We had a hands-on session with the ASUS PadFone Infinity during its launch at Mobile World Congress 2013 three months ago, and our initial impressions of the phone was nothing but great. Of all the phones launched during that period, the PadFone Infinity left a very deep impression due to the new design philosophy and the specifications it boasts.
Now that HTC, Samsung and Sony have shown their hand at their best top tier smartphone in this first half of the year, it's time for ASUS to prove that it is also a force to be reckoned with. Before you read on further, here's a quick overiew of its key specs:
Key highlights of the ASUS PadFone Infinity
|Device||ASUS PadFone||ASUS PadFone 2||ASUS PadFone Infinity|
|OS||Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich
(Upgradeable to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean)
|Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich
(Upgradeable to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean)
|Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 8260A dual-core 1.5GHz||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 quad-core 1.5GHz||Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz|
|Storage||16/32/64GB||32 / 64GB||32 / 64GB|
|Display||4.3-inch Super AMOLED||4.7-inch Super IPS+||5-inch Super IPS|
|Resolution||960 x 540 pixels||1,280 x 720 pixels||1,920 x 1,080 pixels|
|Cameras||Rear: 8-megapixel / autofocus / LED flash / F2.2 lens / 1080p video recording
|Rear: 13-megapixel / autofocus / BSI sensor / F2.4 aperture / five-element lens
|Rear: 13-megapixel / autofocus / LED flash / F2.0 aperture / Sony BSI
|128 x 65.4 x 9.2mm / 129g||137.9 x 69 x 9mm / 135g||143.5 x 72.8 x 6.3 ~ 8.9mm / 145g|
As mentioned in our hands-on article, the PadFone Infinity is shaping up to be the most well-built member of the PadFone family. Why so? Well, the PadFone Infinity is made up of a unibody frame that is made from aerospace-grade aluminum which is twice-anodized with a brushed metal finish and diamond cut edge. The PadFone and PadFone 2 are mainly made up of plastic and do not feel as solid as the PadFone Infinity.
This places the PadFone Infinity in the same class as the HTC One, which also uses anodized aluminum in a "zero-gap construction". This brings us to another point - it's very obvious to see which phone vendors spent meaningful time, money and research in designing their flagship phones. Sony may not have dressed its Xperia Z in metal, but at the very least the phone has a complete makeover unlike the boring design of the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Having a well-built phone with a premium feel is a plus point, but the handling of the PadFone Infinity is another tricky issue.To put things into perspective, let's take a look at the different physical dimensions of the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z:
As you can see from the numbers and photo above, the PadFone Infinity is indeed a tad longer and wider than the other phones. In reality, this translates into possible handling concerns for those with smaller hands. Although its back is slightly curved, the HTC One still handles better in our hands and it's most likely because it's the smallest among the premium phones with a 4.7-inch screen. In addition, the edges of the PadFone Infinity are not as rounded as the competition or the PadFone 2, thus it's not as comfortable when holding the phone.
On the left of the device is the nano-SIM card slot. It is noteworthy to mention that ASUS is the first Android vendor to deploy the nano-SIM standard for its smartphone. As the nano-SIM standard is still not widely adopted yet, it may pose a little inconvenience for most consumers who are planning to get the PadFone Infinity as they have to change their SIM cards first.
You can find the volume controls, power button and speaker on the right profile of the PadFone Infinity. As the buttons are raised sufficiently, we had no problems accessing them. We also find the location of the speaker to be ideal as it is less likely to be blocked when the phone is placed on its front or back.
At the bottom back of the device is the PadFone logo, which doubles as an NFC antenna. Our experience with NFC payments leads us to believe that this is a practical implementation. As a quick recap, the location of the NFC interfacing component within the handset is important in determining whether a NFC transaction gets fulfilled successfully from natural handling of the device. Some phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note II has the NFC chip embedded in the top portion of the device. The placement of the NFC chip behind the PadFone logo at the bottom means that you do not have to place the device at an awkwardly lower position at a NFC sales terminal for the reader to detect the chip (such as the case for the Samsung Galaxy Note II). In other words, the implementation on the ASUS PadFone Infinity is more user friendly and natural for the consumer.
As mentioned in our review of the ASUS Fonepad, the company is a firm believer of not adding too much customization to the stock Android user interface. Some of its subtle add-ons that we previously covered in that article are the notification menu, ASUS WebStorage Office and BuddyBuzz. In this article, we will explore three other software features that are new on the PadFone Infinity - multiple home screens, ASUS Echo and ASUS Splendid.
Multiple Home Screens is a feature that is similar in nature to Scenes in previous HTC Sense versions. Its main purpose is to allow you to have different home screens for different purposes. Therefore, you are not limited to just one single layout of apps and widgets. The feature can be accessed by pinching inwards while at the home screen. A total of seven additional screens can be added and each screen can be labelled for easy selection.
Like Apple's Siri and Samsung S Voice, ASUS has its own voice activated personal assistant called Echo. Currently in its first iteration, ASUS Echo can be instructed to carry out the following functions in English (US and UK) and Chinese:
ASUS Echo is still undergoing continual development and updating, hence do not expect it to be as polished as Apple Siri. Getting it to work requires some luck and with specific scripted commands.
Also available on the Fonepad, ASUS Splendid aims to provide more flexibility for the user to fine tune the display. You can enhance and create more vibrant colors, or tweak the color temperature to your preferences. For example, there is a Vivid mode that automatically boosts the colors according to an ASUS-optimized profile.
The defining feature of all PadFones is the Station accessory, which is basically a 10.1-inch tablet screen with a 5,000mAh battery. Its only trade off is that you will require the PadFone Infinity to power the Station and act as its brain. Without the phone, the Station cannot be powered or used; hence it's often referred to as the Station accessory. Compared to the PadFone 2 Station, the PadFone Infinity Station is very slightly longer, wider, thicker and hence heavier. Here are the numbers:
Considering that the PadFone Infinity Station has a higher resolution display and has to fit a larger phone, we feel it is worth accepting the minor trade offs. The concept of the docking mechanism remains the same - two rubber pads on each side to secure the phone firmly in the dock. Docking the PadFone Infinity into its Station is smooth and effortless. You just need to apply a slight push to remove the phone from the Station.
On its own, the PadFone Infinity phone is rated to have 19 hours of 3G talk time. When docked into its Station, the 3G talk time is extended to 40 hours. As a point of comparison, the PadFone 2 has its talk time extended to 36 hours. For consumers who value portability and uncompromised connectivity on the go, the PadFone Infinity Station is a recommended buy at an additional S$368. The only caveat is that to really utilize its full potential, you need to carry the Station accessory with you everywhere.