ASUS is positioning the Transformer Pad Infinity as a better tablet than the iPad and it comes with a higher price tag. Is it worth the extra outlay?
Design and display
ASUS is one manufacturer that has at least tried to offer something different in the tablet market. Where every other company seems to be releasing the same bland, slabs that clearly aren't appealing to consumers, the Taiwanese company's dockable Transformer range of tablets are a breath of fresh air.
It's easy to see why. For starters, the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T measures just 8.5mm thick, is light and relatively comfortable to hold, and is constructed from an attractive, "spun finished" aluminium. Our review model was finished in a champagne gold colour, which is a little loud but attractive. Lined up against most other Android tablets on the market, the Transformer Pad Infinity immediately makes a positive impression.
The Infinity is almost identical in design to the Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the tablet that this model is based on. It has the same sturdy feeling aluminum and swirl design on the back, which is borrowed directly from the company's ZenBook ultrabook. The only real difference is a plastic strip along the top of the back cover, which ASUS was forced to add due to widely reported issues with Wi-Fi and GPS performance on the Transformer Prime. There is no such issues with wireless reception this time around, so the slight adjustment has obviously done its job.
Build quality is impressive. The Transformer Pad Infinity's case doesn't flex when force is applied. The bezel surrounding the screen is rather large and does quickly become a fingerprint magnet, however, and there are some slight creaks when the back cover is pressed. Our only other complaint with the design is the position of the speaker — when holding the tablet with two hands your right hand can often cover the speaker, effectively muffling the sound. The speaker itself is loud enough to comfortably watch a movie or listen to music in a quiet room, but the tinny sound lacks bass and can't be recommended for any serious entertainment.
On the left side of the Transformer Pad Infinity you'll find a micro-HDMI port, a microSD card slot, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a microphone, while the top edge houses a small power/lock button and a volume rocker. We aren't a fan of either of these buttons, which feel awkward to press and aren't raised enough. They also produce an unsatisfying, annoying clicking sound.
On the bottom of the tablet is a proprietary ASUS dock connection. This may be an annoyance but it offers two benefits: it connects the tablet to the keyboard dock, and charges the device much faster (around an hour and a half) than a regular micro USB charger would. On either side of the dock are two holes that attach to the dock. Disappointingly, after a few days of docking and undocking the tablet, the keyboard dock left visible scuff marks on the bottom of the tablet.
Apple's market leading iPad is widely recognised as having the best display of any tablet on the market. That appears to have come under heavy consideration at ASUS headquarters, as the key feature of the Transformer Pad Infinity is a 10.1in super IPS+ screen with an impressive 1920x1200 resolution.
This resolution is an important milestone in the non-iPad tablet market. Up until now, almost all 10in Android tablets come with a resolution of 1280x800. The Transformer Pad Infinity's much higher resolution gives it a pixels per inch (ppi) rating of 224ppi, only slightly behind the new iPad's 264ppi.
The end result is a screen that is brighter, clearer and crisper than most other Android tablet screens. The inclusion of a super IPS+ display mode also makes it ideal for outdoor use. Using a handy, one-touch option in the quick settings menu, you can easily boost the Infinity's brightness in situations where sunlight or glare is a problem. It worked well during testing, though it does race through battery life when left on for a long period of time.
The Transformer Pad Infinity once again comes with a detachable keyboard dock, which ASUS bundles standard with Australian models. Although this adds plenty of functionality, it does significantly raise the cost of the unit.
The dock adds a full-sized USB port, a full-sized SD card slot and a trackpad, as well as its own built-in battery. ASUS says the Infinity is good for up to 10 hours of battery life as a stand alone tablet and up to an impressive 16 hours if the keyboard dock (with built-in battery) is connected. That's the same battery life as ASUS' cheaper Transformer Tab TF300T but slightly less than the Transformer Prime, which offered 12 hours and 18 hours, respectively. Impressively, if both the tablet and the keyboard dock batteries are fully charged, the Transformer Pad Infinity draws power from the keyboard dock first in order to preserve power for tablet-only use.
The keyboard dock itself is a nice inclusion if you're planning to type more than the odd few sentences. The trackpad means a mouse cursor appears on the screen when you run you finger across it and the typing experience is certainly much more effective than using any on-screen keyboard. The fact the keyboard dock adds a full-sized USB port, too, is impressive.
