We're here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and ASUS just formally unveiled the shape-shifting PadFone -- just like it said it would. Even more than raw specs, what makes the phone striking are its accompanying accessories. Sure, you could use it as a standalone 4.3-inch handset, but i will also be sold with a so-called station that effectively turns it into a 10-inch tablet -- not unlike how you can slip certain Moto handsets inside the company's netbook-like Lapdocks. It will also be sold with an optional keyboard dock (just like the Prime) and -- get this -- a stylus that doubles as a receiver for when you receive phone calls. We elbowed our way to the front of a pack of voracious tech journalists, and stole a few minutes of hands-on time with both the handset and its various accoutrements. Join us past the break for some early impressions and a duo of videos.
Funny how a 4.3-inch device can feel petite, huh? If you're a proud member of the "bigger is better" camp we'll let you show yourself to the door now; as for the rest of you, we think you'll appreciate how lightweight and well-made this 8.9mm-thick device feels. Unlike, say, some of the recent Samsung Galaxy phones we've reviewed, it feels unassuming without ever resorting to cheaper-feeling plastics. The back is made of metal with a spun finish, identical to what you'll find on the Transformer Prime (excuse us, Transformer Pad) tablets. All told, it still feels like a premium handset, but without the excess gravitas.
Flip the phone back around and the star of the show is that 4.3-inch, qHD Super AMOLED display. Okay, it's not the 720p beauty inside the HTC One family, and we can already hear some of you grumbling about the PenTile bit. In a sense, then, you should know what to expect: don't care for PenTile? You'll hate this phone! Think it's stunning nonetheless (hear, hear)? You'll be happy to show this thing off.
Inside, the phone is powered by an Adreno 225 GPU and Snapdragon's dual-core S4 chip, which has been making a cameo in many phones announced in Barcelona this week. We'll spend a week with it before we fully weigh in, but at first blush the display seemed responsive to our every touch, and the phone was nimble at bringing up menus and launching apps. On board, you've got Ice Cream Sandwich, as you'd expect of a flagship phone launching in 2012. The device we handled was peppered with widgets, but nothing you couldn't remove with a little dragging and dropping. So far as we can tell, ASUS has made few, if any, irreversible alterations to Android 4.0.
Take a tour around the device and you'll find some predictable ports, including a micro-USB socket, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD slot, which you can use to augment the 16GB to 64GB of internal storage. Also on board: Bluetooth 4.0, a gyroscope, compass and GPS with A-GPS support. Connectivity options include WCDMA (900, 2100 MHz), EDGE / GPRS / GSM (850, 1800 and 1900 MHz) and HSPA+, with theoretical download speeds topping out at 42Mbps. Obviously, a few minutes with the device indoors isn't ideal for testing all that, but we will once we give this the full review treatment.
Also on display were the accompanying accessories, though so far the docks we've seen have been locked down, so that you can't slide the latch, open the door and stick the phone in. (Good thing we saw a demo at CES!) From an industrial design perspective, it has a rubbery, not spun metal finish, and feels surprisingly weighty in the hands, even without the phone inside. Call us shallow if you must, but we think it's important to stress that the PadFone plus the station does not equal a makeshift Transformer Prime.
The keyboard, though, should bring no surprises: it's the same size as the one accompanying the Prime, and has similar dimensions.
As for the stylus headset, we saw ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih do a quick "One more thing"-style demo during the company's press conference, but we haven't yet found a live demo in the hands-on area where journalists are invited to try out the new products. We'll update this post with more impressions if we do get the chance to try it out for ourselves today.
Update: We promised we'd let you know if we stumbled across a live demo of the accessories, and we've done just that. The video above now shows an ASUS rep giving a brief overview, though we sadly weren't able to find a fully functioning stylus headset. As always, we'll hit you back with more video if we find one.
Zach Honig contributed to this report.