We have just reviewed two ASUS Fonepad 7 back to back, the entry level FE170CG and the better FE375CG. Both Fonepad 7s are launched in 2014. There is no question that Fonepad 7 FE375CG is the better tablet out of the two. However, it is priced at RM649(USD 200) while the FE170CG costs only RM429(USD 130). Can the improvement found in FE375CG justify the RM220 price difference?
I have to say that the names of these tablets are not that great. ASUS has released a few 7″ inch tablet with telephony capability and all of them are named Fonepad 7. What differs them from them is the model number attached behind the Fonepad 7 name. I understand this is quite confusing for most consumers so make sure you check the model name properly when you try to purchase one for yourself.
Physical Design & Dimensions
From far, these 2 tablets looks really alike. The button, ports and logo placement are all the same. But if you have a closer look, you will definitely realize that the FE375CG is the prettier out of the two. Both tablets we reviewed are in black but the FE375CG has a gold coloured stripe around the edge, which is a nice addition in design. Comparatively, the FE170CG looks dull and uninspiring, although it is far from ugly. You can also feel the elegance of FE375CG while holding it. The soft rubberized back is more friendly to your fingers and hands while holding it compared to the hard, textured back of the FE170CG.
The more expensive FE375CG also has a better build. The speakers on FE375CG sit below the front glass a little and the holes are nicely drilled. The flap covering the SIM cards and micro SD card slots in FE375CG is more flexible so it should be more durable. The flap in FE170CG will come loose occasionally. On the other hand, the rear camera on the back of FE375CG protrudes slightly. I do not fancy this design at all as the device will be less stable when place on a table and the camera glass will be more prone to damage. I would prefer it to stay flat as the FE170CG. The volume and power buttons on FE170CG is more tactile and easier to press.
Their physical dimensions are very similar. FE170CG is slightly shorter and 9 grams lighter. FE375CG is narrower and almost 1mm thinner. While the difference in thickness and broadness seems small, it makes the FE375CG easier to hold despite being marginally heavier. However, the difference is not a lot here and you probably will not notice it at all. Both of the tablets can be held by one hand, even for people without large hands. Using it with one hand is impossible. You need both hands to operate it.
The display is the most notable difference between these 2 tablets in my own opinion. Both tablets have 7″ displays but there is a huge gap between the quality of the displays. FE375CG has a display with a resolution of 1280×800, which makes up for 216 pixels per inch. The display on FE170CG has a resolution of 1024 x 600 and the pixel density is 170ppi, which is quite poor by today’s standards. While 216 ppi is not mind-blowing, it is enough for a tablet where the viewing distance is much further than a phone. The 46 ppi difference is really substantial. While I would not notice the individual pixels on FE375CG unless I am reading some texts, I always notice the individual pixels on FE170CG regardless of the content.
The display for FE375CG has an IPS panel, which should contribute to better viewing angle. However, both of the tablets have very reflective front glasses and this greatly affects the viewing angle. For outdoor viewing, both tablets are merely acceptable. They are not bright enough for you to read under sunlight easily. The FE375CG has an ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor. The sensors allow the tablet to have auto-brightness and turn off the display when you put up the tablet to your ears during phone calls. These features are absent on FE170CG as none of these 2 sensors can be found on it. Auto-brightness is quite important and it is very inconvenient to change the brightness manually under different lighting condition.
Both tablets are running on Intel Atom processors but the FE375CG sports the 64 bit Quad Core 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z3560 processor while the FE170CG is powered by Dual Core 1.2GHz Intel Atom Z2520 processor with HyperThreading technology. On paper, the FE375CG should easily outperform the FE170CG but that is not the truth in real life usage, at least in this moment.
Intel Atom Z3560 is a much better processor out of the two. Not only it has more “real” cores and higher clock speed, it is a 64 bit processor and it has the smaller 22nm process technology instead of the 32nm process technology. However, in FE375CG, the software has let the hardware down. The current Android version and all the applications are still running on 32 bit so there is almost no benefit to have a 64 bit processor at this moment. Secondly, the ZenUI running on top of Android 4.4 Kit Kat is not as stable as the software found on the FE170CG. The lack of optimization for software made the UI much more susceptible to lag even though the hardware should be more superior. This can be frustrating sometimes.
A software update had helped to improve the performance for FE375CG but in overall, the FE170CG seems to be performing more consistently and the app crashes less on it. Both of them have only 1GB of RAM so multitasking is not very great here. Most of the time the app has to be reloaded again after switching to other apps for some time. For graphics heavy games, both of them will not be your best choice. The graphics rendered are far from the best and you should look elsewhere if you are a hardcore mobile gamer. However, the FE170CG tends to get hot while playing games but I never face the same problem with the FE375CG.
