- Two-piece design slots together neatly and securely
- Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) is designed for tablets
- Good battery life
- Good screen
- Dual-core processor
- Plenty of ports if you use the keyboard
- System is top-heavy in clamshell mode
- Ports are sparse without the keyboard
- Few tablet-optimised Android apps available
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is a 10.1in. tablet running Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). It comes with a keyboard into which the tablet docks in landscape mode. The idea is that you can use it for ultra-mobile tablet-style computing when travelling light, adding the keyboard when need to do some real work. We've already seen a similar arrangement in Acer's Iconia Tab W500, which marries this two-piece approach with Windows 7.
The Eee Pad Transformer is a well weighted and nicely designed tablet — although we'd have liked less bezel around the 10.1in. screen, as this would have trimmed the 27.1cm by 17.1cm by 1.3cm dimensions. The obvious comparator, Apple's iPad 2, measures 24.1cm by 18.6cm by 0.88cm: the difference, while not vast, is noticeable.
The 10.1in., Android Honeycomb-based Eee Transformer is bulkier than Apple's iPad 2 and weighs 680g
The Eee Pad Transformer weighs 680g, which is on the heavy side — even the iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G weighs less at 613g, while the Wi-Fi only version weighs just 601g. On the other hand, the Acer Iconia Tab W500 measures 27.5cm by 19cm by 1.59cm and weighs 970g.
The upshot is that we found the Eee Pad Transformer, if not overly unwieldy, then slightly awkward to hold in one hand for any length of time while prodding at the screen with the free hand. The fairly generous bezel does at least make it easy to avoid touching the screen inadvertently.
The left and right short edges of the brown metal screen surround and the brown plastic backplate have a smart-looking stippled effect. The backlate carries a (flash-free) 5-megapixel camera; there's a second 1.2-megapixel camera set in the screen bezel, slightly off-centre at the top.
Connectors and buttons on the tablet are mostly confined to the left and right short edges. On the left is the power switch and a volume rocker, plus a speaker grille. The right edge houses a 3.5mm headset jack, a mini-HDMI connector, a microSD card slot and a second speaker grille.
The bottom edge carries the keyboard and charging connectors. The latter is a 40-pin proprietary unit, which also appears on the keyboard.
The Eee Pad Transformer's keyboard is solidly made and carries extra ports
There are no USB ports on the tablet, but the keyboard offers two, along with an SD card slot. The tablet lacks a charging indicator, so you need to monitor charging with the screen switched on, which is slightly irritating. The keyboard does have a charge light, though. The charging cable itself is rather short: it didn't stretch from our desk to power points at skirting-board level, making it impossible to boost the battery and work at the same time.
The keyboard is solidly made with a metal front and plastic backplate that echoes the stippled pattern as the tablet. The docking mechanism is reassuringly solid, comprising two locking slots and the main connector through which power and data flow. The connector is hinged so you can set the screen back to about 135 degrees, and pull it all the way forward to close like a standard clamshell notebook. A sliding lock keeps the two sections very solidly together. The whole mechanism is both considerably more flexible and more robust than the one on Acer's Iconia W500.
A row of shortcuts above the number row let you control media playback, volume, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other settings; there are also Home and Search buttons to the left of the keyboard and a Menu button to the right. The trackpad drives an on-screen cursor and can be turned on or off as required. You can also attach a mouse to one of the USB ports — we had no problems using our everyday mini laptop mouse in this way.
We found the keyboard comfortable, if a little cramped, to use. However, the screen is slightly top-heavy, so prodding it with a finger tends to cause the whole unit to topple backwards. We also experienced this with the Asus Iconia Tab W500 and fear it may be a perennial problem. When the physical keyboard is not docked, you can use on-screen keyboards in both landscape and portrait orientations.
The Eee Pad Transformer runs Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), which immediately gives it an edge over devices 7with larger screens running Android 2.x versions. The only such tablet we've seen that impressed us was the 7in. Samsung Galaxy Tab, which is more of a large mobile phone than a true tablet.
The processor, Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2, is the same as that in the LG Optimus 2X, and it's supported by 1GB of RAM. There was 16GB of internal storage in our review sample, and the microSD card slot can be used to add a further 32GB. The USB and SD slots on the keyboard allow for further storage expansion.
There's no mobile broadband connectivity, but Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and GPS are all present. The screen rotates automatically as you turn the tablet in your hand, and it is very responsive.
Android 3.0 looks superb on the 10.1in. 1,280-by-800-pixel screen. The screen's touch-responsiveness is excellent — you almost feel you aren't tapping or sweeping the screen at all, but floating your fingers over it. Viewing angles are great too, although the inevitable reflectivity and fingerprints detract from the experience.
Android 3.0's user interface design works very well. It should still feel familiar to Android 2.x users, but adds larger finger-friendly widgets.
However, applications designed specifically for Android 3.0 are thin on the ground at the moment. You do have access to the entire Android Market, but those that are not optimised for Android 3.0 can look very lost, sitting in a corner of the screen with lots of unused space around them. Users of key Google applications such as Calendar, Contacts, Google Docs and Google Maps should enjoy a good experience on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer though.
Asus has augmented Android 3.0 in order to provide a personalised experience. It adds a file manager that will prove useful for handling external memory devices. There's the inevitable weather widget, plus a potentially useful email widget. A more consumer-friendly MyZine widget collects email, calendar, weather, music and other information from the device into a quick-access interface. You also get Polaris Office, which can be used to create Microsoft Office-compatible Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.
The Eee Pad Transformer comes with a year's free unlimited access to Asus WebStorage, so you can store important data in the cloud and access it from any location with a Wi-Fi internet connection. There's also an ebook reader.
The Eee Pad Transformer is a two-battery system. The tablet on its own is rated as good for 9.5 hours' use. Dock it to the keyboard and the rated uptime rises to 16 hours. We only had a limited time to test the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and we weren't able to try it with a wide range of workloads. However, it's not unreasonable to expect the Eee Pad Transformer to get you through a working day without needing a recharge — especially if you're using a fully charged keyboard.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is an impressive marriage of tablet and keyboard. The design is generally good, although the system's top-heaviness in clamshell mode is a worry.
Professional-level Android applications are still thin on the ground, which limits the Eee Pad Transformer's appeal to businesses. Having said that, the bundled Polaris Office does a reasonable job of knocking out simple office documents. The range of Android apps optimised for Android 3.0 is also currently small. Hopefully these will be short-term issues, and we are impressed with Android 3.0 itself.