Primarily being used for music and videos, games, and web browsing, many have written tablets off as unnecessary luxury items. But what if tablets were just as good at productivity and taking care of business as they are at media consumption? That is exactly what ASUS set out to accomplish with the Eee Pad Transformer.
The Transformer is a relatively cheap Android tablet – ranging from $400 (16GB) to $500 (32GB) – that comes with specifications that are not that different from the XOOM or Samsung's upcoming Galaxy Tabs. But the Transformer has one unique perk; it has an optional keyboard dock that offers two full USB ports, an SD card slot, and an extra boost in battery life. Is the Transformer the best bang for your buck? Or should you hold out for another tablet?
I've spent several hours with the Transformer and here are my thoughts thus far:
- With such a respectable price, I honestly expected the build quality of the Transformer to be lacking. So far, I've bought a few cheap Android tablets and they were all of very poor quality. But the Transformer's build is comparable to the XOOM or any other high-end tablet. It is made of a little more plastic, but it still feels great and very solid in the hand.
- The 10.1-inch IPS display (1280 by 800 pixel resolution) is very nice. It is extremely bright and (based solely on memory) looks quite a bit better than the XOOM's. The colors seem to pop more and it just looks more crisp than I remember.
- If you want to use the Transformer in portrait, you may want to consider another tablet. The widescreen aspect ratio of the display makes it more rectangular than square and it begs to be used in landscape. At 10.7-inches by 6.7-inches, it looks plain silly in portrait mode. This is because it was meant to be used in the keyboard dock, but it is fully-functioning without it.
- Equipped with a Tegra 2 1GHz dual-core processor, the Transformer is blazing fast. Aside from restoring all of my applications and a few bugs and glitches I've encountered with Honeycomb, performance has been buttery smooth. The Tegra 2 has no trouble handling scrolling between home screen pages, adding widgets, or multitasking.
- Unsurprisingly, ASUS did add their own little – and I do mean little – touch on Honeycomb. There are some widgets and applications that have been included by ASUS, and there is a software keyboard (one that I will never be using) provided by them as well. Apart from these minor changes, the Honeycomb experience is unchanged.
- Besides the price, the highlight of the Transformer is the keyboard dock. It is a full-sized keyboard that can be equated with that of a netbook. However, the entire row of function keys has been replaced with Android-specific keys like dedicated browser and settings buttons, brightness adjustments, volume keys, toggles for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and more. On top of that, it has a multitouch touchpad with a click button below. Two-finger gestures work like swipes would on the screen. Even though the dock costs a whopping $150 extra, it is worth every penny if you are looking for productivity out of a tablet. That said, I do have a few gripes with the dock, which I will touch on in the full review.
- The Transformer comes with a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter. As per usual, the front-facing camera will take stills but is truly meant for video chatting and it performs as expected in that area. The 5-megapixel camera around back isn't bad, but it's nothing to write home about and I wouldn't be giving my ThunderBolt's camera up for it. The cameras are nice to have, but just like with every other tablet, I only see myself using the front camera for video chatting. Tablets are too unwieldy and large to comfortably take pictures with.
- So far the battery life on the Transformer has been great. However, I haven't had a good chance to put it to the test yet. Based on the claims made by ASUS, the tablet itself will get roughly 9-10 hours of use. But pair the tablet with its specialized keyboard dock and it can reach a staggering 16 hours. The extra battery life will definitely prove helpful when watching movies or on those overlays in the airport.
- My one true gripe about the Transformer itself is the fact that there is no micro USB port on it at all. That means I cannot use one of the hundreds of micro USB cables I have laying around the apartment to transfer media. The power block and USB cable do come separate, but that's just just something else I have to keep up with. Unfortunately, this is an issue we will have to deal with for some time to come with tablets, just like we did with cell phones before the mini and micro USB standards.