Is A Quad-Core Android Tablet The Future Of Portable Gaming?

I'm watching a demo of Sonic 4 Episode II on the Asus Transformer Infinity Android tablet, which boasts a full 1920 by 1200 display and a ridiculous five internal cores. The hedgehog has never looked so vibrant, so colourful, so well-rendered. "If you put this next to the Xbox version, it will look the same if not better. I would say better because of the full HD," proclaims NVIDIA's regional rep Jeff Yen. I don't disagree. But will any games enthusiasts actually care?

The Infinity is one of three models in the Transformer range, all of which include a built-in keyboard dock for those moments when you realise that on-screen keyboards are completely useless. This model is being promoted as the "media and gaming" skew because of the high-resolution screen and the built-in quad-core Tegra 3 processor provided by NVIDIA. In fact, there are five processor cores, with an additional "battery server core" designed to ensure that apps which don't need lots of processing grunt don't needlessly wear down the battery.

Watching video, perhaps surprisingly, is one of those low-powered options (rendering needs grunt, but simple playback doesn't). Games, though, definitely aren't. "Developers are trying to add more new effects and experiences to make mobile games more interesting," Jeff said. "For us it's about trying to push the envelope, making games better." NVIDIA's figures suggest a 15 per cent improvement in battery life when gaming using the new system, which will be welcome news to anyone who has cursed their dying device when their homebound train gets stuck unexpectedly for two hours.

Jeff, a self-proclaimed "terrible gamer", doesn't get anywhere like that far into Sonic 4. I won't throw stones on that score; my initial reaction whenever I see the blue blur is to try and work out if there's an option to kill Tails, which might be a defensive mechanism to conceal my utter incompetence. But it does seem odd to try and demonstrate a modern, high-powered device which is being promoted as a "portable console" for current games with a 20-year-old property.

That's happening because there are, to be honest, not terribly many titles that take advantage of a 1920 by 1200 screen. NVIDIA even offers an Android app, TegraZone, to help track down those that do. They'll look splendid, no doubt, but unless hi-def tablets become a mainstream option, most developers simply aren't going to bother with the extra effort. It's one thing to up the size of your graphics, retina display style (and even that doesn't always happen). Really taking advantage of that extra grunt requires recoding, and how much of that can you justify for an app that will sell for $10 at best?

It's also questionable whether the kind of people who like mobile games (which is where Android is) care about the sort of hardware issues that occupy the overclocking-crazed PC crowd. Raw performance isn't everything. Just as Mum and Dad purchasers favoured the friendly-looking Wii over the better-resourced Xbox 360, people seeking a mobile gaming device may not bother digging into the specs.

And then there's the hardware price. The Transformer Infinity, complete with keyboard, costs $999 in Australia -- more than $200 more than the US. As Luke at Gizmodo points out, this is the Australia tax at its worst. But even at the US price, I'm not sure how many people will cough up that amount of money for an Android tablet when there are much cheaper options like the Nexus 7 out there. (Asus manufactures that too, so I'm imagining it'll be celebration time at the board meeting either way.)

Overall, it's a nice piece of gear and I wouldn't complain if I had one, but I'm unconvinced that a significant proportion of gamers will see a high-powered Android tablet as an essential purchase. What do you think?


    If you don't want to spend the (ridiculous) cash on a Transformer go grab a Google Nexus 7, it's only $300 but has the same (yet slightly weaker, yet outweighed by a lower resolution screen) processor. Bloody brilliant tablet the Nexus 7, if only I could review it somewhere.

      I was interested in the Nexus 7, until I learned that it had no expandable memory and 16 GB was the biggest it came in. How they could market it as a media consumption device and not provide expandable memory seemed like a big oversight. No 3G/4G either...wasn't totally a dealbreaker for me but would have been nice to have. Besides the larger screen, there's nothing the Nexus 7 can do that my android smartphone can't already do. Add in the gimped Google Play store where we can't buy magazines (which would have been one my the main uses of it for me) and it was an easy decision to keep my money in my wallet.

