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Asus PadFone Infinity Review

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James Norton

James Norton

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In our opinion, Asus is the most innovative Android manufacturer around right now. Yes, Samsung are filling every niche with at least one product and covering every screen size in the process, while the likes of Sony and HTC are churning out some great products, but it is Asus that keep doing something that bit different. Whilst Asus do make some pretty standard tablets in their Memo Pad line, everything else they have done has been ground breaking, different and up until very recently, unique. You certainly wont find a straightforward traditional phone in Asus's admittedly small line-up and the PadFone Infinity is no exception. Being a bit different and offering a unique take on a product is all well and good, but it still has to stand up as a great product on its own merits. Lets find out how the PadFone Infinity fares.

As always, we will start with a run down of the tech specs with the phone part first:
  • Dimensions: 143.5 x 72.8 x 8.9 mm
  • Weight: 141 grams
  • 5" Super IPS+ LCD, 1080x1920 HD display
  • Scratch resistant Gorilla Glass display
  • 2400 mAh battery
  • 13 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash with full 1080p HD recording @ 30fps
  • 2 megapixel front facing camera
  • 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 CPU, Adreno 320 GPU
  • 2Gb RAM
  • 32/64Gb storage
  • 50GB free ASUS Webstorage for 2 years
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/ac/b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, dual-band, Wi-Fi hotspot
  • GPS receiver with A-GPS and GLONASS
  • NFC
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • microUSB port with MHL support
  • Bluetooth v4.0 with A2DP
  • FM Radio
The specs on the Infinity Station dock are:
  • Dimensions: 264.6 x 181.6 x 10.7mm
  • Weight: 530 grams
  • 10.1inches, WXGA 1920x1200, IPS with Capacitive touch panel
  • 19 Whr/5000 mAh battery
  • 1 megapixel front facing camera

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Hardware Overview

The Infinity has absolutely top notch specs and a build quality to match. This is easily the second best built Android phone out there, falling just short of the HTC One in terms of overall feel and finish. The device is hewn from solid aluminium with just a few strips of plastic at the top and the bottom, presumably to assist wireless signals. Whilst the overall look is clearly an evolution of the PadFone 2, it is different enough to be quite distinctive. The station on the other hand remains as generic looking as its predecessor, but it is definitely a notch up in quality.


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The front of the phone is dominated by the single glass panel, protected by the omni-present Corning Gorilla Glass and only broken up by the Asus logo at the bottom and the speaker grille above the screen. The front facing camera is to the left of the speaker and the other sensors are on the top right but are extremely well hidden.

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The only feature on the left of the phone is the nano SIM tray. This is the only mainstream device other than the iPhone 5 to use this particular type of SIM card. The right of the device houses the rather weedy mono speaker towards the top, with the well located power button below it. The volume rocker is next and whilst the buttons are extremely responsive and easy to find with your fingers, we would prefer the volume buttons on the opposite side.

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The bottom of the phone has the standard micro USB port with the additional ports for docking with the PadFone Station whilst the top houses just the 3.5mm headphone jack.

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The rear of the Infinity is very minimalist and attractive. It is lovely to hold that solid aluminium in your hands! The camera with its flash are up top whilst the cutout section at the bottom is for the aerial. The Padfone logo is where the NFC receiver is located, nice and easy to find.

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The station is obviously also dominated at the front by its screen and you can just about make out the front facing camera up top in the centre of the tablet. The various ports and buttons have moved around somewhat since the PadFone 2 with the power and volume buttons on the left of the tablet and the single speaker on the right. The charging port - another standard micro USB - is now located on the right side of the station, improving handling all round whilst charging. The docking mechanism is very similar to the PadFone 2, but more on that later.

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Overall, Asus have done a really good job updating their PadFone lineup, creating a very premium feeling and looking phone and improving the aesthetics of the station at the same time. But it is not all rosy. The phone has a couple of issues, primary of which is that very weedy speaker. It is necessary to turn the notification volume up very high on the phone in order to hear anything. The speaker in the station dock is far improved and plenty loud enough. There has been an effort on the phone to make the speaker work well in all conditions by putting it in a position where it is not obscured easily, but in practice it has not worked.

Comparing the feel of the phone to the HTC One - another all aluminium device - there are some important differences. Firstly, where the rear of the HTC One smoothly tapers to very slim sides, the PadFone's back seems to stop abruptly at the sides creating a harder feel to the edges. This actually feels quite nice but the HTC has a better fit in the hand.

The other issue with handling the Infinity is that it is a very wide device. Despite having a screen only slightly larger than the One, it is a lot wider with large bezels. Had Asus managed to halve the size of those bezels, which would still leave them larger than on the Samsung Galaxy S4 for instance, then the PadFone would be about the same width as the HTC One but with a bigger screen. This simply feels like a big device. This feeling is not helped by how tall the phone is either. It is not that it feels unwieldy or too big, but it is bigger than we expect for its screen size.

