Positives: neat integration of apps, docs and features across two devices.
Negatives: tablet can't be used without the phone.
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The iPhone and iPad continue to top professional review and user satisfaction charts, but Apple's gadgets are not without compromise, its refusal to accommodate memory cards in their mobile gadgets meaning photos and documents can only be shared within range of Wi-Fi or a 3G network.
Away from Wi-Fi, both the iPhone and iPad need their own 3G sim card and associated monthly contract to get online. Some networks allow both devices to be tethered on a single contract, but this usually attracts additional fees that wipe out any saving.
Battery life is also a sore point with the iPhone. Many business users find it hard to make it through a day on a single charge and the non-replaceable battery makes external batteries essential.
Taiwanese electronics giant Asus has done its homework in developing the PadFone, an Android-powered handset that addresses most shortcomings of the iPhone and iPad combination.
The PadFone is an unassuming 4.3in slab that could easily be mistaken for an iPhone 4. Its specifications are decent if unremarkable – the Android 4.0 operating system is recent if not cutting-edge, the screen is vibrant but not ultra-sharp and the weight and battery life are all on a par with the competition.
The PadFone's party trick comes courtesy of its companion the PadFone Station, a 10in tablet with a sharp, glossy screen and a big battery but no brains of its own. Instead, a panel on the rear opens so you can dock the phone inside.
The phone then becomes the brains of the tablet, making the apps, documents and networking abilities of the phone available on the bigger screen. Apps reformat to fit the bigger display and the touch-screen of the tablet allows flawless control over the phone.
In my demo, the switch from phone to tablet was seamless – docking the phone in the middle of a game, the tablet took control and re-formatted everything for the larger screen almost instantly.
The PadFone Station makes clever use of the phone's abilities when docked. The rear-facing camera of the phone still works through a window on the back of the tablet, while the tablet's battery can give the phone a boost of up to 60 hours talk time – or 100 hours when the optional keyboard is added.
Asus has developed a solution to the puzzle of coping with incoming calls when the phone is buried inside the tablet. Instead of holding the tablet up to your ear, the included pen stylus doubles as a wireless handset. Talking into a pen may attract some odd looks, but it works surprisingly well. Overall, the PadFone might not be better than the iPad and iPhone but it's sure to be cheaper, and its tighter integration of phone and tablet may sway business users.