The build quality is excellent with a solid plastic chassis and classy textured back. The 10.1 touch-screen is highly responsive, while the bundled keyboard dock is comfortable to use
Android Honeycomb is an excellent tablet OS that is intuitive to navigate and customise. However, the Android Market still doesn't house many Honeycomb apps, nor is there any way of filtering them out
With two USB ports, a miniHDMI port, microSD and SD slots and DLNA streaming, the Eee Pad Transformer is one of the most connected tablets around. It supports Wi-Fi and GPS, but not 3G internet. Its keyboard dock makes it great for both business and entertainment use
Smooth and fast thanks to a dual-core 1GHz chip and 1GB of RAM, though some apps required force-close. The keyboard and touch-screen work fluidly for a great web and overall navigation experience. However, the stills and video camera is mediocre
With around eight hours on the tablet itself, and an extra seven or so when docked in the keybaord, the Eee Pad will last a nice, long day.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 4:01:07 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Excellent value, good build quality including iPad-rivalling display, fluid combo of tablet and keyboard, Honeycomb OS works well, lots of useful widgets, tons of connectivity options
Heavy when docked, keyboard won?t be to everyone?s taste but must be purchased with tablet, low quality speakers, hard to find Honeycomb apps, reflective screen
Android Honeycomb tablets are launching in droves, but none have stacked up to the market-leading Apple iPad in any serious way. Well, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer just kicked the competition up a notch - not just as a plain old tablet, but as a tablet-to-PC double device that actually works. Think the Motorola Atrix if it'd nailed the form; the LG Optimus Pad if it'd eschewed the 3D cameras for a slicker design. At £379.99 for the base Wi-Fi model, keyboard and even an iPad-esque case, it's cheaper than reigning tablet champ Apple iPad 2 - making it a tooth-and-nail battle that really hinges on which OS camp you're already in.
With the iPad 2 owning the tablet market, it's only natural to use it as the benchmark for incoming contenders. And the Eee Pad Transformer is the closest thing in look and feel right now. The build quality is excellent, with a solid plastic chassis and textured back that feels almost velvety. We love the unique brown metallic finish. At 10.1 inches, it's a touch larger than the iPad 2: 271x171x13mm versus 241.2x185.7x8.8mm, and 680g to 600g. The metal frame for the display adds a nicely rigid feel, but it's just a bit sharper and less ergonomic than the iPad 2's slender aluminium frame. Most manufacturers have nailed capacitive touch-screens by now, and the Eee Pad has a very responsive one that also clocks in at a decent 1280x800 pixels. Like the iPad 2, the display packs an IPS panel, so viewing angles are excellent no matter where you're sitting. Our only complaint is the brightness of the display, which is pretty dull on average setting and only reaches acceptable when turned all the way up.
As an Android device, connectivity is excellent on the Eee Pad, which has a mini HDMI slot, microSD slot to bump up the 16GB/32GB internal storage, and a 3.5mm audio jack. At the base is a proprietary charging slot not unlike the long thin iPad and Dell Streak slots, which can also be connected to computer via USB for data transfer and PC charging. Under the hood, a dual-core 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 AP20H chip and 1GB of RAM keeps the tablet humming. A five-megapixel camera with auto-focus (no flash) sits at the back, while a front-facing 1.3-megapixel snapper makes video calls and self-portraits possible. It supports A-GPS and Wi-Fi but not 3G, so navigation is only possible if you connect it to some kind of portable hotspot on the go - from your smartphone or a Three MiFi, say. Battery life is around eight hours, bumped up if you plug it into the keyboard dock.
When we reviewed the Motorola Atrix, we applauded the innovation of a tablet that can be used like a laptop; unfortunately the execution failed to impress. The Eee Pad Transformer has managed both, with a bundled good quality keyboard that adds an extra seven or so hours of usage. Its chiclet-style keys are heavier and softer, while its classy bronze colour and patterned back matches the tablet itself. At ten inches, it's slightly smaller than most laptop keyboards and feels just a tad cramped, though we and our small hands found it just right. Our only complaint is the Shift key, which has been squished into a tiny square rather than the rectangle it is on full size keyboards. Though a line of Asus-exclusive keys add to the cramped feel, we love the added functionality - when you dock the tablet, you can shortcut to the settings menu, internet, home, search and even going back a page. Like regular keyboards, there are also media controls, brightness control and a screenshot button. The tablet fits quite easily into the dock, and once in, you can even shut it like a netbook. Together, it's chunkier than many netbooks though, but with an extra two USB slots to facilitate hard drive connection and an SD card slot for easy photo transfer, we're not complaining.
