Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 £379
10th May 2011 | 13:37
Is this the Android tablet you've been waiting for?
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Overview
With every electronics manufacturer in the entire universe looking to release an Android tablet in 2011, individual products are all going to need some kind of unique selling point.
This is especially true with Android 3.0 products, because the vast majority of them are all packing near identical innards – namely Nvidia's Tegra 2 dual core CPU platform.
You can check out our Android Tablet round-up to see how this slate measures up against three of its rivals below:
So it makes perfect sense that Asus - the company that gave birth to the netbook - would seek to position its first Android tablet in a niche it knows well.
Ever since the iPad was unleashed on the world like an Apple-scented hurricane in 2010, the humble netbook's days have been numbered. But the problem was that until now, there wasn't a product that truly offered the functionality of a netbook and the portability, convenience and not to mention the pleasure of using a tablet.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is that product. With its detachable keyboard and trackpad dock, it's a powerful Android tablet while on the move, and a functional Android-powered netbook when you're sitting at a desk.
The back of the tablet and the keyboard is covered in a honeycomb-style texture, which makes it quite grippy to hold in your hand.
That said, build quality doesn't quite live up to the impossibly high standards of the iPad 2. The plastic bodywork feels mostly solid, but there's a fraction of give there that slightly undermines what is otherwise a very lovely-looking device.
Another small negative is the size of the thing. The 10.1-inch screen is surrounded by a black bezel and a further metallic surround, which makes the device almost 20mm wider than it would be without them.
It's also slightly heavier than some of the other tablets around. At 680g it's still not exactly heavy, and with the keyboard dock attached it feels about the same weight as a decent netbook.
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And there is one enormous positive that we've yet to mention. The price.
The Transformer is available from as little as £379, while it'll cost you just £429 for the tablet and keyboard dock together. That means it's significantly cheaper than the likes of the Motorola Xoom, while offering arguably a lot more.
So does the Transformer offer the best of both tablet and netbook worlds? Or is it a horrible mess in the shape of the Acer Iconia Tab W500? We're about to find out.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Features
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer comes packing the same Tegra 250 chip as the other big hitters in the Android 3.0 world.
Backed up by 1GB RAM, and 16GB and 32GB storage flavours, it's as well-specified as any other tablet we've seen. That storage capacity can be supplemented by taking advantage of the microSD slot in the tablet and the SD card slot in the dock.
It also comes with a 10.1-inch capacitive IPS display at a decent HD resolution of 1280x800, a 5MP rear-firing camera and a 1.3MP front-facing camera.
Other hardware features come in the shape of a three-axis accelerometer, gryroscope, wireless N connectivity and a tablet-only battery life of 9.5 hours. There's not yet a 3G version but we believe there's one on the way.
The Transformer has a proprietary docking connector on the bottom side, which is used to charge the battery, connect to a computer and dock with the keyboard peripheral.
It's a fully-featured keyboard, tailored perfectly to the Android 3.0 operating system. So as well as the QWERTY key layout, you've got hot keys for locking and unlocking the device, adjusting screen brightness, turning Wi-Fi on and off and opening the Android settings menu.
You've also got a laptop-style trackpad that enables you to use a cursor to browse the Android OS if you so wish.
The keyboard dock is where two USB 2.0 ports and an SD card port reside, so if you buy the cheaper version without the dock, you won't get those features. But the dock is more than just a keyboard and USB port – it has hidden powers, courtesy of its own battery.
The dock's battery packs in an additional six and a half hours of playtime, meaning that when docked the Eee Pad Transformer can be used for up to 16 hours without the need for a recharge.
What's more, the dock actually passes its charge on to the tablet itself. So when the tablet's not at 100% power the dock will charge it up, providing it has enough juice to do so.
If both batteries are fully charged, the device will take power from the keyboard first, meaning the tablet always has as much power as possible for when you want to detach it.
With the Android 3.1 update, the Transformer will be able to act as a host for external devices such as digital cameras, further reinforcing this tablet's status as a netbook killer.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Performance
In use, the Transformer TF101 is a joy.
We're big fans of the Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS, and it runs like a dream on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101.
We won't go into the general features of Honeycomb in this review – if you want to know more about it you can read our in-depth Android 3.0 review.
By far the most interesting feature of the Transformer is the keyboard docking station, so let's go there next.
We had reservations before we tested the Transformer. Our main fear was that the tablet and the dock would not marry together well. Acer's W500 Windows tablet was guilty of that – the keyboard was horrible, and the method of docking the two products together was implemented poorly.
That's not the case, here, though. The tablet slots into the dock with a satisfying clunk, and once they're attached you wouldn't know that they were ever apart. You can fold the screen flat just like you can with a standard netbook – something that, on the Acer Iconica Tab W500, would result in the two pieces falling away from each other in an embarrassing fashion.
There's an easy-to-use silver switch on the front of the dock, which releases the tablet and automatically locks it into place when you dock it.
The keyboard dock is significantly lighter than the tablet, which means that when they're docked together, the weight of the device as a whole isn't too bad. In a perfect world it would be a tad lighter, but really it's light enough to carry around without putting your back out.
The keyboard brings so much to the Android experience, too. Tablets are often called consumption devices because they're more about consuming media than actually creating content.
However, with the keyboard and with the inclusion of Polaris Office, you're immediately well on the way to not needing a secondary laptop – we're not quite there yet though. Typing is quick and easy, and the keyboard isn't spongy in the slightest.
Typing the odd email and searching the web is quicker and easier than using the frankly horrible onscreen keyboard.
