It's no surprise that we're seeing better results this time around.
As mentioned before, the PadFone Infinity shares the same 13MP image sensor as the PadFone 2, except this newer device comes with a brighter f/2.0 lens. Add in the fact that ASUS has had more time to optimize the sensor's firmware, and it's no surprise that we're seeing better results this time around. In our PadFone 2 review, we complained about the severe loss of detail in night shots due to the high noise-suppression rate, so we're happy to say this is less of an issue on the Infinity. (And for the record, the PadFone 2's also received a fix for the aforementioned issue since our review.)
In the comparison shots against the HTC One (shown below), you can see how the distant billboards maintain a fair amount of detail in the Infinity's photos, though the One still edges out with better color accuracy, presumably due to its larger pixels. As for HDR, we much prefer the results on the Infinity at night, but we did find ourselves too often relying on said feature, as the contrast of the images would otherwise be too strong (this can also be fixed in post by adjusting the gamma using a photo editor). Daytime performance is quite good in general, faithfully reproducing even the fluorescent range of colors. However, we regularly had to manually increase the exposure when trying to capture subjects under the bright sky.
Little has changed with the camera app since we reviewed the PadFone 2. With the volume keys facing upward in landscape mode, the app's intuitive layout gives you dedicated buttons for taking stills and recording video on the right (you can also capture full-resolution stills during filming). Meanwhile, the left column is occupied by various settings: modes, resolution, effects and exposure. The top-left button lets you toggle between still camera settings and video camera settings, without locking you down to either still mode or video mode -- a problem that many other camera apps suffer from.
While you can use either the virtual button or one of the two volume keys to trigger the camera, the Infinity also comes with a new voice-activated shutter that responds to "shoot," "cheese" or "one, two, three," and you can activate this mode in the settings menu at the bottom-left corner of the camera app. The only real caveat while taking photos or videos is that when using the Infinity in tablet mode, you need to make a mental note of the phone's actual orientation. Put simply: if you want to take a landscape photo or video (as you should), you need to hold the tablet in portrait mode.
Like most flagship phones these days, the Infinity's camera is listed with zero shutter lag, but we noticed that this is disabled out of the box. We soon found out why: once enabled, the virtual viewfinder started to stutter, presumably due to the extra resources taken up by the sensor and its ISP. Regardless, you can enable burst mode, which supports continuous shots at up to 8 fps -- up from 6 fps with the PadFone 2 -- for up to 100 shots in the full 13-megapixel resolution. This also works with all 10 filters offered by the camera app, with our favorite one being the "Dropper" that lets you remove certain colors in the live feed.
There are eight scenes available for the still camera: portrait, landscape, night, snow, sunset, party, backlight and vivid. These are usable in all of the camera modes, including the aforementioned HDR mode, portrait mode (formerly "beautification mode", for eye enlargement, cheek blushing, face slimming and removing skin shine), panorama mode and a new GIF animation mode. Making a GIF image is very much the same as shooting a 30-frame burst, with a choice of 0.8 megapixels, 0.3 megapixels or 0.1 megapixels in 4:3, or one megapixel in widescreen ratio. The files do get quite large very quickly so the lower resolutions are recommended.
The video camera mode is very much the same as before. On top of the usual set of resolution options, you can also pick one of the following high-frame-rate modes for slicker playback: 1080p locked at 30 fps, 720p varying between 20 fps and 60 fps, and 480p varying between 20 fps and 90 fps. Alas, the varying frame rate is to compensate for the shooting environment's brightness, so don't be alarmed if your nighttime clips come out just as choppy as those taken in the normal mode. While we're on the subject, ASUS has also added a slow-motion mode (muted) in either 720p or 480p, though there's no way to control how much you slow down, as there is on the Xiaomi Phone 2.
