There’s been quite a bit of consumer interest about the ASUS Transformer Infinity 700, one of the first announced Android tablets with a Full HD screen. As I’ve told you last week, the official unveiling will take place today, on June 25th, so here’s the AllTouchTablet review of the most anticipated Android tablets of 2012.
Before we start let’s take a quick look at the history of ASUS’s Transformer line of tablets, a very successful series thanks to the innovative keyboard docking station which adds several new ports and an external battery that further increases battery life. After Transformer TF101, the TF 201 Prime and the TF300 comes the TF700, codenamed Infinity, the fourth member of the family. Here’s what it has to offer, in an easy to read table:
10.1 inch, 1920 x 1200 px, IPS+, with Gorilla Glass
Nvidia Tegra 3 1.6 GHz quad-core CPU, 12-Core GPU
1 GB RAM
Wireless N, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G/4G-LTE (some versions)
Asus SonicMaster speaker; available in two colors; optional docking station with keyboard, USB, SD card
The sample I was given by ASUS is not quite the final version you’ll be able to buy in stores, at least on the software front, so you can expect some tweaks here and there meant to solve some of the quirks I’ve found on the Infinity Pad 700 (detailed later on in the article).
Before digging in into the actual review here’s a comprehensive video review of the Asus Transformer Infinity 700, kindly put together by Mike. It’s a good way of getting the basing without having to read my article (which I wouldn’t mind if you did read it):
Design and Construction
I don’t think that many of you will contradict me when I say the Asus Infinity is one of the best looking tablets of the moment, with a style and finish matching the new iPad, but with slightly more visual details due to the tablet having more ports than Apple’s model. The Infinity measures 263 × 180.8 × 8.5 mm (10.35 x 7.12 x 0.33 inch) and weighs only 586 g (1.3 pounds), thus being slimmer and ligher than its main competitors.
As the Prime, the Infinity features a back brushed aluminium panel with a circular pattern. The centre of the circle is covered by ASUS’ logo. Two colors will be available, just as before: Amethyst Gray, the one I’ve tested, and Champagne Gold. The visual difference from the Prime consists in the slim plastic cover at the top, meant to solve some of the problems with radio reception of Infinity’s predecessor. Also on the back there’s an 8 megapixel camera with a LED flash and the fine grille of the speaker.
Unfortunately ASUS chose the same placement for the mono speaker, in the lower right part of the case, which means you palms will partially cover the grille while holding the tablet in hand, which means you’ll be muffling the sound. This happens more often that I would’ve liked.
The marking of the case were redesigned to be less sharp, which you’ll appreciate after holding the tablet in hand for longer periods of time. On the front there’s the screen, the sensors and a Gorilla Glass protective panel, just like you see on pretty much every tablet sold today.
Ports, Connectivity and Sensors
Not much has changed here from the Transformer Prime, except the fact some of them were rearranged a little bit. So here’s what and where you can expect:
Top: On/Off switch, microphone, volume rocker
Left: microSD card reader, micro HDMI out, 2nd microphone, 3.5 mm audio jack
Right: 3rd microphone
Bottom: charger/PC connection port, two latches/connectors for the docking keyboard
As for the sensors, there’s pretty much everything you need: gyroscope, accelerometer, compass and luminosity. Wireless N, Bluetooth 4.0 si GPS are covering all the wireless basics. The previous’ model problems with slow WiFi, frequent disconnections and no GPS lock were solved by using a plastic cover on the top of the back case for the two antennas that match the back cover brushed aluminium finish.
Also the radio design now uses two antennas for better reception, which means better data transfer when compared with the competition, especially when you want away from the router or when obstacles get in the way. GPS works well now, with a complete GPS lock taking place in under 30 seconds.
One thing I have to mention is that my sources say ASUS will offer a 3G/4G-LTE model of the Infinity later on this year, but as you know, there won’t be any quad core processor in this model, but the dual core Snapdragon S4 CPU. Tegra 3 doesn’t play nice with 3G/4G.
The Docking Keyboard
Probably the distinctive trait of the Transformer family is the optional docking base which adds a full size QWERTY keyboard, a trackpad, an external battery that charges the main one when connected and a few ports: full size USB & SD card reader (SDXC compatible).
The Infinity dock is the same as the one that comes with the Prime, which is good new for previous owners, as they don’ have to shell another $150 for it. So I won’t insist too much on this keyboard and just say that the keys have good travel, are properly spaced, while the trackpad physical buttons are pretty stiff and the cursor is jumpy at times. Not the best trackpad, but you won’t be using it much since you have a touchscreen. The SD card reader can be used to extend the internal storage capacity for an affordable amount of money, if you ask me, so you can easily get the 16 GB model and save some money there. The full size USB port can be used to connect quite a few peripherals including wireless mices, bigger keyboards, external hard drives and such.
By far the favourite thing I’ve found on the Transformer Infinity TF700 is the gorgeous Full HD screen. Dimensions stayed the same, at 10.1 inches, but resolution has increased to 1920 x 1200 pixels and the panel was upgraded to a 600 nit IPS+ model. Contrast, luminosity and colors looked excellent, comparable to the New iPad 3 (reviewed here) so I think we have a match here. I don’t have any scientific proof for my claim, but I (generally) trust my eyes.