That's one thing we really didn't like, in fact – the onscreen keyboard is different to the standard Android 3.0 one and it's not nice to type on at all. The first thing we wanted to do was install a different keyboard (one of Android's greatest strengths is that you can do things like that) because the keys are squished.
This is one reason why the iPad's 4x3 aspect ratio works so well – it means the keys on the keyboard aren't as elongated.
When the dock is connected, a mouse cursor appears on the screen and you can then navigate the OS in three different ways.
You can stick to the touch interface and use gestures on the screen. You can use the trackpad on the dock like you would use the trackpad and mouse buttons on a laptop. Or you can also plug a USB mouse into one of the USB ports on the dock and use the mouse to control the cursor. You can also interchange between these input methods without having to change settings or switch modes – they all work simultaneously.
We found that using the mouse and keyboard like a standard computer worked very well, although the experience is not flawless by any means. For a start, the cursor seemed ever so slightly behind. It moves just a tiny fraction of a second after you move your finger on the trackpad or move the mouse.
It's not a massive issue, but it's enough to make us feel that we didn't particularly want to use the cursor much.
The other minor quibble we had with the trackpad involved scrolling in the Android browser. On a laptop, to scroll down on a web page you slide your finger on the trackpad towards your body. To scroll up, you'd slide your finger away from you.
But here it's the opposite. To scroll down you gesture in the direction of the screen, which is very unintuitive for anyone who's ever used a laptop – which is... everyone.
We can see why it's done like that – it's to match the exact same gesture you'd make if scrolling by touching the screen itself. But it would be nice if there was an option to invert this input, as it's hella annoying.
The screen on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer is an IPS panel, and it's one of the best tablet screens we've seen.
Colours are bright and vivid, contrast is decent and the viewing angle is excellent. When watching videos, the picture is smooth and sharp while the touch input was extremely responsive.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Camera
Modern tablets have cameras for many reasons, and taking holiday snaps isn't particularly one of them.
Having a camera gives developers more freedom to develop apps that use image capture as part of their functionality, whether by translating printed text into digital words or taking some quick snaps to manipulate in a casual editing app.
We've seen some truly excellent cameras on tablets recently – the best one being on the the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V, which still hasn't gone on sale in UK Vodafone stores.
The iPad 2's camera sits further down the order, with its pitiful 0.7MP and 0.3MP efforts.
The Eee Pad Transformer has a 5MP rear sensor and a 1.3MP front-facing sensor for video chats.
The results from our testing were hit and miss, and to be frank we were rather disappointed with the performance in both stills and video mode. Video is recorded at a respectable HD resolution of 1280x720, although the footage by no means has the appearance of high definition.
Frame rates are awful, too – if you check out our test video you can see that panning slowly produced some incredibly juddery footage. There haven't been many corners cut with this tablet, but the camera is one area we feel has been sacrificed to preserve that attractive price.
The iPad 2's sensors may be primitive, but at least they perform at a level you'd expect from a premium product. We can't imagine ever wanting to use the Transformer to record video.
Still shots were acceptable in quality without being in any way, shape or form impressive. Colours were washed out, contrast was poor and sharpness was distinctly lacking.
You're not going to want to use this tablet to capture any lasting images, but it's perfectly good enough for app developers to work with. We can't see said developers using this tablet as their reference device, though.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Benchmarks
Asus Eee Pad Transformer
How it rates against the rest - higher is better
How we test
TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful tablet reviews on the web, so that you are able to make a more informed buying decision.
Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.
We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.
Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.
We test each device three times and take an average.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer: Verdict
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is an excellent tablet. It's an all-round performance expert with very few weaknesses.
The tablet is very fast and extremely responsive. Multitasking using Android 3.0 is impressive, and it was very easy to switch between running apps quickly and without fuss. There was no lag at any point, save for a few quirks with the mouse cursor.
The keyboard is also a fantastic addition, and anyone wanting to get hold of this tablet should definitely consider spending the extra £50 or so on the keyboard dock. It adds extra functionality and another six hours of battery life into the mix.
Battery life itself is a major positive – 16 hours with the dock gives you a lot of options, and far outstretches any tablet we've seen. That said, it won't charge over a USB connection with your computer, you'll need the bundled mains adapter for that.
The screen is excellent – we couldn't fault it at all. The display also seems to resist finger smudges better than most, although it's still not as impressive as the iPad 2 in this regard.
The inclusion of features such as SD and MicroSD slots, miniHDMI-out and two USB ports only increases the tablet's functionality further. And of course, with the Android 3.1 updadte adding the ability to host cameras and other external devices, this tablet is only going to get more useful.
The cameras are rather poor, especially when you consider what the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the LG Optimus Pad are capable of producing. The 5MP sensor doesn't perform anywhere near as well as we'd expected.
The size is also a small drawback – the bezel is surrounded by a metallic edge, which makes the tablet a bit wider than it would otherwise have been. It's not a major factor, but it does mean it's not quite the tidy tablet we'd have perhaps wanted it to be.
Using a USB mouse with the tablet isn't as slick as we'd hoped either, as the cursor was always fractionally behind our movements. Perhaps this is something that can be fixed with a future software update.
Of course, there's also the ongoing problem with Android 3.0, in that there aren't currently as many apps available as for the iPad or even Android phones. However, this is something that is guaranteed to improve over time.
What it all comes down to is the price. If this had been a £600 tablet, we would have said 'nice try, but it's not quite there'. But this is a £429 tablet – or £379 without the keyboard – which makes it, without question, the most attractive Android tablet yet to hit the shelves.
It's also the first non-Windows tablet that can reasonably claim to render the netbook obsolete. So should you buy one? Of course you should.