As on the PadFone 2, the video camera mode has the same set of filters as the still camera mode. Similarly, there's also a set of silly face effects that do funny things with one's face, eyes, mouth or nose, though these are limited to 480p, which should be adequate for a quick laugh. Going back to normal video mode, there's not much to complain about with the picture quality, but we did notice that the first second of audio always gets chopped off, followed by a sudden drop in noise at about three seconds into each clip -- presumably to do with the phone's active noise cancellation. Again, we're certain that both of these can be fixed via an update. Here are a couple of sample clips to keep you occupied for the time being: the first one a 1080p 23fps video, and the second one a 720p 50fps video.
Performance and Battery Life
With Qualcomm's Snapdragon 600 SoC and 2GB RAM turning up on almost every flagship Android device these days, there's no need for us to do a long presentation on how powerful this chip is in terms of number crunching and graphics rendering. Apart from the incompatibility issues we hit with certain apps over Dynamic Display, we've experienced virtually no lag in day-to-day operation. Additionally, heavy games like Need For Speed: Most Wanted and The Dark Knight Rises are simply stunning and slick thanks to the beefed-up Adreno 320 graphics chip. Even more amazingly, our Infinity never got too hot after completing a few races on NFS.
Given that the HTC One and the PadFone Infinity share an almost identical set of specs, it's no surprise that the two devices also have very similar benchmark scores. But that's not quite the case with our 1.6GHz Exynos 5-powered Galaxy S 4 (SHV-E300S, to be exact), which appears to be ahead of everyone in terms of 3D graphics and memory performance. That said, while we have yet to determine this particular S 4's battery life, it's safe to say that the PadFone Infinity should easily beat it thanks to the extra juice in the PadFone Station.
As mentioned earlier, ASUS offers different charging policies to let you decide how to split the battery power between the phone and the tablet module. Here are the options: Intelligent mode for balancing the two devices' battery levels, Phone Preferred mode for maintaining a power supply to the phone and Power Pack mode for using the PadFone Station solely as a power pack (but you can hold the power key for two seconds to wake up tablet mode). These can be set in either the PadFone Assistant widget or in system settings.
To help further extend battery life, you can also toggle Smart Saving (either in Quick Settings or system settings) and choose one of several of modes. Ultra-saving mode disconnects the device from the network when it's suspended, whereas optimized mode toggles the appropriate screen brightness, network sleep time, CPU speed and number of active CPU cores in certain scenarios (like reading emails, reading e-books, browsing websites and watching videos). If you're feeling adventurous, you can tweak each of these individual settings as well under customized mode.
We could easily survive two days with both devices on one charge.
In our two rounds of battery tests, we set the phone / tablet combo to optimized battery mode, left it on a 4G LTE connection and set the screen brightness to medium, before letting it play a 720p video on a loop. Including the final hour when the phone was running on its own battery, we managed to get about 6.5 hours of continuous video. Funnily enough, when we repeated the same test with just the phone, we got about 5.75 hours of playback. But don't be put off by these figures, as our review unit was stuck at a location with a weak LTE signal (and we'll check again when we get hold of a different carrier's nano-SIM). Also, keep in mind that the batteries lasted far longer in everyday use; we could easily survive two days with both devices on one charge. For the record, too, the phone takes about 2.5 hours to be fully charged using the original power adapter, whereas the tablet module takes about four hours, so be sure to plug your devices in well before you head out the door.
The PadFone Infinity is without a doubt the best phone ASUS has ever made, and it's a worthwhile upgrade from the PadFone 2 even for the specs alone. Thanks to that brand-new industrial design on the phone itself, we're confident that it'll get more attention than its two predecessors did. Pretty much everyone we've shown the device to praised the new look. While we're less concerned about the problematic new apps since they can be updated, we hope ASUS somehow finds a way to dampen the rattle of the docked phone.
But the question remains: can this new package convince more consumers that owning this is better than carrying two separate devices? As nice as the PadFone is, this three-generation-old formula risks becoming stale if it doesn't break the mold. If ASUS wants to win over the non-believers, it'd have to come up with a solution that can let people use both the phone and the tablet module at the same time. That's right, dual-screen multitasking. The closest thing we have right now is NEC's Medias W, but it's more of an experimental product and won't be produced in high quantities. Perhaps wireless display from the phone to the tablet module is the way forward? Do surprise us, ASUS.