Part tablet, part notebook, Asus' Transformer Pad Infinity is an intriguing gadget but certainly a niche product.
It's not easy to choose your perfect travel companion when you've got so many netbooks, notebooks, ultrabooks and tablets to choose from. Asus' $999 Transformer Pad Infinity is a hybrid device which attempts to offer the best of both worlds. For some people it will be the worst of both worlds, but these hybrid devices clearly aren't designed for everyone. If it ticks all your boxes it could be just the gadget you've been looking for.
Asus' Transformer Pad Infinity follows in the footsteps of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and Transformer Prime. It sticks with the same basic concept, a 10.1-inch Android tablet with a detachable keyboard which features extra connectors and a built-in battery to help you get through the longest of days. It's a major step up from the Transformer, but the Infinity's sharper screen, storage boost and extra grunt are about all the separates it from the Transformer Prime.
Open the box and the Infinity looks for all the world like a thin and shiny ultrabook. Only the camera on the back of the screen lid is a giveaway that this isn't your ordinary notebook. Open it up and you're faced with a reasonably roomy keyboard considering the space limitations. I'm rather fussy when it comes to keyboards but I managed to strike a reasonably fast typing speed without fingers tripping over themselves. The keys offer a comfortable amount of travel and the keyboard doesn't have a lot of flex, making it more pleasant to type on than many cheap and nasty netbooks. Personally I'd prefer to go up a notch to an 11.6-inch keyboard, but the Infinity does well considering its limitations. It doesn't fail to register keystrokes if you hit the keys off centre, unlike Asus' frustrating Zenbooks.
This model retains the sturdy hinge of its predecessors, letting you fold down the lid just like notebook. You can adjust the screen to any angle but unfortunately the Transformer is still top heavy so it's difficult to balance on your lap for typing -- which could be a deal-breaker for some people. Remember, I'm looking at this as a portable productivity tool but you might see it differently.
Looking down the spec sheet, it's had quite an overhaul compared to the original Eee Pad Transformer. It comes with Android 4.0 (the 4.1 Jelly Bean update has just become available) and is powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.6GHz processor. The screen resolution has been boosted to 1920x1200 and is IPS+ so it does a better job of handling outdoor glare than some tablets. The front camera has been bumped up to 2 megapixels and storage options boosted to 64GB (plus you've got the advantage of an SD card slot in the keyboard).
The new Transformer retains the secondary battery in the keyboard. It's a fraction smaller at 19.5Wh, but it still promises around 14 hours when used in conjunction with the tablet's own internal battery. The keyboard retains the full-sized SD card but now has only one USB port instead of two. Unfortunately there's still no USB port in the tablet, but you've still got a headphone/mic jack, mini-HDMI port and micro-SD slot. The tablet is also down to an impressive 598gm -- 80gm lighter than the Transformer but 10gm heavier then the Prime.
Compared to the original Transformer it's a pretty solid update, although it's not that much of an improvement on the Prime. It's a classic example of Asus' habit of releasing too many models of each product. Despite Asus' love of variation, the continuing lack of 3G/4G connectivity in Australian models is frustrating considering it's aiming to be a portable productivity device. You'll find 3G/4G models overseas, along with cheaper 32GB models.
Then there's the elephant in the room; the AU$999 price tag. Once again Asus is screwing us on the exchange rate, as the Infinity sells for US$599 in the United States. You will find them in stores for $899, but it could still work out cheaper to buy one online. Whether it's the right gadget for you really comes down to whether Android can meet all your needed on the road. Remember for this kind of money you could get an 11.6-inch ultrabook running Windows or an 11.6-inch MacBook Air. I'd find either of these more useful than Android (or an iPad for that matter) when it came time to get some work done. You need to answer this question for yourself.
Like I said at the start, this is a niche product. It's probably not the droid you're looking for, but it's certainly an option to consider in your quest for the ultimate travel companion. It would be a lot more appealing if Asus didn't screw Australians so badly on the price.