Asus' Transformer Prime was one of my favourite tablets of last year, offering excellent power, a great screen and a very handy keyboard dock that made typing out long emails much more comfortable than using on-screen keys.
Asus is back again to tempt our wallets open with the Transformer Pad Infinity 700. Like the Prime, it's a 10-inch tablet with a dock, packing an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor. The screen now offers Full HD resolution and the chip has been supercharged to make this Android tablet-cum-laptop superbly powerful.
It's out at the end of August for £600.
Design and build
The Infinity's looks don't deviate much from the original Prime blueprint, which I'm pretty pleased about. The original Transformer looked supremely sleek while being sturdy enough to beat someone half to death with (I'm presuming).
The Infinity is no different. The same metal construction was satisfyingly free from flex or creaking when I poked and prodded it as though it had wronged me in some way. The chassis of both the tablet section and the keyboard dock are all metal, so when it's folded together like a laptop, it feels extremely secure.
The dock connector and the hinge feel particularly well constructed. Although the tablet only slots into a very small metal strip, it manages to sit snuggly and doesn't wobble or flex when you open and close it. All in all, build quality seems very high and I'd have absolutely no worries about chucking it into a bag and carrying it around town.
It's been given the same spun metal finish as the Prime, which I personally think looks beautiful. If you prefer something more angular and jagged, you won't be so keen. It's a very subtle finish on the Infinity, as opposed to the quite deep, spun grooves on the plastic casing of the more budget-minded Transformer Pad TF300.
As a 10-inch device, it's not exactly massive -- it's roughly the same size as an average netbook. That means it's well sized for sliding into a tiny bag and will fit easily onto a small train table or into your carry-on luggage if you want to use it on a long flight. The tablet itself is only around 8mm thick, which is slimmer than the iPad. With the keyboard attached, it's around 18mm -- still very slender.
The keyboard layout on the dock hasn't been changed, which is great, as I found the Prime surprisingly comfortable to type on. You'll normally find keyboards this size on netbooks and they're often extremely awkward, requiring you to squash your fingers in to hit the right keys. The Prime was a big improvement over a netbook and the Infinity offers a similarly comfortable experience. If you've got enormous bin lid hands, you might still struggle, so have a go on one in a shop before you lay down your cash.
The only real difference you'll notice from the Prime is on the back of the tablet. The outer casing has been altered in response to numerous claims that the Prime suffered from GPS and Wi-Fi issues due to the case design. While Asus adamantly denied that such problems occurred in the UK model, an Asus representative did admit to me that the company was very aware that it had problems -- although Asus got in touch to tell me in no uncertain terms that this representative was giving false information. Believe what you will.
I didn't personally find any problems with my Prime and I'm happy to say I experienced no such issues with the Infinity. I was able to maintain a strong Wi-Fi connection throughout my flat, even in spots that my phone sometimes struggles with. So I have no concerns over connectivity abilities at all.
Around the edges of the tablet you'll find a power button, volume rocker, microSD card slot, micro-HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a dock for the power cable to connect it to the keyboard. On the keyboard dock you'll find a power dock, a full-sized SD card slot (very handy for quickly viewing photos from your camera's card), and a USB port.
It's quite annoying that there's no micro-USB port on the tablet as it means you're forced to carry around the proprietary cable. So don't expect to quickly transfer data at your mate's house if you forgot the cable.
The keyboard dock also packs a battery, extending the amount of time you can keep using it for. Asus quotes around 14 hours of normal use from both batteries, which I'd say is fairly accurate. Like always, it depends how you use it. If you only do a spot of ebook reading and keep wireless networks switched off, you should get a good time, but if you play the latest 3D games and do a lot of video calling, best keep the charger within arm's reach.
One of the key areas that's been given a tweak is the screen. The 10-inch Prime packed a 1,200x800-pixel resolution display that was extremely bright and vivid. The Infinity, however, has upped the stakes to include a 1,920x1,200-pixel display. That's a higher resolution than Full HD.
It's not quite pushing the boundaries of Apple's new iPad 'retina' display, with a whopping 2,048x1,536 pixels, but it's certainly the top dog of the Android bunch, for now at least. Such a high definition on a screen of only 10 inches results in a pixel density so small that text and icons look incredibly sharp.
Head over to YouTube and fire up the best-looking high-definition clip you can find, safe in the knowledge that the screen is totally capable of doing it justice. It's also extremely vivid, offering great colour and contrast. The same IPS+ technology from the Prime features here, which makes it searingly bright. This helps cut out reflections and glare when using it in bright sunlight or under harsh indoor lights.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich
The Infinity is loaded up with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), which was until very recently the latest, greatest version of Google's operating system. It has since been rudely usurped by 4.1 Jelly Bean. Still, ICS is very fresh and most Android devices are eagerly awaiting updates to it, so it's more welcome than the older Android Honeycomb found on the Prime.
