then, the qHD display may provide better light and color contrast, but it can’t be as bright as we’ve seen time and time again, and it won’t work nearly as well outside as the iPhone.

Winner: iDevices, with better screen technology for day-to-day use and far better screen resolution.

Operating System

The Padfone and iPhone 4S with iPad is the first, true one-to-one match between iOS 5 and Android 4.0. Everything else has depended on type of device, tablet or smartphone. And frankly that’s not a complete comparison. So this is a first.

What I can say is this. While Android 4.0 has significant improvements over 2.3 and 3.2 (for phones and tablets, respectively), it still doesn’t have the finesse and style of iOS. iOS is cleaner cut, easier to use, and for the most part a better OS.

Yet at the same time Android has so many offerings that iOS doesn’t that comparing the two often becomes an argument between types of bottled water. It’s all about personal preference. It’s often easier to say what’s better based on recent improvements, but we really have to see how ASUS is handling Android for a tablet/smartphone device. If they make it a seamless transition between tablet and phone, it will have the upper hand in many ways, specifically GPS navigation and media playback.

Winner: Tie, until we see how ASUS manages the OS for the Padfone. If they make it a transitory phone/tablet design, where when the Padfone is in “phone” mode it acts like a phone and in “tablet” mode like a tablet, then it’s the winner. Otherwise, iOS wins with convenience and market.

Processor

Another tough battle. The 1.5GHz dual-core snapdragon processor in the Padfone is fast, but it runs the older Adreno 225 GPU, which compared to the iPad’s new A5X processor is a slug. As mentioned with the screen earlier, I also have a problem with the resolution, which is powered by the CPU and GPU, yet we still have a qHD display on the 1.5GHz chip in the Padfone. So what is all that processing muscle doing?

Knowing that, it’s really tough not to give the win to the iDevices. The iPhone 4S has half the graphics processing speed of the new iPad, and an identical CPU, albeit underclocked to 800MHz. Even then it’s fast thanks to the conservative nature of iOS. The Padfone? It runs a fast CPU that’s been around since the Rezound (a new chipset but an old GPU), but it isn’t using that power as expected, at least for the phone. With so many design opportunities to underclock for phone use and maximize power for proper processing speed as a tablet, I don’t understand why ASUS is setting the hardware in this manner.

Winner: iDevices, with a much faster GPU and a slower yet still better CPU thanks to software management.

Storage

Both the Padfone and iDevices come in 3 flavors: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. The difference between the two? The Padfone supports MicroSD cards up to 32GB for a total of 96GB, while two maxed out iDevices will give 128GB of space. Then again, that’s two 64GB drives, not a single 96GB with swappable memory cards. And adding the incredible price difference between it all, and the low cost of SD cards, ASUS is the clear winner.

Winner: Padfone, thanks to upgradeable memory.

Wireless Connectivity

As of now the Padfone doesn’t work on LTE, and only supports HSDPA/HSPA+ networks, what AT&T and T-Mobile tout as 4G that isn’t LTE. It’s still fast, but limited. The iPhone 4S is similarly limited, but the new iPads are not.

Yet the truth is that every major smartphone released in the US has LTE, except for the iPhone. That’s not likely to change with the Padfone, so it’s a safe bet that it’ll get LTE. Which means that the phone and tablet pair will have LTE, which is better than the compared 3G/HSDPA+LTE

Winner: Padfone, which is expected to have LTE.

Camera

Finally, an easy one! The iPhone 4S has one of the best cameras of any phone today, with only a few recent smartphones really competing (and, like the Lumia 900, making it a damn good show). The Padfone features a nearly-identical f/2.2 lens with an 8MP shooter and LED flash, but the Station attachment only includes a 1.3MP front facing camera. That means, and I hate saying this, anyone who wants to shoot with the tablet can’t do so. At least with the iPad you can take surprisingly decent shots thanks to the new 5MP lens (really the old, iPhone 4 camera). Which is better than nothing.

Winner: iDevices, which have cameras on both devices for all uses.

Battery Life

This one’s easy for one reason and one reason only: battery density. The iPhone 4S has a measly 1428mAh battery, while the Padfone has a slightly larger 1520mAh battery. That’s not such a big difference, though the iPhone 4S’ battery problems leave it as vulnerable to quick discharges as Android does in general. The real kicker is on the tablet side.

For the Station, there’s a 6600mAh battery, which (and this is assuming the two batteries work in tandem when connected) combines to a 8120mAh battery. That’s really good. The new iPad? 11,666mAh, which is significantly more power you can squeeze out from even both Padfone parts combined. At least if the Padfone itself shipped with a 1650 or higher (up to 1850) mAh battery at least the phone would have tied with the iPhone 4S.

Winner: iDevices, with better power conservation and significantly better battery life on the iPad.

Carriers

The iPhone is available to nearly all US customers, missing only T-Mobile users and some of the smaller carriers. Based on ASUS’ previous track record for phones in the US, it’s safe to assume that the Padfone will only be available to one carrier, perhaps two at launch. And because the phone and tablet are together, there’s very little to make potential customers stuck on a service contract to switch over if they already have a smartphone or tablet on contract for another carrier, because it costs way too much.

Winner: iDevices, which are available on more carriers.

Price

Ahh, the magic bullet. Currently a brand new iPhone 4S and iPad will cost, at the minimum, $700, plus a service contract. To more closely match how the Padfone works (meaning how it can share the network data between tablet and phone), that price goes up to at least $830.

And the Padfone? It’s hard to say. Reports currently say that it costs $610 for the Padfone (presumably off contract) or $850 with the Station, in Taiwan for pre-order. Pricing is expected to possibly go up for the US as well. In either case, that’s a lot of money. But assuming that’s off contract, then the Padfone has a huge advantage even for the more expensive pricing of $980, because that brings it down to $580 (presumably, depending on carrier initiatives).

The more pertinent, and more difficult question, is how people will view the pricing. Buying a phone for $200-$300 is just expected today, and a tablet for $400+ is too. But buying a phone for $600, that’s also a tablet? It’s a lot to try to get away with. It conflicts with people’s expectations, even if it ends up being a better overall deal. That said, we still have no idea how ASUS plans to market it, and if they expect to sell the two devices separately, then it won’t cause any serious conflicts for buyers.

Perhaps more importantly is the lack of dual contracts for devices. If you want an iPhone and iPad to work anywhere, it means either purchasing a tethering plan and sharing how much you download between the two devices, or having two separate plans. With the Padfone, that isn’t a concern, though you may find yourself running through your allotted download limits easier on a single contract.

Winner: Padfone, with (expected) better pricing and an easier contract setup.

Overall Winner

 

The comparison between these devices is a tough one. The benefits of having two devices over one outweigh the cons in many cases. It’s very much a matter of priorities, and who’s to say what’s needed more for individual users.

But it’s also tough because there are too many unknowns. How the Padfone handles smartphone and tablet use, for instance, is important. What the price is for both is far more important and will ultimately settle the point altogether. Carriers and wireless connectivity is also guesswork.

Ultimately I think which is better for you depends solely on lifestyle, not apps or design. I believe this because many recent tablets I’ve tested are made for the home or made for the road, or aim high for everything. Fair enough. But none are viable in all cases…because who needs a tablet for everything? No one. But we all need a phone. If we can just throw the phone into a tablet for video or games or anything desired instead of switching between two different devices, then it saves time, effort, and hopefully a lot of pain and frustration.

As it stands now, the iPad and iPhone win. Needless to say we’ll revisit once we know more about the Padfone, because ASUS has been awfully sparse on info about their revolutionary product.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.