ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 – Android Tablet Reviewed

With the abundance in range of tablets on offer these days, you can say one is somewhat spoilt for choice when making a decision. Adding to this, Android clearly has a staggering variety in this department, what with almost every electronics manufacturer looking to release an Android tablet nowadays. So it is only fitting that Asus – the company that gave birth to the netbook – would seek to put out an Android tablet into a forte it knows well.
Enter the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer – a sleek piece of hardware that ‘transforms from a glossy slab of tablet technology to that all too familiar design of the notebook we’ve come to appreciate; all this with minimum fiddling on the keyboard dock (Yup, you guessed right – the dock was a bit of a sore point, but we’ll get to that in a minute).
For you impatient lot, here’s a quick rundown of the technical specifications:

  • Dimensions:  271mm x 175mm x 12.95mm
  • Display : 10.1 inch IPS (1280 x 800)
  • Weight : 675g
  • Processor : 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (2x Cortex A9) SoC
  • Operating system: Android Honeycomb 3.2
  • Storage: 16GB + microSD card
  • Battery Life: 10 hrs (+ 6.5 hrs with keyboard dock)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-fi (802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n)
  • Pricing: $399 ($429 including keyboard dock)

The Build

The overall build of the tablet is quite solid with a single sheet of glass covering the IPS LCD, a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera and an ambient light sensor. Surrounding the 20mm black bezel is a strip of bronzed metal which gives the Transformer a distinct sense of quality. Also housed on this strip are the usual suspects – a well-placed power/lock button, volume rocker, microSD card slot, mini HDMI 1.3a port, mic/headphone jack, stereo speakers on the lower left and right edges respectively (although don’t expect to bring the house down with these) and a proprietary connector along with coupling holes for the keyboard dock at the bottom. A 5.0-megapixel rear-facing camera and the customary ASUS logo bring up the back panel, which features a somewhat striking etched, geometric pattern oddly reminiscent of the internalized Honeycomb OS.

The OS

Google’s OS for tablets – Honeycomb, has been well-documented since its release. Although a bit clunkier than Apple’s iOS in terms of overall layout and organization, it still easily manages to hold its own. The interface is almost a breeze to work with in terms of customizations and little things like the email, location and weather widgets that blend in seamlessly with wallpapers/skins. ASUS’ on-screen keyboard also has some nifty shortcuts and tweaks that might make life easier for some (or not). Other custom services include MyCloud – ASUS’ cloud computing initiative, which bundles three portals to help carry your world wherever you go. Also included is Polaris Office, a Movie Studio app and a bunch of reader app’s among other freebies. At the time of writing, the review piece was running the latest version of the Android tablet OS, Honeycomb 3.2 – some of the new features included screen compatibility for fixed-sized apps, media sync from SD card and some subtle performance optimisations among other revisions to its predecessor.

As mentioned before, with the range of Android tablets on offer these days, tablet manufacturers are always looking for some kind of unique selling point. This holds more true due to the fact that most Android tablets are packing near-identical innards.

The Keyboard Dock

So it would seem natural that ASUS would try to position a product that offered the convenience and portability of a tablet along with the functionality of a netbook.  A detachable keyboard, as that USP, provides some reason for excitement. The attachment bears a netbook-sized QWERTY keyboard (with several Honeycomb-specific keys), a surprisingly large trackpad, and a hinge where the tablet docks. The build of the keyboard attachment is exactly the same as the tablet itself and the sides here are adorned by two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot and that familiar proprietary connector. Why you ask? Well, the docking station has its own rechargeable battery, which ASUS claim adds an additional 6.5 hours to the overall battery life. All this sounds well impressive but we’re now going to come back to that kick in the shin – docking the tablet to the keyboard is an absolute skirmish! On more than a few occasions you’ll find yourself blindly shoving the tablet into the docking station, with their union only being hinted by the little silver tab clicking into place – if not, a deceiving ‘fit’ might lead to heartaches not even Criss Angel will be able to fix with all his magic tricks! But the pros of this attachment easily outweigh the cons, making it a worthy sidekick to the tablet against its able-bodied Android competitors.

The Camera

The Asus Tablet comes with two cameras, a front facing 1.2 Megapixel camera and a rear 5 Megapixel camera. You can use the frontfacing one for video chat using Skype and other apps. The rear 5 MP camera is a disappointment though, the quality of the images is not up to the mark, and forget video capture, the best you can get is some jerky videos, not worth the effort. But then I don’t see many people holding up a 10 inch tablet and moving around clicking too many snaps or videos.

Hardware Connectors

This is where the Asus Transformer does gain some plus points over other tablets. The tablet itself comes with the following connectors:

  • A MicroSD card slot
  • HDMI connector
  • Headphone jack which also works as a microphone input
The Keyboard dock extends the tablet’s capability by providing these options
  • 2 x USB 2.0 connectors, which supports USB OTG (On-the-Go), this lets you connect your mouse, USB drives and other devices to your tablet, as long as they don’t draw too much power from the device
  • A card reader  (MMC/SD/SDHC) for you to slam in your cards from your Camera to directly copy photos or media to the tablet.
These options make the tablet almost as powerful as your general netbook. Which is a good thing for people on the go. You don’t really have to carry another netbook along with you on your travel, this baby should take care of most ( or all) of your computing and connectivity needs.

The Final Word

Well, let’s face it – it’s definitey no iPad-killer.. Even with the flash support trump card, a sparse Honeycomb OS will find itself playing catch-up with the hardware for sometime to come. However, if you can get to grips with this fact and move on then you have a fabulous piece of technology that’s a joy to work/play around with. And so what if it’s not the ‘next big thing’ you’ve been looking out for? A high-quality IPS display, superiour design, excellent keyboard integration and value for money ($399 is definitely one of the cheapest, the dock sets you back another $150) easily set this apart from it’s closest competitors; and for this it gets a well-deserved 8/10 from us. Optimus & prime’d!

If you’re planning on getting one, here’s the Amazon link to the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 Tablet and the Asus Keyboard/Docking Station for Eee Pad Transformer. For more information about the product, check the Asus Site.

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Imran Hassan

Scientist, gamer, tech-enthusiast, modest Pure-O!Follow me on twitter @slick_panda

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