By SHAUN A. NOORDIN
The Asus Eee Pad Memo is an Android Tablet phone that comes with its own, tinier, phone.
TABLET phones had always struck us as odd little creatures; by attempting to combine the power of Tablets with the functionality of mobile phones, these devices put themselves in a very strange place.
Specifically, Tablets need to be large to benefit from a wide surface area, but mobile phones needed to be small to, well, remain mobile. We could never get around the awkwardness of constantly handling such large "mobile" devices to answer calls, not to mention the trouble of carrying such a big piece of hardware in our pants.
Asus must have shared at least some of our sentiments, because they released the Eee Pad Memo. This is a 7in Tablet phone that tries to resolve its existential conundrum with a very creative solution - by coming packaged with another, smaller phone.
You can practically hear the Xzibit Yo Dawg meme kicking in here - "Yo dawg, I heard you like phones, so I put a phone in your phone so you can call while you call" - but in all seriousness, it's a very interesting way of making Tablet phones much more comfortable to use as phones.
If you want to know whether the Memo's 7in and a bit measures up to the competition, then have a seat, and let us share our notes with you.
The Memo runs on Android Honeycomb (version 3.2.1), although it can be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich. The main device is about 20 x 12cm wide, 1.3cm thick and weighs in at about 400g - or, to put it roughly, about half an iPad.
With a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 1GB RAM, the Tablet phone's performance can best be described as par for the course, at least in comparison with other Android Tablets such as the Asus Transformer TF101.
There were slowdowns when we attempted to rapidly switch between apps but we never found the occasional bits of lag detrimental to the overall user experience.
Take that statement with as many grains of salt as your blood pressure allows, however - this reviewer is an avid Android user and is acclimated to the performance of mid-range Android devices.
Our Apple-loving colleagues frequently did complain that the Memo was not consistently as fast or as responsive as the iPad.
In its aspect as a Tablet, the Memo fit nicely into our hands, and its clear 1,280 x 800-pixels capacitive touchscreen allowed us to enjoy the apps we've been using on our mobile phones at a significantly higher resolution. Like Draw Something, for example.
The 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras perform well enough in capturing pictures, even though the device lacks a camera flash.
As a phone, well, all we can say is that it works. As mentioned earlier, we never got used to answering calls by placing a 20 x 12cm slab of electronics next to our face, but that's precisely what the Memic - the Memo's "mini handphone accessory" - is for, and we'll get to that later.
As it is, we're actually more excited about the fact that the Memo comes with a thick, soft-nibbed stylus that slots neatly into one end of the device.
It also comes preinstalled with several features that maximises the use of the stylus, such as the SuperNote app (which lets you write notes by hand instead of typing them), MyPainter (which is ideal for sketching) and the built-in "print screen" feature that lets you take a snapshot of whatever you're looking at on the screen or camera, and scribble notes onto it.
Of course, we mostly used the stylus to try to gain an advantage in Draw Something, but we did note that the soft nib - while great for brush strokes in MyPainter - didn't allow for very precise illustrations.
Now, let's talk about the Memic - the Memo's bluetooth accessory that acts as a mini-phone.
The Memic is a small device - approximately 10 x 4cm wide and 1cm thick - that lets you make calls, read messages and play music through the primary Memo device, provided that the two items are within a reasonable range of one another. (In practice, this means that as long as they're in the same room, the Memic works fine.)
The mini-phone features simple controls and a semi-transparent screen that packs quite a reasonable amount of information on its roughly 1.6in display.
The simple black-and-white screen has a limited backlight that lets you see what's on display in most conditions, but the lower the light level the harder it will be on your eyes.
The Memic is technically one of the main features of the Memo and something that distinguishes the Tablet phone from its peers, but after spending nearly two weeks with the Memo we're pretty sure it's not the package's best feature.
Don't get us wrong - the Memic works perfectly well as a "handset" that makes answering calls via the Tablet much less awkward. The issue is that the accessory comes with its own set of complications; it creates as many problems as it solves.
For one thing, you now have an additional piece of hardware that you'll need to take care of, and the Memic needs to be charged separately from the Memo. (Although to be fair, both devices have reasonable battery lives - we only plugged them in once every two to three days of regular use.)
More importantly, the addition of the smaller phone doesn't eliminate the fact that you'll still need to carry the larger Tablet phone everywhere with you.
As a friend of ours pointed out, if we were living in colder climes, this Tablet-phone-and-mini-phone arrangement might have made more sense. In that scenario, we'd always have an overcoat in which to store the larger Memo, while we carried the Memic in a more accessible shirt pocket.
However, since wearing an overcoat in Malaysia is an invitation to death by heat stroke, we had to make do with lugging the 7in Tablet phone in a sling bag/man purse most of the time.
On the upside, we looked fabulous while doing so.
Our overall impression of the Asus Eee Pad Memo is positive, but we're still not fully sold on the concept of the Memic.
The primary Memo device serves very well in its role as an Android Tablet phone, but its mini-phone accessory has as many disadvantages as it has advantages.
Frankly speaking, we liked the Memo's stylus and illustration-friendly functions more than the additional (albeit entirely optional) mini-phone.
If you're wondering if we'd recommend the Memo to you, then the first thing we'd ask you wouldn't be "would you like your phone to come with a phone?"
Rather, we'd ask you this: "would you like to attend meetings or lectures carrying a professional-looking Tablet phone with which you can look like you're studiously writing notes, but are in fact doodling cartoons of Captain America fighting Iron Man?"
If you said yes, then the Asus Eee Pad Memo is definitely something you need to take note of.
Pros: The stylus and built-in illustration app lets you do a lot of doodling; decent battery life for both devices.
Cons: Memic accessory is largely superfluous.
Eee Pad Memo
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 3.2.1 (Honeycomb)
DISPLAY: 7.0in WXGA (1,280 x 800-pixels) capacitive touchscreen
PROCESSOR: Qualcomm 8260 1.2GHz dual-core
STORAGE: 16GB built-in, 8GB online storage
WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR
CAMERA: 1.2-megapixel (front ), 5-megapixel autofocus (rear)
SENSOR: G-sensor; e-compass; light sensor, gyroscope, proximity sensor, GPS
INTERFACES: Micro USB port (client), combo audio/microphone jack, card reader, micro HDMI, SIM card slot
BATTERY: Li-polymer Battery 4400mAh
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 200.5 x 12.85 x 118mm
RATING: 3.5 stars
Review unit courtesy of Asustek Computer (Malaysia) Bhd, (03) 2141-6650