The ASUS Fonepad 7 is a marriage between a phone and a tablet. Although ASUS calls it a ‘phablet’ where we usually refer as a phone with large display, the Fonepad 7 is actually a voice-enabled tablet rather than a big phone. Recently, ASUS had slashed the price of the 8GB model from RM599 (USD190) to RM429 (USD 140) which actually makes it one of the cheapest small tablet with telephony capability in the market. The price suggests that it is not a rather exciting product but it did change my mind after more than a week of using it .

Let’s find out how well it performs! Feel free to read the conclusion for the summary if you want to skip the extensive story.

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Note

This Fonepad is a loaned review unit from ASUS Malaysia. We really want to thank them for believing in us.

The Hardware

With its low price, we cannot expect to have everything great here. So ASUS has to decide what to be packed in and what to leave out. Here is the specification list:

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The Design & Physical Look

The Fonepad 7 has 4 colour options, namely black, white, blue and red. The unit we received is black in colour but I have seen other models too. Personally I like the white and red ones. Although the blue and red models are more striking, all of them do possess the same simple feel. You can read the unboxing of ASUS Fonepad 7 for more on the external look.

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The front is the same for all colour options. A major part of the front is taken up by its 7″ display. What is good here is that ASUS did a good job trimming down the side bezels such that the bezels in Fonepad 7 is considerably narrower than the other tablets with the similar price. ASUS claims that we can hold it with one hand and that is true. I can hold it comfortably with one hand. If you worry that your hand is small, you can be rest assured because even girls with smaller hands can hold it without any problem. Most of the pockets in my pants can fit the Fonepad 7 but it is not really comfortable to walk with it in the side pocket. Usually I would put it at the back pockets. However, I do not think that girls can fit the tablet in their pockets.

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There is one thing that I did not expect while using the Fonepad 7. When using a bigger phone, I tend to try to use it with one hand initially and later I would realize that it is impossible and I switch to using both of my hands. I repeated the process almost every day. However, while using the Fonepad 7, somehow my mind will automatically tell me that using it with one hand is impossible. So, I do not have to change the way I hold it. This is the problem I have with big phones personally but I do not face it with Fonepad 7.

The plastic back, despite having different colours, have the same rough texture. It feels good in hand as the texture prevents the device to slip away from your hand and does a good job in repelling all the fingerprints. The device does not feel cheap in hand, although the price tag would suggest a poor build quality.

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The placement of the power button and volume rocker on Fonepad 7 is a bit unusual. They face slightly backwards instead of facing sideways as they are placed on the curve. At first I need some time to get used to it as they are not visible from the front and I have to feel for it. The change is subtle by looks but you will definitely notice the difference when you want to push the buttons. When I am holding it with my left hand, my index finger will naturally lay on the buttons and clicking them while holding it is very easy. However, if I am holding it with right hand, I will have to move the tablet a little bit so that I can press on the button. If I am holding it with both hands, my right index finger can reach them without any problem. In short, you can access to the button in most of the ways you hold it. I feel that this is better than the usual placement at the back.

The 3.5mm headphone jack and the USB port is placed on top. Some people might hate this because the cable plugged at the top might be disruptive. Luckily, the Fonepad 7 is running the tablet version of Android which can rotate according to the orientation and it has on screen buttons instead of hardware buttons. This means that you can actually use it upside down so that  the ports is at the bottom. This problem arises when the position of buttons is weird and some applications can only work in one orientation.

Display

The ASUS Fonepad 7 has a 7″ WSVGA LED display with a resolution of 1024×600. The pixel density is at 170 pixel per inch. The color saturation is quite satisfying. To improve that, ASUS has included Splendid software for users to adjust the display temperature, saturation and hue. The display is far from sharp by today’s standards. With a pixel density of 170 ppi, the display is quite pixelated. The text and edges are rough and the viewing experience is not really enjoyable at all. However, this a tablet so we will hold it further away so things will be slightly better.

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ASUS claims that there is a anti-fingerprint coating on the screen. Although fingerprints and oil stains will be collected on the screen over some time, they can be cleaned very easily. Most of the time the screen is clean after it spent some time in my pocket.

