The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 is the Transformer Prime as it should have been. A Gandalf the White to the Prime's Saruman. Asus has clearly listened to the grievances — most notably, GPS issues — of some Prime owners, and in most cases addressed said grievances, and then some.
The TF700 is more than just an upgrade to the Prime. It's also a chance to represent the full potential of the Transformer line, and, despite having relatively little support from the Android OS, Asus succeeds at doing just that.
The Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 is like a slightly modified, alternate-universe version of the Asus Transformer Prime TF201. It has all the same ports and connections (micro HDMI, microSD, headphone jack, microphone and reset pinholes), but their placement on the tablet's body have been slightly adjusted. For example, where the volume rocker was located on the Prime's left edge (in landscape mode), it's located on the top right edge on the TF700. While these small changes could be annoying for Prime or TF300 users looking to upgrade, it's something you get used to quickly.
The TF700 measures 8.5mm thick, and encloses its innards in an almost completely aluminium unibody design. Almost, but not quite. The TF700 sports a unique back-panel design that replaces a small portion of the metal back with a tablet-wide, inch-long plastic panel. The thought here is that enclosing the GPS radio in plastic rather than metal will allow the GPS signal to more easily enter and exit the tablet. The original Prime suffered difficulties when attempting to connect to GPS satellites, thanks to its aluminium unibody.
The Infinity is a hair thinner than the Prime.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
The power/sleep button is now much more easily depressible, delivering a satisfying snap when pressed. On the top side of the bezel is a 2-megapixel front camera, upgraded from the 1.2-megapixel camera that previous Transformer tablets housed. Opposite it, on the back, is an 8-megapixel, LED-supported camera, with a microphone pinhole to its left.
Our TF700 model sported an amethyst-grey finish with a smooth, metallic back and an embossed silver Asus logo in the middle. If colours that evoke a more festive sensation are desired, the tablet also comes in champagne gold. Along the right side of the back are a collection of small speaker holes, arranged more narrowly than the Prime's.
The TF700 easily slides into its bundled keyboard dock. The dock is also compatible with the Prime, as long as you're running the latest firmware. Thanks to small design differences, the TF300 unfortunately isn't officially compatible with the other Transformer tablet docks.
The somewhat cramped keyboard wouldn't be my first choice to type on, but who can resist a keyboard that floats in mid-air?
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
The keyboard dock itself appears to be identical to the Prime's, with its metal body giving it a substantial, well-built feel. It's comfortable, if maybe slightly cramped for large hands like mine, and, while the buttons are smaller than a MacBook Air's, they're fairly soft and well spaced. Using this keyboard on a regular basis wouldn't be my first choice, but I could see myself getting used to its somewhat cramped (for my hands) feel after a while.
The TF700 is the second Asus tablet to come preinstalled with Android 4.0.3. While Android 4.0 is the best version of the OS yet, unfortunately for the TF700, it still lags behind iOS in app support. Things have improved over the last few months, with Android getting some big game releases like Max Payne Mobile concurrently with iOS, but for every Max Payne Mobile, there are tons of great iOS games being released on a weekly basis. Google still has its work cut out for it in soliciting more app developers, especially those willing to take advantage of the Tegra 3 processor.
The TF700 also comes with plenty of Asus goodies installed. Once you register the TF700, Asus MyCloud gives you 8GB of free cloud-based storage space at Asus WebStorage for the lifetime of the tablet. It also provides remote access to the desktop of a PC or Mac, and connects you to the @Vibe online music and radio service.
The File Manager accesses the TF700's root directory, providing easy and organised access to every file on your drive or expanded memory unit. MyNet lets you stream (up to 1080p content) to DLNA-enabled devices on your network, and with MyLibrary, Asus' e-reader software, you can read and purchase new books directly through the interface.
With SuperNote, you can not only type notes, but also "write" notes with your fingers. You can draw graphs and take pictures or video right from the interface, as well. This could be especially useful for taking notes in a class, or maybe getting in a little Draw Something practice.
With App Backup, you can back up any installed application to the internal storage or microSD card. This makes it so that you can reset your tablet without losing apps or app data. The TF700 also comes with a free Polaris Office app that pretty successfully approximates Microsoft Office, allowing users to create PowerPoint, Word and Excel docs. Finally, App Locker lets you password protect any app on your tablet, preventing anyone from opening it unless the correct password is entered.
Backing up apps is simple and easy.
