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Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Tablets are rapidly changing the way we approach technology. They give a sense of immediacy and tactile connection that desktops and notebooks can't touch; however, I will be the first to admit that the hype seemed stupid to me. Several coworkers purchased the original iPad on the day it launched and were eager to show them off. "But what can you do with it?" was my question, and there wasn't a good answer. The tablet was not fulfilling any needs that netbooks and laptops could not already cover.

A year later, Honeycomb became available on the Motorola XOOM. The OS was rough around the edges, but it showed a different take on tablets - one that blended the always-connected nature of smartphones with many of the advantages of notebooks. Still, after using the XOOM for a few weeks, I found it to be a bit clunky with a mediocre screen. Sure, it was awesome in the way almost any new technology is, but it felt a bit undercooked and overpriced. Fortunately, one of the great things about Android is the open competition between manufacturers, which has resulted in the release of many more Honeycomb tablets.

wm_transformer-nexusone-xoom-comparison wm_transformer-xoom-comparison

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 goes the route of sleek and sexy, straying far from the XOOM. Meanwhile, ASUS has the Transformer, a notebook/tablet hybrid whose specs and even size closely mimic the XOOM's. But that doesn't mean the two tablets are identical - read on to find out how different they really are!

Initial Experience and Impression

wm_asus-transformer-boxesThe boxes that the Transformer tablet and dock come in are nice and minimal. You can tell ASUS put some effort into presentation and getting the user going right away. After plugging in my tablet to charge it (it was at about 33%), I began the registration process and then left the device alone for a while. When I returned, a few updates (3.1 and an update for the dock) were available, so I let them install themselves while I took care of some other stuff. I returned later to find that all of my phone apps and settings had synced. When I used the tablet at work the next day to SSH into the dev server, I found that even my WiFi settings had been copied over. Now that is slick!

The tablet feels solid, but the very right edge of the trim has a tiny bit of play (though this could just be my unit). It moves by less than a millimeter, but it is still noticeable. The dock feels even more well built and would take quite a bit of effort to flex. I think the dock could survive a significant drop without issue (not so sure about the screen of the tablet), but I decided against testing that out.

wm_asus-transformer-unboxing

What Is Unique About the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer?

In addition to having an excessively long name (I will just refer to it as the Transformer), ASUS' tablet combines two important ideas: a low price and a physical keyboard. Starting at just $400 (for the 16GB model), the Transformer sounds like a "value" tablet. Spoiler alert: it's not. The price is great, but I actually consider the tablet to be better than the XOOM. It feels a hair faster, despite having nearly identical specs, and the screen is significantly better (more on that soon). At this point, I believe that ASUS has a very slim profit margin on the Transformer itself and hopes to make profit on the keyboard dock.

The Keyboard Dock

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The keyboard dock is a $150 accessory for the Transformer that allows you to essentially convert the tablet into a touchscreen netbook (hence the Transformer name). The keyboard also includes a trackpad, so you can use a mouse cursor and two-finger scrolling (you can tap the pad or press the left side of the trackpad button to click; the right side acts as the Android back key), as well as a built-in battery that actually charges the tablet. The battery bumps battery life up by about 2/3 of the typical tablet-only battery life. The great thing is that if the tablet's battery is drained, you can simply connect it to the dock, type up a document, and then pull them apart again with a device containing far more juice. I saw about a 38% gain in battery power after one hour of having the tablet connected to the keyboard dock.

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The keyboard isn't quite full-sized, so people with large hands might not like it. I have average-sized hands and found that it took a bit of getting used to, but now I can type almost as fast on it as I can on a standard keyboard. The one thing slowing me down is that the keys require a little more pressure than you would expect given the limited travel. This results in a very stiff, well-built feel, but it also means that fatigued fingers are going to have a more difficult time typing quickly. I have also experienced muscle memory - I attempted to hit "Delete"... but it was the lock key. It would have been nice if ASUS had dropped caps lock and replaced it with the tablet lock key - that way they might have been able to include a delete key.

