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Asus Padfone Android smart phone plugs into 10-inch tablet

Asus' new Padfone is an Android-powered 4-inch touchscreen smart phone that docks with a 10-inch tablet -- Atrix-style -- to offer the best of both worlds.

The Asus Padfone is a new smart phone and tablet combo for those who want the best of both worlds. The 4-inch Android touchscreen phone is the driving force in this partnership, docking with the 10-inch tablet for big-screen jollies.

The tablet is really just a glorified display and has no processing power of its own, though it does have a front-facing camera. By docking the phone into the compartment on the base of the tablet, you get the benefit of the larger screen size. The data connection and storage remains in the phone.

Having teased us last week, Asus showed off its new concept at the Computex exhibition in Taiwan. Although the Padfone will become a real product, it's still in prototype form at present. Unfortunately this means we don't have concrete specifications or a likely release date.

Because the tablet has to accommodate a phone shoved unceremoniously into its backside, it has a noticeable bulge. Being so used to ultra-thin, flat tablets like the iPad 2, this might not suit everyone. It's an interesting twist on the Asus Transformer, however. Instead of docking an active tablet with a keyboard to create a netbook, Asus has paired the smart phone with the tablet.

There are definite advantages to this system. You could carry around a phone and a tablet, but if you wanted them both connected via 3G you'd end up paying for two data plans or tethering extras. The Padfone only requires one plan, though you can't use the tablet separately from the phone.

On days when you don't need the tablet at all, you simply take the phone with you. It could be slightly inconvenient answering a phone call when you're using the tablet. Fortunately, pairing with a Bluetooth headset should reduce the need for fumbling.

Asus has made a suitably cheesy video to give you a closer look at the curvy Padfone. Unfortunately we may well be lumbered with the name -- then again, we've all got used to the iPad.

What we need now are specifications. Assuming it arrives before Ice Cream Sandwich, which version of Android will it run? Will it run one OS for the phone and another for the tablet, like the slightly confusing Motorola Atrix? A price and a UK launch date would be good, too.