In the world of Android tablets, which -- and let's be perfectly honest here -- has been less than inspiring of late, there consistently has been one bright spot. That would be Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS, best known as a motherboard supplier, which burst onto the scene in the spring of 2011 with a crazy tablet-keyboard laptop-esque hybrid that, surprisingly enough, got a good many things right on the first try.
ASUS followed up the EeePad Transformer in late 2011 with the Transformer Prime, mostly improving on the original design (so long as GPS wasn't too important to you).
And that brings us to the new ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. (Also known as the TF700.) Announced in January 2012 -- only a month or so after the Transformer Prime hit the streets -- the Infinity, as we're wont to call it, should look familiar. It's cut from the same cloth with a 10.1-inch display and optional keyboard dock. We got our first look at it at Mobile World Congress in late February in Barcelona.
So how's this one stand up? read on for our full ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity review.
The one-take walkthrough
The Transformer Pad Infinity hardware
If you're familiar with ASUS' line of tablets -- or, hell, tablets in general, you'll be able to find your way around the Infinity just fine. Out front is the aforementioned 10.1-inch "Super IPS+" display. (That Super IPS+ business is code for "looks great!") Like Acer's new A700, it's got the highest resolution of any Android tablet yet at 1920x1200, but it still doesn't match up to the latest iPad, which is at 2048x1536. That gives the Infinity about 224 pixels per inch, while the iPad is at 264 pixels per inch. Side by side, you can tell the difference. But the Infinity holds its own just fine. You'll also hear ASUS boasting about the display's 178-degree viewing angle, which is fine. It's also a greater angle than you're likely to ever realistically have to view the display at.
Like the Transformer Prime, the Infinity has an outdoor mode that cranks things up to 600 nits of brightness, at the expense of battery life, of course. The whole thing's covered in Gorilla Glass 2.
The front of the Infinity looks like a tablet. Big black bezel, big display with a front-facing camera on the top. Been there, done that.
The bottom bezel houses ASUS' proprietary data/charging port, along with connectors for the optional keyboard dock. The left-hand bezel has the 3.5 mm headphone jack, microSD card slot, microHDMI port and a pinhole mic. (There's another pinhole mic on the opposite bezel.)
The top edge has a small power button and a large volume rocker. We don't usually have much to say about volume rockers, but the Infinity's is pretty uninspiring, with a little more wiggle to it than we'd expect, and not much actual left-right action.
Flip the Infinity over, and you'll quickly be reminded of the Transformer Prime. The back's done up in the same stylish brushed metal, with ASUS' logo at the center. A fairly major change, however, is three-quarters of an inch of plastic that line the top, enclosing the rear-facing camera. A major complaint of the Transformer Prime was that GPS flat-out didn't work for many people, and ASUS was forced to provide a GPS accessory to fix things. We've not seen such issue in the Infinity, and we're willing to bet this plastic section's a big part of that.
Under the hood is the same quad-core Tegra 3 set that we've come to know and love over the past six months or so. If you're into particulars, it's the Tegra 3 T33, running at a maximum speed of 1.6 GHz when in multi-core mode. And don't forget about that fifth companion core that takes care of the low-power tasks, saving on battery life. The Infinity's got 1GB of DDR3 RAM.
And speaking of battery life, it's equally excellent on the Infinity. No real surprise there, though, as it's got 25 Wh for the tablet itself, and an additional 19.5 Wh when connected to the keyboard dock. (And don't forget that you don't have to charge them separately.)
Let's talk storage: The Infinity comes in either 32- or 64-gigabyte models. We've go the 64GB version here, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 56GB free for us to use as we see fit. But don't forget about that microSD card on the tablet, and the full-size SD card on the keyboard, and the ability to serve as a USB host. (Plus whatever cloud storage you happen to use, whether its the 8GB of free space you get from ASUS, or someone else's.) Even if you opt for the smaller on-board storage size, this is still one of the most versatile devices around when it comes to saving and accessing files.
The ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity keyboard
ASUS is no stranger to slightly undersized keyboards, dating back to the old Eee PC netbook days. That easily translated to the Transformer line, and it continues with the Infinity. While this new keyboard has a new model number, it's a dead-ringer for the keyboard from the Transformer Prime, In fact, you can use the Transformer Prime keyboard with the Infinity tablet -- and that'll save upgraders $150.
Connecting the keyboard to the tablet is as easy as every -- just slide it into the hinge until the locks engage. (That said, the lock on our review unit was acting a little finicky. We'll keep an eye on that as more folks get the device.) Once connected, the tablet automatically recognizes the keyboard and activates things on the software side, with a satisfying "ding" to let you know you did it right.
