The Fonepad is a new breed of device that has been slowly creeping into the limelight since late 2012. It’s being called a “phablet” which is a portmanteau of “phone” and “tablet” since it’s small enough to be the one and big enough to qualify as the other. I’m not a huge fan of the term, but until someone comes up with a better one, we’re stuck with it. What makes this one so amazing, however, is that it costs only R3500. Yes, really.

So who is this phablet aimed at? I reckon people who carry their phones and tablets around with them all the time will be the first to consider a Fonepad, as it does a really good job of replacing both items. It runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) so it’s a full-fledged Android smartphone with access to the Play Store and all of Google’s many services, and even though Asus hasn’t done much with the interface to make it truly “theirs” (it looks fairly plain), they at least added a bunch of Asus-developed Android apps to sweeten the deal.

They also really stepped up their quality game with the Fonepad: it’s very well-made and feels satisfyingly solid. Even though the back cover is plastic, something I’m not too fond of in some other brands’ products (cough*Samsung*cough), it’s hard to tell right away that it’s plastic since it’s quite hard and doesn’t flex when pressed. Other brands, take note – that’s how you do it.

The Intel Atom processor Asus used for the Fonepad turned out to be a great choice. Whether navigating Android’s interface with the touchscreen or playing 720p MKV movie files using a downloaded app (the Fonepad doesn’t play MKV files natively), everything I did performed without stuttering.

That bodes well for the future. This is the first Android tablet we’ve seen with an Atom processor for a long time – there were a couple back when Android first appeared, but they weren’t much good. It’s certainly the first one that we’ve seen which has been designed with Intel’s blessing. Given that there’s a new range of Atom’s coming later this year which are faster and better optimised for low power use, it’s a very promising start for Intel. There’s still the sticking point that not all apps created for Android work on the Intel x86 processor architecture, but enough do for it not to be a major concern.

The screen is particularly deserving of praise: while it isn’t quite as sharp as Apple’s Retina displays, its individual pixels were nearly undetectable to our naked eyes which meant its graphics had no obvious jagged edges, and its IPS technology made for excellent colour reproduction and wide viewing angles.

Getting to the SIM and microSD card slots is the only real downer. There is no obvious way to open the panel at the back that hides them, and it took some trial and error and some very strong fingernails to get it open. You will definitely need to get in there to install your SIM card and expand the Fonepad’s 8GB of internal storage with a microSD card.

Connection-wise, Asus cheaped out a bit by giving the Fonepad a 3G cellular radio, and not LTE. My disappointment at the lack of cutting-edge connectivity was offset by the Fonepad’s surprisingly low price, though, which more than makes up for LTE’s absence.

After using the Fonepad for some time, I came away impressed, although to be fair I did feel like a bit of a dork holding it up to my ear the first few times. I was initially a bit concerned that being two devices in one, the Fonepad would be a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Happily, my concerns were unfounded. Now that I’ve used it for a few weeks, I found that I enjoyed using it so much that I’d actually consider it as a full-time replacement of my personal phone, as it takes everything good about both form factors and shoehorns it into a nicely-sized device. Add that to its amazingly low price, and the Fonepad’s status as an absolute bargain becomes crystal clear.

Pros:

  • Really nice IPS screen
  • Small enough for comfortable one-handed use
  • Super build quality
  • Good general performance
  • You won’t believe how low its price is

Cons:

  • Difficult to open SIM and memory card panel
  • Only 8GB of internal memory
  • No LTE radio
  • You will look a bit funny holding it to your ear (but you’ll get over it)
Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.