The keyboard dock also includes a variety of function keys for things like back, menu, home, search, Wi-Fi toggle, Bluetooth toggle, touchpad toggle (useful if you find your thumb accidentally using the touchpad while typing), brightness adjustments, screenshot, browser, settings, playback controls, volume controls, and lock. In fact, the only key that I feel is missing is Honeycomb's multitasking button (third from the bottom left of the screen), but that's not a big deal since it's never far away.

wm_transformer-and-dock-backs wm_back-partly-closed wm_dock-screen

I was regularly surprised at how many things just work. Start typing on the dock while on the homescreen and you immediately begin a search (both locally and remote), so you can jump to any app easily. Plug a mouse into the dock and you can use it to control the cursor. Plug a USB thumb drive into the dock and you can access the files on it with the included File Manager app. Typing in a username and password? Yes, you can press tab to jump to the password field. Playing music in a third-party app? No problem - control it with the keyboard's rewind/previous, play/pause, and fast forward/next buttons (and of course the mute, volume down, and volume up keys), even while you're writing a document in another app. Need to copy something to a text field? Ctrl+a, ctrl+c, tab, ctrl+v, exactly as you would expect.

It takes a few tries to find the angle and pressure necessary to connect the tablet and dock, particularly since it takes more effort than expected, but it is a very easy connect/disconnect process once you have become accustomed to it. The connection is also extremely solid, with no wiggle and no need to worry about the tablet accidentally disconnecting from the keyboard when you pick up the combo by just the screen. They are slightly top-heavy though, so taps to the top of the tablet can cause the dock to lift some. One nice advantage of the dock is that it can be used as a stand, meaning that you don't have to hold the tablet in your hand if you're watching a movie.

The only other issue I've seen with the dock is that tapping a key to wake up the tablet can sometimes take a couple of seconds (it is always faster to press the Transformer's lock button), and typing in the browser can be a bit delayed - the characters you typed show up enough a while after you pressed them, which makes the experience feel rather laggy. The latter issue has been improved some by recent OTA updates, but it is not entirely fixed.

The Screen

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The Transformer's display is much better than the XOOM's. The Transformer uses an IPS LCD, which gives it better contrast at an angle (though brightness still decreases quite a bit), and its calibration is much better (extremely close to D6500 and 2.2 gamma, for you photographers out there). Saturation and contrast are both better and more consistent. Touch sensitivity is generally good and accurate, though I have noticed occasional touches that are not registered. My sense is that the capacitive touch grid needs to be a little tighter, but it is not a major problem.

wm_screen-glare-test wm_transformer-outdoor-screen-test

My only real complaint about the screen is glossiness. It's a smidgen worse than the XOOM (~10%), which is also too glossy. You can turn the brightness up quite a bit to help combat the problem, but it is still excessive. I really hope that manufacturers take on this issue in the future. Even having an optional matte coating similar to what is on the Notion Ink Adam would be appreciated.

Battery Life

Battery life is one of the hardest things to judge with hardware that can do so many things. For what it's worth, ASUS rates the Transformer's battery life at 9.5 hours of video-watching, bumped up to 16 with the dock. With the tablet connected to the dock and relatively idle for 24 hours (though still syncing multiple Gmail accounts, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc.), I saw the dock drain about 35%. With extremely heavy use, such as playing a game with max brightness and volume, you can bring the battery life down to about 1/2-2/3 of the advertised figure. If you are using the tablet as a netbook for simple typing, browsing, etc., you can expect to get more than the rated hours in active use. Unless you are spending a day just playing games on the tablet, it is unlikely that you will have difficulty getting through a full day or more.

Other Hardware

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The speakers are fair but not great (definitely not as good as the XOOM's). The cameras are, well, OK. They couldn't replace an average point-and-shoot, but the convenience is nice. In the sample shots above, you can see a photo from an expensive DSLR (the Canon 7D photo on the left) compared to one from the Transformer's rear camera. Obviously, with the camera costing more than double the price of the tablet and dock put together (not to mention the lens), the DSLR is going to take a better photo, but this should give you a sense of what you can expect to capture with the tablet's rear camera in good lighting conditions.

