The tech press has maligned Android tablets. There just hasn’t been one that has caught the up to the iPad according to many people. That may soon change with tablets like the one I have, the Asus’s EeePad Transformer.
Much of the hardware on the Android tablet front has eerily similar specs. Like most Android tablets that have a version of Honeycomb, the Transformer has an Nvidia Tegra 2, 1 GB of ram, 16 or 32 GB of Flash (mine has 16), WiFi (B,G and N supported), Bluetooth V2.1+EDR, HDMI out, MicroSD Slot, a 5 megapixel camera on the back and a 1.2 megapixel camera on the front. Where the Transformer differs is in its screen and it’s accessories (which I will get to later).
The Transformer has a beautiful 1280×800 IPS display which is the very same technology used in the iPad. I just LOVE the screen. It is every bit as beautiful as the one on the iPad. It’s very responsive and just really works well.
There’s only the power button and a rocker for the volume on the left side of the tablet. The bottom has the proprietary dock connector. The right side has a headphone jack, MicroSD slot and the HDMI port. The top of the tablet has nothing on it.
The construction of the Transformer is very solid. The back is made from a textured plastic and feels very nice when using the tablet. Surrounding the display is a ring of metal. As a whole, the Transformer feels very solid and substantial without being heavy. It’s not as thin as the iPad 2, but it’s no thicker than the original iPad. Overall, I love the feel of the device in my hands and I really love using it in portrait mode when reading books in the Kindle app. The 16:9 ratio makes this a 10 inch tablet that’s a bit easier to hold vertically. I don’t feel the need to stretch my thumbs when tapping out an e-mail when in portrait mode. Landscape mode is a bit harder, but is better if you install a replacement on-screen keyboard like SwiftKey X for Tablets.
The best thing going for the EeePad Transformer is the accessories or namely the most important one, the Keyboard Dock. Asus offers this wonderful add-on for the Transformer that makes this a device that is not only great for consumption, but also pretty decent for content creation. The dock itself is about the same size as the Transformer. When inserted in the dock, you can fold it like a netbook. When folded, it’s about as thin as the thinnest netbook I own, the Lenovo S10-3t. When open, it feels very much like a netbook when typing. It has a keyboard that is almost identical to most of Asus’s netbooks.
If that was all the keyboard dock had, I would have probably skipped buying it. Thankfully, Asus added many things to the dock that makes is a slam dunk add-on. Not only does the dock add a keyboard and a trackpad, but it also adds 2 USB host ports and a full-sized SD Card slot. These additions make the keyboard dock a valuable peripheral that I bring with me every day.
The USB ports work with most mass storage devices I have tried including a 1 TB Western Digital Passport drive that I have formatted with NTFS and the Sandisk Sansa Clip Zip. Some other peripherals work just as well, human interface devices like mice and keyboards also work with the dock. The only thing that stops a device from working with the dock is driver support included in Android.
The SD Card slot is really handy on the keyboard dock. With a wi-fi connection, I can upload pics from my camera right from my EeePad or any number of other uses. I am really glad they included this slot on the dock as it is really convenient. If I was on vacation and not required to remote in to work, this machine is all I would bring thanks to the keyboard dock and this slot.
The last feature is the battery in the dock. This is probably the single most important item that caused me to purchase the dock as it takes the device to a whole new level, giving you an advertised 16 hours of total battery life. This exceeds the iPad’s battery easily. In real life, I don’t get 16 hours but I get really close! With intermittent use during the day and an hour or two each night, I can get about 2 days of life out of both batteries easily. This is the main reason the dock is always with me, insuring I never am without power. At a conference with heavy use of wi-fi, I was able to make it all the way through the day with about 70 -80 percent of the tablet’s battery left. So I am very impressed by this accessory and I recommend anyone who buys a Transformer get this keyboard dock.
The only caveat is that there is a bug with the most current firmware on the dock or on the most recent build of the software on the Transformer. For some reason, when you attach USB storage or use the SD slot, you may have to reboot the device with the items attached before they are picked up by the OS. This is only with the most recent update. It worked fine with earlier ROMS. Asus has been really good at pushing out updates so I look for this to be fixed soon.
The Transformer ships with Android 3.1 or 3.2 depending on where you get your device from. Mine came with 3.1 and immediately wanted you to update to 3.2. The latest version of Honeycomb feels very smooth on the Transformer. No lags when moving between screens in the main OS and the standard apps all worked very well on the Transformer.
With that said, there are some weird things that happen with the built-in software. The market acts just like it did on the Acer that Michael reviewed. That is, it only supports landscape. There are also many apps that act funky. Some apps start up in portrait mode even if you are holding the tablet in landscape. An example of this is a 3D Bowling game that I tried. It only works in portrait mode. There are other apps like Astrid that while they work fine in landscape, they still have some screens that want to run in portrait. There’s also no tablet enhanced version of Facebook for Android, but the phone version works ok on the EeePad. In the very near future, I look for most of these issues to be fixed by Android 4.0 which is supposed to be coming to the Transformer by the end of the year. In Android 4.0, there is no need for tablet specific apps as all apps are supposed to work well IF they are written to the 4.0 API.
The software included on the Asus EeePad Transformer includes some really handy stuff as well as not so handy. Asus Includes a Web Storage program to work with the free web storage they include with the device. They also include an eReader application called MyLibrary, MyNet which is a DLNA streaming application, MyCloud, a file manager, a desktop app for syncing data to and from your PC, the Polaris Office Suite and Supernote.
The best app in the bunch is Supernote. It let’s you take notes and sketch with your fingertips. You can also use they keyboard with Supernote as well as share your notes via Android’s built-in sharing.
Asus Web Storage is a program that can be used to sync and upload your data to your Asus Web Storage in the cloud. You can then use the associated MyCloud app to play media you have stored in the cloud. You can also purchase music from the Asus@vibe store. It works ok, but I prefer Google Music or Amazon’s Cloud player to this solution as they both seem to work much better and are easier to use than Asus’s solution.
Asus has put together what I think is the best of any of the Android tablets to date. While it’s not as thin as the 10 inch Samsung Galaxy Tab. it has a great deal more functionality thanks to the well thought out keyboard peripheral. I actually typed portions of this review on the tablet. When push comes to shove, I could use this device to write a blog post and use the camera to take a picture or two for the post. I could also run a presentation with the included Polaris Office and even have the ability to make quick edits to the presentation if needed.
The only problems I can find with this device is that not all applications are available for tablets just yet. While most phone applications work fine, there are some apps that do not show up in the market. The Yammer client that the Gear Diary team use for our team communications would not show up in the market, but I was able to sideload it and it works just fine. Netflix was also like this, but recently Netflix added support for Android 3.X so you can now download it from the market. It’s the same app as the phone app and while it doesn’t have tablet enhancements, it does work and looks ok depending on which stream you watch.
Some have said that Honeycomb is half-baked. That may have been true about Android 3.0 and the Xoom, but I think the 3.2 version fixes most but not all of the issues making the tablet very usable for day-to-day use. There are many days where I don’t even get my laptop out in the evening favoring the EeePad.
With Android 4.0 coming to this device, I look for a lot of these things to get fixed. If you are not a fan of Apple, then I highly suggest you check out the EeePad Transformer. Also, add the keyboard dock to your purchase as well as it’s the whole point of the Transformer. It literally transforms this device into something special.
MSRP: $399 for the 16 GB, $469 for 32 GB. Keyboard Dock is $159.99
What I liked: Nice add-on software and the most up to date version of honeycomb makes the Asus Transformer the best Android tablet to date.
What needs improvement: App support needs to get better.