Asus Transformer Pad Infinity review
We think that Asus, even more than Samsung, has produced the most interesting tablets, along with Apple. The firm threw itself into Android tablets from the start, and has really pushed the keyboard dock, giving people a way of getting more out of their tablets, and even offering the chance to ditch that old Windows laptop for something small, light and with amazing battery life.
The Asus Transformer Infinity is, perhaps, the most exciting tablet the firm has produced yet. This comes down mainly to the new IPS display. It has a resolution of 1920x1200, which makes it nearly as crisp and clear as the one in the iPad 3 - or "new" iPad as it's known, for now.
But such technology comes at a price. And that price is £600. So this is hardly a low-cost option. But that won't matter if it's a great piece of kit.
As with some of the other Asus Transformers of late, the Infinity is two separate parts. In the UK, though, you can only buy it as one pack, so you get keyboard and tablet together. Other regions will be able to opt to buy these parts separately. Likewise, there is no option for 3G or 4G radios in the UK, which means this is a Wi-Fi-only tablet. We think that's a shame, but there's always a chance Asus will bring the GSM-enabled versions to the UK at some point.
The Infinity has been designed around being docked or held in landscape most of the time. The power button is on the top left, just above the front Asus logo. On the other side is the volume rocker. On the left, you'll find a headphone jack, Micro-HDMI and a microSD card slot. On the right, there's nothing in the way of buttons at all, and on the bottom edge, you'll find two locating holes and a dock connector. We think the Infinity is quite well specced for sockets and such. Having the microSD is great, as it allows you to save money buying the lower-capacity model, and add your own 32GB.
On the keyboard dock, you get some impressive connections too. There's USB, for connecting memory sticks, portable hard drives and the like. You'll also find a full-sized SD card slot here. Both USB and SD are protected by little doo-hickeys. The SD card slot uses a dummy SD card. This is fine, but you'll take it out the first time you use the socket and either put it somewhere "safe", or lose it entirely. The USB protector is even more of a disaster, it's a small rubber bung, which is incredibly easy to lose, and also very hard to put back in the socket once you're done. It's an odd shape, and it can be quite confusing.
The keyboard itself is a nice enough device. The island-style keys are quite well separated, but a little small for our gigantic sausage fingers. Mis-typing is common here, but you can train yourself to get used to it. The trackpad is a little more annoying, but it works, and Android isn't really designed for mice anyway, so you may not use it much. There's a key to disable it if you want.
We like the function keys a lot. They mean you can access important functions without getting stuck in menus. What we do find puzzling is that there's a lock button, but you can then use this to wake the machine once it's been locked. The only way to do that, is to press the button on the top. And doing so leads to a slight wobble.
And that wobble is because the Transformer Infinity is quite a bit heavier than the keyboard. This gives a slightly top-heavy bias to the whole thing, and means you can knock it over if you're a little bit too vigorous. It's not a big deal, but it's worth bearing in mind before you put it on the very edge of a desk.
We should start here, it's the main selling point of the tablet. And we can see why: it's amazing.
Text is the most beautiful it's ever been on Android. Ice Cream Sandwich and a high-resolution screen are superb companions. The text size support in the OS is really second to none, which means that where the OS is rendering text, you get wonderful smooth on-screen fonts that better pretty much any Windows-based PC.
The IPS panel also has "IPS+" which means you can boost the brightness when you're outside. This really works well, and when the sun is shining - for our international readers that's a real possibility - it gives you enough of a boost to see what's going on. Do be aware though, that that gloss screen is still very reflective, and you might need to angle the whole thing to see out.
Video, at 1080p, looks utterly stunning. We tested out some MP4 clips we had, and the quality is truly breathtaking. Blacks are deep, colours are rich and vibrant. The whole experience is absolutely fantastic.
It is worth pointing out, however, that there will be times when you get frustrated with the Infinity. It's picky about the video it plays. Unlike our first-generation Galaxy Tab, it won't deal with MKV files, even if they contain MP4 video. It's crazy. So if your video isn't plain MP4, prepare for disappointment. There are apps in the market that will play this type of video, but they will use software to do it, and that means that you'll get quite stuttery rates - using software to decode video on a powerful platform like this is silly too: it will kill your battery and perform worse.
But none of that changes the fact that, for Netflix, YouTube and other video, what you'll get on this 1920x1200 panel is some of the crispest, sharpest and most vibrant video of any tablet. And the IPS screen means the viewing angles are good too.
We also tested Plex, and we're really happy with the results. Those not familiar with Plex might not know that the date rate can be configured manually, this allows you to stream video from your computer - it's transcoded on the fly - with stunning quality. It requires a fair amount of processing power on the tablet, but, of course, the Infinity has plenty.