The chicklet-style keys are as good as ever, with just the right amount of travel. What we wouldn't give for some backlighting though. (But what the heck. You can't have it all.)
The Infinity keyboard's trackpad still leaves us wanting, though. Touch scrolling is decent enough, and multitouch is nice, though we'd love to see it enabled in more applications. Once you get out of the home screens, it's a crapshoot. The single click-button requires too much pressure, though you'll get used to it over time. (We freely admit we're spoiled by the Mac's trackpad, though. Everything else pales in comparison.)
The keyboard uses the tablet's charging/data port to connect. As such, there's a duplicate port on the keyboard, along with a charging indicator light. (Again, just like previous versions of this set.)
The opposite side of the keyboard is sporting a full-size SD card (protected by a dummy card), and a full-size USB port (with a handy rubber insert that you're destined to lose). Also like previous versions, you can plug in a mouse, or keyboard, gamepad or pretty much anything else you want.
Thinking back to the original Transformer, it's plain to see that ASUS has been hard at work at slimming down the hinge connector. While it's still readily apparent, it's also about as slim as we imagine it can get. All in all, the connected tablet and keyboard are no thicker than 19.6 mm -- a little more than one of the newfangled MacBook pros. (Though nobody's going to mistake the two anytime soon.)
But let's get down to brass tacks. How's typing on it? An impromptu online typing test netted about 85 words per minute -- about the same as on my trusted Logitech keyboard. While the Infinity's keyboard isn't quite full-size (think netbook-ish at 180.8 mm wide), it's still darn good.
The ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity software
As you'd expect, the Infinity is running Ice Cream Sandwich -- Android 4.0.3, to be exact. If you've used an Android tablet released in the past 18 months, you'll be right at home here. Same home screens, same app drawer. ASUS has its usual location/weather widget and e-mail and calendar widgets out front, along with a smattering of app icons. (And it all looks as professional as ever with the cool tree-on-a-hill wallpaper.)
There's not a lot to say about ASUS' customizations -- there really aren't a lot that affect the way the Infinity looks. Behind the scenes it's a little different, with a slew of customizations focused on the keyboard. Again, not new for ASUS, but it's that sort of attention to details that makes the Transformer line work, and not just a series a buttons attached to a tablet.
Also of note is ASUS' customization to the System Bar's notification area. You've got quick access to a bunch of settings, including the display overdrive, CPU modes, rotation lock, Wifi, etc. Another great touch from ASUS.
Like pre-loaded apps? ASUS has 'em. (Again, that's not exactly new for the Transformer line.) App backup and password protection, ASUS' own multimedia store, DLNA streaming, web store, TegraZone, plus all the usual Google apps, along with Polaris Office. So there's plenty there to get you started.
And that, as they say, is that.
The Transformer Pad Infinity cameras
ASUS is making a little bit of a fuss over the Infinity's cameras, with the rear shooter being of the 8MP variety with an F2.2 aperture and backside illumination and all that jazz. And it's not horrible. But then again, it doesn't (and can't) do anything about the fact that you're holding at best a 10.1-inch tablet (or, at worst, a 10.1-inch Android netbook), and there's nothing cool about that. Not that we're looking a gift horse in the mouth, though.
The camera app is stock Android (or close enough), so you don't get too many bells and whistles. But, again, it's a tablet, so that's not too surprising.
The rear-facing camera
Other odds and ends
- We mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: The GPS problems seen in the Transformer Prime appear to have been fixed in the Infinity. We took it for a spin around town -- with and without an Internet connection -- and the Infinity kept pace.
- No problems with Bluetooth, either.
- There's only one speaker on the back of the tablet, and that's a shame -- we miss actual stereo sounds, especially while playing games.
- We're still looking at a relatively heavy package here, though. The tablet itself is about 20 ounces. With the keyboard attached, that jumps to nearly 40 ounces, or nearly 2.5 pounds.
The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity doesn't break any barriers here. It's a fairly well-established paradigm at this point -- a great Android tablet married to a netbook-esque keyboard. And ASUS has continued to refine the physical design while increase internal hardware.
Put it this way: If you've used the Transformer Prime, or even the original Transformer, you'll be right at home. The increased resolution is a welcome change, as well as the increased options for internal storage. If you've currently got a Transformer Prime and can live with the lesser screen resolution, there's not much reason to upgrade. (Though not having to buy another keyboard certainly lessens that blow.)
As it stands, you'll be paying $499 for the 32GB model, and $599 for the 64GB model. (That's $100 less than an iPad for those two storage options.) The keyboard dock runs another $150. And, yes, at that point you've spent enough to buy a relatively decent Windows laptop.
But the bottom line is this: In the world of Android tablets, there's none better than the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. And the ability to convert to an Android tablet only makes it that much better.