Of all the Android tablets out at the moment, the Asus Transformer is the most notable. So called for it’s ability to turn into something of an Android netbook with an attachable keyboard. Can it break loose from the mediocrity off Android tablets so far? Could this be the closest thing we have at the moment to an iPad alternative or is it a modestly price clunk-a-tron with an interesting peripheral?
The ten second review:
- Device: Asus Transformer
- Price: £444.00 from Clove
- Summary: A tablet to take on the netbook
- Best of: Detachable keyboard, big battery lift, latest Android
- Worst of: twitchy keyboard, glossy screen
- Buy it now from: Clove Technology
- Also consider: Motorola Xoom
- Unboxed by Matt
What’s in the box?
- Sync/Charge cable
- Mains charger
- Emergency backup set of instructions
Asus EEE Transformer specification:
- Operating System: Android Version 3.0 (Honeycomb)
- Processor: Speed 1GHz Dual Core Make/Model nVidia Tegra 2
- Expansion Slot: MicroSDHC Capacity up to 32GB
- RAM: 512mb
- ROM Internal Storage: Size 16GB
- Display: Touchscreen 10.1" Resolution 1280 x 800 Gorilla Glass
- Bluetooth: Version 2.1 with EDR
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
- Ports: Proprietary 40-pin connector for charge/sync
- 3.5mm headphone
- Mini HDMI
- Removable full QWERTY
- Proximity Sensor
- Light Sensor
- GPS with A-GPS
- Camera: 5 Megapixels
- Webcam: 1.3MP
- Battery: Li-Polymer (Both device & dock contain a battery) up to 16 hours when docked, 9.6 hours off dock
- Dimensions: 271 x 176 x 12.98 mm
- Weight: 680g (without keyboard dock)
On the bottom are two posts for the keyboard connector to plug into. In the centre is the power socket.
On the left is the power button, a volume rocker and a tiny grill for the left speaker.
On the top is nothing. A nice clean metallic edge.
On the right is the 3.5mm headphone socket, a small hole for the microphone, an HDMI out socket and a little hole for the microSD card.
On the back is a nicely textured plastic exterior. In the mid of the top is the 5 megapixel camera. The logo for Asus sits proudly in the centre.
The screen of the Transformer is a large 10.1". Making it just that bit bigger is the bezel, almost and inch in width. In the middle of the top is the 1.3 megapixel webcam.
The keyboard is a must have peripheral if you are to get the most from the tablet. Matching in style and colour the keyboard is a generously proportioned input device with all the trimmings of a netbook keyboard.
On he left is another charge port. The keyboard has a built in battery that will charge the Transformer on the go essentially doubling the battery life. There is a little light beside it that indicates the charge condition.. Further down, under a fiddly hatch is a USB drive. On the front of the keyboard is nothing.
On the right hand side is another equally fiddly cover over the top of another USB port. Along from this is a second expandable memory slot. This time for a normal sized SD card.
Round the back is the flip panel for the tablet to drop into. Once in there is a slide lock to ensure the two do not become separated. The lock is surprisingly sturdy and quite stiff when in use.
The keyboard itself is almost fully featured. 6 rows of keyboard with extra functions of the use of the two function buttons. There are some extra shortcuts to Android functionality along the top, being able to adjust the brightness and connectivity for example. There is also a little light beside the Caps Lock button to indicate if this in operation. Lastly there is a full track pad. When used a little blue arrow appears allowing the user to forgo using his finger on the screen and have a more traditional interaction experience.
- Android Honeycomb
- Screen quality
- Keyboard Peripheral
- Compatibility Problems
I’m going to come clean, I wanted to buy the Asus Transformer when the 3G version comes out later in the year. In short I am not. There is nothing glaringly wrong with the tablet and keyboard combination however there are enough little niggles that your money might be better spent on other upcoming tablets of the main competitor from Apple.
The innards of the Asus are very appealing, however they are pretty much the same across the board. Very few other Android tablets are offering anything other than the NVidia Tegra 2 chipset. The chipset has been used in many tablets for the last 12 months and there are many more planned. I’m not going to go into how the chipset is likely to be superseded by a quad core variant before the end of the year.
The Tegra 2 is a fast chipset, there is no denying it. It works incredibly well and for the first time there is essentially a level playing field that hardware manufacturers are keeping to. Of them all right now, the Asus looks the best, has a lovely price and you cannot play but be intrigued by the addition keyboard that turns a good looking tablet into fully functioning netbook.
So, it’s a netbook with a detachable screen, running Android. Yes. that’s essentially it.
