Thanks to ASUS, I never want a tablet without a keyboard again

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| March 5, 2012

My obsession with tablets started long before I ever owned one. Now, though, I have been through more tablets than I care to admit – more than anyone else I know. I've lost count, but I do know the number is well into the double digits. The very first one I owned was an Archos 5 Android tablet. I graduated from it to the iPad after it launched, then back to a slew of different Android tablets, the TouchPad and I will eventually give Windows 8 tablets a whirl.

Just over a week ago, I finally decided to sell my Galaxy Tab 10.1, which I had bought sometime last summer while it was on sale. In my time with it, the Galaxy Tab served me well. But in anticipation for newer tablets at Mobile World Congress, I decided it was best to part with it. I was able to let a good friend of mine (who had been in the market for a tablet for a while) have it for a good price. It was a win-win, I suppose.

However, after parting with the Tab, I began to remember just how much I actually used my tablet from day to day. My tablet usage is sort of like a roller coaster, to be honest. But there are things that I use my tablet for exclusively, like Gmail and Google Reader. I use it for a lot of productivity apps and for casual browsing after I'm done working.

Once it was gone, though, I realized that I needed something to take its place. So I took it upon myself to load my dust-covered Kindle Fire with Ice Cream Sandwich – something that was long overdue. It only took about 15 minutes, but it didn't take long for me to realized that it wasn't going to do the trick. Typing on it, albeit better than the stock Kindle Fire software, was a chore. It was uncomfortable to use and dare I say ... too small.

I had been on the fence about the Transformer Prime since long before it launched in December. I pre-ordered the original Eee Pad Transformer and loved every second of owning that tablet and I never should have sold it. But my mother was dying for something to replace her XOOM (she's almost as bad as I am when it comes to tablets) and nagging me over the Transformer since they were virtually impossible to come by. So I figured I would be a nice son and sell it to her. (Now she's asking me to offload that tablet.) But I digress.

All of the local Best Buys had been sold out of the Prime for weeks due to ASUS' stock issues. But I had read a headline somewhere stating that Primes were slowly returning to stock at several retail locations. I decided to test the waters and see if I could find one in stock. Long story short, after about 10 minutes of waiting and several workers telling me they had the tablet but no keyboards, I slapped seven big ones down and walked out with both the Transformer Prime and the keyboard dock.

I have been using it almost religiously ever since.

I hear a lot of people saying that keyboards defeat the purpose of tablets. I strongly disagree. The keyboard dock for the Prime is what makes it so versatile. I have actually typed most of the articles that I have written in the past week from my Prime. And there's no turning back now. I don't want a tablet without a similar keyboard attachment again.

With my first iPad I had bought a ZAGGmate, which is a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad that doubles as a case. And with the Galaxy Tab, I used a Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard for typing. While both of these options worked as intended and were very functional, they were not quite as integrated as the keyboard dock for the Prime. And, of course, Samsung has an optional keyboard dock for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 that can be purchased separately, but it's hardly as svelte or as functional as ASUS' option for their Transformers. Not to mention, our own Evan Selleck had a bad experience with the Samsung dock – it bricked his Galaxy Tab. Needless to say, I was always wary of that one.

But ASUS' keyboard dock for their Transformer models is about as integrated and slick as it can possibly get. It's not just a keyboard for a tablet. It actually makes the tablet feel and operate like a netbook ... only much better than any netbook I've ever used without the full desktop functionality.

It's difficult to explain the tiny differences between using the dock for the Prime versus just any ol' Bluetooth keyboard option. They're minute, really. For instance, when using a Bluetooth keyboard, the keyboard will sleep after several minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life. When you want to resume, you have to wait a couple seconds for the two devices to establish the connection again. With a dock, the keyboard acts as if it is part of the machine – there is no latency between powering on the device and using the keyboard. And instead of carrying two devices separately (or in the case of the ZAGGmate, popping the tablet out of the case part, flipping it around and propping up the stand), you can simply open the lid and the two are ready to be used. Likewise, closing the lid and stowing the tablet is just as quick and easy.

On top of that, you have other benefits like additional ports – a full SD card slot and a USB port – and extended battery life. The trackpad doesn't hold a candle to that of, say, my MacBook Air's trackpad. But a USB wireless mouse does the trick quite well.

None of this is to say that I will never buy a non-ASUS tablet again, or that I will never buy a tablet without a keyboard dock again. That said, it will take some serious convincing to make me let go of my Transformer this time around. And after MWC, it doesn't look like any other manufacturers are doing anything particularly groundbreaking with tablets anytime soon, unless you want to consider Samsung's S Pen groundbreaking. But I guess we'll have to wait and see what Apple has to say about their latest iPad, which will be announced this Wednesday, before we can say that for sure.

What say you, tablet owners? Have you used a keyboard with your tablet before? How did you like it? Have you compared it to a Transformer with the keyboard dock? Better yet, if you've owned a Transformer, how do you feel it compares to the other options out there? Could you do without a keyboard dock?

Products mentioned