The one problem, however, is that there are not a huge number of Android apps that support tablet-sized screens, or these high resolutions. Hopefully that will change, but until it does be prepared for some things to look a little bit cack from time to time. When you do get a high-resolution game, you'll really appreciate how much of a difference this epic screen makes.
Like so many tablets, the Infinity runs Ice Cream Sandwich, with an update that takes it to version 4.0.3.
No doubt Asus will update this model to Jelly Bean at some point in the future, but the firm hasn't told us when. That's a shame, because we'd be thrilled if all the extra Jelly Bean features had been available here, voice control and cards being our two favourites. Even so, we think Asus's light touch with UI customisations is a good thing, and we like the simple user interface and lack of meddling.
We wish the email widget that sits on the home screen had support for other email clients though, and it's a great shame it doesn't tell you your Gmail count.
Usual story here. Two cameras, one on the back with high resolution - 8-megapixels - and one on the front of slightly fewer (2, in fact) megapixels. Both are pretty average.
It's possible to get a nice picture out of the rear-mounted camera, but it is SUPER sensitive to any sort of light. This means that if the sun is at the wrong angle, you'll get a washed out image. A lens hood might help with this, but you can't really fit a hood to a tablet. Plus no one takes photos with tablets. At least, no one who cares about photographs.
The front camera is hopeless for photos, but great for video calls. We think Asus could ditch the one on the back, and slash that amount off the asking price of the tablet. No one would much care.
And if nothing else, the camera software is simple, but comprehensive enough.
The speakers on the Infinity are reasonably small, but that doesn't seem to stop them producing a pretty impressive sound. Docked, you'll get a reasonable amount of detail out of it, because the location isn't covered. When you're holding the tablet portion though, that might not always be true. So watch your hand placement. We think it's a bit of a shame that there are no additional speakers on the keyboard dock though, they could have pushed a bit more power out.
We like the placement of the headphone jack though. When docked, it ends up being quite close to the point where the tablet meets the keyboard - that's good, because it means you don't really need to have cable trailing all over the place.
Through headphones, the sound is actually first-rate. There's a lot of detail, clarity is never a problem, and if you want, you can have some pretty jaw-dropping bass too. In short, there's a way of setting the Infinity up to suit all ears.
There's a decent amount of EQ options, which give you a lot of predefined settings to get the best out of your music. If you want more, then there's full manual control too. Plus there's a 3D mode, which comes with all new versions of Android. It's utterly dreadful, and we hate it. You may not, but we think it's totally useless.
If you're serious about using the Infinity as a laptop replacement, then the good news is that the software included pretty much makes that possible. Polaris Office is pre-installed, and is very good indeed. It's capable of opening MS Office documents, and you can create new documents from scratch, or using templates. It's a nice looking piece of software too.
There's video editing software too, although, honestly, it's not a patch on what's available on the iPad.
And, it's quite important not to forget that the web browsing experience on the Infinity is second to none. We install Chrome in addition to the stock browser, but both are really good on this screen, and tabbed browsing makes for a very computer-like experience.
Price is an issue
We at Pocket-lint are always cautious about being too harsh about prices. After all, something like this is worth whatever you're prepared to pay for it.
That said, the Infinity is quite expensive, even if you figure it as a laptop replacement. After all, for the £600 asking price, there are a fair amount of mid-range laptops from which to chose.
As much as we like pretty much everything about the Infinity, the keyboard and trackpad don't come close to a full-blown laptop, and for that reason many will not find it acceptable as a complete replacement. Of course, not everyone does a lot of typing, and for gaming and surfing, there's a lot going for the Asus.
Price aside, we love the Infinity. The screen is glorious, it feels like a sturdy tablet and it looks superb.
The keyboard is good, but won't compete with a laptop; the trackpad we don't have a lot of time for. It's really too small, although it does do the job. The media keys work well, and it's great to use a tablet, with a different approach to that of laptops. Function keys are dead, so having controls on these buttons makes a lot more sense.
It would also be nice to see some hardware support for playing MKVs, although, the hardware can accelerate MP4 video, which is what lies beneath the MKV wrapper. This problem isn't new, but it never stops being a problem. If you try to play MKV wrapped files on the Infinity, you'll either get quite jerky motion - as the software playback struggles slightly - or the video won't play. We needed a third-party app even to play videos, and then the result was poor.
Asus shows again that it can match Apple in terms of style and performance. The only problem is, it also matches the firm in price. And we all know, given the choice, most people gravitate towards buying "safe" Apple kit. We think sales will reflect that, but if the price of the Infinity falls, it will be a massive hit. Until then, you get very similar performance on the 300T, but for about £200 less, albeit with the loss of that glorious screen.
Our score, therefore, does reflect the cost. Street prices, however, might make this a great buy in a few months' time.