On the chopping block: The Asus FonePad 7 2014

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Another month has gone by and the people over at JKOA have been kind enough to send us another Asus product for review. This time around it’s something a little bit different.

Enter the Asus FonePad 7. First released in 2013, the line has since been refreshed, and Asus has put out what they call the FE170CG – a tablet quite similar to its 2013 predecessor. Both are 7” tablets powered by a Dual Core Intel Atom CPUs, with the 2014 model having a lower end Intel Atom Z2520 1.2 GHz CPU with 1GB of RAM and either 4 or 8GB of internal storage. The 2014 model runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and has the basic specs of a tablet covered; 2 Megapixel camera with autofocus, 720p video recording, VGA front camera.

It’s also a fully functioning mobile phone(with dual MicroSIM slots, no less), although you risk looking a bit of a prat with this held up to your ear.

When compared to the 2013 model, it’s a stripped down version on in all aspects.  It’s also a lot cheaper, at a base price of around € 100 – the 2013 model is around €220.  This translates to an expected retail price in Sri Lanka to be between Rs 22,000 to Rs 26,000.

First steps

First impressions matter. The Fonepad 7 feels good in the hand. Solid build quality, albeit a bit on the thick side. A nice textured back. Front facing speakers.  The left side houses the MicroSD and two MicroSIM slots and is accessed via a small flap that can be taken out. The right side has the volume rocker and power/lock button. On the top of the device reside the microUSB and 3.5mm connector.

I switched on the device initially without a SIM inserted and it guided me through the basic setup. It’s here that I noticed the tradeoff of having a tablet/phone for cheap; the screen. It’s quite bright but at just 600 x 1024 pixels, it’s a much lower resolution than of the 2013 model (800 x 1280), and it’s noticeable to the trained eye. The text on the icons appears a tad blurred and pixelated. The same holds true for images and videos. The screen’s no showstopper, either – it’s glossy, and color reproduction is a bit off, especially when looked at directly.

fonepad-1

After the initial setup came the fun part; tweaking the FonePad to my own needs. The FonePad has its own custom launcher (akin to TouchWiz found on Samsung tablets) called Zen UI. It looks like it borrows elements from both the TouchWiz and stock Google Launcher, and it gets the job quite well. There’s also an “Easy Mode” where the launcher just turns into large icons or tiles for those who want to access their apps quicker. With this mode on, the screen displays nine large tiles and a “More Apps” button which displays all installed apps in a list.

Personally, though I love the Google Now Launcher. After a little bit of fiddling around, I got it running and did the customary Software Update check and was immediately notified that a system update was available. Lo and behold: the Fonepad updated itself from 4.3 Jelly Bean to 4.4.2 KitKat.

KitKat offers a significant and substantial performance gain. Immediately after the update, the interactions became much more responsive and fluid. The update also fixes a bug where the SD card wouldn’t get detected. Overall – display aside – the update does wonders to the overall impression of this thing.

Getting down and dirty with it

Nowadays, tablets are common enough that we can straightaway scope the key points without having to explain everything from scratch. The camera? Just what you would expect on a budget device. don’t go expecting DSLR and HDR shots: IT does ok in daylight conditions – that is to say, outside, with lots of light – but was rather bad at low light photography.

Battery life? Quite usable, with around 8-10 hours of moderate to heavy usage. I suspect the cut down screen resolution plays a part in this. On Airplane Mode , you can comfortably sit down and play Fruit Ninja and Temple Run for a good day. However, tax it and the device heats up quite a bit.

The music app closely resembles Google’s own Play Music app and even has the FX Booster function and equalizer settings and presets seen in most GPE devices.

fonepad-2

The speakers are quite loud. They offer good levels of clarity and little to no distortion and are ideal if you are on a video call or if you want to watch some videos or even a movie or two.

As for the phone aspect, it seems a tad redundant for a device of this size.Hold it up to your ear and you look like you’re talking on a brick. After all, it IS a 7” device. For that reason alone, if you are required to use a voice call, a Bluetooth or wired headset is recommended just to make things easier for you. Bluetooth 4.0 and a 3.5mm audio jack are both present so the choice is yours to make.

If there’s one thing Asus provides in spades, it’s 3rd party apps. A notes app called “Do It Later”, a Power Saver app and an “AudioWizard” app are just some of the apps that are installed. The last app is quite interesting:  it basically provides various sound profiles – such as Music, Movie and Game modes – and also incorporates a Smart Mode that would auto detect the content being played and adjust itself accordingly.

Unfortunatel, the Smart Mode does tend to drain the battery a bit. Then there’s Remote Link , which basically turns the FonePad into a Remote control for your PC. Share Link allows you to share music, photos, videos and other media files via a wireless network and Party Link allows you to connect to nearby devices and share pictures automatically. Nothing that a trip to the Play Store won’t give you.

The bottom line

The FonePad 7 is cheap. Much cheaper than its predecessor but is also equally underpowered. Non IPS screen, lower spec CPU and camera, no 4G/LTE support. It’s like Asus took something good, but for some reason decided to cut corners. The result; a poor successor to the 2013 FonePad.

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