Asus has been in the business of making Android tablets for as long as it has been a viable business. The company has certainly won praise for its efforts on Google's Nexus tablets, but Asus still makes its own separate tablets in the Transformer line. The newest entrant in that group is the Transformer Pad TF701T. It's not the catchiest name ever slapped on a wedge of metal and glass, but it's not the name that we're interested in – it's the experience.
The TF701T looks on the surface like your standard 10-inch Android tablet. In fact, it looks almost identical to the last high-end Transformer Tab. Lurking beneath the brushed aluminum finish is some formidable hardware in the form of the Nvidia Tegra 4. There aren't a lot of devices packing this chip yet, so the TF701T is almost in a class of its own.
- Display: 10.1-inch 2560x1600 LCD (300 ppi)
- Processor: Nvidia Tegra 4 quad-core 1.9GHz
- RAM: 2GB
- Storage: 32/64GB
- Cameras: 5MP Rear shooter, 1.2MP front-facing camera
- Ports: MicroSD, headphone jack, microHDMI
- Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n
- Battery: 7,820mAh (tablet), 4170mAh (dock)
- OS: Android 4.3
- Dimensions/Weight: 263 x 180.8 x 8.9mm, 585g (1.3 lbs), Dock: 263 x 180.8 x 7mm, 570g (1.25 lbs)
- Price: Retail – $425-450 (tablet), $140-150 (dock)
The overall design of the TF701T is essentially the same as the last flagship Transformer tablet. In fact, it also looks like Asus' high-end laptops. The Taiwanese company seems to have found an aesthetic that it likes, and I kind of do too.
The TF701T has a brushed aluminum back plate with the now-familiar concentric ring pattern. At the very top is a plastic piece with the camera. The upside of this is that the TF701T feels extraordinarily solid. There is absolutely no give and no flexing – it feels like a premium product. The metal back is also much less prone to picking up fingerprints than the plastic shell on other tablets.
The Tegra 4 chip inside really cooks when you're playing a game or doing something else that gets all four cores going. Because the back is metal, it conducts heat very well. Thus a large bit of the back gets really warm after prolonged use – I mean it gets uncomfortable to hold. I don't know how this chip could be giving off so much heat.
However, it's also a bit hefty at 1.3 lbs. That puts the TF701T outside the realm of what I'd consider a one-handed device. Something like the Xperia Tablet Z is light enough that you can walk around with it. This device isn't terrible to hold – I don't want to give you that impression. It's just very average in the weight department. With a premium price, I'd like to see some more attention paid to ergonomics. Although, there is a generous bezel around the screen that's not cluttered with buttons (looking at you, Samsung), making it easier to grab onto.
The edges of the device have a very slight taper. Along that tapered portion is where all the buttons and ports are. In the case of the buttons, this places them in a good position. The power button is along the top toward the left. The volume toggle is on the left near the top. They're plastic, but very solid and clicky. Farther down the left side is a microSD card slot, headphone jack, and a microHDMI port.
Along the bottom there are two connectors for the dock (more on that later) and the power/USB connector. This is a non-standard port rather than a microUSB most other tablets use. I'd much prefer a regular USB here, but I suspect the choice has something to do with the dock.
The speaker is on the rear of the tablet to the right (when looking from the front). For a tablet this size I'm surprised that Asus only packed in the one speaker, but that keeps in line with most other ASUS tablets from the last couple of years. It's not really very good either. The audio is a bit too quiet and had that typically tinny quality.
Asus has stepped it up a bit from its last flagship tablet, and has matched the Nexus 10's benchmark-setting resolution. The TF701T packs a crisp 2560x1600 resolution screen. I don't really need to go into detail regarding how tiny the pixels are – you know at this resolution the panel will produce a clear image.
Viewing angles are sometimes problematic with LCDs at this size, and I'd say Asus has done okay in this department. When looking at the screen from an angle, there is definitely a bit of a gap between the pixels and the glass. It doesn't quite have that unreal viewing angle you get with some devices. The colors don't distort, though. It's mostly just the low brightness and reflection that obscures things.
The brightness is again just okay. It's not going to be a problem for most people, but I wouldn't expect to use the TF701T much outdoors on a bright day. I suppose it's actually a good screen for using in a dark room. With the brightness all the way down, it's much less retina-burning than some other 10-inch tablets.
The touch responsiveness had been good without a hint of I/O lag or any issues with multitouch. The Asus-built Nexus 7 has a reputation for some odd touchscreen behavior from time to time, but there's no ghosting or incorrect touch detection going on here.
I don't think any OEM has ever put a camera in a tablet that was anything to be proud of. Even companies that usually pride themselves on taking great pictures really cut corners with this component, and the Asus TF701T is no different. The rear-facing 5MP camera is never going to take an image indoors that you'll want to save.
Virtually all the shots I took in less than ideal light were considerably more noisy than other devices. Colors were also very washed out, but it's a tablet, so maybe you're not surprised. Outdoors the noise is much less of an issue, but the colors are still a bit unimpressive. For some reason, the camera app will only capture 3MP images max. If you absolutely need to capture something and the tablet is in your hands, okay, go for it. Otherwise go for your phone.
