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Asus FonePad is a cheap 7-inch Jelly Bean tablet that makes calls

BARCELONA, Spain–Asus isn’t exactly the first company that springs to mind when you think of tablets, but having constructed Google’s brilliant Nexus 7 device, it’s proved that it can crank out a terrific slate.

Now the company is applying many of the same tricks to a new tablet. Dubbed the FonePad (yeesh), this new device follows in the footsteps of Asus’ docking PadFone mobile, and borrows much from the Nexus 7. It has the ability to make calls, though, and is powered by an Intel Atom processor.

Screen and design
The FonePad has a 7-inch display, which packs in 1,280×800 pixels, making this the same size and resolution as the Nexus 7. It lacks a rear camera, but finds space for a 1.2-megapixel front-facing snapper, which should come in handy for video calling.

The FonePad is made from metal, but thankfully isn’t too heavy at 340g. It’s slim, too, measuring 10.4mm on its shallowest side. Asus is confident you’ll be able to grip this tablet comfortably with one hand, and indeed during my hands-on time I found that the FonePad felt very light and portable, much like the Nexus 7.

The FonePad’s metal construction does feel classy, and my impressions after a brief period of use were that build quality seemed high. The plastic construction of the Nexus 7 is one of the few things I didn’t like about Google’s tablet, so this is a definite plus in my mind.

Apart from the metal casing, though, once you get your mitts on this tablet there’s very little to distinguish it from the Google-branded Nexus 7, and the FonePad is very similar in size and design. The good news is that if you’ve used a Nexus 7, you’ll be more than equipped to handle Asus’ newest tablet. It does leave me wondering whether this device is different enough, however.

Intel inside
Humming away on the inside is one of Intel’s Atom Z2420 processors, clocked at 1.2GHz and backed up by 1GB of RAM. The Nexus 7 offers excellent performance using Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 chip, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the FonePad can outpace it. Graphics meanwhile come courtesy of a PowerVR GX540 GPU.

As for storage, you get 16GB of space, but happily you can bump that up by slotting in a microSD card, with up to 32GB cards supported. That should be plenty of space, unless you’re a particularly ruthless hoarder of photos and video, and gives the FonePad an edge over the Nexus 7, which is bereft of expandable storage. Asus says you’ll get 9 hours of battery life from this compact gadget.

Look ridiculous on a call
The FonePad comes complete with all the necessary hardware to make phone calls, provided you don’t mind holding a 7-inch tablet up to your face and attracting baffled looks from passersby. It’s equipped with a noise-canceling microphone, too.

In theory, built-in phone power means you could pay for just one SIM-card and scrap your smartphone completely, essentially nabbing yourself a smartphone and tablet in one, for a fraction of the amount it would cost to buy both. In practice I can’t see many shoppers taking to the idea, but if you’d happily use a tablet as your main phone, let me know in the comments.

The FonePad is running on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which isn’t quite the latest version, but still gets you all the key features of Android like access to the Google Play store, and several home screens to pack full of widgets and apps.

Asus has taken the time to add some of its own applications, including Floating App, which helps manage your multitasking apps, and SuperNote Lite, which is for making handwritten notes and doodling. You’ll also get the giddy thrill of editing Microsoft Office documents on the go using Asus’ WebStorage Office Online, and 5GB of cloud storage on the inventively named Asus WebStorage.

Because it’s not running “vanilla” Android like the Nexus 7, if you buy the FonePad you’ll probably have to wait a lot longer for updates, because Asus will likely take its time making sure all its apps play nice with any new Android software. If you’re a dedicated Android fan who thirsts for bleeding-edge software, the FonePad probably isn’t for you.

Price and release date
The FonePad will be landing in the U.K. between April and June, likely toward the end of June and costing £179, or 219 euros in the rest of the continent. That’s a tad more expensive than the Nexus 7, so it’ll need to impress in terms of performance and battery life.

It’ll reach Asia-Pacific around the same time for $249. Unfortunately there’s no word on a release in the U.S., but Asus does have a habit of bringing its devices stateside. Fingers crossed, folks.

Stay tuned for the full review, and let me know in the comments whether you’d buy this tablet.

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