Android Honeycomb is moving fast. It burst out of it’s infancy. If you like customising home screens then this is the operating system for you. There is such a collection of widgets and screen real estate that it is almost impossible to fill it all up. However, it can look rather unfashionable as one widget is rarely similar to the next meaning you will have a hodge-podge of styles
That said, Android Honeycomb looks very well. It’s clean, simplistic and friendly. There are a lot of options and whilst some might think it is a bit mean of Google to lock down the home screen from manufacturers looking to incorporate their own user interface, you will be a little bit more grateful when you see an update arrive that didn’t have to be fiddled with by HTC or Samsung and released to you 6 months after everyone else has it. It’s not always going to be this way so enjoy it now. Manufactures’ are pumping out their own little widgets and pieces of software and you have the option to use it.
Unlike previous versions of Android, honeycomb has a more assessable method of adding your widgets and shortcuts. Some people aren’t going to like it, and I understand why. It’s very, very simple. Almost too simple. In it’s simplicity you do have to scroll across a seemingly endless landscape of widgets to get to the one you want. Might be a little annoying but no one is going to find difficulty in this.
The onscreen keyboard is well proportioned and fingertip friendly. The layout is a little quirky and if you are used to any particular layout you will more than likely have to readapt. There is no fifth row containing numbers unfortunately. If you want this you can find alternatives in the marketplace however, you will likely have to buy these.
The web browser is a beautifully polished desktop-esq experience. With this size of screen you can really capture the internet, with minimal scroll and swipe. Flash is resident here too. I know a lot of people are pro Flash on their device, I am one who is opposed to it. However, in the case of the Asus Transformer, it is a no brainer. There is simply enough power to show. Of course the stock browser runs flash by default, there are other browsers that allow you be more freedom to turn it off and on as you please. The stock browser is getting closer to the feature level of Chrome on the desktop. Many of the features are incorporated, like the ability to sync your bookmarks and settings from Chrome on your desktop to the Tablet browser.
The Gmail and Google Contacts experience hasn’t’ changed too much. The mail client is a logical step to expand Gmail for the larger screen. Nice to be able to preview your mail.
One feature that tends to fill me with dread is the Picture Gallery. When you have 1,000’s of photos it is difficult to manage them and whilst Google and their Picasa service try diligently to master your collection, it has never quite succeeded. On your phone it was quite sensible to have them visible on the cloud, rather that trudging around with 2,000 pictures loaded onto your SD card in case someone asks to see a picture of your holiday or your wife/husband in a bikini/bikini. Keeping them in the Cloud will allow you to queue them up can after the shortest of delays you can parade your adventures in front of whomever is asking. The Transformer can’t do that, sure you can fill up the memory banks and but this takes you back a couple of years. If you are outside of a Wi-Fi hotspot you will have to make excuses as to why you cannot access your pictures. This is where the 3G makes all the difference and where Google’s cloud picture storage has a few bumps. Of course you might have a mifi or be sitting in a free Wi-Fi area, in which case, lucky you.
If you read across other reviews on other websites you are going to notice that there are a lot of comments and negative points made about the marketplace, the number of apps you have available to you. I’m not going to do that. The iPad has millions, there are ones from the iPhone and some developed purely for the iPad. It’s the same here. There might not be as many specifically for the tablet side of Android but they are coming thick and fast. It will not take marks away from Honeycomb if Apple have a good head start on them were tablets are concerned.
In addition to the marketplace you can also install other app store. Take for example the Tegra Zone. A store focus on the engine of this tablet. There is App Brain, Appslib and Getjar.
Where other tablets will differ is the collection of software already installed on the tablet. Much of what you see above has been install by me but we will take a look at the main software that the Transformer has to offer.
Apps developed for the phone generally look quite bad on a tablet, however, much like the iPad Google have equipped Honeycomb with a compatibility zoom. Generally this fills the screen when in portrait mode. Not entirely useful when the tablet is in the dock.
You can use the tablet as an alarm clock. It might be a tad expensive to buy the device solely for this however it would be a pretty awesome status symbol if you did.
One of the most important features for a lot of people will be the ability to read ebooks. There are a number of different clients available from the marketplace however none are a widely used as the kindle app. On this screen the app is stunning. Text is clear and the layout works well.
One of the big disappointments was the BBC iPlayer. The app for phones and the previous generation of Android tablets was a fully fledged app. For Honeycomb you will have to make do with a shortcut app that takes you to a web version of the played through the browser. It’s better than nothing but we all know these shortcuts to flash sites are just a cop out.
One of the most breath-taking features of the iPad is iMovie. There is absolutely no reason why this tablet shouldn’t have a basic video editor of some type. And it does, Android Movie Studio. It’s hardly Adobe Premiere or Avid but it allows for some simple trimming, effects and titling alongside adding music and out video to the mix. It’s what people will mostly be doing and seemed to be rather stable in everything I was making it do. Nice one.
