The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is an Android operating system (OS)-based tablet device that was launched in April in the UK. It can be used as a laptop with the purchase of the optional mobile docking station, so will appeal to users who currently crave both a tablet and laptop, but haven't the finances for both.
The tablet itself comes in two versions – one with 16GB of internal storage and the other with double that at 32GB. Both versions use solid state devices (SSD) for their applications and data storage.
The tablet can be attached to the mobile docking station which has a full QWERTY keyboard to transform – hence the name – the system into a laptop (see picture).
The 16GB tablet costs £316.66 + VAT, the 32GB model costs £358.33 + VAT and the mobile dock costs £75 + VAT.
We reviewed the 16GB version of the Transformer. Both models run the latest version of the Android OS – version 3, also called Honeycomb – optimised for tablet devices with a screen size above four inches.
The tablet weighs 0.692kg, while the mobile dock weighs 0.644kg, giving a combined weight of 1.336kg. The combined base and tablet unit has dimensions of 271 x 171 x 13mm.
Aside from the tablet connection system, the mobile dock has two USB 2.0 ports, a power connection and a card slot supporting full-sized MMC, SD, and SDHC cards (see picture).
The tablet has a mobile dock station attachment, a power connection, a mini HDMI port and a slot supporting microSD cards, as well as the on/off switch, an audio volume control and a dual-function audio jack for headphones and microphones.
The stereo speakers and a stereo microphone are also contained in the tablet unit.
The Transformer runs under the Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS which has built-in Adobe Flash 10.2 support. The processor chosen by Asus for the Transformer is an nVidia Tegra 2 1GHz dual-core chip, running with 1GB of system memory. The eight-core onboard graphics processing unit on the Tegra 2 runs the LED-backlit screen at a native resolution of 1280 x 800.
Currently the Transformer has three types of network connections available: an internal GPS antenna, wireless connectivity through IEEE 802.11b/g/n hardware, and Bluetooth v2.1.
The version of the Asus Transformer with a mobile broadband connection (mobile access through a SIM card) is not yet available in the UK.
It's easy to separate the tablet from the base – just pull the silver catch (the mobile dock latch) to the left and ease out the tablet. Separating the tablet from the base worked well all the time we used it.
The Transformer took 10 seconds to boot up, with a shutdown time of just under 20 seconds. The initial desktop screen users will see gives location, weather, amount of new emails awaiting since the last logon, shortcuts to other applications, with notifications and settings available in the bottom-right-hand corner (see picture).
The build quality of the Transformer is good and the 10.1-inch in-plane switching (IPS) glossy touchscreen gives a crisp image, with great colour balance – the blacks are black and not dark grey. The Transformer also has a toughened, scratch-proof glass layer. However, in bright sunlight it is highly reflective and did cause us to move to a shadier environment.
The QWERTY keyboard on the mobile dock is a standard one, but has 16 shortcut function keys above the number keys, making it easy, for example, to take screenshots or turn Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections off with a single keystroke.
We had no trouble typing quickly on it, although large-fingered users might have problems because the keys are not concave and might be too close together for fast typing. Similarly, when the tablet is detached from the mobile dock people with large fingers might hve the same problem when they have to use the on-screen software keyboard.
It was possible for us to synchronise calendar and contact information between the Transformer and our Dell Optiplex 980 Labs Windows test system, but only using a USB cable.
To do this, we had to download, install and run the Asus Sync application on to the Windows system (see picture).
To set up the synchronisation process, users have to plug in the USB end of the cable normally used to charge the Transformer into the Windows system, and not use a standard male-to-male USB cable for the process.
We could also see the Transformer storage in Windows Explorer, so it was possible to manually transfer data over the cable from Windows to Transformer and vice-versa.
Internet connectivity is provided through a Wi-Fi connection only. There is no LAN adaptor and the mobile broadband version of the Transformer has yet to be released in the UK. Asus said recently on its Facebook page that the shipping date for this in the UK is in August.
The only problem we had with the wireless network connection was connecting to our residential wireless network through a SpeedTouch 580 Wireless ADSL modem/router. Although the Transformer said we were connected, had a valid security key, and got a valid IP address, we could never access the internet through that connection.
But we could connect easily to our Office network, which used an DG834N RangeMax NEXT Wireless ADSL2+ Modem/Router.
The speakers also surprised us with their sound quality. They were above expectations and, while they were not up to Hi-Fi-buff level, there wasn't the tinniness associated with a lot of laptop and netbook speakers.
Of course, a big problem for Windows users is all those applications that work on your system will probably not be available on the Transformer, unless they were previously web-based services or Microsoft starts offering 'Office for Android'.
Instead, Office productivity on the Transformer is provided by Polaris Office 3.0, enabling users to edit Word (.doc), Excel (.xls) and PowerPoint (.ppt) files created by all versions of Office from Office 97 up to the current version Office 2010 which uses the .docx (XML) format.
There is one year’s worth of unlimited Asus WebStorage, although the renewal rates are not clear.
We would suggest that the system really ought to come with three years' worth of storage – closer to the lifetime of the system, although that would bump up the price.
There are two Li-ion polymer battery devices in the Transformer, one in the tablet rated at 24.4Wh, and another in the mobile dock.
Asus gives an estimated battery life of 16 hours, based on playing 720p video at an LCD brightness of 60nits.
The Honeycomb OS does give information about what is affecting the Transformer's battery life, so users can turn off services if they put the Transformer into sleep mode.
The graph shown below, shows an approximate battery life of about 10 hours (lifetime minus Transformer asleep and when charging), with the Transformer being used quite lightly.
It also shows that leaving Wi-Fi on whilst the Transformer is sleeping drains an appreciable amount of power (see picture).
Users can switch off the Wi-Fi with a single keystroke to save that power.
Charging the tablet took about three hours from zero to full charge.
The Transformer is a very good system, when used as either a tablet or as a netbook. The battery life would easily last a whole work day, unless massive workloads were imposed on the system – either graphics visualisation or complex calculations.
Of all the tablet systems we have used, the Transformer was the easiest to work with, a major factor being the ability to use a physical keyboard, rather than an on-screen software keyboard.
Using the touchscreen – even when the keyboard was connected via the mobile dock – enabled us to move between email, social networking sites and other applications much more easily than navigating the system with the trackpad.
Polaris Office enabled us to work with Microsoft Office format documents easily, and it was easy to drop files on to removable storage.
The applications we used performed without a hitch, although we could not connect to the Thomson wireless router on our residential internet connection. All other Wi-Fi connections worked well.