When the Eee Pad Transformer was first announced it drew a smirk from us, but seated on the Pocket-lint reviews desk we have to take our hat off to Asus: Usually there is some sort of compromise to be had when convergence takes place.
It is wider, yes, but the Eee Pad weighs in at g. The edge of the Eee Pad is metal, which surrounds the glass screen at the front and is finished with a plastic back. The textured finish and brown colouration is a little more kitsch than Louis Vuitton to our eyes. Colours aside, the edging does offer up a sensible placement and collection of buttons and ports. The bottom of the Eee Pad is given over to the two cutouts to hold it onto the keyboard dock alongside their proprietary dock connector.
This connector is used for charging the device in lieu of Micro-USB and appears both on the tablet and the keyboard, so you can at least charge both parts with the same power cable. The right-hand side of the Eee Pad sees a 3. There is a front-facing 1. We did find ourselves missing the pulsing notification LED that the Motorola Xoom has to alert you to new emails and there is no LED on the Eee Pad to tell you that it is charging, which we feel is a slight omission.
Video too, which comes out as p HD suffers the same fate of being lacking in vibrancy, struggling to deal with bright conditions and lacking real detail.
Of course Honeycomb is new, so there is some work still going on behind the scenes, especially when it comes to the wider app environment. As we said in our review, Honeycomb is a great operating system for tablets, delivering the Android experience you expect but making much better use of space than previously.
There are some great natural features and the core applications work really well. On the Eee Pad we tested, we found the Android Market threw up some oddities, often failing to install first time and needing a second prod to get the app to install. We also found the Google Search would open the browser to return results and just refresh the last browser page we had open; the second search would then deliver the results we were looking for.
Minor points and not too irritating once you know about them. The same applies to the Asus Time widget and the Asus E-mail widget, although unfortunately the latter only works on the email client rather than the Gmail app. There is also a funky MyZine widget, which gives you a sort of mock magazine cover drawing in various elements from the device - website, calendar, photos, weather, music, etc. It eats virtually a whole page but it looks nice and there are two variants available.
Asus have also added to the basic out-of-the-box feature set with some of their own applications: Starting with the weak link, the Vibe elements accessed through MyCloud offers up internet radio and music.
Neither are very impressive, both lack content and are slow to navigate. TuneIn Radio presents a much better option for internet radio and if music is what you are after then perhaps Spotify is worth a subscription. MyContent will let you access content on your Asus WebStorage.
At the top level things look nice on the Eee Pad, but as you dive deeper it lacks consistency as you reveal all the little services running: It is a little slow, but works well enough for ad hoc access, perhaps to access files or applications on your main computer. Moving on, MyLibrary is an ebook reader app which will offer up book files you have on your system.
However, we found that when we tried to access our protected EPUB files the application would quit to the homepage. MyNet will offer to play content from sharing computers or servers in your house. We fired it up and it was quickly offering content from our Cisco media server.
Autobots, transform and roll out! The Asus EP Mobile Dock follows the same eye-catching design points paid down on the tablet, with a metal deck presenting a neat chiclet keyboard which crams in a lot of functionality, as well as a touchpad.
The tablet slots into a hinge dock and locks in place. The back of the keyboard dock is finished in the same Louis Vuitton-esque plastic, so when docked and closed, the Transformer feels cohesive. We also like the fact that the hinge dock drops down slightly to form a back bulge, raising the keyboard to a slight angle for more comfortable typing.
Like the Motorola Lapdock, the Transformer offers up shortcuts specific to its Android application, so you not only get media, volume and brightness controls, but you also get a lock button, a back button and shortcuts for the browser, camera and settings. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the trackpad can all be toggled from the keyboard.
The keyboard dock offers a full-sized USB 2. There is also an SD card slot, so you could take the card straight out of your camera and access the files on your tablet, or pre-load content onto a card to play back on the Transformer.
The SD card is fully recessed, so can be left in the slot without fear of damage. An Android netbook that works? Of course some apps are better than others, but the advantage of using a keyboard is that it frees up all the screen to see what you are doing. The great keyboard means typing is actually a pleasure and within no time we were up to speed, writing and responding to emails and working on documents.
The touchpad is small, but does offer up some key multi-touch functions that make navigation easy. A two-finger scroll means you can read long pages easily, whilst a two-finger swipe across the page will switch through your home pages. However, we encountered a fairly significant problem with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer: We found that using the trackpad would often lead to a lock-up quickly, but disabling the trackpad would give us longer typing before it happened again.
We also found that when docked the Transformer would turn off the Wi-Fi for no reason. Yes, the placement of the Wi-Fi button next to the back key meant that we did occasionally hit the wrong button as well as the unexplained switch-off - a minor design foible. Control of the keyboard is fairly light at the moment, with a notification telling you that you are docked, but giving you no other options. There is a single LED indicator on the side of the keyboard that will reflect battery status when connected to the charger, but we feel this needs more prominence with an on-demand indicator so you always know the charge state of the dock.
As battery power dropped we found that the keyboard lock-up became more frequent. Essentially, we love the design, we love the docking and the final result, but there is obviously some work to be done here. Asus have altered the standard keyboard for their own effort with interesting results. You lose screen space over the standard Android 3. The screen is It is bright and colourful and looks great. The touch response is excellent too and you can leap around the tablet-optimised OS with wanton abandon.
Sitting beneath the slender brown exterior is the 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual core chipset, the same as the Motorola Xoom and a number of recent high-end smartphones. That gives you plenty of local storage, as well as the option of external storage for all your content.
The external speakers supply a reasonable level of volume and are surprisingly good considering their small size, but naturally lack bass delivery and are easily bettered by using your own headphones. The screen makes video playback a real pleasure and being lighter in the hand than the Motorola Xoom makes watching long videos that little bit more confortable. Video codecs are a little on the light side, but other video players from Android Market will solve this problem for local content.
We found that MyNet used the default video player, restricting your streaming pleasures at home. Of course, you could plump for the non-Honeycomb optimised Skifta, which works well enough at streaming content and lets you choose your software player.
Battery life is impressive, with the tablet offering an expected 9 hours or so of use, and often more with casual use. We did have issues with the keyboard. It looks to be good value for money too, especially as the design is rather handsome. Support for microSD cards from the off is to their credit, as is the provision of a range of extra services. Overall a wonderful Android tablet that surpasses the Xoom, but not without some accessory problems.