Real World Reviews: The ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity

One thing I’d like to feature going forward with My Brain On Android is what I’m calling “Real World Reviews”.  If you want to see every little tech spec and performance benchmark you can check out any one of the many professional Android or Tech blogs out there and I’m pretty sure they do a much better job of it than I can do.  If you’re reading this blog my guess is that you value my opinion and so I think that is all I’m probably qualified to offer.  These real world reviews will be much shorter and straight to the point, what’s good, what’s not as good, and what the companies can do now to improve on the released device.  So without further ado let’s get to the first of what I hope to be many Real World Reviews!

The Good

  • The Infinity has the best design of any tablet out right now!  The aluminum body gives it a look of sophistication while also giving it a very premium feeling.  The body doesn’t have any flex to it and it is probably only second to the Nexus 7 in how good it feels in your hand.
  • Despite the premium materials ASUS managed to keep the Infinity light and thin enough for more comfortable one handed use than I’ve experienced with other 10” tablets.
  • The signature Transformer Keyboard Dock is just as awesome as ever, the newer model seems to have more key travel than previous models.  It is also slimmer and lighter.
  • The keyboard dock feels a lot more stable and solid than the original transformer.
  • The new 1920×1200 display is gorgeous! It is second only to the 3rd generation iPad in raw amount of pixels. Combine this with the Super IPS+ for outdoor viewing and you have what I consider to be the best and most versatile display available on a tablet right now.
  • Battery life is great!  I was originally worried that the higher performance necessary to push the higher number of pixels on the display would result in lower battery life but battery has been just about on par with the Transformer Prime.
  • Standby is great, I’ve left the tablet sitting for a week or so in standby and still had plenty of juice left to use it when I needed to.
  • The plastic strip on the rear means Wi-Fi and GPS signals come through without a hiccup!
  • The moved audio jack is much less awkward when using the keyboard dock.
  • Micro-HDMI is a great improvement over the Mini-HDMI found in the original Transformer.

The Not So Good

  • Despite higher processing power from the Tegra 3 T33 chip clocked in at 1.6GHz (1.7GHz in single core mode) and Tri-Channel RAM it doesn’t feel as fast as the Nexus 7 which is more than likely a software issue.
  • There are still software hiccups and instances of perceptible lag when launching applications.  Once applications are loaded up they are extremely smooth but initial reaction to launching apps seems slightly delayed.
  • When using the Super IPS+ mode at full brightness some darker colors can become a little washed out but that is a trade-off for the 600 nits of brightness.
  • Some 3D games do not render properly as they have not yet been updated by the developer for the higher res display.
  • The $150 price point for the dock will still be hard for some to stomach.
  • The $500 asking price for the Infinity may be difficult to justify for some with the release of the $200 Nexus 7.  The two are very different devices with the Nexus 7 targeted more at media consumption and the Infinity for productivity.

What Can ASUS Do Now?

  • The biggest thing with the Infinity is how fast can ASUS push out an update to Android 4.1 Jellybean?  The device launched with Ice Cream Sandwich but ASUS has had a great record in the past with providing updates launching the ICS update on the Transformer Prime less than two months from the ICS announcement.  With ASUS working closely with Google on the Nexus program we would be led to expect that would translate to faster updates for the entire portfolio of devices.  I am fully confident that with the Jellybean update combined with the power of the Infinity’s hardware it will remain a force to be reckoned with even as newer tablets come around.

Overall I am very impressed with the Infinity and I’ve actually chosen it over the Nexus 7.  I foresee using it everyday in my classes and at work because of its versatility and portability.  It’s understandable that some may be concerned about the price when comparing it to a tablet like the Nexus 7 but for those people who think they can achieve their desired level of productivity on a 7” tab then a Nexus 7 may be great, otherwise I think the Infinity will be much better.  It is by far the best 10” right now and rest assured when Jellybean is released there isn’t a doubt in my mind that it will smoke everything else in its path and with ASUS’s proven track record it’s only a matter of time!

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Nexus 7 First Impressions

So I finally managed to get my hands on a Google Nexus 7 last night. I’ve been playing around with a device for a couple hours now and I have to say I am for the most part blown away. It’s been a while since I played the original prototype, the MeMo 370T back at CES in January.  It’s no secret that the Nexus 7 is based on that device. The story goesthat Google approached Asus shortly after CES to work together on the first Nexus tablet after seeing how well the MeMo went over, it won several best of CES awards.  Let’s take a look at the original first.