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One of the problems that I had is that the Fonepad 7 lacks an ambient light sensor so there is no auto brightness settings. I have to adjust it manually, which is quite inconvenient. The brightness is lower even at maximum but I can read it comfortably at the dark with the minimum brightness. So you cannot expect to have a good reading experience under sunlight. In most indoor conditions, the display will serve you all right.

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The other problem is that the front panel covering the display is very reflective. Things will be better if the display is bright enough. But as this is not the case, it will affect the viewing experience. The reflection is less noticeable if bright colours are being shown but the problem is more severe when the tablet is displaying darker images. Display angle is affected by the reflective panel and this is not good while playing games like Temple Run 2 and Real Racing 3 which require a lot of tilting and panning of the device.

However, these problems are not uncommon in budget devices. In fact, the display of Fonepad 7 is already one of the better one among the tablets with the same price. Although I have gotten used to the great Retina Display on iPad, Fonepad 7’s display is not totally disappointing. All of us should be able to live with it unless you are very picky.

Performance

The Fonepad 7 is powered by Intel Atom Z2520 dual core processor which is clocked at 1.2GHz and equipped with Intel Hyper Threading technology. 1GB of RAM is included. Hyper threading is an Intel technology where some parts of a processor core are duplicated. For ASUS Fonepad 7, each core has 2 threads. The system will treat the hyper-threaded processor as extra processor so for Fonepad 7, the system will ‘assume’ that there are 4 cores although there is actually 2 only. This is a cheaper way to improve parallel processing performance.

Intel joined the mobile SoC market for a shorter time so they are playing the catching up game with more popular vendors like Qualcomm. Unlike most chips in the market which is based on ARM architecture, Intel Atom chips are based on x86 architecture. What you should understand here is that the difference in architecture makes the judgement of the performance of Intel-architecture processors based of the number of cores and clock speed impossible. This means that the performance of a dual core 1.2GHz x86 processors will perform very differently from a dual core 1.2GHz ARM processors. The only way we can tell is to give it a try.

So how does the Fonepad 7 performs? It turns out to be surprisingly satisfying. I could not tell the difference with a tablet low end ARM processor in terms of performance. This is actually an improvement as some reviews complained about a lot of app crashes on previous Intel based Android devices. For most of the time, my experience with the tablet is smooth and fluid. The occasional lag is present when I try to too many things at the same time. The tablet has enough power to carry you for all normal task. It can play 1080p videos without any hiccup too.

What about gaming? Well, it is acceptable. It can handle most games very well. Although I have not experienced any frame skips in games like Temple Run 2 and Real Racing 3, the game loading time is long. The graphics rendered are expectedly poor, partly due to the display. However, when I was listening to music on Spotify while playing Temple Run, more frame skips can be noticed after the run got faster. The tablet will get hot, not warm, too after some time of serious gaming.

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Speaking of multitasking, Floating Apps are absent from this version of Fonepad 7. This means that the larger screen is not really put into full use. I have no idea why did ASUS not allow the apps to operate in windows. With 1GB of RAM, RAM management is very important. Given that the system will take up a large portion of it, the software is doing a good job. The smooth UI suggests that RAM management is great but you just cannot expect all apps can be resumed to the state they are closed as the Fonepad does not have much luxurious RAM to record the state for a longer period of time. ASUS did provide a task manager widget to manage the running applications. However it is not very reliable as I always see zero tasks shown.

I would say the tablet has enough power to let you do all the everyday stuff smoothly with  some light gaming. As we have entered the time where no lag can be tolerated in navigating through the UI, ASUS Fonepad 7 is able to fulfill the requirement despite having such a low price.

Battery

One thing that I worried about while looking at the specifications list for the first time is the battery life. Although the 3950mAh battery is not a small capacity, Intel Atom processors are not made for long lasting battery life due to the architecture. Fortunately, it seems that my concern is needless. Even using it very heavily for the first day, I did not manage to finish off all the charge. No matter how hard I try, the battery can last me for more than a day. If I use it moderately, it can even last more than 3 days, which is impressive. ASUS also include Power Saver for you to adjust the performance to squeeze more battery life.