The station dock is a massive improvement over the PadFone 2. Despite being very slightly larger than before, the Infinity station feels much nicer to hold. This is undoubtedly due to the slightly rounded edges which feel smooth and comfortable to hold. The plastics on the back are of a higher quality and much less prone to fingerprints. All this does nothing to hide the fact that the combination of the two parts of the Infinity are a little weighty and have a strange top heavy balance. But it is not too heavy to hold for decent periods and differs little from many other tablets in its overall feel. Overall, it is a big improvement on the PadFone 2.

It should also be noted that laying the docked PadFone down on a flat surface means all the weight of the device passes through the phone. This is unlikely to cause any problems, but the tablet will then rock to and fro if you touch away from the middle, which you obviously will.


Screens

The phone has a simply fantastic screen with deep inky blacks, decent colour balance and a wide range of brightness. It is extremely sharp, has effectively limitless viewing angles and is a joy to use. Icons and text appear to float across the top of the screen and everything responds fantastically well to your touches. This is a true high end screen able to compete with the best out there today.

The tablet portion of the Infinity has had a significant upgrade and sports the same full HD resolution as the phone. It is also a fantastic screen with great sharpness but it is not as good as the phone. Blacks do not have that same quality and it does not appear to be optically bonded, meaning that images on the screen appear slightly sunken and don't pop like they do on the phone. The tablet suffers from worse brightness levels than the phone too, but the only Android tablet with a better screen at the same resolution right now is the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.


Software

Just as on the PadFone 2 and indeed with all Asus devices, the software build is commendably close to stock Android with the enhancements and modifications focussed on improving the overall user experience and providing an interesting suite of apps. On the whole Asus have succeeded in providing a very pleasant, lightweight skin and their software experiences are among my favourites.


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Asus have enhanced the notification drawer with quick toggles as well as a brightness slider and quick access to sound settings for changing the audio profile for things like video playback. I am a big fan of these sorts of changes, at least while running on Android 4.1 which doesn't have native support for these features. As usual on an Asus device, these enhancements can be disabled leaving you with the standard notification drawer. One thing that has been fixed from the PadFone 2 is that the notification drawer can be opened whilst on the lock screen which is a very positive change.


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The settings menu has been skinned with a light theme that looks fairly attractive. There are also custom settings for the unique features offered by the Infinity, including things such as the power saver and dynamic display apps. These are well organised and despite a few left over references to the PadFone 2, all is well. The control over brightness levels, allowing you to tweak the auto brightness levels is also a welcome addition.

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The dialler on the PadFone supports searching for contacts through the T9 prediction engine. It is also lightly skinned by Asus along with the contacts app which works very well.

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In the app drawer, there is a special area for pad only apps. You simply drag an app icon into that tab of the app drawer and the icon gets a special label. Trying to open the app in phone mode will show a warning too which is a nice way to separate which apps wont work well in phone mode.

As always, Asus provides a nice set of widgets and apps which enhance the experience. It should be said however, that some of the apps have limited use. For instance, Buddy Buzz will show updates from all your social networks, but it doesn't really work that well, is a bit slow and can crash at times. Others such as their notes app are rather clever and useful. The Asus widgets are reasonably well designed and definitely add to the overall value of the device. The weather and clock app work very well and deliver their information in an attraction manner. Granted, HTC know how to design a weather widget with a lot more flair, but Asus are still to be applauded here.

One of the best enhancements Asus have made to Android on the Infinity is what happens when you long press the home button. Instead of being taken straight to Google Now, you are instead offered a set of customisable shortcuts shown in a semi circle above the home button. One of these can be assigned to Google Now and is by default. This is an extremely useful way to quickly load up any apps you like or go to the settings and is another well thought through addition.

As is often the case on tablets, Asus provide a range of floating apps when the PadFone is in tablet mode. These are accessed from the bottom left of the screen, on the action bar. Pressing this button brings up the list of apps which includes a calendar, a calculator, a web browser and more. These apps, as the name suggests, float above whatever you have open currently and can be useful for checking out quick bits of information.

Overall, the software provided with the Infinity is very close to stock Android with a good array of additions. They certainly know how to keep a clean and fast build whilst optimising where it is genuinely useful. Yes, some of the apps are a bit hit and miss, but you can disable almost all of those anyway. The only annoyance is that the default notification sound is still tied to the text message alert. Changing one changes the other and that can be very frustrating.


Signal Strength and Calls

There are some issues with signal strength on the PadFone. The phone did drop more calls than we would like but not terribly so and can take a longer time than is usual to switch between network modes, for instance when moving from an area without 3G coverage to one that has 3G. It is also slow to reconnect after being underground and these delays are frustrating. Once up and running, it performs well enough, but the Infinity did not put in a stellar performance here. Call quality is good but the speaker is a little quiet. Third parties on calls had no complaints though.

WiFi signal suffered similarly, with the occasional drop out and average range but both of these issues appeared solved when docking the phone in the tablet, suggesting the station contains an additional WiFi aerial.

Both of these issues could be fixed with a radio firmware upgrade as the basic signal quality seems to be there with just a few stutters and issues.