A new manufacturing process allowed Asus to place the IPS+ panel very close to the Gorilla Glass screen, so reflections are not as big of a issue as before. Text is sharp, as expected and you’ll adjust pretty fast to the new display.
Hardware and Software
On paper the Asus Infinity Pad 700 is the fastest Android tablet on the planet at the moment. Inside you’ll find the Nvidia Tegra 3 T33 running at 1.6 GHz, helped by 1GB RAM and up to 64 GB of storage. This is the WiFi model, as the 3G/4G-LTE will have to make due with a slower dual core Qualcomm MSM8260A Snapdragon S4 (which might also get better autonomy numbers).
Unlike the Tegra 3 T30 (found in Prime) and T30L (found in TF300), the T33 is clocked a little bit higher, at 1.6 GHz, so on paper we have a better performer. We still have Performance, Balanced and Eco modes for speed and power saving, but I think using the Balanced profile is the adequate choice 99% of the time.
Two things we have to keep in mind when speaking about the TF700 Infinity performance: the screen has a much higher number of pixels than the Prime, while using basically the same hardware, and I’ve received for testing a sample, not the product you’ll be able to buy in stores. That too will run Android 4.0.3, the latest version, but it will be further optimized for the hardware inside the Infinity. That being said here are the numbers I’ve got during testing:
Of course benchmark numbers don’t count as much as day to day use, so from my experience I have to say the Asus Infinity tablets is fast and fluid. I did experience occasional hiccups and slowdowns, but I think the unfinished software accounts for most of them. Or it could be the increased number of pixels that’s to blame.
I’m sure that in time things will get better, as more over the air updates make it to the Infinity, but is a thing you need to keep in mind before ordering one. The back of the tablet gets pretty warm, especially when you play games or watch videos with the brightness turned all the way up. That was to be expected, especially since I’ve experienced the same behaviour with the iPad 3, so I don’t think we have to worry too much here.
The Android 4.0 OS is pretty much unchanged from the stock version, so you do get the same array of apps integrated with Google’s own services and also access to the Nvidia TegraZone, where you can find some 3D titles you can play, but the variety is not that great, plus games are not at the same level of detail as you’re used to from iOS.
Video playback is great, the Infinity 700 having no problems running HD streamed clips from sites like Youtube, Hulu, Netflix or Full HD 1080p streams stored locally. Plus you can transfer these titles with a simple Copy-Paste, so you don’t need a program like iTunes (which annoys me a lot).
There are a lot of things I like about Android, including the notification system, the widgets, real multitasking, but there are problems two, which are more obvious on the Asus Infinity TF700. First there’s Google Play Store, a huge mess, as you can’t tell if an app is optimized for tablets or not, unless you install it. And there aren’t too many optimized apps, so you’re in the dark here.
Second comes fragmentation, as you won’t be able to tell if you newly purchased tablet will run next year’s Android version. Some tablets get the update pretty fast, some never get it, and a lot of them get an update that runs too slow on old hardware. Apple starts having the same problem with iOS 6, but not to the same extent.
Those two problems and the fact Android isn’t optimized at all for the new high resolution screen is a huge downer for me. I sincerely home Google does optimize apps for the new Full HD tablets like the Infinity, but right now you only get optimized text, nothing more, nothing less. Not even the main apps are not optimized for the new resolution.
ASUS placed two cameras on the Infinity Pad 700: 2MP shooter front facing for chat and video conferencing and a good 8MP model n the back, helped by a LED flash and an f2.2 aperture. I still don’t consider tablets adequate for shooting stills of videos, but below you’ll find a few of these, in case you do use the camera on your tablet and what to see how the Infinity fares in this regard.
This is one chapter I haven’t got the time to test properly, but I’ll update this post once I get a hold of the tablet for a few more days. Asus claims 10 hours of use, but I’ve found the 25 Whr battery to last 7-8 hours of continuous usage in Balanced mode and about the same while running a 720p clip in loop at 30% brightness. I have no doubt that you can increase these numbers by further decreasing brightness and selecting Eco mode.
The docking keyboard includes its own 22Whr battery that recharges the main power plant and increased battery life to about 12-13 hours, a very close number to the 16 ones claimed by Asus in their specs sheet.
Since I’ve wrote this review before the actual launch of the Asus Transformer Infinity TF700 I have to rely on my sources. So the speculated price is $499 for the 16 GB model, $549 for 32 GB and a very competitive $599 for the 64 GB, all WiFi models. The dock retails for $150 already, since it’s the one used by the Prime, as I’ve said before. Availability is still unknown, but I would bet on end of July.
To me it’s clear Asus has put a lot of effort into Infinity 700. It’s not a radical new tablet, but a refined Prime, with none of its issues and a gorgeous Full HD screen that now matches the iPad 3 in terms of specs. Price should be competitive, and the excellent construction should put it before the the Acer Iconia Tab A700. Adding the optional dock makes the Infinity the best option for those who want and Android tablet and don’t care just about entertainment.
For those leaning towards the Asus Infinity tablet, but don’t know if it matches the iPad 3 I have to say the choice is easily reduced to this question: “what do you prefer, iOS or Android?“. This is the only question you should ask yourself, as from the hardware point of view Asus did a great job with their latest Transformer tablet.