Google kinda rocked the tablet world recenty with the release of the Nexus 7 (review coming soon). In choosing a partner to manufacture the device, Asus was the correct company. Samsung might rule smartphone sales, and Goog might own Moto now, but no company has made more compelling hardware for Android slabs than Asus. They not only champion form, making attractive devices, but function as well. One would be hard pressed to find a mobile device with more raw capability than the Transformer line of tablets.
In all the Nexus 7 hub-bub, it might be easy to forget that the OTHER Asus-built uber-tablet is also now available to purchase, and it stands rightfully as the crown jewel of the Android tablet lineup. Let’s take a look at the Transformer Infinity!
If you’ve read this far, it should come as no surprise that I like this tablet a lot. I’ll of course have a proper summation at the end of this article, but if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line Android experience, there are very few reasons to avoid this slab.
The specs are unapologetically cutting edge. The Tegra 3 quad-core processor is clocked at 1.6GHz and backed up with 1GB of RAM. Our review unit came equipped with 64GB of storage (56GB available to users), and you can increase that another 32GB with a MicroSD card. Dual cameras are equipped, 2MP/720p up front and 8MP/1080p shooter on the rear, and microphones are onboard for video chat and noise reduction. A MicroHDMI port will mirror the display on your HDTV, which brings us to the sexy, sexy display. The Infinity proudly displays a Super IPS+ 1920×1200 “true HD” screen, the brightest, highest resolution screen on any Android device currently available.
So let’s chat screen. The first question always asked is “Iz it as gud as uh iPad skreen?” For the most part, yes. Sure the iPad has a crazy 2048×1536 ten inch display, but that’s a crazy non-standard 4:3 panel. There are very few native uses for all of those dots. Often games are upscaled from a lower res (even their “Retina” compatible apps tend to be halfway up-res from the OG iPad to keep app file size smaller), and films look kind of silly on a squarish screen. 2048×1536 doesn’t help HD video when you lose half your screen to letterboxing.
The Infinity loses the resolution war on paper, but firing up a film means almost all of my screen is actually used to display the movie. Just look at how small the letter-boxing black bars are. More content is actually developed for 1080p, and the hardware just simply doesn’t have to work as hard to navigate elements of the UI. This is a fantastic step up from 720p ten inch screens, and you’ll only be seeing pixels when holding the device closer to your face than eight inches or so.
This panel is also very bright. To my eye it’s a touch brighter than the Transformer Prime, and activating the Super IPS mode means that only direct sunlight will wash out the image. It’s noticeably brighter than the iPad, and has a higher contrast as well. At the same distances, I just enjoy looking at the Infinity display more than Apple’s offering, and it absolutely crushes its Android competition (seen here next to the Nexus 7). About the only downside might be that blacks can become greys when the panel is driven to its brightest settings, but that’s a happy compromise to make for retina-searing performance.
Build quality is top-notch. The aluminum has a silky finish which feels great in the hand. Asus has learned from the wifi and GPS issues which plagued the Prime, and now instead of a solid metal back, a thin plastic strip houses the antennas (more on that later).
The strip actually works really well from a design standpoint, as the camera and hardware buttons reside there too. The rest of the ports are lined up on the left hand side, which makes for an easy transition to portrait mode. I was surprised that with this solid construction, the Infinity isn’t any heavier than the Prime, in fact it weighs less than the original Transformer Pad. It’s noticeably lighter in the hand than the New iPad, not that any 10″ tablet will be held one-handed for long periods of time.
Performance is excellent. See, not all Tegra 3 chipsets are created equal. NVidia bins different chips based on their max frequency, and the Tegra in the Infinity is the highest clock speed chip available. Single core applications can clock up to 1.7GHz, while multi-core performance tops out at 1.6GHz. This is roughly 400MHz faster than the Tegra 3 in the Nexus 7. Some of that performance is soaked up by the higher resolution screen, but on the whole, Android 4.0 scales VERY well with faster CPU’s. The extra horse power here is used to great effect, and the Infinity is the smoothest ICS tablet I’ve ever used–no small feat considering this is also the first “true HD” Android tablet on the market. Asus will have an absolute monster on its hands once the Infinity receives an update to Jelly Bean.
Speaking of screens and performance, Asus gives users control over two important aspects of the tablet’s hardware. In the notification menu you can choose which Performance Mode to use. Power Saving mode clamps down on the CPU, limiting it to 1GHz, and saving you a little battery life. I honestly can’t tell much of a difference between Balanced Mode and Performance mode. Even in Balanced mode the CPU can clock up to its max. I believe Performance mode just scales more aggressively.
Another helpful control is the screen brightness. There’s a toggle switch to activate IPS+, which significantly increases brightness. It’s almost NEVER appropriate to use while indoors, but it’s a great switch to hit when using the tablet outside.
Asus has thankfully fought the urge to slather on a weighty skin. They’ve instead opted for a handful of value-added programs and widgets. We’ve already discussed the extra control options added to the notification tray, and Asus saw fit to include Polaris Office, App Backup and App Locker, and their own proprietary cloud app with 8GB of storage.
GPS & WIFI Woes?
Nope. GPS performance is good. I was able to get a lock in my apartment with 12 satellites in under a minute. This was a happy find as I was never able to get an indoor lock with the Prime.
