While we were hoping for an absolute flood of Android tablets in 2012 what we’ve seen instead is a steady trickle and while some have been competent most are pretty average. Perhaps the most interesting trend has been the decisive split between premium models (selling for over $400) and bargain basement options. ASUS has been one of the heavier hitters at the upper end clearly setting itself apart with its optional keyboard docks which deliver not just the (vague) promise of better productivity but extra battery life via a second internal battery too.
The Infinity is ASUS’s third major tablet to hit Australia this year (not including the Google co-branded Nexus 7) but in many ways it’s an incremental upgrade from the earlier Transformer Prime TF201. Like the Prime this is another solidly-built 10.1in tablet with a brushed aluminium alloy chassis that’s just 8.5mm thick which makes it look and feel tough as nails. The design isn’t quite as clean or sleek as Apple’s iPad but it easily trumps the mostly plastic Android competition for sturdiness. We’re a little less sold on the colour options — purple/grey and white/gold wouldn’t have been our first choices. There’s lots of grunt under the bonnet with a quad-core Tegra 3 processor (running at 1.6GHz up 300MHz from the Prime’s 1.3GHz) 1GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. Its weight is just on the right side of 600g too making it comfortable to hold and use one-handed.
The Infinity’s core appeal really boils down to its screen however. This is the first Android tablet to pip the Full HD resolution mark with a 1920 x 1200-pixel Super IPS+ display that’s sandwiched underneath Gorilla Glass 2. While it’s not quite as vibrant as the AMOLED displays that Samsung uses that extra res is immediately noticeable — this is now without doubt the cleanest and sharpest 10in Android tablet you can buy. Games look superbly crisp and reading large slabs of text is more pleasurable thanks to clearer-rendered fonts with virtually no jaggies. On the downside this isn’t quite Retina-beating; there are still occasionally visible pixels unlike on Apple’s 2012 iPad which packs an even higher 2048 x 1536-pixel resolution.
The battery life here is respectable — we averaged around eight to nine hours of screen-on time with mixed tasks such as gaming web surfing and productivity. The dock added another four to five hours.
There are a few other niggling shortcomings with the Infinity elsewhere though. It’s running Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) for example not the latest Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) and while ASUS has promised an update it didn’t have any further details at the time we went to press. The plastic strip across the top back edge of the Infinity’s casing — there to fix the Wi-Fi and GPS signal problems of the Prime — also clashes a little with the brushed metal finish elsewhere.
There’s also the overarching problem that Android’s still a little lacking for good productivity apps although they are improving. ASUS has bundled Polaris Office and its own note-taking app which are both among the better options.
While the Infinity is fairly priced on the street and only commands a small increase over the Prime — the 32GB model goes for around $600 sans keyboard dock compared to about $550 for the Prime — there’s no mistaking that this is a premium Android tablet. Add in a keyboard and you’re looking at an $800 outlay. With the price of other 10in models dropping (Samsung’s recently released Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 can be found for under $400 from some Australian online retailers) you do pay more for this one’s combination of thin and mostly stylish design metal chassis and higher-res screen.
On the other hand if you’re after the most impressive Android tablet money can buy right now this one’s gonna be tough to beat.
Pros : Solid build quality slim profile good performance.
Cons : Still sells at a premium price no 3G option yet.
Verdict : 8 out of 10. Highly recommended.
Available from ASUS Price: 32GB Wi-Fi $600; with keyboard $800.