ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101
$799 32GB with keyboard dockContact
As our major review of tablet computers shows, tablets have started to arrive in numbers as major brands jump into the rapidly growing sea of opportunity that Apple has created. And with the headstart the iPad has given Apple in the tablet race, it’s especially important for competitors to differentiate themselves somehow.
For ASUS, this means turning a tablet into a multi-function device that doubles as both hand-held tablet and portable netbook – a transformation that comes thanks to an optional add-on dock providing a large keyboard, touchpad, expanded battery capacity, and extra ports including two USB ports and an SD-card slot. (If you buy just the tablet, expect it to be about $200 cheaper.)
Netbook in disguise?
ASUS isn’t the first to provide a physical keyboard for a tablet – Apple’s iPad works with its own Bluetooth battery-powered keyboards, as well as third-party solutions such as Padacs covers with built-in Bluetooth keyboards. But the fact that ASUS’ solution works as a dock and effectively turns the tablet into a netbook is an innovative one. It certainly addresses one of the undeniable less-than-ideal features all tablets suffer from: typing on touchscreens just isn’t the same as on a physical keyboard with tactile feedback. We found that the keyboard and touchpad on the dock work well, though the keys feel a little flimsy.
Attaching the Eee Pad Transformer to the dock is simply a matter of slotting it in and pushing down hard until it clicks. A latch secures the tablet, and when the arm is folded the combination makes the Transformer look no different than your average netbook. While attached, both the dock and the tablet can be charged by connecting the power cord to dock and, combined, ASUS claims they have up to 16 hours of battery life. If the tablet is attached while not fully charged, it will automatically charge itself from the dock’s resources, even if the dock isn’t plugged in, meaning you can top-up the tablet via the dock’s battery.
Web browsing and interface
In use, the tablet is quick and responsive, except when browsing heavy web pages. This is the same issue that plagued the Acer Iconia A500 and appears to be a function of the Android OS at this time. As with other Android-based tablets, while the interface is slick and pretty it’s not quite as intuitive as Apple’s opus. And while the division of applications into Music, Gallery, and My Library, for example, makes sense, we found no way to make new category folders to organise other apps – for instance, to place games in (you have to cage those Angry Birds somewhere!).
Connection and OS
For connectivity the Transformer sports a micro-SD slot and mini-HDMI port, allowing direct output of sound and video to any HDMI capable display. It also includes both a front-facing 1.2 megapixel (Mp) camera and rear-facing 5Mp camera capable of HD video. Our Transformer was loaded with Android 3.01, but at the time of writing Android 3.1 was about to go live, promising better performance and battery life. ASUS bundles a free one-year subscription to its own MyCloud storage service, as well as MyDesktop, which is remote-desktop for your tablet, allowing you to access and control a remote Mac or PC.
As far as Android-based tablets go it’s one of the better ones, but still not quite nipping at the heels of Apple’s iPad. It does, however, foreshadow the rate of development happening in the segment. If you’re in the market for an Android tablet this should be near the top of your list.