(Credit: Eric Franklin/CNET)
Via Asus' tweaks to the Android interface, you can choose to run the Tegra 3 CPU in normal, balanced or power-saving mode. While in normal mode, the CPU runs at full speed. In balanced mode and power-saving mode, the CPU speed is throttled to save battery. This CPU-throttling feature was also on the Prime and TF300, and we're still waiting for other vendors to adopt similar modes, as they are pretty useful.
The TF700, like other Transformer tablets, allows you to take screenshots with the "recent apps" button, and one of our favourite features of the Prime that was criminally axed on the TF300 makes its triumphant return. The Super IPS+ (In-Plane Switching) mode boosts the TF700's screen brightness — making reading in sunlight a bit easier. Huzzah!
Nvidia's Tegra 3 CPU is finally reaching high levels of ubiquity, and it makes its third appearance (so far) in an Asus tablet. The Pad TF700 version is clocked at 1.6GHz with two to four cores active, and up to 1.7GHz in single-core operations, compared with 1.3GHz and 1.4GHz on the Prime, respectively.
Also, the TF700 houses 1GB of DDR3 RAM running at 1.6GHz — as opposed to the DDR2 RAM used in the Prime. The TF700 comes in either 32GB or 64GB storage sizes, and has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 3.0+EDR, a gyroscope and an accelerometer.
The mobile keyboard dock includes an extra battery that, while connected, feeds the TF700 its power, ensuring that the dock's battery will deplete its reserves before the tablet's.
Through its micro-HDMI port, you can connect the tablet to an HDTV or monitor, and play full-screen Android games using both wired Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 USB-compatible game pads, as well as supported wireless game pads through the use of an USB dongle. However, both wired controllers and the USB dongle require a full USB port, necessitating the use of the keyboard dock to accomplish this set-up. When connected to a monitor, the TF700's high resolution, exemplified by sharp, smooth text and sharper images in Riptide GP, did translate to smooth images on the monitor as well.
From left to right (top row): headphone jack, micro HDMI and microSD. Bottom row: the keyboard's power connector.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
The TF700's IPS screen sports a 1920x1200-pixel resolution. This ties it with the Acer Iconia Tab A700's display as the highest-resolution Android tablet screens available. The Prime's resolution is 1280x800 pixels, and at first glance it's difficult to see a difference between the two.
On the home screen, text under app icons didn't look that different, until you bring your eyes closer than you would normally. It's more noticeable with text on the web, but again, the difference doesn't necessarily jump out and grab you. It's not until you're looking at the screens side by side that you start to appreciate the additional pixels.
(Credit: Eric Franklin/CNET)
The most demonstrable difference between the two was visible when displaying ebooks. Possibly thanks to the stark image of plain black text on a plain white background, the text on the TF700 is obviously blacker and sharper. Compared with the new iPad, which runs at a 2048x1536-pixel resolution, it's really difficult to see a difference in text quality and sharpness between the two.
Thanks to its hardware scalability, we used Riptide GP as a games performance benchmark. Depending on the speed of the tablet's CPU/GPU, Riptide GP will deliver a noticeable increase or decrease in frame rate. Riptide also allows you to scale the game's resolution, with the caveat that the higher the resolution, the bigger the frame rate trade-off. With the resolution pumped to its highest levels, we were impressed by the TF700's ability to maintain a high frame rate, while delivering high-resolution graphics. The Prime, in comparison, ran at a slightly lower frame rate and didn't look quite as sharp. The game on the iPad, however, ran at an even smoother frame rate than the TF700, and looks noticeably sharper, as well. Of course, the iOS version comes sans the Tegra-powered screen-splashing effects.
Not all games scale as well as this. GTA3 still looks great, but not any better than it does on the Prime; 2D games, like Angry Birds, on the TF700 looked identical to how they did on the Prime; and 720p and 1080p movies run smoothly and look sharp on the TF700, but not any sharper than they do on the Prime. However, subtitles do look noticeably crisper.
Beyond the resolution, the TF700 handles contrast and colour much better than the Prime across most apps, displaying images that are more vibrant, with deeper black levels.
While the TF700's display retains the wide viewing angles that most IPS displays are capable of, when looking at a white background from an off angle, an impression of one of the LCD components can subtly be seen. It's annoying if you look for it, but most people probably won't even notice it.