Although I am more comfortable with the FE170CG which is more stable, one thing to be noted here is that ASUS can push more software updates to improve the performance of FE375CG. Based on the past records, ASUS will most likely not abandon its devices so soon after its launch. So there is a good chance that the performance will get better after some updates. In the next generation of Android, there will be a 64 bit version. If ASUS can bring the 64 bit OS to FE375CG, the tablet should have a boost in performance. However, do keep in mind that these are not promised and we shall see ASUS will do anything to unleash the full potential of the hardware on FE375CG.
For software department, it is difficult to say which tablet has the edge over the other. Both are running ZenUI from ASUS, which is very close to stock Android. On the cosmetics side, you will not notice any difference between the two unless you start to dig into the OS. The FE170CG is running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean while the FE375CG has Android 4.4 Kit Kat out of the box. ASUS has just delivered Kit Kat update for the FE170CG but that was after our review period so the things below are based on Android 4.3 software. The ZenUI on FE375CG is less stable, as mentioned in the performance section. However, it is packed with some new features which is thoughtful.
The most worth noting addition here will be the 4 quick action buttons in the drop down quick setting menu. It allows you to access the calculator app, Boost (RAM cleaner), Quick Memo & Audio Wizard quickly and this works even on the lock screen. While the difference seems small, it gives great convenience for day-to-day usage. PC Link and Story are the new preloaded applications from ASUS. The former allows you to project the content of the tablet to a computer via USB cable connection. You can control the tablet from the larger display and use it there. The latter is a photo collage maker, which is less useful. These features are not found in FE170CG.
The cameras found on FE375CG is a big step forward over the pair of cameras found in FE170CG. FE170CG has a 2MP rear camera and a 0.3MP front facing camera. The pixel count and the picture quality are one of the poorest in the market but still forgivable for the price of the tablet. But if taking photos are part of your day-to-day routine, the FE170CG will struggle to serve you well.
The FE375CG has a 5MP main camera and a 2MP camera on the front. While it is certainly a huge upgrade over the mediocre camera found in FE170CG, they are not impressive at all. I would say they are merely usable. For scenes with enough light, the camera can sometimes surprise me with the picture quality. However, when the light goes dimmer, both cameras found in FE170CG and FE375CG will be disappoint you.
ASUS Fonepad 7 FE375CG Photo Samples:
ASUS Fonepad 7 FE170CG Photo Samples:
The speakers on these 2 tablets are different too. The FE375CG has dual front facing speakers, one on top and one at the bottom of the screen while the FE170CG has only one speaker on the top. The speakers on both tablets are facing the front, which makes more sense than all the other devices with their speaker facing the other directions. The speaker on the FE170CG is loud enough for a budget device like this but the speakers on FE375CG is one of the best we can find on all tablets. The loudness is there without sacrificing the clarity. I really enjoyed the speaker when watching videos. The speaker on FE170CG looks pale in comparison.
Beside the major differences stated above, there are other little differences here and there too. For internal storage option, the FE170CG comes with either 4GB or 8GB of storage. The pitiful 4GB is definitely not enough and ASUS has made the right call to discontinue it. On the other hand, the FE375CG is available in 8GB or 16GB. One small difference is that vibration feedback when you press on the on-screen buttons. The FE375CG will give you a gentle vibration while the FE170CG will vibrate vigorously as if you have received a new message. I turned off the vibration feedback on the FE170CG almost immediately as it is so weird. While this is nothing important, having a feedback when you press on the buttons will let you know if the tablet has registered your touch or not.
Despite all the differences stated above, they do share some common ground. Both of them have 3950mAh battery and the battery life on both tablets are fantastic. For heavy use it will definitely last you for more than a day and if you are careful with the battery consumption, you can get up to 3 days with a single charge on both tablets. Both tablets support dual SIM dual standby and data connection up to 3G HSPA+. The connectivity features such Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Miracast support can be found on both tablets. Both tablets also can support up to 64GB of microSD card expansion if you feel that the internal memory is not enough.
Which One Should You Buy?
So come back to the main question here, which tablet should you buy? The price difference is not small either. In my opinion, the improvement found in FE375CG over the FE170CG is more on the entertainment part. The nicer display and better speaker will let you enjoy your media content more. You will also find the cameras on FE375CG much more usable. If you plan to do all of these on your tablet you buy, you should go for the FE375CG. If you are a hardcore gamer, both tablets are not really for you. But if you have to choose between the two, the FE375CG will be a better choice as it has more powerful hardware and if ASUS will optimise the software or provide the 64 bit OS in the future, there should be some room for improvement. Conversely, if you just want a tablet for basic stuffs such as handling emails, checking social media and playing simple games, the FE170CG would suffice and you do not have to pay more for the better one.