Asus Transformer Pad Infinity Review
The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T landed on our desk a couple of months after it launched, having passed the test of time and coincidentally at a time closer to the launch of the first Windows 8 tablets. And that’s interesting because the 10.1-inch Infinity takes on a task that Microsoft holds near and dear to its heart. That task is making the tablet more than a media consumption device, and turning it into a true content creation gadget, more of a notebook replacement of sorts.
The key to achieving this is the keyboard dock. But before Microsoft shows what it has come up with, we should note that Android was the first to bring keyboard-equipped tablets with the Transformer Pad series. And this here Infinity is the best Android embodiment of that idea of the tablet as a creative machine.
And now that we know more details about the Microsoft Surface and the first wave of Windows 8 tablets, we can truly put the Transformer Pad Infinity in context and maybe even draw some conclusions about Android’s standing in the tablet market. But let’s not go ahead of ourselves and go step by step through all of the features of probably the best Android tablet money can buy today.
The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T is a premium product and you can tell this right from the start. The aluminum chassis with the visual effect of a rippled wave is built in the Zen design language that Asus also uses in its ultrabooks. The whole back of the tablet is actually aluminum save for a tiny strip of plastic on top where the camera and LED flash resides, and with a very solid build you get that satisfying feel from handling the tablet.
thin device, measuring only 0.33 inches (8.4mm) in profile, and it’s not too heavy either at 1.31 pound (594g). That's noticeably lighter than the 1.43 pound new iPad. Still, it's tiring to hold it with one hand after a short while you'd have to rest the tablet somewhere.
On the bottom, you’d notice two openings for the dock and right in the center an annoying proprietary 40-pin USB connector. That’s right - get ready for one more adaptor in your home - there is no microUSB on this thing. We guess that was a decision Asus took for the sake of easy docking, though, so we wouldn’t blame them too much.
physical buttons on the tablet are scattered in the periphery and they are also made out of aluminum, and feel solid, maybe requiring only a bit too much effort to press. Also, there is a microHDMI port, a microSD card slot and a 3.5mm standard headphone jack. The device ships with two microphones for stereo sound recording, but the sound output happens through a single speaker on the back.
Designwise, there is little else to say as most of the device is occupied by the screen. Here we have a big bezel around it, allowing just enough space for your hand to rest without interfering with the screen.
Even the gorgeous looks of the Transformer Pad Infinity couldn’t distract us from the stunning 10.1-inch high-resolution and extremely bright display. The resolution is the most detailed you’ve seen on Android at 1920 x 1200 pixels, which results in a great 224ppi. That’s just slightly short of the new iPad’s 2048 x 1536 display with 264ppi.
pixel detail might be slightly sub-par when compared to the iPad, the Infinity has another advantage with this being the brightest screen we’ve seen so far thanks to the Super IPS+ LCD technology it employs. With the large built-in battery and the additional one on the keyboard dock, Asus went really a long way into making this display extra bright for the outdoors without fearing a huge hit on battery longevity. While by default, the brightness maxes out at around 460 nits, you can easily turn on Super IPS+ mode for outdoor viewing in settings, and that boosts brightness to the whopping 700 nits. At such a high luminosity, contrast ratio suffers slightly compared to the default settings and there is a very slight degradation in the quality of blacks, which you may not even notice. Viewing angles are excellent and the screen retains its vivid colors at even more exreme angles.
Another definite plus, we’d mention the strong oleophobic coating, which makes using the screen an absolute pleasure - your finger leaves no smudges or fingerprints whatsoever.
So far, so good. The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity is a great tablet on its own. But it aims to be more than that. It transforms in a notebook-like little machine when it piers inside the QWERTY keyboard dock. The dock itself when purchased separately costs a hefty $150. With a touchpad and enormous battery life, it brings the Android tablet closer to being more than a media consumption devices and almost into notebook territory. And while functionally it’s not yet there, the price is definitely in notebook territory.
Docking and battery life
First, the dock is elegantly designed, made with the same high-quality aluminum as the tablet. Docking happens via two slots on the tablet chassis housing the hinge mechanism and through the 40-pin connector. You simply align the tablet to the hinges and snug it in. A reassuring click signals that the two have now become one. The hinge also locks. Docking is stable. You can easily hold the tablet chassis only and carry it around with the keyboard open, and the two won’t detach.
Undocking happens easily but will require your two hands. You simply slide the lock on the hinge which frees the tablet and you can pull it apart from the dock. The same holds true for opening the tablet - you’d need to use your both hands.
Asus has done a good job at slimming down the keyboard mount, and when docked and closed together, the Infinity Pad measures at 0.77 inches (19.6mm) thick, slightly more than a MacBook Pro. The dock itself almost doubles the weight of the Infinity and together they weigh 2.5 pounds.
Asus claims that when docked the Transformer Pad Infinity can play 14 hours of 720p video at low brightness, and that’s impressive. The dock has almost an equally sized battery as the tablet, so together expect to see battery longevity nearly double.
Full-sized USB port, SD card slot
Another great advantage of getting the dock is having a full-sized USB port at your disposal. The device supports USB host and that means you can hook up all sorts of gadgets like external keyboards, mice and even external hard drives.
You also get a separate card slot on the keyboard dock in addition to the one on the tablet itself, so you can expand memory even further.
Android on a keyboard-equipped tablet
The chiclet keyboard is not full-sized by any means, but we found ourselves quickly getting used to it and typing at close to the speeds we achieve on a regular keyboard. It has a ton of useful shortcuts on the top row of keys starting with connectivity, music and brightness controls and ending with a dedicated lock key so you don’t have to reach for the screen to unlock the screen. All of these are welcome additions from Asus. If we had to pick the nits, we'd wish for a larger Shift button and an Alt button on both sides, not just the right.
The touchpad is one area where we’d like to see improvement - the touchpad button is large but somewhat hard to press. The touchpad supports two finger swiping and scrolling, and that’s great, but ideally we wish we could pinch to zoom on it, a feature we'd appreciate a lot when browsing. Sadly, that’s not something Android supports yet.
After using the keyboard dock for a while, you start realizing that Android isn't yet ready to be a keyboard-driven platform. Keyboard shortcuts don’t work in third-party browsers like Chrome, touchpad gestures could be more and better and games and apps often don't support it fully.
Windows 8 in contrast is built with the idea of being used with a keyboard, mouse and touchpad and we’ve already seen Microsoft say that it will support gestures like pinch to zoom. That’s one area where we haven’t heard Google’s Android team announce anything and that uncertainty bothers us, but still we hope that future Android releases will address all those issues.