Even so, you'd probably struggle to notice much difference as Asus has maintained a near-identical interface. You get the usual multiple home screens and the rather attractive live background of a lovely photo of a tree that changes in accordance with your local weather and time of day. I loved this image on the Prime and I'm glad to see it's back on the Infinity.
You can fill the home screens with all the apps and widgets you want, or keep it simple and dive into the apps list to browse the apps. Annoyingly, in ICS, you can't click and hold on a home screen to lay a widget down, forcing you instead to go into the menu to select one. It's not a big deal, but it's a little frustrating to have to go through extra taps of the screen to do such a simple task.
Navigating around the interface is done chiefly by the three touch-sensitive buttons at the bottom of the screen to go back, to the home screen or to view currently running apps. The latter allows you to quickly switch between apps or kill them if they're hogging all your background processes and slowing things down.
Android is chiefly built as a touchscreen interface so you won't be navigating much with the trackpad on the keyboard -- trying to put a cursor on those small icons is rather fiddly. You're much better off using your fingers to get around and turning to the keyboard for bashing out long emails and Facebook updates.
The Android experience on the Infinity isn't noticeably different from stock Android, so if you've used a 'droid device before, you won't find anything out of place. It's pretty easy to get to grips with. If you're looking to take your first steps into the Android world, it won't take you long to get up to speed.
Power and performance
Inside the Infinity is an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor clocked at a very nippy 1.6GHz. The Tegra 3 chip has been around for a while in devices like the Prime, the HTC One X and the Google Nexus 7 and I've found it to provide great power, so I was looking forward to seeing what the Infinity could achieve.
To see how it stacks up against the competition, I loaded the Geekbench benchmark test and was given the astounding score of 1,931. That's easily the best benchmark result I've ever seen from a mobile device. By comparison, the Prime achieved around 1,500, the cheap as chips Nexus 7 hit 1,536 and the new iPad managed a comparitively poor 760.
Of course, benchmark scores aren't everything -- no one could legitimately call the iPad weak (although I'm sure the hardcore Android fans will try). So I'm happy that the Infinity was able to back up its score by being extremely competent at the tasks I set it.
Swiping through the home screens was immediate, with no discernible lag. Nor was there any kind of delay when opening menus or switching between running apps using the multi-tasking bar. This remained the case when numerous background processes were on the go, including music playing in Spotify and web browsing in Chrome using multiple tabs.
The Tegra 3's makers proudly boasts of its skills at tackling high-definition gaming. I loaded up Dark Meadow -- a game that provides graphics akin to some older Xbox 360 titles -- and found gameplay to be extremely smooth and responsive.
The same was true with zombie-splattering shooter Dead Trigger and space-based flying game Galaxy On Fire 2 -- all of which are available on the Google Play store or via the Nvidia games centre that comes pre-loaded on the tablet.
The Infinity is very well equipped to tackle the most demanding applications you can throw at it, whether that's high-definition gaming, playing back Full HD video, editing photos on Instagram or simply checking up on your social networks. It's easily the most powerful tablet I have tested so far so I have every confidence in its ability to handle the next generation of glossier, more demanding games.
Around the back of the tablet you'll find an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash. Most tablets tend to come with a camera built in, but given their unwieldy size, it's unlikely you'll use it for proper photography. As long as it's good enough to take snaps for Twitter and Facebook, it's fine.
Luckily then, the Infinity not only provides snaps that are good for tweeting, it also offers enough quality for the artistically minded among you to apply filters. Colours are rich, images are sharp and exposure is even.
If anything, I'd say my test images are a little cold (in fairness, when I test all cameras, I use the automatic settings). But you can tweak the white balance in the camera or use any of the plethora of photography apps on the Google Play store to get the shot you want. The LED flash will help out with low-light photography too.
There's a 2-megapixel front-facing camera too, which will be useful for video calling over Skype or for having important group meetings with your colleagues over Google Plus when you're working from home.
The Asus Transformer Infinity takes the best aspects of last year's Prime -- the power, the handy keyboard dock and the screen -- and supercharges them. This is the most powerful Android tablet around. The high-definition display makes movies and YouTube clips look great and the Android Ice Cream Sandwich interface -- while not the most up to date -- is very accessible for experienced Android users and novices alike.
It might not be cheap, but it's certainly the best 10-inch Android tablet around.