WIFI performance is similarly improved. I’m able to take the Infinity down a flight of stairs and stay connected to my Asus router with a fast enough connection to stream Netflix in HD. The Prime would have issues at the furthest edges of my apartment. Disappointingly, none of the Asus tablets support 5GHz, so you if you have a lot of WIFI devices (like us gadget bloggers might), then the air around 2.4GHz will be getting a little more crowded.
The camera is surprisingly decent. I still doubt the need for rear facing cameras on tablets. I think it looks really silly walking around with a 10″ slab and using it to take a picture; but at least if you’re willing to subject yourself to the ridicule of others, you can expect above-average results.
Photos tend to be over-exposed, so you’ll need to tweak the settings to get the best results out of the camera app. Even just a couple of simple adjustments will get a lot more out of the 8MP sensor, and the f2.2 aperture helps with the camera’s low light exposures.
Video is the requisite 1080p, and is extremely high-quality for a mobile device. It too suffers from a slight over-exposure on stock settings, but it doesn’t take much to get very good results out of the tablet.
Battery life is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to properly test in real-world conditions. I have to apologize to our readers here, but with the limited time we sometimes get with these devices, I just can’t waste a whole day playing video files to determine some arbitrary battery life rating in a usage scenario you’ll only engage in during a cross-country flight.
That said, battery life of the tablet alone is good, but not great.
To keep a slim form factor, Asus is using the same size battery from the Transformer Prime, and with a slightly brighter and higher resolution screen, that’s going to mean lower run times, all other things being equal. Streaming “Immortals” over WIFI on Netflix with the screen set to max indoor brightness took a 30% chunk out of the battery, and while playing graphics intensive games, expect similar gas-guzzling. Used as a web browser and email machine (and turning the performance options down to Power Savings) the Infinity can be surprisingly frugal.
It’s worth noting that compared to the test we’ve done on the 3rd generation iPad, the Infinity comes within 85% of the run time of the iPad, even though its battery is only 68% as large. The Asus uses a 25 watt-hour battery and the iPad uses a 42 watt-hour (larger than the battery in the 11” MacBook Air).
Of course if you’re having battery problems, I feel bad for you son. This is where Asus shows it’s teeth, by offering one of the single greatest tablet accessories on the market today. The keyboard dock for the Transformer Prime and Infinity greatly extends the functionality of this tablet, while providing an experience which bests most netbooks.
The Dock (Oh Yeah)
The build quality of the dock is also fantastic, and matches the care put into the tablet itself. The Screen is cradled by a very sturdy hinge, and it took me a little while to get used to how much force was necessary to open the clamshell. The whole affair is a little screen heavy, so there’s minor danger of it tipping on a slope or a lap, but on the whole it’s fairly well-balanced and eminently usable.
A full QWERTY keyboard with dedicated Android shortcuts is complimented by a VERY sensitive track pad which provides users a handy little mouse pointer when the Infinity is docked. An additional 19 watt-hour battery is housed, which can almost double the run time of the set up, and the dock provides a full-sized SDHC card slot (yup, you can add TWO memory cards to the Infinity for an additional 64GB of storage space). A proper USB port is also included for mass storage devices or input peripherals like mice and game pads.
This is my favorite feature of the dock as you can charge your Android Netbook while using a USB device. Sure, other tablets can host USB peripherals or HDMI cables, but usually at the expense of the port which charges the device. You can hook up an HDMI cable to a TV, connect a game pad, and still be able to charge the dock and Infinity at the same time.
This hardware combo provides staggering run time. My laptop is a little long in the tooth, and I’m happy to get two hours of run time on WIFI. The Infinity + Dock provides all day use with plenty of juice by the time I’m ready to go to bed. It’s disgusting how quickly you get used to just not looking for an outlet or charger when you’re hanging out at a coffee shop to do a little writing.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, there aren’t a lot of drawbacks here.
-The metal build means that scratches and abrasions are easier to accrue than matte plastic.
-I also had some issues with the sensitivity of the track pad, as the slightest brush will throw your cursor across the screen. Depending on how I was seated, I would sometimes just disable it and touch the screen.
-The speaker is somewhat anemic, and facing the wrong way. It’s fine in a quiet room, but even outside in an empty park, away from traffic, I was reaching for headphones to listen to my music. I can’t wait for the day someone can build a tablet where the speakers are a part of the bezel around the screen.
-There was a bug on our unit that would cause videos to start with the screen at its dimmest setting, but touching the brightness control would fix that.
-ICS already feels old now that we’re playing with the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean. Asus has already announced an upgrade will be coming “soon,” but it’s a bummer waiting for it.
About the only thing I can think of which might seriously keep some at bay is the cost of entry.
The Infinity starts at $499 for the 32 GB model and $599 for the 64GB tablet, then you’ll want to add another $150 for the dock. Starting price for this dynamic duo is $650, which puts it firmly in low-end laptop territory.
Is it worth it?
Depending on your specific needs, I’m inclined to say yes. This is a premium device, and it’s priced accordingly. I find it doubtful that one would easily be able to find a laptop for $650 which featured a 1920×1200 out-door viewable screen, all-day run time on WIFI, and completely silent operation. A proper X86 OS will boast more functionality and software options, but I was more than capable of getting most of my daily work done on the Infinity, including writing this article (though I embedded the pictures on my desktop). In the tablet space, the WIFI only 64GB iPad is $699. For me, it’s just no contest picking up the 32GB Infinity+Dock for $50 less and adding some memory cards and a USB flash drive.
This is Android at its most uncompromising.
I like it a lot.