Multi-function devices have been with us since caveman first noticed a stick has two ends. In the electronic world mobile phones are the great multi-function device, the caveman’s new stick. Now a new generation of convergence device is beginning to appear, allowing a new generation of smartphone to adapt to the desktop, tablet top or even the dash of your car.
ASUS and Motorola are preparing a new generation of smartphones that promise to eliminate any last remaining aspects of life free of web access. Creating the ultimate convergence device, the Netbook Tablet Smartphone or MultiPhone.
The incredible pace of technologies advancement is responsible for this blurring of the boundaries between mobile and desktop computing. Many smartphones are already powerful enough to cater for day to day computing, surfing the web, the odd document or .pdf and music or videos. Nothing too demanding, but a good majority of what we do during our online lives. Why not leverage that power in your pocket to increase functionality? It’s all about options.
The New Generation Multi Phone.
The ASUS PadFone is leading this new generation of MultiPhone in to brave new territory. Able to cross all of the mobile computing boundaries, in your pocket as a smartphone, slipping into a tablet to become a highly portable 10inch tablet and finally connecting to the keyboard to become an android netbook. From you back pocket to you back-pack all in one device. Your online life (onlife) staying perfectly intact.
With the added advantage of not requiring synchronizing, all of your computing life, from files to web logins are always on the phone / sim at the centre of the transformer.
All of the new generation MultiPhones are Android based Smartphones. Microsoft and Apple have no plans for such devices. Android 4 ICS is the operating system of choice, with its newly enhanced multi-display functionality and super smooth transitions between portrait and landscape. It is the first mobile operating system to enable MultiPhones truly schizophrenic nature.
The ASUS PadFone
Capturing much attention when it was first displayed at the Mobile World Conference the PadFone looked to be the first true Swiss army knife computer. A Netbook, Tablet ,Smartphone the PadFone seems to be able to adapt to any sized pocket. From your jeans pocket to your back-pack the PadPhone can tag along.
While the PadFone made quite the first impression it is yet to be released worldwide. Limited numbers of the device were released in Taiwan, with rumours suggesting the a shortage of Qualcom chips is responsible. ASUS are already talking up version two of the PadFone which should introduce 4G and the new Snapdragon processor, hopefully it will be ready for worldwide release as well.
As a phone it fits squarely into the SuperPhone category. Up front and centre is a superb 4.3inch Super AMOLED capacitive touch screen that boasts 960 x 540 resolution. Inside is a 1.5 Ghz Dual core S4 Snapdragon processor with 1GB of Ram, 64GB Flash and microSD expansion for even more storage, the PadFone has the essentials covered as far as its smartphone duties are concerned.
The tablet accessory adds a 10.1inch 1280×800 touch screen display and extra battery with the PadFone slipping into a notch in the back of the tablet, tucked under a protective flap. In tablet mode the PadFone operates exactly as a normal Android Tablet.
Docking the PadFone Tablet to the ASUS keyboard accessory provides the final transformation, turning the PadFone into a desktop with extra ports and physical keyboard. The keyboard dock also includes another extra battery, with all 3 parts combined the phone’s extended talk time goes up to jaw cramping 102 hours.
Undoubtedly the most flexible, it is also the most expensive, at $900USD for phone and tablet and $200 for Keyboard it’s not cheap. In European and US stores the end of May, with the 4G update (and quad core if Qualcom can get it together) to follow in September.
The ASUS Transformers
The Transformers have been available for over a year now and have enjoyed limited success. Transforming between only 2 devices Tablet and Netbook, it does less but it does them very well. The next generation Transformers are now looming large with two new models set for release.
Most interesting is the Transformer Infinity, a true high definition tablet. With a 1920 x 1200 Super IPS 10.1inch touch screen the Infinity will be high end. The WiFi only model will include a 1.6Ghz quad-core Tegra 3, the 3G/4G model will be saddled with a 1.5Ghz dual core Snapdragon S4 processor. This will change once Qualcom release their next generation quad-core Snapdragons, or Nvidia starts producing a 4G Tegra 3 chipset.
Transformer Pad 300 will be the budget tablet of the family, starting at $500 USD for quad core Transformer this will be the volume unit. The T300’s specs include 1Ghz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 1280 x 800 10.1inch touch screen , 1BG of system Ram along with 16 or 32GB of Flash storage. 8MP camera and nearly 20 hour battery life when docked with the keyboard. Available mid-May in Europe and the US.
Motorola Atrix 2 SmartPhone
The Motorola Atrix has been available for the longest of all of the Multi-Phones. It allows seamless transitions between phone and netbook, but unfortunately no tablet option. When docked to the netbook the Atrix takes control of the screen and keyboard to provide a web based desktop. Not a true Android desktop this is still a very functional WebTop, Motorola’s term. The netbook’s user interface and desktop is a Motorola hybrid that seems fast and very browser friendly.
The Atrix is in essence a Smartphone with some very handy accessories. The WebTop dock adds a high resolution 1920×1080 display and keyboard to the phone. The media dock and wireless controller let the Atrix 2 perform media centre duties and the GPS car dock puts the Atrix on your dash for GPS and jukebox duties.
The Atrix 2 specifications hold up reasonably well in the smartphone world. While it won’t set the world on fire or even compete against the Superphones (Galaxy S3, HTC X-One, LG 4X HD) the Atrix still holds its own. Displaying the electronic world is a 4inch 960 x 540 display driven by 1Ghz Dual core Snapdragon. Ports include Micro USB and HDMI while the rear 5MP camera includes an LED flash. Encased in Gorilla Glass built over an aluminium chassis the Atrix is one tough phone.
The Atrix 4G or Atrix 2 is already available in the US, at $449 USD for the phone by itself it is by far the cheapest option.
In the last decade the mobile phone has absorbed the functionality of many devices; Walkman, compact camera, GPS, game console and even compass or torch. If it could start fires it would be the complete solution. Soon it will even be your wallet, door pass at work and public transport swipe card.
The winner of this battle in the war of the Transforming Devices is the PadFone. Going further than ever before and doing it better the PadFone represents the leading edge of these new Multi-Phones. The winner on shear flexibility and execution. If the new quad core Qualcom chipset is added and they can release it worldwide this will be the new benchmark of transforming devices.
While the Transformer Pads from ASUS are a beautiful solution, adding netbook capabilities to a tablet seems logical and far too easy to pass-up. Sadly though they just don’t go far enough to truly qualify as a Multi-Phone. Perhaps the perfect solution for those looking for a tablet with a little bit more though.
The Atrix 2 is the best of what is available worldwide at the moment. While it isn’t the fastest smartphone it does transform between devices well, with a number of interesting accessories available. If you are a fan of Motorola this is a nice option.
Are the MuiltiPhones playing the ultimate popularity game? Trying to be all things to all people has always borne the risk of not doing any one thing well. It isn’t enough to simply say a device is capable of a function, a person has to be capable of driving the device to complete the function. If it’s too complex of just plain buggy the MultiPhone will fail.
While Motorola has already enjoyed reasonable success with the Atrix, turning accessorizing into a tech art form, the market is about to become very crowded. One device to rule them all.