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The Transformer contains both mini HDMI and microSD card slots. Unfortunately, there is no USB connector (full-size, microUSB, or otherwise). Instead, ASUS includes their proprietary connector that can be connected to the dock or to the included Transformer-to-USB cable. The dock itself has that proprietary connector (one to plug the tablet into and one on the side for charging or connecting to a computer) as well as two full-sized USB slots and a card reader (MMC, SD, SDHC). Yes, you can plug a mouse or a USB flash drive into it and it will work exactly as you expect!

Software

We've already covered Android 3.0 in great detail, so read our Honeycomb preview article or our 6,000-word XOOM review for an idea of what to expect. The Transformer only has a few tweaks to the stock Honeycomb experience. First, the software buttons on the bottom left are a thousand times more obvious. The XOOM's buttons look cool, but no one knows what to expect when pressing the up arrow (or is it a house?), whereas the corresponding button clearly represents "home" on the Transformer. Additionally, Honeycomb appears to be a bit more stable than on the XOOM (though the fact that Motorola's tablet was running a newer version of the OS could be a big part of that). The main software error I have seen is the launcher force closing. It restarts itself just fine, but that does give a sense of some missing polish. I have also had the browser close itself without any indication as to why (and no force close dialog) a couple of times.

The Transformer comes with a few different apps such as Polaris Office, allowing you to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations without needing to spend money on extra software. In fact, I am typing this entire review on the Transformer using Polaris Office and that really drives home the value of the dock. There is no way I would attempt to do that on a touch screen, especially since I am writing most of it on a very shaky bus.

A file manager app (conveniently called "File Manager") is also included with the Transformer, making it easy to access the file system or any USB thumb drives you attach. The "My" suite - MyCloud, MyLibrary, and MyNet - is also pre-installed on the tablet. The MyCloud app gives you MyContent (essentially cloud storage), MyDesktop (remote desktop access), and @Vibe (providing access to radio, music, and video). MyLibrary lets you easily access all your reading content, including eBooks, PDFs, and newspapers. MyNet lets you access content from a DLNA-based server, so you can listen to music, view photos, and even stream videos (up to 1080p).

Conclusion

The Good

  • Price!
  • Screen calibration and color accuracy
  • Keyboard dock makes the Transformer far more useful
  • Dock has two full-sized USB slots
  • Card readers and mini HDMI
  • Mostly stock Honeycomb with the addition of some useful software

The Bad

  • Screen glossiness
  • Slightly stiff and small keyboard
  • Slight waking delay when tapping a dock
  • Honeycomb still needs some polish; the launcher occasionally force closes
  • The charging cable is proprietary (no microUSB port); the dock does not come with a cable
  • Audio cut out a few times in Galaxy on Fire 2; I am not sure if that is the tablet or the game, but tapping either volume button fixes the problem

Final Thoughts

If you just want a thin, sleek, and sexy tablet, you'd best look elsewhere (the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a good option). If you expect to do a lot of typing and are looking for something centered more around productivity, you should absolutely consider the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. My time with it has left me genuinely impressed - Michael Bay wishes he could make Transformers half as awesome as this one.

Ian G. Clifton
An Air Force veteran, Ian has been intrigued by technology for as long as he can remember. He develops Android applications for both work and play such as CNET News and Survivor, but he also enjoys art of all kinds and spends some of his few free minutes on photography and sketching.

  • jim

    Nice thorough review. Thx Ian

  • Nathan

    um, it does have a MicroSD slot on the tablet...

    • Kane

      Looks like it was a typo.

  • hldc1

    I think you meant to type "no microUSB slot" as one of the downsides to the tablet. The tablet has a microSD slot on the right side (when facing the screen). The fact that the microSD slot works right out of the box is a nice +1 over the xoom.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Fixed the typo, thanks to all those who pointed it out.

