[clear] Asus currently has a tight range of products, especially when it comes to mobile devices. Its trifecta of tablet offerings — dubbed Transformer — consists of the entry-level Pad, the power-hungry Prime and now we have the weaponised Infinity. We liked it at our first hands-on, but now that we’ve got it as our plaything, does it eat the competition for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
What Is It?
The Asus Transformer Infinity is a 10.1-inch monster tablet that sports a quad-core Tegra 3 brain from NVIDIA, 1GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, expandable up to another 32GB with a microSD card. The screen is an 1920 x 1200-pixel, Super IPS+ display which carries 224 ppi.
The battery has a claimed life of 9.5 hours of use and when it’s connected to its bundled keyboard dock, the device will run for up to 14 hours. It’s got an 8-megapixel camera on the back and stares at your pretty face all day with a 2-megapixel front-facing camera.
The first thing you notice about the Transformer Infinity when you pick it up is the meticulous attention to detail in the design.
Almost all tablets currently on the market look like a black rectangle on the front, so it’s in the rear where most devices are defined. The uninterrupted aluminium panel we saw in the Transformer Prime (you know, the one that screwed the GPS and wireless connectivity) is banished here. It’s largely the same, save for the thin strip of grey that adorns the top of the device. It’s designed to improve wireless communications mostly, which is great and shows that Asus is listening to problems.
The whole device is amazingly light for a 10-inch tablet, too. At 598 grams, it’s only 62 grams lighter than the new iPad, but it’s amazing what that little a difference does to the usability of the device. It encourages you to pick it up and wander about with it, which is what a tablet is for.
Now say you do decide to wander around outside with the Infinity. You might think you’d be reduced to squinting to make out anything on the screen in the cold light of day, but the Super IPS+ display is incredibly readable, even in direct sunlight. That’s thanks to the various modes that this Asus builds into the Infinity’s settings pane. You can increase the brightness slider to 100 per cent brightness which helps, but tapping the “Outdoor Mode” button soups up the display brightness to give you that extra little bit of oomph you need to make it readable anywhere. It’s a welcome addition.
Just on that settings pane, too. It has three buttons marked “Power Saver”, “Balanced”, and “Performance” to help you tell the tablet what how you want the power distributed. It’s great to see Asus recognising that your tablet is going to be doing different things at different times. It doesn’t need to be a resource monster when you’re just sitting at an event typing into a note, for example and it’s awful when it’s sluggish during a hardcore gaming session.
The battery life on this thing is incredible, too. 14-hours from a tablet even with a keyboard dock is wonderful. The one thing we need more of in the mobile space is battery life. With chips becoming more and more powerful, batteries need to keep up and it’s great to see Asus figure out a workaround in the meantime.
The Infinity is powered by a Tegra 3 processor with a clock speed of 1.9Ghz. Naturally, it blows the competition out of the water when it comes to benchmarks, achieving a GeekBench 2 score of 1849, which is higher than anything on the GeekBench Android charts. The highest score on the official GeekBench charts comes from the Nexus 7 (which Asus also make) with a score of 1602.
The trackpad, USB port and SD card slot in the bundled keyboard dock are especially good because it makes the Infinity work like you imagine a netbook or ultrabook would — properly. There are a few problems when it comes to Android on the device when the keyboard dock is engaged, but we’ll get to that.
Lastly, the free 5GB of cloud storage from Asus and a pre-installed productivity suite like Polaris Office means you can actually get some stuff done on this tablet.
I mentioned the keyboard dock’s trackpad and its wonderful array of ports earlier. These are great to have on a tablet, but using them drags you back into the cold reality that you are in fact using a tablet and not a PC. Because this tablet is so PC-like when you plug it into the dock that you forget you’re using Android. As a result, when you start trying to Alt + Tab between apps or highlight some text, you’re thrown somewhere else because the button you pressed doesn’t do what you thought it did.
We’ve seen that Asus is a keen Windows RT partner so hopefully a Windows Transformer comes out in October/November that rectifies these issues.
While we’re on the keyboard dock, too, it’s worth noting that it’s very light. Normally that’s a good thing because it means you can carry your device around without developing a back injury, but when it comes to the Infinity it’s the worst, simply because when you dock the Infinity, start doing some work and then take your wrists off the dock, your tablet overbalances and flips over. That acrobatic insanity could mean that your tablet flings itself onto the floor device-first and lead to a screen crack, so be wary of your angles and weights here.
It’s also pretty noticeable that Android doesn’t have a huge amount of support for a high-powered tablet like the Infinity, too. NVIDIA bundle in an app called TegraZone Gaming, which points out all the games on the Google Play store that are designed for the powerful Tegra 3 chip in the Infinity. It’s helpful, but it shows where the Play Store is letting users down. There are a limited selection of truly beautiful and powerful apps on Android, and the ones that are there are almost buried so as not to annoy people who can’t run them.
The only other gripe I have about the Infinity is the price. We mentioned in our hands-on that the Infinity retails at $999 on Australian store shelves. A bit of Googling and Amazon browsing shows that you can get the Infinity and its nifty keyboard dock for $US649. That’s a difference of $350. You can buy the US-version of the Infinity and a Nexus 7 from your local retailer and still have change left over, or you can pay an inflated price for Australia. I asked Asus point-blank why the price difference existed and all I got was the stock-standard: “It’s to do with the cost of doing business in Australia”. Poor.
The good news is that the Infinity comes with a global Asus warranty, which means that the company will service it no matter where you bought it. The only issue with importing it is that you’ll have to pay for shipping the tablet to and from the manufacturer to get fixed if it ever goes bang.
Should You Buy It?
When Asus premiered the Transformer Infinity in Sydney a few weeks ago, we were excited. Now that we’ve had a chance to get into the guts of the device and review it, we’ve discovered that not all the glitters is gold, but it’s still a right-sight shinier than any Android tablet on the market right now.
Sure, there’s a glitch here and there but it’s forgiveable, simply because the rest of the tablet is just that good. The only thing I’d advise though is that if you were going to buy one, try and source it internationally. I don’t really like encouraging imports because supporting the local market is a top priority, but $349 extra for this device against what you’ll pay for it overseas really is a bit silly. $50 to $100 extra I could understand as the cost of doing business in Australia, but a $349 Australia Tax surcharge? I don’t think so.
Price aside, this is a great tablet. the simple fact of the matter is that if you want to buy a great Android tablet right now, you’d be mad to go passed Asus. From the Nexus 7 (which is actually manufactured by Asus) through to the Padfone, the Transformer Prime right up to the Transformer Infinity, it’s a great time to be buying Asus.