The screen feels more responsive than the Prime's when swiping through pages, nearly reaching iPad levels of sensitivity. Apps load quickly (a hair faster than on the Prime) and menus pop up in a snap. Also, there's still that great, smooth, Tegra 3-induced, 60-frames-per-second screen-transition effect when closing apps or swiping through apps and widgets.
Thankfully, apps like the Marvel comics app take full advantage of Tegra 3's extra horsepower by offering smoother transitions between panels in digital comics. The new 1.6GHz Tegra 3 used in the TF700 calculates these transitions as smoothly as the iPad does, with no visible judder. Hopefully, Marvel will update the Android app to take advantage of the increased resolution. In some comics, we noticed some colour banding, and the text isn't quite as sharp as it is on the Retina display-optimised iPad.
The TF700's web speeds in the default browser were a second or two slower than the iPad's when travelling to the same sites, but they matched the Prime on average. Also, when we quickly swiped down long web pages, the TF700 displayed no visible clipping once a site was fully loaded. We tried the Chrome Beta browser as well, but didn't experience any noticeably faster performance, and saw a few too many clipping bugs to feel comfortable enough to continue using it as a test.
We tested the TF700's theoretical download speed using the Speedtest app, with the tablet less than 5 feet away from our closed network test router. The TF700 delivered performance as high (around the 19Mbps on average) as the Prime, TF300 and iPad.
Three iterations of the Transformer tablet. From left to right: the Infinity TF700, TF300 and Prime TF201.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Speaking of radio-wave speeds, GPS performance is much improved over the Prime's, and satellite connections are much easier to find. We were easily able to connect to 12 satellites or more, depending on our location. Also, the strength of said connections got to impressively high numbers — again, depending on our location.
The 2.0-megapixel front-facing camera performed better than the Prime's 1.3-megapixel camera. Images are clearer, contrast is more pronounced and colours are more vibrant. That said, we wouldn't be keen on using the camera for any artistic purposes, unless you're planning to become the world's most celebrated video conferencer.
The 8-megapixel back camera received an aperture upgrade over the Prime, going from f/2.4 to f/2.2. This increases the amount of light and detail that can be captured in photos and video. Still pictures are detailed, colourful and by comparison make the Prime's pics looked washed out. Image stabilisation in video is high, compensating nicely for many unwanted camera movements. In diffused light situations, the camera doesn't compensate as well as the iPad's camera does, resulting in a white balance that's off, and sometimes blurry images. Also, the TF700's camera doesn't seem to autofocus as well as the iPad's. However, the TF700's camera has a wider lens, it's just as good as the iPad's in situations with ample light and its LED spotlight — a feature missing from the iPad — is handy in low-light environments. Overall, the iPad's camera is better, but the TF700's is right behind it, and, thanks to some of its features, may be the preferred camera for some.
The TF700's speakers produced sound comparable to the Prime's in volume and quality, but with slightly more clarity. Compared with the TF300, the TF700's sound is clearer, but the TF300's sound is louder. The speakers don't sound as loud or full as the iPad's, but they're fine for most tasks.
The TF700's battery drained faster than the Prime's over the course of a workday, with each tablet performing largely the same tasks. Asus claims 8.5 hours with the stand-alone battery, and about 13 hours with the keyboard dock attached. Our results matched these estimates in power-saving mode, and were fairly similar in performance mode, with 7 hours 50 minutes without the dock, and 12 and a half hours with the keyboard plugged in.
Compared with the Prime, the TF700 has a sharper screen, faster games performance and improved front and back cameras. Text looks just as sharp as it does on the iPad, but unfortunately, as of now, a very low number of Android apps take advantage of the increased pixel count. The faster CPU and RAM translate to speedy app-launch times, but, similar to the dearth of apps that make full use of the TF700's screen, Tegra 3 has yet to get anywhere near the level of app support it deserves, a full six months into its life. And the frequency of apps that take advantage of the quad-core CPU needs to pick up if it's going to be anything other than a stopgap. Still, web speeds are fast, and GPS actually works well.
At AU$999 RRP for 64GB bundled with the keyboard dock, the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 effectively replaces the Transformer Prime in its price range, and we're already seeing the Infinity significantly cheaper in stores. While the iPad is still the best overall tablet on the market, the TF700 succeeds despite the current Android market's lack of support, and is the choice for those who are looking to take the premium Android tablet plunge. Those who already own a Prime, however, will be better off saving their money for the next Transformer iteration.