  • MpO

    I own the Asus Transformer, with 32 GB and the docking station. I have large hands, but find the docking station keyboard pretty good compared to most netbooks and laptops. Also, a full size usb keyboard works great on it, as does a usb laser mouse. When at home, I hook it up to my 52" hdtv, and it mirrors the screen and sound, and turns the tablet into a powerful multimedia system. This makes gaming almost as good as any computer or console. I think the system as a whole is great. I also use a microsd card for backups and a full size sdhc card for multimedia files, such as movies that I take with me.

    • Bob Abe

      Hey. I was about to get a Transformer several months back when I caught wind that their 2nd version would be out in the Fall. Obviously I'm VERY eagerly waiting for that to appear so I can order one.

      I did have a question for you since it seems you use yours like I plan to use mine. My question is, can you play high quality AVI and MPG files on it while it mirrors vid/audio out to a tv via hdmi?

      Bob

  • Aatif Sumar

    I love the chiclet style keyboard. Have it on my Eee netbook. Can type faster than a regular keyboard. Buying the Eee Pad w/o the dock would be the stupidest thing anyone could do.

  • brad

    Good review, but might want to check the whole microSD error.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Fixed the typo, thanks to all those who pointed it out!

  • Adam

    The one bad thing for me and I tried 2 different ones, and that was the light bleeding on the screen.

    It was on the bottom left where the menu bar is and on the left side.

    • Ela

      Did you check that it wasn't the pointer? I thought it was a fault in the screen, and it turned out it was the mouse pointer, hidden away. ^__^

  • jon

    I have had the xoom for a couple of weeks, got a great deal on craigslist, and I almost sold it because of all the force closes, especially with the stock browser as well as dolphin. I have been using 3.2 for a day and a half and it has seemed to remedy that problem, have not had any fc since I upgraded. However I aslo get the lag when I type into a text field in a browser as you experienced with the transformer so I think it is a honeycomd issue. And 3.2 did not fix it.

  • Marc

    I actually plugged a usb powered external hard drive in last night, not expecting it to work, but it did beautifully. Obviously i was using the one of the dock's usb ports, but still, very impressed.

  • cosmic

    Good review, just a little nitpick on "Even having an optional matte coating similar to what is on the Notion Ink Adam would be appreciated." The Adam only came with a matte screen protector, one which quite a few owners decided to replace with 3rd party ones. First result when searching on Google is this: http://www.amazon.com/Transformer-Matte-Fingerprint-Application-Aurum/dp/B00519OVXM

  • bill

    Yes im satisfied with my AEPT, no need for me to look further.

    Oh I agree totally with your analysis, my experience too.

  • Simon

    I picked up a 16GB transformer in the UK, and totally love it, it's the best of all worlds.

    My iPad2 owning boss just sold his iPad2 and is picking up a Transformer this weekend, the deal-winner was the keyboard dock.

    I have very little to complain about, I wish Google would release Honeycomb source, so flash apps like BBC iPlayer could be updated to work on tablets.

  • LunchBokz

    I've had my Transformer for several weeks now. Love it and love this review. I haven't seen any of the problems mentioned in the article. My only complaint is the proprietary charging connection. Better look for a backup charger (not too hard to find online) before you damage or lose yours. Most definetly makes iPad look like toy. Polaris Office is ok but doesn't display PowerPoint animations. I use "Tablet Keyboard Free" when undocked. Stock touch keyboard is pretty useless. Dock is just plain awesome! Love being able to charge tablet from dock. Look for battery widgets that also show battery level of dock. VERY useful.

  • Stan Chase

    I very much approve of your concise review Ian. Asus is testing Honeycomb 3.2 for release on the Transformer so some of the issues you mentioned should be fixed soon.

  • http://fc1032.blogspot.com Brian

    I read (and tested on a real transformer) that pressing ctrl + arrow keys doesn't navigate through words like a normal keyboard.

    Is there a fix for that?

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    I'm surprised nobody yet commented on the stacks of money photo. It's my favorite review photo evar!