In addition to storing things through Google you also get access to Asus’ MyCloud. Allowing you to store stuff and access it when in range of a Wi-Fi signal. You get 1 years unlimited storage. Which is quite nice, especially as you will probably change your tablet after that year to something else. You can also access you home desktop computer via this service, allowing you to control the computer, showing the desktop on the tablet’s screen.
MyNet allows the user to access and stream content over your local home network from a media server, such as a Windows PC with Media Centre. I never managed to get this to work despite have two fully functioning media servers in the house.
Google Docs isn’t optimised for Tablets yet. No worries as the Transformer has Polaris Office installed to make life easier for you. Or harder if you don’t know exactly how it works. Hence this is the second time I have written this review. Polaris Office is a swish looking office suite that deals will documents, presentations and spread sheets. With the addition keyboard you will be in for a good time, I’m writing this review comfortably on the device.
In addition to ebook reading, some folks like to have their magazine and newspapers in electronic format. Press Reader and Zinio have been provided to cater for this. Magazines are fairly fast and fluid to reader and I can only assume that newpapers are the same. However, Press Reader didn’t seem to want to throw up too many local newspapers for me.
If you have made it this far through the review then it’s safe to say you are really interested in buying the Asus Transformer. I am probably wrong but I guess that the camera is probably the least of the interest to anyone buying one. Aside from video conferencing on the likes of Skype of Fringe I really can’t imagine someone out taking snaps of the family barbeque with one of these. I saw someone taking pictures with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" and I wasn’t the only person giving them funny looks.
The pictures are surprisingly good, for a tablet. I have to emphasise that again, for a TABLET. The quality of the pictures is better than so many camera phones out there but I really believe this is one type of camera that will only ever be used in an emergency, or when the user realises there is a camera.
The benchmark of the device is a little scary considering the hardware inside. I can only assume the benchmarking tool isn’t accustomed to running on Honeycomb. So I have provided alternate results and whilst it seems to whoop a bit of ass on the Android 3.2 Stock rom, it’s has it’s ass handed to it but the Samsung Galaxy S2.
All seems great with the Asus Transformer, however there are a few niggles that are worth considering before you purchase. Firstly, the keyboards. I had problems with both keyboards, the on screen one and the hardware one. The on-screen keyboard, provided by Asus, a nicely proportioned 5 row area with numerical keys along the top was a little laggy. As a result, I had to change to the stock Android keyboard and the results were instantly better. Oddly, the hardware keyboard suffered from this a bit also. Perhaps, as the keys are new, they need to be broken in. I found that building up to a fast pace saw a number of inputs being dropped. I have had to weed through this review looking for incomplete words. A bit of a set back, however I’m sure over time the keys would give way and become more responsive.
The screen is gorgeous. Amazingly sharp and instantly impressive. Everything is so clear photos from a standard digital camera look fairly poor on this high resolution display. I was quite shocked at how bad some of my pictures looked when reviewed. A testament to the screen, ahead of it’s time!
There is an issue with fingerprints. They show up, not so much on the screen but on the large bezel around the side. The bezel, in this case is great as it gives you something to grasp when using the tablet but the black finish shows up finger prints and reflects atmospheric light something shocking.
The fact that the keyboard is nothing but a big dumb battery filled input device really helps sell the product. Anyone who buys the tablet, I insist you get this. Sure, as I mentioned there is a little bug with the input however the whole package is fantastic. The addition of the regular 32gb SD card socket and the two USB ports really expands the value of this peripheral. Additionally, you can charge the tablet from the keyboard. Keeping it with you in a laptop bag would be a big plus as the tablet will go for a few days when used in combination with the keyboard. There wouldn’t be much of a concern when taking them both on a shortish business trip, you need not bring a charger.
On the whole the tablet is the best yet produced to feature Android. It’s not going to take down the iPad in it’s prime. There is enough jazz to keep you coming back to it if you choose and for some it will give the iPad a bit of a sideswipe. Obviously in a Wi-Fi only flavour will keep a few folks from investing until the 3G version arrives later this year, but a what cost? It’s hardly a shock wave after wave of Android tablets are coming and there will be a more difficult market to compete in. There are in fact a couple of other tablets from Asus already planned before the end of the year.
Right now, this is the star, screamingly fast is might not be, but it combines the elegance of a Rolls Royce to the iPad’s Porsche. There is enough brawn in the tablet to keep it from dating for a generation. It’s not too heavy, even when the keyboard is attached. If you are looking a tablet, can’t wait something else, or are looking to buy before the market becomes a blurr then this is the one. It trounces the Xoom, ignores the Flyer and stands good ground for when the Toshiba Thrive and Samsung 10.1 and 8.9 Galaxy Tabs hit.
Whilst the iPad 2 sits on a big fat A, the Asus EEE Pad Transformer comes in with a very handsome Bubblebee+.
Posted by: Gareth