      I've seen some people on the train with Nexus 7's and whenever I do, they just still seem too small to be of any real use to me.

      Honestly, if Google bring out a "Nexus 10", with a 10 inch screen, expandable memory and 3G/4G , I'd probably say shut up and take my money (well, provided I can get what I want from the Google Play store). But the Nexus 7 just wasn't what I was looking for in a tablet. I really want to enter the tablet market but absolutely nothing out there at the moment and made me say "wow, I gotta have that". I'm gonna give it another 6 months and see what happens to the market when Surface and the new Sony Xperia Tablets come out.

      +1 to that... Gaming on the Nexus 7 is great. I've got it loaded up with Dead Trigger THD and Samurai 2 THD, both of which look amazing... Tack on MAME4Droid with Metal Slug, TMNT and The Simpsons arcade, and I've still got around 12Gb free for books and movies! =)

        *10.5Gb free for books and movies... Forgot that the total 'real' capacity is only actually around 13.5Gb..

    The new transformer 301 isn't bad- comes with dock for $550 or so. I think any tablet that wants to be taken seriously for games needs a better input than touch

      You can use a xbox controller or most cabled controllers with android. They're supported.

        How do you hold a tablet (presumably this is 10") and a controller, unless you use your third...

    At a full grand, that's just way to expensive for me to even consider, with or without a keyboard dock. If it was selling at closer to its US price here then maybe, but with Surface around the corner I really want to see what happens with that before entering the tablet market myself.

    Let's face it, nobody actually *needs* a tablet. Not in the same way you need a phone or a computer. They are luxury items, so if you decide to buy one, you really need to think about what you want to use it for, and buy on that fulfills that.

    The tales hate must be from the new games isn’t it? As a kid in the early ninety’s seeing a two-tailed fox that could fly around like a helicopter and add another player in sonic was a mesmerizing experience and I couldn’t begin to comprehend the genius of it all. I do admit however that Miles ‘aliveness’ can become an annoyance after a while.

    Wait... Isn't Sonic on 360 and Ps3 1080p anyway?

      Pretty sure it's 720p upscaled - most console games are. The fact that the PC version required a patch to get higher that 720p is somewhat telling...

    Uh, Android no, WIndows perhaps.

    But the OS aside, what about power? A serious game and gamer would take up a lot of juice, wouldn't it?

    The problem is that there aren't any "real" games for Android or iOS. No point in having such a powerful tablet when the games are so lacking in gameplay.
    That's why I'm hoping the MS Surface Pro will change all that as I'll be able to run so many window-based games!
    January 2013 can't come soon enough!

      No dev/publisher is going to put serious capital or effort into a system that will be replaced in a year and can only sell for less than $5. Therefore it's no surprise that the second I boot up a game that's advertised under the guise of a serious game: Dead Trigger, you get game that has extremely simple mechanics with a level no bigger than 30 sq/m . Even a lowly reviewed true handheld game like Resistance:Burning Sky has more impressive levels.

        I agree it's risky putting a lot of capital into mobile gaming but it's improving with the likes of EA, Square Enix and Take Two hopping on board.
        I disagree with you regarding the the machine being obsolete in a year. Most mobile games are compatible with OSes that are a few versions behind.
        But yeah, I haven't been impressed with so far with mobile gaming. If only Sony could bring out a PS Vita Phone :-)

    The issue is not how much horsepower you can shove into a tablet - the problem is with the interface. Yea, a touch screen is great for some things, but for the majority of games, you like to be able to see what you're doing, and touch (by its very nature) obscures the screen while interacting with it. I've long wondered at what the solution could be, but with things like LeapMotion coming along, if someone gets that working with Android, or even with Surface, it could be a game changer.

    Talking about if there will be much property for HD Android games, I think the answer is yes.

    Apart from the current slew of tablets coming out, the big one is Ouya which is slated for March. And guess what... It uses the same Tegra 3 as the transformer. (Disclaimer: I'm writing this on a Transformer Prime right now)

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