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Asus unveils the Padfone hybrid ahead of Computex

Asus has unveiled a raft of new products ahead of the opening of Computex tomorrow - including the Padfone, details of which leaked out this weekend.

Speaking to thinq_, an Asus representative confirmed that the images which had leaked out yesterday represented the finished product. "Somebody scraped our entire website," we were told - just hours after the images had been uploaded for release following the press event here in Taipei today.

It's not something that the enterprising hackers will get away with in the future, we're told. "We've upgraded security to ensure they can't get back in," the spokesperson claimed - but judging by the crowds drawn by the announcement, the leak hasn't done much harm to the launch.

The Padfone, as the leaked images suggested, is a tablet-cum-smartphone - or, more specifically, a tablet into which a smartphone is designed to dock. The idea is to prevent the duplication that is a endemic in the world of tablets today: with both a tablet and a smartphone, the user has two 3G connections, two storage pools, and no easy way of consolidating information between the two.

Unveiled on stage by Asus chairman Jonney Shih - who, amusingly, pretended to receive a call before pulling the smartphone out from behind the tablet portion to a round of applause from the assembled hacks - the Asus Padfone is a truly unique device - and an interesting direction from the company that has already developed the hybrid Asus MeMO and convertible Asus Eee Pad Transformer.

"This is a combination of the Pad and the Phone - Padfone," Shih announced, before demonstrating the flexibility of the device via a video showcasing the design philosophy. "As you all know, the smartphone and tablet have their own usage scenarios," he explained. "The smartphone is very good for making calls, for SMS, and to check e-mail. The tablet is very suitable to compose e-mail, for entertainment, to browse the Internet, videoconferencing.

"So, we're going to provide a seamless integration - a Padfone, to cover both mobile lifestyles." Judging by the hardware demonstrated, Asus could have a real winner on its hands.

The Padfone allows seamless integration of the smartphone portion with the tablet portion, via an enclosed shutter mechanism at the rear that docks the phone cleanly - with, admittedly, a slight bump to make room for it. As with the Transformer, the battery life of the smartphone is extended while docked.

The most impressive feature of the Padfone - aside from the fact that it operates from a single SIM - is the ability to switch between the phone display and the tablet display seamlessly. If a video is paused on the phone, it can be inserted into the tablet and immediately resumed.

Playing with some prototype hardware, we found the device remarkably comfortable - with an extended bezel that means the bulge where the smartphone docks never becomes an issue while you're holding the device. The screen is bright and clear, and the docking mechanism clever - if a little fiddly in the pre-production prototype unit we experimented with.

Asus hasn't yet shared a firm release date or pricing, but a spokesperson told us that it won't be released until Google makes Android Ice Cream an official release. While the demo hardware was running a hacked copy of Android 3.1 'Gingerbread,' the spokesperson explained that it will actually launch with Android Ice Cream, as the only version that brings the Honeycomb user interface with the permission from Google to install it on smartphones.

When we asked about the possibility of a hybrid device that combines the design of the Transformer with the Padfone - a single device which transforms from smartphone to tablet to netbook on demand - we were told that there's nothing in the immediate pipeline, but the spokesperson mused that it could be a possibility for "Padfone revision 2.0."