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Speaker

There is only one speaker on Fonepad 7 and it is placed above the display in the front. It doubles as earpiece for phone calls too. The position of the speaker at front makes more sense than its rear firing counterparts as you can listen to the sound and music clearly. Other than that, it is impossible to cover it up no matter how you hold it. While I am very happy with the speaker position, I do hope that the volume can be higher as I have problem hearing it in noisier places. ASUS also included AudioWizard software for you to choose the preferred sound effect mode. To be honest, they do not sound a lot different for me but I had to admit my ears are not that sensitive for sound.

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The speaker definitely cannot match the HTC BoomSound speakers but it is already better than what we can find on more expensive tablets just because of its nice positioning.

Storage

The unit which we received is the 4GB model. Out of the 4GB, only 2GB is available for apps while the remaining is reserved for system use and what makes it worse is that ASUS packed in some of their own apps which you cannot delete. So you have slightly more than 1GB only after all the system applications have been updated. This means that some big titles like Asphalt 8 cannot be installed here.  Although you can add in the micro SD card to expand the storage, you can only use the external storage for music, videos and documents only. Without rooting the device, most applications cannot be installed in the external memory. The storage should be filled up very, very soon.

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However, ASUS has decided to discontinued the 4GB model and currently the 8GB model is even cheaper than the 4GB model at launch. With up to 64GB of expandable storage supported, I can live with 8GB of internal storage without any problem. So make sure you get the correct model. USB OTG is supported here too to help you get more storage.

Phone Call & Connectivity

The ASUS Fonepad 7 can support dual sim with both of them on standby. The Micro-sim standard is used for both sims. Inserting it is easy but removing it is slightly harder. I actually use a pair of small tweezers to remove it. Luckily, you do not have to do it too often. The Fonepad 7 can support up to 3G HSPA+ at maximum data speed at 42Mbps. No 4G LTE is supported but this is totally okay for a budget device like this.

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Phone calls, on the other hand, sound fine with the speaker. As the tablet is longer than normal phones and the microphone is placed at the bottom, sometimes I was required to speak louder as I sounded too soft. However, putting the 7″ tablet on your face is not everyone’s favourite and luckily the front facing speaker allows you to talk over loud speaker comfortably. I have no problem listening what is said at all. Fonepad 7 has no problem retaining signal too. I have not lost the connection in places where it should not.

For WiFi, 802.11 b/g/n is supported which is fine. The connection is normal and there is nothing special about it. Bluetooth 4.0 is present but NFC did not make the cut. Since not many people are using NFC, I guess it is a good decision to keep the price down. Miracast is supported for casting its contents to the other larger screens like smart TV.

Camera

Camera-wise, the Fonepad 7 is equipped with a 2MP rear camera and a 0.3MP front camera. Apparently optics is never a big priority in budget devices and ASUS had made it very clear through the poor hardware included. Their decision is not without valid reasons. Of course the main reason will be cost but since less people would use their tablet to take photos, it is wise to save the cost to improve the overall performance.

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As we have only a pitiful 2 megapixels to work with, the photos lacked sharpness and looks quite bad on the 7″ screen to be honest. Any zoom and crop is almost impossible as the details are simply not there. The focus will be a little off too sometimes and the shutter is not snappy enough. Macro shots cannot be done too as the camera cannot get good focus for near objects.

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Outdoors, colour reproduction is still acceptable and you might need to give it a few tries to get some pictures which is suitable for social media. However, upon moving indoors, the photos appear washed out and the white balance tends to go to the cool side.

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While the photo quality is greatly limited by the poor camera hardware, the camera software still managed to improve the shooting experience. The viewfinder is clean and easy to use. The camera roll, settings, secondary camera, filters, effects and video taking are just one or two taps away. ASUS also made good use of the volume buttons. You can also use the volume button as shutter and double press on volume button will launch the camera when the screen is off. You also can access to the camera with the button on lockscreen too.