Now the tablet has changed a lot since it’s debut but there is no doubt that they share similar ancestry, in fact while I was digging around in the ‘About Tablet’ section in the settings I even came up with the model number “ME370T”

About Tablet

From the humble origins as the MeMo 370T

Performance

So let’s get to it, what do I think about the tablet?  No denying I was very excited about the original back at CES as you can see in the video, and I can still say that I love this tablet!  This thing flies, I haven’t been able to trip it up yet and I’ve been known to be pretty demanding of my devices.  Straight out of the box I was up and running in less than five minutes, I immediately began installing my necessary apps on it.  I installed something like 40 apps without the thing so much as skipping a beat…and did I mention I was also streaming music from TuneIn radio, syncing Facebook contacts, browsing Twitter, and messing around with Google Play Magazines at the same time?  The Quad-Core Tegra 3 is no slouch, but it can’t take all the credit; I suspect that Android 4.1 Jellybean has a great deal do with it.  I will be continuing to put the device through it’s paces and I’ll report back after more grueling tests.

Bottom Edge of The Nexus 7

MicroUSB and 3.5mm Audio Jack

Design

Around the body you won’t find much in the way of port or buttons.  You have a MicroUSB port for charging, data transfer, and now audio over USB on the bottom, to the right of that along the bottom edge you’ll find a 3.5mm audio in/out jack.  If you’ve used another Nexus device before the bottom of the left edge will have your familiar pogo pins for a future desk dock (and maybe car dock?).  On the front of the device you have a 1.2MP VGA front-facing camera for video calls and a few other apps that have been updated to support it.  For audio you have a small microphone hole at the top left of the backing and a long speaker grill along the bottom of the back.  Finally on the upper right side you have your screen lock/power button and a volume rocker beneath that.  Those last two items are the only ones I have some issue with,  the buttons are a little too flat and difficult to feel out with your fingers without looking (at least at first); I imagine it’ll take some getting used to.  The overall effect of all of this is a very clean and slick look/feel to the device.

Rear of the Nexus 7

Grippy backing is great for one-handed use.

 I’m inclined to agree with what Google has said about the ergonomics of the device, the 7″ form factor feels great in the hand and is comfortable for extended one-handed use.  One of the significant changes from the CES model is the backing, it went from a thinner plastic backing with a concentric design to something that feels a lot more like a mix between leather and soft touch plastic.  The result is really very good, I’m not quite sure why I’ve seen a few complaints about it.  It has a very premium feel to it and because it’s not glossy like some other tablets you don’t have to worry nearly as much about smudging or scratching.

Audio

I would consider myself to be a slight audiophile and while the speakers aren’t going to be winning any awards anytime soon I was more than comfortable sitting on the couch and listening to some music from my Google Music library while browsing Reddit and my Twitter feed.  I was actually surprised by the frequency reproduction on the tablet, I found it actually tended to lean towards lower sounds though.  Volume is pretty good in a calm environment but it definitely won’t be enough for watching a movie on a long car trip even at full volume.

Speaker Grill

The speaker grill is close to the bottom edge

The speaker grill being at the bottom gave me some mixed results.  When holding the device in portrait mode my hands actually cupped over it nicely which amplified the sound, however in landscape I found more often than not I would end up covering the speakers and muffling the sound which is really a shame because that would prove to be a problem when watching movies.

Battery

I haven’t used the device long enough to make a definitive statement but so far battery life is looking very strong, I could definitely see it lasting all day for all but the heaviest usage cases.

What’s Not So Cool

Now I’ve had a lot of good things to say about this tablet but I do have a few gripes with it.  First off the lack of expandability, one of the changes that was made from the MeMo was that the MicroSD slot was removed, most argue that it’s Google’s push towards cloud storage.  For someone like me with a music library approaching 20GB and photos probably pretty close to 10GB, a maximum of 16GB of storage (~13.24GB usable) doesn’t quite cut it.  To add insult to injury Google did not enable USB mass storage over the device’s USB host, keyboards and mice work just fine but if you want to plug in a flash drive out of the box you’re out of luck.  There has been a workaround using Chainfire’s Stickmount root app but it’s less than straightforward for an average user (to be fair the functionality may not even occur to the average user).

I’ve had a few issues with the UI on certain apps, the 7″ form factor being lightly tread territory some apps just use the phone UI while others revert to tablet mode.  Some apps look great and others end up looking ridiculous but I think as more Nexus 7’s get out there this issue will start to disappear because developers will be optimizing their apps for the new design guidelines presented at Google I/O this year.

The front-facing camera is pretty poor quality, it’ll do alright for video calls but forget about taking self portraits.  Google doesn’t even have a camera launcher for you to start using the camera.  Paul O’Brien of MoDaCo has put out a camera launcher app but the results are not pretty.

Front-Facing Camera Shot

The best shot I was able to coax out the camera.

 There are a few other gripes here and there but I think I’ve already gone on too long with these first impressions and I had better stop before I end up doing the whole review right now.  First impressions though, this thing is great, albeit with a few to-be-expected compromises when it comes in at a price point starting at $200.

More to come soon!