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Asus launches the small PadFone mini, and ZenFones of all colors and sizes

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Asus PadFone mini
Asus PadFone mini

The PadFone is no gimmick. It's been widely met with some combination of confusion and mockery, but Asus's transforming phone / tablet hybrid has spawned successors, and now even has a second model in the lineup. Asus just announced at its CES 2014 press conference the $249 PadFone mini, a 4-inch phone that docks into the back of a 7-inch tablet and becomes an entirely new device. It's very clearly the inferior model in the lineup – the phone's 800 x 480 display reeks of three years ago, as does the tablet's 1280 x 800 screen — but it's largely compelling otherwise, and makes a surprisingly good case next to some of the comically large phones on the market.

The mini is very much the inferior PadFone

The 4.1-ounce mini comes with Android 4.3, and is powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560 processor. It's skinned with Asus' new ZenUI, which the company says simplifies the Android experience and makes things like reading a bright screen a little easier, and has a lot of performance tweaks to the camera experience. The PadFone mini comes with an 8-megapixel rear camera, a big 3270mAh battery (as long as both parts are attached), and the same spun-metal look of the larger PadFone Infinity. Really, though, the only thing that matters is that it's a hand-sized, 4-inch phone that slides into the back of a 7-inch tablet when you want it — it's either the best of both worlds, or simply a pointlessly convoluted phablet.

For the more standard phone consumer, who's maybe content having phone and tablet be two separate devices, Asus has also announced a new lineup called ZenFone. The company will offer 4-, 5-, and 6-inch models in a variety of colors, beginning at $99, with much of the same look and feel of the PadFone minus the docking stations. All three are powered by Intel processors, and have the same ZenUI over top of Android 4.3. The ZenFone 6's unique feature is its "pencil-compatible" touchscreen, which lets you use any pen or pencil as a stylus.

Asus wants to have a smartphone for everyone. Small, medium, large, or downright bizarre, colorful or simple — there's a PadFone or a ZenFone for everyone. And if Asus is serious about making a push into the US smartphone market, that kind of versatility could prove a real asset.