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ASUS has packed in a number of effects, namely panorama, night, HDR, smart remove, time rewind, all smiles and others. Smart remove, time rewind and all smiles are effects that make use of the burst shoots to remove photo bombers, get the right frame and getting everyone in the picture smiling. However, they are not very useful most of the time. HDR mode is present but to be honest, I cannot tell the difference between picture with and without HDR mode turned on.

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Night mode, on the other hand, is much more useful. From the picture below, you can definitely tell that the night mode really does improve the performance in low light condition. If I am not mistaken, under night mode the exposure time and ISO level is greatly increased. While the photos taken under night mode are not grainier than the one taken under auto mode, the long exposure time always generates blurry pictures. You have to keep your hands very steady while using night mode.

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Software

In my opinion, software is very important to budget devices. As they are not equipped with premium hardware, the software must excel to bring the best out of the hardware to ensure the user experience is not compromised. Fortunately the software in ASUS Fonepad 7 is one of its best parts.

It is running ZenUI on top of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. ASUS has promised that Android 4.4 Kit Kat is on the way and with the smarter RAM management in Android 4.4, the performance might be improved. ASUS also have the practice to provide update to its devices to fix the bugs or occasionally adding in new features. It is always good to know that you are not forgotten after you bought the device.

ZenUI

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ZenUI is the interface created by ASUS and it claims that ‘ASUS ZenUI was built to be functional first and foremost, but it also had to have elegance and beauty. It’s simple and intuitive, but also smart as it helps you to keep track of your life‘. I actually could not agree more. At first glance it looks like stock Android, which is simple yet nice. ASUS did not change the look of the user interface for the sake of changing it to be special. This decision to keep things simple made the interface very fluid and smooth despite the hardware is not top of the class.

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ASUS only change a few parts in the Android UI and the flat design used is very modern. The flat design is kept constant for most of the place but we still can find some pages in settings which has a very different style with the overall feeling. For example, the bottom of the application setting page definitely is something that does not fit to the ZenUI and this inconsistency made the viewing experience imperfect, although it is never an important issue.

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On Screen Buttons

As the Fonepad 7 has no hardware buttons for home, back and multitasking buttons, on screen buttons are used. Since the screen is not small, I would not mind that it will take away some of the bottom portion of the display. The device will vibrate when you press on the buttons but the problem is that the vibration as strong as vibration for notifications. It is not the nice, subtle vibration that gives you the feedback after you press the buttons. Luckily there is an option to turn it off.

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I wish there is a regular way to hide the buttons. Sometimes, it just will not disappear even though I am playing YouTube videos at full screen. In the screenshot above, the lower portion of the video is covered up. This problem does not constantly appears but when it does, it is annoying. (Video from JinnyBoy TV)

Applications

Speaking of pre-installed apps, there are quite a large number of it to be honest. On top of the Google Play applications where some of them are totally useless and redundant for me, ASUS also packed in some applications. Most of them are useful but some of them are quite useless. As the internal storage of the device is limited, being unable to delete these unused applications is quite frustrating.

One such funny app included is called ‘Mirror’. What it does is show your face via the front camera. However, the 0.3MP camera naturally does not do a great job . The irony is that you can actually see your own face better by turning off the display because the screen is very reflective and functions rather well as a mirror. So I really hope that we can have the option to clear up the unwanted applications.

What’s Next

Luckily, not all preloaded applications are worthless. What’s Next exist on the lockscreen and also as a widget on homescreen. It syncs with your calendar and gives you a nice timeline on your schedule. Weather information will be shown too if the forecast tells that it would be raining.  As simple as the idea is, I actually find it quite useful. The counting down on hours and the timeline can help me to arrange my priorities so that I will know what to do next.

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Do It Later

We have a lot of things to be done every day. Sometimes we are hooked on something but we come across other less important things to be done later. Do It Later is an app to remind you for these things. It is not simply a reminder app for you to record down the things. You can pin its widget to show the list of items recorded.

