Samsung Galaxy S4 Phonepad dock: hands on

Reviews Paul Briden 17:43, 2 May 2013

We check out the Phonepad, a dock which turns your Samsung Galaxy S4 into a tablet

You might be thinking: 'hang on a minute, we've seen the Phonepad before,' and you'd be forgiven, because between the Asus Fonepad and the Asus Padfone you've got a couple of devices which confuse both the name and the functionality of this new Phonepad device.

The lack of an 'f' is one significant factor, but this is an entirely independant company of Asus with its own product.

The Phonepad is a tablet dock which has been developed for existing smartphone tech, specifically Samsung’s Galaxy S flagship handsets. It supports the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Galaxy S3, and the company behind the device has revealed exclusively to Know Your Mobile that it will also be compatible with the new Galaxy S4 flagship.

The idea is similar to Asus’ Padfone 2, it’s a dock without its own internal hardware (other than a battery pack, display and a 3.5mm headphone/speaker jack) which uses the phone’s hardware to run. 

But the key difference is that this works with Samsung’s products. It’s still bespoke to specific models, but the company is going after Samsung’s devices as the biggest fishes in the pond at the present time – plenty of people have Galaxy S3’s and plenty more are going to grab Galaxy S4’s.

Rather than swapping the phone’s interface for the Android tablet interface (as the Asus Padfone does) the Phonepad simply blows up the image to the larger screen. Some users probably won’t like this, but we’re not overly fond of the tablet-specific Android interface and an enlarged phone interface is actually quite enjoyable.

A Galaxy S handset docks with the tablet via the microUSB port allowing the phone to be charged by the onboard battery. According to Phonepad, the device will offer an eight hour battery life on a single charge and you can plug it into the mains like a laptop. The actual connection between the tablet dock and phone is made via Bluetooth, however.

The advantage here is that there won’t be a divide between the apps and files, such as music and films, that you would have on the phone and tablet separately – everything from your phone is now also on your tablet because it’s the same device. You’ll also be able to make full use of the phone’s 3G/4G, Wi-Fi and call capabilities while it’s docked in the Phonepad.

The synchronisation between displays is smooth and there’s virtually no latency when you swipe through homescreens or activate apps. We did notice some slight snagging but suspect this can be attributed to the Galaxy S3’s own performance on Android with TouchWiz rather than the link to the tablet dock.

 Both the phone’s own touchscreen and the larger 10.1-inch display can be used for interaction and we clocked that the tiny bit of slowdown we saw occurred on the phone’s display as well as the larger screen, suggesting it was not an issue with the dock’s connection. It’s also worth mentioning that the model we saw was pre-production and the Phonepad is still going to be tweaked further ahead of its launch.

One thing that’s set to change is the display. Phonepad’s representative Chris Longden told Know Your Mobile the company has listened to feedback from consumers that its display isn’t sharp enough and the production model will ship with a Full HD 1080p capacitive touchscreen rather than the 1024x600 pixel version we spent time with.

There are some existing 10.1-inch Full HD 1080p displays on the electronics market, most notably on the Asus Zenbook UX21A laptop, which has a 1920x1080 pixel display giving a pixel density of 221 pixels-per-inch (ppi). We expect the Phonebook will feature something similar.

In terms of build, the Phonepad is quite utilitarian-looking in our view, it’s a bit on the chunky side and sports a shiny black plastic finish. But, it’s not unattractive, crucially.

More importantly, it can be used in a number of ways – the phone docks in a slot where the trackpad on a laptop might sit, but the 10.1-inch display operates on a sliding hinge, meaning it can be closed completely into full-on tablet mode or propped up in a ‘laptop’ style mode. It can also flip round so you could show someone opposite you something on-screen and, feasibly, you could then prop it up in an arched position. It’s quite similar in this regard to Lenovo’s Yoga Pad.

Phonepad also has an accessory which comes with the device – a gamepad controller which also connects wirelessly via Bluetooth and allows you to turn your phone into a console. This isn't some dinky little afterthough gamepad either, it's a full-size pad similar to what you might find plugged into an Xbox or PlayStation.

According to Longden the gamepad will be compatible with the vast majority of titles on Google Play, though he did add that a few ancient titles might not work with it. We tried it out with a tennis game and it worked very well indeed.

We quizzed Phonepad about the device and how it compared to its main competitor, Asus’ Padfone 2. We noted that the Padfone 2 surprised us by its ability to maintain active apps and calls when docking or undocking the handset and Longden confirmed the Phonepad is also able to do this.

In terms of how the Phonepad will be distributed and priced, Longden says it’ll be made available as a stand-alone accessory through the usual online and high-street retail outlets and the company is aiming for a retail price of £149.99.

That price will get you the dock, a power cable, an in-car charger and the dedicated wireless gaming controller. Not bad when you consider Asus’ Padfone 2 will cost you £600 all in.

Phonepad revealed it is also in talks with UK carrier networks to have the dock made available as part of contract deals where it’ll be bundled in with Galaxy S3’s and Galaxy S4’s, effectively meaning you get a tablet as well as your phone.

The company also mentioned that if the Phonepad turns out to be a success it might consider creating similar devices for a broader range of phones.

Phonepad couldn’t quote specific dates for a launch but expects the device to hit the market at some point in 2013.

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