Camera

Like the Padfone 2, the Infinity uses a Sony 13Mp sensor and despite a wider aperture lens it suffers many of the same issues though to a lesser degree. In good light, the Infinity can take fantastic shots, but it is very sensitive to changes in light levels. It is reasonably fast to capture images and videos start recording almost instantly. The auto focus is also fast. Noise levels in images are acceptable and there is a decent level of detail all round. This is not a camera that will wow you, but it is no longer a camera that frustrates either and it can even compete with best in class.


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The camera interface is the standard one Asus uses on their devices with easy and quick access to basic settings such as resolution and camera modes. You can take a picture or start a video without switching interfaces too which is always welcome. It is easy and simple to use. I never had issues framing the images I wanted to take, but there is a slight delay when starting a video as the framing changes which can be rather frustrating. For quick video captures that will find their way onto Facebook, that is fine though. I do quite like being able to record an animated GIF natively, but perhaps that is just a bit of nostalgia coming through!


Performance and Battery Life

Asus have done a great job with performance here. The Infinity feels like it contains exactly what the spec sheet says. It is completely stutter free, apps open instantly and it can handle as many open apps as you can throw at it. The only problem has been how hot the phone gets. It often registered close to fifty degrees under even fairly light loads. This may be related to the slightly weak cellular performance, but it is surprising. It never got above fifty in our time with it despite some heavy gaming sessions and there was no throttling in evidence though it may have been happening without affecting perceived performance.

The battery lasted slightly better than most other flagship devices from this year giving a constant day and a half usage at least. Impressive given the screen size and performance on offer. The phone charges very quickly from the supplied 2 amp power supply as well which is a bonus. In fact, the PadFone Infinity has pretty much the best battery performance we have seen since the Motorola RAZR i.


Switching Modes and the Play Store Problem

The Infinity works in exactly the same way as the PadFone 2 when it comes to docking the phone into the station. The phone slides into the back of the tablet smoothly, to be help in place firmly and securely by a set of rubber grips. Cleverly, Asus have made sure that whilst the phone is held in firmly, it still slides out smoothly and easily with only a small amount of pressure needed to get the job done. I tried shaking the phone loose from the dock, and despite my best efforts, I simply could not get it to slip out.

There was one small issue with my unit whereby the phone rattled slightly in the station when moving the combo around. This has been noted before and is meant to have been resolved by Asus and so I can only assume it is an isolated issue with the PadFone I was using for this review.

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When switching between phone and tablet modes, many apps are able to stay alive and seamlessly switch modes. At least that is in theory. Just as with the PadFone 2, this a bit hit and miss. Asus' applications typically worked quite well, but most others didn't quite make the transition successfully. We generally recommend and find it easier to set most apps to close when switching modes, after all, they open quickly enough next time.[/size]

In our PadFone 2 review, we described how the Play Store can struggle with the PadFone due to its different modes, and exactly the same applies here. We said:

When you first connect any Android device to the Google Play Store, the device is registered as a tablet or a phone with it's various screen size specifications. This works perfectly for almost all devices. The PadFone however has two modes. The first time I set up the device, I did so as in phone mode and several tablet apps were then simply not available to me. The Play Store also did not offer me any recommended tablet apps even in tablet mode. The solution would seem to be to set up the PadFone whilst it is docked in the station. This certainly solves some problems but I have had problems with a few apps not wanting to work in phone mode. A few virtual keyboards got very confused and app makers who offer both a tablet and a phone version of their app, each with slightly different purposes makes the situation worse. An example is the excellent MySMS which I use for backing up my text messages. With the PadFone registered in tablet mode, the Play Store could not install the phone version of MySMS. This means that my text messages are not being backed up. There is no perfect solution here, but is certainly something worth considering if you are thinking about buying a PadFone.



Conclusion

What we have here is a great phone and a very good tablet. The Infinity does not really excel in any one area in particular against its competition, but it is more than competent at everything you might want a phone or a tablet to do today.

The HTC One may handle better with superior performance and have a fantastic camera experience while the Samsung Galaxy S4 is possibly the best form factor of all with a fantastic camera and screen, but neither of those devices blow the Infinity away, Asus are very very close on all measures.

In tablet form, the PadFone Infinity out performs all other Android tablets available today and has a lovely screen and decent overall handling plus you don't have the hassle of a second device to manage. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is much lighter and thinner and has a better screen while the Nexus 10 has the sharpest screen of all and the benefits of being a Nexus device, but again Asus are right up there.

So, maybe it comes down to price. Despite no official availability in the UK at the time of writing, the 32Gb PadFone Infinity can be found for a little over £700. This is good value compared to buying a high end phone and a high end 10" tablet. Perhaps its biggest stumbling block is the PadFone 2 which can be found for £550, but in our opinion, the extra price of the Infinity is more than justified given its far superior specs.

If you like the idea of a phone that docks into a tablet as an all in one device, this is the best offering on the market, beating the PadFone 2 in every regard. And as a standalone product, the phone without the station dock can hold its head high amongst the best in its class.

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Edited by James Norton, 25 July 2013 - 01:02 PM.

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