Announced in September the new Padfone Infinity features a few improvements over the original that I have reviewed a couple of months ago. ASUS didn’t so much as to declare the new PFI (nPFI)as PFI 2. For all its intention in the way the new PFI is shown in the specification it is as good as calling it PFI 2 instead. So what has changed?
– Physically still the same except for the inclusion of the diamond cut edges which make it more comfortable to hold.
– The processor did get a boost from Snapdragon 600 1.7GHz to Snapdragon 800 2.0GHz both Quad Cores with 2GB DDR3
– The Android OS is upgraded to 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
– The internal memory is downgraded to 16GB…BUT…
– …now comes with a MicroSD card slot (at last!! Practicality prevails!!)
– Upgraded Camera features…mostly in software called Pixel Master and a much better Camera User Interface.
To some tech nerds the improvement of 1.7GHz to 2.2GHz is quite significant. However after playing around with the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean on an old Dual Core Samsung S2 phone, the need and use of a faster processor speed is not that obvious. Again it confirms what I have experienced with the original PFI – the phone is still smooth in terms of operations and so having a better processor is good but is it really that necessary? Maybe for the feature full Samsung Note 3, it has to drive all the cool stuff using a faster processor. Fact is that speed increase is not that noticeable and with the User Interface (UI) kept fairly stock, the resources overhead is kept to the minimum. Kudos to ASUS for making their phones as clean as possible without the extra stuff as I don’t find it necessary to have multiple boxes on the screen (the 5″ screen though big is still not big enough for multiple windows).
New versus old. Less 3D look. Simplified and actually looks cleaner as a result. However it do remind me of the Samsung 2 Touchwiz.
A new incoming call page. You can actually reject with a quick message for both phones but the nPFI do look more elegant and intuitive.
A more organised Gallery App where the photos are grouped as ‘Recent’, ‘Local Photos’ (those residing in the phone or SD card), ‘Cloud Photo’ (those in the Internet). It can also be segregated between photos and videos. The gallery is now able to do face recognition and highlight photos with faces more prominently for easy search.
Improved Camera User Interface
Unlike the original PFI, all the camera settings is now graphically represented clearly and manipulating them is far more easier for advanced users who would normally changes the white balance, ISO and exposure value compensation depending on the shooting scenario, lighting conditions and shooting situations. Comparing to the Nokia Lumia 1020, the nPFI do seemed a bit less user friendly but it sure beats other camera interfaces in other phones.
There is also the new scene mode button presented to the user at the corner of the screen that will access the type of scene modes one would normally use
Auto – In some ways is equivalent to P mode of the camera where you could access settings like the above.
HDR – After the HDR mode is switched on, the camera will attempt to extract as much information as possible from both the darkest and brightest part of the image. In this case there are more details taken of the playground and more clouds are captured in the sky.
Beautification As the name implies, this mode helps you to smooth out your skin, make your eyes bigger, sharpen your chin or even add blushes to your cheeks. Just make sure you don’t look like an alien after everything is done.
Either an alien or a chipmunk.
Panorama – The nPFI did improve the capturing ability over the old model chief of which is the ability to capture 360 degree shots and then allowing the user to rotate the picture in-camera via the image reviewer. Quite cool actually.
If one views it as whole picture, the effect is very good except for the high ISO noise one do see in the darkest portion of the picture. Zoomed in and one can see the shutter speed is a wee bit slow to freeze the image.
The 360 degree shot at the same location.
The main issue encountered by the Pano feature is the failure to continue shooting when there is a change in lighting condition and in this case on the right side of the frame where the sky has changed from bright to dark skies. In normal cases, the camera should hold the same exposure value in all the component shots and the dark part should be dark to derive a more consistent exposure throughout the panorama. What happened is that the camera attempts to capture details in the darker parts of the scene and resulted in the failure. That said, the shot can still be used after I crop away the problem area.
Night and High-Light – It seems like the nPFI is designed for night scene mode to extract as much light as possible for all lighting situations using the Pixel Master interpolation algorithm. My advise is to use only Hi-Light mode in places there are not much light source.
Night vs. Hi-Light vs. HDR. The Night mode do present a more accurate scene of the interior of the Marina Bay Sands.
Shot in Hi-Light Mode during the PS4 launch. ISO noise is still pretty evident but definitely more usable as compared to some outputs from some cameras.
Smart Remove – The camera takes multiple pictures of the same scene in quick succession and then piece them together to present a non obstructed view of the scene. Useful when there is a stray element in the picture such as a passing pedestrian or a stray dog that happens to pass by.
Now you see me, now you don’t.
All Smiles – As the name suggests, the camera will take multiple shots and then matches the faces. The user can then choose faces that are smiling or do not have their eyes closed.
Animation – Sometimes you do not need to do a video but just a short burst of 30 shots and combine them into a GIF image file instead of a video file clip. A GIF file clip is much easier to share too.
Pixel Master (PM)
With the obvious improvement coming from the hardware and User Interface, the not so obvious would be the software and can only be seen through the shots sampled as above. ASUS has implemented an improved demosaicing algorithm to deal with night, low-light and image optimisation. In short Pixel Master is an improvement on how the camera uses the sensor to derive an image by using readings of neighbouring photosites to reconstruct or demosaicing the colour and light intensity of a particular pixel. When it comes to low-light shots, the Pixel Master employs over-sampling, using 4 photosites to represent one photosite, at the cost of reduced image resolution from 13MP to 3MP.
The new PM also allows image optimisation where details in both the bright and dark parts of an image are brought forward in the image thereby improving overall clarity in the picture. By and large, the PM is a huge improvement over the original digital image interpolation process in the PFI.
