It's no secret we love Asus' Transformer approach to tablet hybrids. Potential balancing issues aside, the keyboard dock is a great complement to a device that would be truly less capable without a real keyboard attached. In addition to offering a great keyboard, the dock serves up a precise touchpad, six hours of additional battery life, and conveniences like a full-size SD slot and USB port. The implementation isn't perfect, but it's better than any tablet keyboard we've seen.
The Transformer Pad Infinity can't be judged on the merits of an optional accessory, however. There's a lot to like in the tablet, including its attractive design. The fact that the 32 and 64GB models cost $100 less than their iPad equivalents is a nice perk, as well.
Perhaps there's a reason for the discount. The Infinity's 1920x1200 display looks fantastic, but it's not as impressive as the Retina panel in the iPad 3. The text isn't as crisp and the colors aren't as lush. There aren't as many pixels, either, although PPI alone is an insufficient indicator of display quality. Our benchmark results suggest that the Tegra 3 struggles to keep up with the A5X SoC in the new iPad, knocking the Transformer down another peg.
If you're a PC enthusiast accustomed to the flexibility of a Windows-powered desktop or notebook, the Infinity's Android OS might be its saving grace. Despite some glaring flaws, Google's tablet OS offers easy file management, a customizable interface, and nifty browser controls. At least on the Transformer Pad Infinity, nothing feels slow or chunky. Well, nothing except high-res picture viewing. That was a big disappointment on the Infinity, and the fact that the iPad doesn't preserve images at full resolution just pours salt into the wound.
After spending some quality time with both tablets, I'm very much tempted to replace my aging first-gen Transformer. High-PPI displays really do make a difference, and once you've seen it, going back to a low-res display is difficult.
with keyboard dock
Which high-PPI tablet is best? Hard to say. If you're in the market specifically for a high-density display, it would seem obvious to skip the Infinity and spring for the iPad's superior screen—and the more powerful graphics hardware behind it. But the Infinity's display is still a big improvement over traditional tablet panels, and you'd need a stack of iPad accessories to match the additional functionality offered by the keyboard dock. The Transformer easily delivers more value, and I think it's a better general computing device. However, the iPad 3 seems to be the superior tablet.
That conclusion leads us to a conditional recommendation. The Transformer Pad Infinity is TR Recommended only when it's paired with the optional keyboard dock. The dock adds $149, but it really is key to the Transformer's appeal. Expect to be able to buy both around the middle of July.
Me? I'm going to wait. Windows 8 and its ARM-optimized RT cousin loom large on the horizon. Metro has intriguing potential for tablets, despite all the hate it gets on the desktop, and I suspect it will be less finicky than Android. By the time Win8 arrives, we should have a wider selection of devices with high-PPI panels. We should also have a few new tricks for evaluating them. Stay tuned.