If you took our advice and bought a Transformer Prime late last year you might have been slightly miffed when Asus announced a full HD Transformer Pad at CES in January before you'd even had chance to set up your Google Play account. The hybrid Prime – with its genius battery-filled keyboard dock – was the only tablet worthy of challenging Apple's 2012 iPad, but was pipped to the post in our Versus by the iPad's penchant for playtime. Can the Transformer Pad Infinity bring the fight once more to Apple's seemingly unbeatable tablet?
Sexier than the iPad?
The new addition of a plastic strip round the back of the Infinity might make your inner style guru shudder, but it's an important move to improve Wi-Fi and GPS reception after some Transformer Prime owners found that its all-aluminum back blocked Wi-Fi and GPS signals.
Besides, the Infinity still looks just as expensive as it costs, with the shiny spun-metal back and reassuring weight bumping it above similarly specced rivals like the Acer Iconia Tab A700 in the desirability stakes.
And if you want to show off it’s well worth using the Transformer Pad Infinity as a netbook then undocking the tablet: you'll get more than a few surprised and admiring glances. An iPad this is not.
The Infinity's raison d’etre is the gorgeous 10.1in 1920x1200 display. While a few short months ago the Transformer Prime's screen looked perfect, side-by-side we can see that text looks a great deal sharper on the Infinity's display. It doesn't quite match the iPad's bonkers 2048x1536 Retina Display face-pressed-against-screen pixel-hunting, but since most of the web has yet to catch up to these beyond Full HD resolutions, you won’t be missing out on much just now.
The impressively wide viewing angles make the Infinity easy to glance at when multi-tasking and a surprisingly decent option for watching a movie with a mate or significant other. The Super IPS+ mode makes the display even brighter, too – to 600 nits in fact, helpful if you're outside or by a window. Unless you're about to run out of juice, of course.
The Transformer Pad Infinity's single speaker is placed on the back of the tablet so sound may be muffled when it's used in landscape mode. You can crank the audio up pretty loud but it's not particularly clear or detailed: this is a tablet after all.
Don't drop your laptop out of your window just yet: the Transformer Pad Infinity is not quite the perfect replacement. The shallow, slightly cramped keys just aren't comfortable enough for seriously long stints of work, and although we like swiping through menu screens and pages of YouTube videos with two fingers, the somewhat erratic trackpad can become a bit of a bugbear. Fortunately, there's a button to turn it off.
Compared to touchscreen typing and flimsy tablet covers, though, the whole Transformer series offers the best on-the-go typing experience. Sure, the top-heavy Infinity is prone to falling backwards, but it's easy to perfect the right tilt for your train journey.
The Infinity is much more free and easy in its connections than the buttoned-up iPad - not only can you slot a microSD card in the tablet for extra storage, there's also a microHDMI port and full USB 2.0 port on the keyboard dock. Asus also bundles in 8GB of free WebStorage via its cloud offering.
Ice Cream Sandwich
Transformer Prime users may have had to be patient to get their Android 4.0 update but the Infinity comes with Ice Cream Sandwich’s app folders, voice input and improved keyboard ready and raring to go. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is confined to the Nexus 7 for now, but we're looking forward to new gestures and the slick results of Project Butter. As it is, it's safe to say the days of buggy Android are over.
We certainly don't think that a tablet's stills and video capabilities are a deal breaker, but the 8MP rear snapper's fast AF and 1080p video can serve up natural colours and in-focus images when you don't have a camera to hand. Taking pictures with a tablet is unwieldy at the best of times but at least there are plenty of settings to tinker with – such as exposure and white balance – before you set up your shot.
You're not going to enjoy the equivalent of the App Store's huge number of dedicated iPad apps, but as more tablets like the Transformer series get sold, we should see more big(ger) screen apps on Google Play.
If buying movies, casual games and e-books is why you want a tablet, the sub-$500 Nexus 7, also built by Asus, should be more than capable of entertaining you. The Infinity does at least have the Tegra Zone, which works as a shortcut to the more serious, Tegra 3-optimised games.
The Infinity's quad-core Tegra 3 chip is clocked slightly faster than the Prime's at 1.6GHz, but in practise this increase in speed is hardly noticeable. Browsing, transitions and gaming all run smoothly with nary a hiccup, and Tegra 3-optimised titles like zombie shooter Dead Trigger play like a charm.
Asus is advertising the Infinity as a combination that'll see you through 14 hours, with slightly less battery power than the Prime, but in a rare example of marketing conservatism we actually got even more playtime than that, with our video loop lasting 14.5 hours. And that was with the IPS setting switched on.
Asus (and Google) are still a few steps behind Apple in terms of uber-resolutions and tablet-optimised apps. And given that it costs the same sort of money we can see why many (if not most) buyers would immediately opt for the iPad 3. But the Transformer series has its own strengths, particularly if you want a tablet you can work on – and the Infinity is the best Transformer yet.