Asus Padfone: A Smartphone That Snaps into a Tablet

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If you really think about it—reeeeally think about it—tablets are currently little more than gigantic smartphones. So why not build what amounts to a large-screen dock for a smartphone and call it a tablet?

That’s what Asus is planning to do with its recently-announced Padfone. It’s an accessory for an Asus smartphone that harnesses the phone’s processing power and connectivity to drive the actual tablet experience. The getup is expected to become available in time for the holidays this year.

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According to Asus:

“The ASUS Padfone is a device that explores one possible convergence between two popular mobile devices – the smartphone and tablet. The Padfone solves the problem of data transfer hassles and multiple SIM cards when both a smartphone and 3G tablet are used. With the Padfone, the smartphone docks inside the tablet to give users an expanded view to suit their tasks. With the phone docked, it can recharge from the tablet’s larger battery and the tablet can also make use of the smartphone’s 3G internet connection. The dual interfaces for both the pad and phone ensure an enhanced user experience as the layout is automatically adjusted for all activities such as video conferencing, web browsing and emailing.”

So, again, the whole “tablet” part is basically a higher-resolution screen and extended battery. It’s nothing without the phone, though. This is potentially a great idea, albeit with some questions that still need to be answered:

1. How much will it cost?

It’ll need to be priced to move. Motorola and AT&T have tried a similar idea with the Atrix 4G phone and laptop dock combo, but the laptop dock—which doesn’t work without the phone—costs $500 unless you buy it alongside the phone and lock yourself into a two-year contract. Even then it costs $300. Asus generally prices things pretty aggressively, so I’d hope to see the tablet accessory come in at under $200. At $250, things get a little dicey. At $300, it’d almost be a non-starter.

DigiTimes reports that the Padfone bundle, which features a 4.3-inch smartphone and 10-inch tablet accessory, would carry “an estimated price at US$799-1,000″ and hit retail around the holidays. That’s before carrier subsidies, though, which would hopefully push the price down substantially.

2. Will it only work with one phone?

Asus would be smart to make the Padfone accessory compatible with as many of its upcoming smartphones as possible. It’d entice people to buy Asus smartphones in the future, but nobody’s going to want to keep re-buying the same tablet accessory for each new phone.

3. Will the tablet run tablet-specific apps when the phone is docked?

The Android smartphone runs phone-specific apps. Will the tablet run tablet-specific apps or will it only run phone-specific apps blown up to fill the high-resolution screen. This may get worked out on the software side of things, as Google’s pushing to merge its tablet-specific Android operating system with future lines of Android phones and, indeed, this combo will run Google’s upcoming “Ice Cream Sandwich” version of Android that’s set to do just that.

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More on TIME.com:

Hey Asus, What the Heck Is This? A Tablet-Phone Hybrid?

Asus Eee Pad Transformer: $399, April 26 Launch

Two Minute Video: Motorola Atrix Smartphone-Powered Laptop

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