ASUS lately has been updating their offering pretty fast when it comes to the Padfone line of smartphones and in all honesty, I am not very happy with it. I should have get an inkling of what is going one when the first Padfone was quickly being superceded by Padfone 2 in a matter of months and then the Padfone Infinity replaces the Padfone 2 also in a matter of months. And to continue the unwelcomed trend, the new Padfone Infinity replaces the original Infinity also mere months since its launched.
Let’s have a look what has happened since the launch date of the first PadFone.
– PadFone 1 – May 2011
– PadFone 2 – 16th October 2012 ( 1 year 5 months later)
– PadFone Infinity (PFI) 1 – 25th Feb 2013 (4 months later)
– new PFI – 17th Sept 2013 (7 months later)
Going through the Padfone history I would say ASUS has done a great job in introducing new features and function. The first Padfone is something that propped people up to the possibility of what open sourced OS such as Android can push the industry to come out with something that is so dramatically different and useful. The bad news about Padfone 1 is the underwhelming spec sheet that was presented to the public. The concept was great but is hampered by the perceived lack of ‘power’. This haunted the Padfone 2 as well with a 720 pixel screen and worst, the disappearance of the keyboard that made the PF1 the device to have.
When the PadFone Infinity 1 was unveiled, I am honest that the full HD screen did catch my eye and the unibody aero grade Aluminum body is a sexy beast. Add to that it has specifications that is at least on par with its competitors. Generally it worked well, so well that as a matter of fact so much so I am quite certain that PFI 2 won’t be on the horizon very soon.
How very wrong was I when just 7 months later, the new PFI was out and about. It makes me feel that spending my hard earned money on something that was superceded so fast is not worth my money at all. And if one actually signed a contract with the Telco to get this phone, the bitterness is all the more harder to bear.
Don’t get me wrong, PFI1 is still a good phone to have and the Snapdragon 600 at 1.7MHz with 2GB of RAM is still snappy for my daily data grind on websites, social media and emails but it just don’t feel nice having an ‘old’ phone so soon into the game.
Within 1 year, we have seen 3 iterations of the Padfone and if the trends goes on, ASUS will be perceived by its customers as a fickle minded tech giant that do not know what they are doing. The consequence of such relentless launches of their phones would not only harm ASUS reputation in the mobile phone arena, but also alienate the very customers who have supported their breakthrough ideas and making them feel negatively that the phone they are holding on is just a stepping stone to something greater in the months following.
Although I totally understand the reason for updating the phone quickly so as to capture as much sales as possible, by doing so will also leave a bad after taste for the current customers/users and would instead destroy goodwill and reputation to the point even future sales will be affected. Imagine this scenario when friends of the users asked them if ASUS is a good brand to buy since they are not strong in the mobile phone market. I would say that the ASUS phone works great, feels great and generally has features that other manufacturers cannot emulate especially with the PadFone Station which is the killer feature.
However I would have to insert this caveat: ASUS has a good thing going but who knows just months down the road, they will have an update that is much better? Would my friends or family wait? Chances are once they asked, they are getting it pretty soon.
What would happen? People would consider ASUS and then get something that would at least make them feel that for at least 1 YEAR that their phone won’t be superceded. I would say 1 year is the very minimum to ensure that our ‘investment’ is well spent. Anything less than a year would be seen as months. Using ‘months’ to describe the longevity of a product shelf life sounds way too short. To me even 11 months is still considered as months and not a year. When people say 6.9 Million, it is actually 7 million but when it comes to marketing, 6.9 sounds a little bit ‘smaller’ than 7. So avoid months.
I am certain that some customers looking at PadFone Infinity for sometime will make a comparison and then get a Phablet from the Korean Chaebols instead because Samsung is consistent in launching their products one year apart although they have the S-series and Note-series to keep Samsung in the limelight in 6 months intervals which they have employed to great effect.
Having a device that should be the flagship device that lasted only months is not helping in customer satisfaction level. Customer Satisfaction is a fickle thing but it is a very important element when it comes to brand loyalty and perception (I have complained before in my earlier post). If owners felt that their loyalty is not bringing them any positive feelings, they certainly won’t look at the brand again for the foreseeable future or worst, totally won’t consider it in the future as I have experienced when I talked about the brand. Why? They feel betrayed.
I hope ASUS will heed this and reconsider their approach when launching products.
Should I Upgrade?
For those who has the old phones and the contract is up and looking to upgrade, the nPFI is something to consider. Do remember that only M1 and Starhub has the nPFI in their stable of mobile phones. Why not Singtel? Mainly is because of the mWallet service that Singtel is offering that do not support microSIM cards that the nPFI is using at the moment. What I don’t understand is that Singtel can sell iPhone that uses the same microSIM cards and not the new PadFone. Anyway all the more good not to have it under contract so that I can maintain the 12GB data plan. Whose loss? Certainly not mine.
If you already have the Padfone Infinity, then the recent announcement about ALL PFIs would get a KitKat upgrade by the 1st half of next year would not motivate you to upgrade at all. At the moment no word is heard about what upgrades would accompany the Android 4.4 KitKat OS implementation. I am fairly certain that Pixel Master can be upgraded since it is more of an image processor algorithm upgrade rather than an improvement of a chipset or actual processor or changes to the Sony Sensor being used in the PFI. It remains to be seen if the upgrade would slow down the operation using the slower Snapdragon 600 but I doubt so; unless our friends at ASUS has integrated some useless apps for the home pages that will bog down the operations.
The new Padfone Infinity is now available in 16GB and 32GB versions costing S$898 and S$998 respectively. The Padfone Infinity Station is also available as an option at S$328.
I have done a Padfone Infinity Photography Workshop with ASUS Singapore and the blog post can be seen here.
More sample shots can be seen at WilzWorkz Gallery at Flickr.