We like the addition of dedicated Android shortcuts including home, back, search and settings keys, along with a wealth of quick toggles for the trackpad, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, Browser, screenshot and media controls. There's also a button on the keyboard to lock the screen, which is handy if you want to keep the Transformer Pad Infinity in its open position.
The keyboard isn't perfect though. Connecting it to the tablet does feel a little clunky, even though the arrows on both the dock and the tablet are a nice touch. The keys aren't backlit, which makes typing at night time rather difficult. The keyboard layout itself is a little small and cramped, so using it feels much like typing on a 10in netbook and not like a full sized keyboard.
Unfortunately, the biggest issue is that the Transformer Pad Infinity remains very top-heavy, so it's almost impossible to position it on your lap without it toppling over. It's fine for use on a desk or table, but trying to sit it on your lap can be a delicate process.
Software and performance
ASUS says the Transformer Pad Infinity is ideal for gaming and multimedia and it's hard to argue with this. A high resolution display combined with impressive performance makes the Infinity a great tablet for games. The device handles graphically intense titles like Shadowgun, FIFA 12, Dungeon Hunter 3 and Dead Trigger with relative ease. We didn't experience any lag or slowdown on any of these titles and graphics and frame rates were impressive.
The Transformer Pad Infinity is a little less smooth during day to day use. We discovered some minor hiccups during less taxing tasks. Some apps, including the camera and gallery, are a little slow to open and close, even if this isn't a consistent problem. Home screens are relatively smooth to scroll through, but there is the odd occasion where screen transitions simply aren't as buttery smooth as we'd have liked. Scrolling in the Web browser is smoother than ever, but still not up to the standard set by Apple's iOS.
None of these issues are critical ones and we suspect many of them may be ironed out when the Transformer Pad Infinity, currently running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, gets updated to the latest 4.1 Jelly Bean version. Despite this pending upgrade, however, it's somewhat frustrating to see such basic usability glitches, especially when ASUS expects you to fork out almost $1000. The lack of polish certainly doesn't stop us from recommending the Transformer Pad Infinity, but it does dampen our enthusiasm somewhat.
ASUS bundles a number of apps with the Transformer Pad Infinity. Additions include a file manager, a MyCloud storage app with 8GB of free storage, a MyLibrary books app, and a MyNet app for streaming multimedia content via DLNA. ASUS also includes handy e-mail, clock and weather widgets, along with a battery indicator that displays two separate percentages for the tablet and the dock battery. App Backup and App Locker apps, two new additions, allow you to backup and lock apps with a password, respectively.
Android apps on the whole remain an issue, though this is an ecosystem-wide problem and not the fault of ASUS. There aren't enough apps on the Google Play Store designed specifically for tablet use. This means they won't work as well as they should on the Transformer Pad Infinity. Some don't work at all. There are examples both ways. The excellent Pulse Reader app, Pocket and Evernote all work fantastically well, but the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Spotify are simply blown up smartphone apps.
The ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity has the same 8-megapixel rear camera as the Transformer Prime, but it gets an upgraded front camera. The 2-megapixel front facing camera enables "HD video chat" and works well for third-party video based applications like Skype and Tango. The rear camera takes passable photos if you're inclined, and we were impressed with the autofocus and ability to capture close objects with good detail.
Disappointingly, the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity sold in Australia doesn't come with 3G connectivity, so its a Wi-Fi-only tablet. Globally, ASUS will sell a 3G model and a 4G LTE model, both which use the 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Krait dual-core processor instead of the 1.6GHz quad-core Tegra 3 chip. However, these models won't be available in Australia and according to ASUS there are no plans to launch them Down Under.
ASUS claims the Transformer Pad Infinity's battery will last for up to 10 hours on its own, or 15 hours when connected to a fully charged dock connector. During testing, we recorded best figures of just almost nine hours without the dock, and almost 13 hours with the keyboard dock connected. While this is less than ASUS claims it is still a fantastic result. Even if you don't use the keyboard dock extensively, using it as a reasonably lightweight charger isn't a bad idea.
Keep in mind that there are three "power profiles" available use on the Transformer Pad Infinity — power saving, balanced, and performance. We ran all our tests in balanced mode, which is the default setting. You should be able to push better battery life out of the Infinity using power saving mode, though this limits performance to do so.
The ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity is available in "champagne gold" and "amethyst grey" colours. The 64GB model retails for $999 while a smaller 32GB model sells for $799 at selected retail outlets.