Tech Flash – ASUS EEE Pad Transformer
Since the launch of the ASUS EEE Pad Transformer TF101 in April of this year it has been a hot item for tech enthusiasts and consumers alike. This Android Honeycomb 3.2 tablet has received a lot of attention as the combination of the best of two worlds: tablet portability with netbook usability. The EEE Pad features an innovative design where the base of the unit can be detached from the screen. This flexibility means it can be used for tasks such as document preparation and other keyboard intensive tasks as well as a typical Android tablet. I have owned one of these devices for about a month and have used it in a variety of environments to prepare for this review.
The first thing I noticed when using this device is how well everything works together. The base can be docked and undocked without any workflow interruptions, seamlessly providing an additional 8 hours of battery life on average for the device when connected. The base can also be used to charge the tablet itself in times when there is no access to power. The docking as well as the charging happens through a proprietary ASUS connector. Powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 2 platform with 2 cores running at 1GHz with 1GB of RAM, this device is no slouch when it comes to performance. Coupled with this performance is a beautiful IPS panel which means it looks amazing at any viewing angle, perfect for movies and gaming.
When I picked up the device, the presentation was reminiscent of the original Apple iPod Touch packaging: sleek, distinctive imaging and an incredible box opening presentation. After pulling out the tablet and the docking base my love affair with this device took its first stumble. The charging adapter utilizes a USB cable, which connects to the proprietary dock connector. This would not be such a problem aside from the fact that the cable was less than two feet long, meaning that the device is pretty much rendered unusable while charging in my current environment.
Once charged, I opted to use the tablet sans docking base. Once the device loaded for the first time and I had completed the typical Android configuration I understood the appeal of this tablet. Brilliant display, a smooth Android experience only rivaled by my Motorola Atrix and a great home screen configuration out of the box. The growing popularity of Android tablets combined with a strengthening of the Android Market meant that many applications were available for the tablet form factor. With the Android 3.2 upgrade we saw the introduction of application zooming, meaning more mobile phone applications became available to the tablet for regular use.
Upon connecting the dock, the tablet recognized the keyboard and touchpad along with the extra battery power it provided. I used the chiclet style keyboard for basic typing such as URLs, login information and a combination of the screen and touchpad for navigation. The touchpad features multi-touch, meaning Android gestures are translated quite well from the screen to the touchpad. While the keyboard proved usable for basic tasks, the difficult tests were yet to come.
As I am taking some university courses, I decided to try out the tablet for taking notes in class. This is where the annoyance of smaller, poorly designed chiclet keyboards became obvious to me. The small form factor I can understand as it is a netbook style keyboard after all, but the real annoyance was the force needed to have the key presses register. On top of poor to nonexistent spell correct this meant that frequently I found myself correcting some earlier typing. The touchpad cursor is a glowing orb, which also meant that using the cursor to pinpoint exactly where I wanted the cursor placed for corrections. These two factors alone made my two weeks of note taking a miserable endeavor of re-entering the notes once I arrived home in the evenings. This basically defeated the purpose of having a keyboard and touchpad, as the very obstacles they were intended to overcome were the devices greatest shortcomings.
In short, the tablet is a beautiful device with strong performance and great application selection, but the docking base became more of a frustration than a deal changer. I would still prefer to some other ultraportable device for day to day heavy input tasks.