The combo of touch-screen and keyboard is great. Once docked, the keyboard works in every program. Browsing the web in particular was excellent, as you can type addresses and search terms, and use touch to scroll pages. You can use keyboard shortcuts to open new pages or tabs too.The Polaris Office app is preloaded, so you can work on Word, Excel, PowerPoint docs as well as view PDFs. Surprisingly the keyboard is less functional here, with common shortcuts such as bolding and new-doc not supported as of press time. However, the app itself works smoothly, with fast save and load times, and a few rich HTML options like text formatting and justifying.
As we've covered before, the tablet-optimised Honeycomb OS has lots of features that make it better in slate form than iOS. You get five homescreens, customisable with widgets and app shortcuts. Adding these new pieces is far more intuitive than on smartphone Android, and like on a desktop screen, you can place them anywhere you want. Holding down on the screen brings up the personalisation menu where you can hit app, widget and wallpaper tabs, and drag things to the screen you want.
There's a great new Gmail widget that lets you scroll the inbox without having to leave the home screen. Asus widgets include an all-in-one 'MyZine' which takes up a whole screen with a photo gallery square, hot links to music, video and website, weather, as well as email, event and book alerts.
Honeycomb 3.1 is now available for update, and the Eee Pad was one of the first to support it. This adds resizeable widgets, support for more USB devices, as well as new Movie and Books apps. There's also a beta Music app with a pretty interface that automatically pulls new music on your device.
Despite all this, the lack of organisation in the Android Market keeps it from really claiming top spot. Gartner analysts forecast that the iPad will continue to own the tablet market for the next 12 months, and the dearth of Honeycomb apps as well the lack of any filter as there is for iPad apps on the App Store makes that pretty likely.
With iOS5 launching with iCloud in the fall, other tablets need to get on the all-in-one cloud storage solution. Asus' MyCloud fits the bill, letting you store media and documents on a server free for the first year (US$29 thereafter), as well as connect wirelessly to your home computer.
MyNet connects to DLNA devices such as PS3s, HDTVs and Windows 7 computers to stream media, which an unusual addition to a device that already has an HDMI port. It worked seamlessly with our Win7 laptop.
Less pleasing was MyLibrary, which opens up your ebook shelf. Unfortunately the interface is pretty unintuitive, with no link to go the ebook store. Instead, you have to hit the menu button - which will probably be second nature for Android users, but not very inviting to first-timers. Once you're in, you need to log in to your account, otherwise links simply don't work, with no pop up message to explain why. In our review period, we often had to force-close this app.
Surprisingly, the Eee Pad only supports MP4, so DivX and MPV video - common formats for online video - won't work unless you download the RockPlayer app, which isn't without its glitches. It does support 1080p playback though and our HD Dexter episode played gorgeously in great clarity and colour. Though the viewing angles are good, the reflective screen means the best picture is had in relative darkness.
The audio is quite appalling, and though acceptable for TV, its tinny sound is missing quite a lot of the lower end of the spectrum. This lack of any bass means you won't want to listen to music without plugging in some speakers.
Browser wise, the preloaded Dolphin has private and tabbed browsing, and supports Flash 10.2. For anyone complaining that Flash video sucks up battery life, RAM and processor horsepower, the new player has ironed out a lot of that, and we found YouTube and BBC videos ran smoothly and quickly.
Adding media to your Eee Pad is a simple matter of drag and drop when you've hooked up via USB. We love that Asus has organised the viewable storage far more tidily than on many Android devices, showing only folders you can actually interact it with, such as Movies, Music, DCIM (for photos) rather than confusingly annotated system folders.
Speaking of photos, both the cameras are mediocre - pretty much what you might expect from a phone-cam. The 1.3-meg front one is predictably lackluster, with grainy, dulled images, and the back snapper not much better, especially with the lack of flash. Though it claims to support 720p recording, our captured video was a touch jerky and definitely not at high-resolution. Of course it's unlikely you'll be using your tablet to take photos, and for now, there are better areas for manufacturers to focus on perfecting, so for us, the camera isn't a huge issue.
The Eee Pad Transformer is currently the best Android Honeycomb tablet on market, and with a bundled keyboard and case at £379.99, it's easily the best-value tablet all round. The combination of keyboard and touch-screen works fluidly, making this a really great tablet if your needs include a ton of email and other messaging. We find that Honeycomb as an OS takes advantage of a tablet's power and size more than the iPad, with movable, resizeable widgets and apps, but until the Android Market takes care of its Honeycomb apps a bit better, the iPad 2 edges this as an entertainment device.