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What great about Do It Later is the integration with the native applications. Right from the native ASUS apps, you can add items to Do It Later directly. For example, you received a message from your friend but you want to reply him later. So you can open up the message and from the menu you can choose ‘reply later’. Then the task will be recorded. Of course you can also add the task from the app itself.

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You can also add an reminder to each task so that you will be alarmed for the deadline. One thing worth mentioning is that I like the way ZenUI lets you set the time. Numbers are arranged according to its position in normal clock and it makes more sense than scrolling through numbers to set the desired time.

Remote Link

After you pair your Windows computer with Fonepad 7 on Bluetooth, you can use Remote Link to control your computer. You can use it as a touchpad if you do not have your mouse. Left and right mouse clicks and zooming in and out can be performed here. However, there will be some frameskips shown. You can also use it as keyboard but the experience is flawed as you have to type on the tablet first and then send it to the computer. The experience is not natural and I am not a fan of it.

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You can also use it to control media playback. The most useful function is that you can control your presentation slides through Remote Link. While the basic functions such as changing slides are supported, you can actually preview the slides on the tablet. This will be helpful during presentation as you know what to expect in the following slides.

Others

There are also other apps such as Share Link and Party Link for you to share files with your friend by WiFi. ASUS also provide 5GB lifetime cloud storage and 11GB free cloud storage for a year.

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Conclusion

The ASUS Fonepad 7 is a surprisingly solid device although the affordable price tag may suggest otherwise. Being a 7″ tablet with telephony capability, it has all the benefits of tablets such as extra screen space and long battery life as well as the ability to make phone calls and send SMS. The design is simple yet attracting and the build quality is very convincing. The display is not the best but it is acceptable for its price. The rear and front cameras are present but they are very poor shooters and I would not use them unless it is necessary.

Performance-wise, it has no problems for you to carry out normal tasks. It is running ASUS’s ZenUI which is very similar to the stock Android which means that it is clean and smooth. The applications packed in are useful for productivity. However, the internal storage is definitely not enough for the 4GB model and I think that ASUS’s choice to discontinue it is wise. On the bright side, the 8GB model should be sufficient if you are not a very heavy user. The ability to support a micro SD up to 64GB certainly will certainly make things better.

In short, I feel that ASUS has made the right choices when making compromises on the ASUS Fonepad 7 to keep the price down. The day-to-day performance and build quality have not been sacrificed here thus making the ASUS Fonepad 7 a very solid entry-level voice-enabled tablet. The new RM429 price tag is not over-demanding at all.

Good

  • Very attractive price
  • Good build quality
  • Great battery life
  • Dual sim and support up to 3G connection
  • Smooth user interface

Bad

  • Display has low resolution, sub-par viewing angles and it is too reflective
  • Poor camera
  • Limited storage (especially 4GB model)

ASUS Fonepad 7 (FE170) - New Price

Should You Buy It?

First of all, you must ask yourself if you want to use a tablet as your phone. If you feel embarrassed to answer phone call by putting it to your face in public or carrying a 7″ tablet around in too inconvenient for your lifestyle, Fonepad 7 is not a good choice too. Of course you can use it as normal tablet without inserting the sim card. Fonepad 7 works fine as a tablet but the telephony capability will be wasted. Next, if you must have a good camera or you are a heavy gamer, ASUS Fonepad 7 is not for you and to be honest, no devices with the similar price would be suitable.

If you are using this tablet for work and serious stuff, this tablet should be fine for you as it perform reasonably well in lighter task and the apps packed in is suitable for you too. The long battery life would be great for road warriors too.  If you are running low on budget and you need a tablet and a phone at the same time, ASUS Fonepad 7 is definitely the one you should consider as it is cheap and it can let you enjoy the sweetness of both worlds. In any case, you have to make sure you get the 8GB model.

To be honest, I did not expect much from this tablet but it managed to surprise me after using it. For me, I enjoyed the fact that I do not have to worry about battery life and also the bigger screen. I can live with the average performance but the 4GB model I received is not enough for me. If I had a choice I would actually prefer the 8GB model over a 6″ phone. Given that the price is so low, what it offers is already more than what I have expected. It is fun using such an interesting device and I think I would miss it after returning it.