  • Gab

    HEY WTF MAN. Transformers 3 was good.

  • Eric Moritz

    Does the CTRL and ALT keys on the keyboard work while SSHing into your dev server? I haven't been able to find an answer on this. If it does, I'm ditching my netbook for this.

  • enolam yecart

    I also own the AEPT + the dock. AMAZING product. After extensive research and owning many tablets, this one keeps my attention.

  • Andrew

    I have one and I like it on the whole, but I hate how quickly the battery drains if the pad is attached to the keyboard and you are not using it.
    I'll leave it overnight charged and come back in the morning to find most of the battery gone.

    Also I find the lag on typing in the browser very annoying, it really needs sorting out.

  • sam

    Can you address the lack of support for this tablet by popular game developers such as Gameloft?

  • ali

    hey im looking for a tablet i can use for college. note taking, essays, some textbooks, and handwritten notes. right now im considering the transformer and ipad 2. i know for a fact that the ipad 2 can do all this, but i want an android tablet so if anyone can tell me some of the apps i can use to do these things will be great, and also is polaris office compatible with microsoft office?

  • LunchBokz

    YouTube some Transformer vs ipad2 videos. The one by TechnoBuffalo is good. As with all Office "compatible" programs, you always lose a little something. Polaris doesn't display PowerPoint animations. I love my Transformer. I use it for writing a lot. You can always RDP into your laptop or desktop to use M$ Office remotely. It works for me. Transformer's keyboard dock really tips the scales in its favor!

  • Larry

    I've been using the dock for three weeks now, but I can't seem to not move the cursor by accident when typing. This reduces the big advantage of the dock, but perhaps someone will tell me how to fix that problem.

  • LunchBokz

    It's the same problem as with any laptop with a touch pad. Just disable it while typing. 4th button from the left, top row. Position the cursor by touching the screen.

  • mary

    Great review! I'm in the process of researching the tablet market as I'm planning to buy one in September. I'm not a super-user, however I want to make sure that whatever I buy will not be outdated in a year's time.

    Thanks Ian!

  • Hen

    I got one. There's this problem called "sleep of death". After being in standby mode for a few mins, it shuts itself off. Very annoying.

  • Jonathan

    What no one seems to be mentioning is the fact that the touch screen has serious issues beyond what is mentioned in the article. I got one for my mom for her birthday and the touch screen wouldn't even work! Did some searching and this is a fairly common problem. Just do a search for "asus eee pad touchscreen problem" and you will see what I mean. This product will be returned and exchanged for a brand that works.

  • http://productmetareviews.info/category/tablets/ Uri Medeyev

    Good, objective write-up! Took me a while to end up with my own Transformer. Staples had a $100 off coupon a while ago, but I had trouble getting them to honor it on a Transformer. When I got it home, it had a dead spot in the touchscreen. It went back. Then I considered a refurbished Xoom, an HP TouchPad, a refurbished iPad 2, Galaxy Tab, etc. When I went in to look at the Sony Tablet S, the store had the Transformer 32GB for $419. I decided the Transformer feature set was better than the more expensive tablets even though it was a touch heavier. This one has a perfect touchscreen and has operated flawlessly so far. When I get the Netflix app on it and running I'll be happy.

  • Jennifer Barker

    I got my transformer for Christmas and couldn't be happier. My only complaint is that the browser likes to close by itself when connected to the docking station.

  • Heather Dorius

    I am not computer savvy, and this Eee Pad T is my first experience with the android systems. I bought this for school, but have found that I cannot use the homework site's helps, as they are a second "pop up" window - which is very discouraging! Is there something I can do about that? Or am I limited to only 1 pop up window at a time with this system? Help?

  • Paul

    I agree it's one of the best Top 5 tables on the market BUT! the no 1 for the worse reflating screen i ever seen. this review and other review put me off buying one.Sorry Asus you need to work harder on the Screen to be in the top best 5.

  • Jooky

    So now 9-months later how do you feel? I still love mine and agree that the screen reflection is a real issue.