As for the front-facing 1.2MP sensor, it's predictably bad too. Nothing you get out of it is acceptable as a still, and even video chat is fairly terrible. Even for a 10-inch tablet, the TF701T has pretty bad cameras.
When I'm looking at a device's battery life, I try to keep my usage as close to normal as possible. With tablets, I usually leave them asleep most of the time, but when I do wake them up, its for longer periods. Tablets tend to have a lot of screen-on time because of the larger batteries, but a 2560x1600 panel is bound to suck up some of that juice.
In testing the TF701T battery life, I left the tablet off the charger and used it normally until the battery was moments from shutdown. It was connected to WiFi at all times and I left auto-brightness on. I took no special measures beyond that to conserve power. The device was used to browse the web, poke around on Reddit, manage email, and play some games.
What I found was fairly disappointing battery life with the TF701T. I'm able to get just a little over 4 hours of screen-on time, which isn't much more than a lot of phones. In fact, the Nexus 5 is capable of almost that much screen time. The tablet has a big 7,820mAh battery, so I can only assume the screen and the Tegra 4 are conspiring to sap this thing dry in much less time than it should take.
The battery life is bad enough just doing basic productivity work, but a game that gets all the Tegra 4 cores to switch on makes the TF701T hemorrhage electrons. For a device running a chip that's great for games, this is particularly disappointing.
The saving grace might be the power management modes included in the software. You can use these to extend battery life with more aggressive control of the screen brightness and sleeping the data connection when the tablet is not in use.
Being a Transformer, the TF701T also has the necessary clips to connect to Asus' keyboard dock, making the tablet like a little Android netbook. I'll admit to being a little smitten with this idea, simply because I think it's neat. Useful? I don't know if I'd go that far.
The keyboard dock has a 4,170mAh battery inside – that can be used to supplement the cell in the tablet itself. All the smarts are up in the tablet portion, so there's definitely room. Considering the problematic battery life of this device, it's almost worth considering the keyboard dock on that point alone.
The keyboard is reasonably good for its size, but I doubt anyone will be comfortable typing on it long-term. The keys are a little small, and there's very little travel. However, it's very rigid, which is a good thing.
As for the trackpad, it has been much improved after the Android 4.3 update. It feels faster and more responsive. I suspect the speed has also been cranked up so you have to move your finger less to get across the screen. That helps, considering the trackpad itself is so tiny.
There are, however, a lot of instances when you can really tell Android isn't designed to be a keyboard OS. Asus included some Android shortcut buttons, but you still have to reach up and jab at the screen too often.
There are some cool extras, though. The dock contains a full-size SD card slot, which can give you access to a ton of extra storage while docked. There is also an honest-to-goodness USB 3.0 port on the side for connecting an external device. I tested this with a USB 3.0 thumbdrive, and it worked exactly as expected with the built-in Asus file manager. Was it fast? Yes, very.
This is a cool accessory, but at $140 it's a big investment. Still, it's what sets the Transformer apart.
The Asus Android Build
Asus shipped the Transformer Pad TF701T with Android 4.2, but bumped it up to 4.3 while I had this unit for review. All the impressions here are assuming you've gotten your device updated. After going over the version of Android included with this device, I find myself remarkably okay with it – the software is among the least offensive Android overlays out there.
It's a little sad I have to stipulate how much I'm not annoyed with Asus' Android tweaks, but the company really seems to have restrained itself appropriately. Though, Asus was never huge on making heavy changes to Android.
The homescreen is almost identical to stock Android for tablets. There is the large hotseat at the bottom of the screen, centrally placed on-screen buttons, and the notification bar at the top (more on that shortly). Scrolling responsiveness across the homescreen panels is great and everything is pretty much where you'd expect it to be if you've ever used a Nexus tablet.
Asus didn't really muck up Android's interface, but neither did they add much extra functionality. Samsung might plaster things with ugly icons and loud colors, but some of the features it adds are genuinely useful. There are really only three notable additions on the TF701T homescreen: floating widgets, the swipe up gesture, and faster screen management.
There is a fourth button off to the left in the navigation bar, which will show you a list of widgets designed for the floating interface. Just tap on one to open the one you like, and it will stay on top of whatever you're doing. In fact, you can have more than one open at a time. The included ones have resizing built-in, but you can also add any regular widget to the list – they just won't be resizable. Some of these are actually really handy, like the calculator and stopwatch. If you're using the Transformer in the dock, these apps make it feel a little more like a real computer.
Also on the homescreen, you can pinch to get an overview of your screens. This interface isn't quite as robust as what some other OEMs do, but it's good for rearranging panels and adding/removing them.
On most Android devices, the swipe up gesture opens Google Now, and you can do that with the TF701T. However, the implementation is, I think, more annoying than helpful. When you swipe up, there is a dual arch of system functions on the inside, and apps on the outside. You can drag your finger to any of these functions to activate them. So if you want Google Now, that's in the middle of the first ring. The apps on the outside are configurable, but it's really just too much stuff to cram into what's supposed to be a quick way to access one of Android's killer features.
This enhanced swipe-up interface is also far too slow – there is a noticeable amount of lag when you swipe up. So you have to drag up, wait, then zero in on what you want. It annoys me that I can't just flick a finger and get to Google.
Asus' most significant change-for-the-sake-of-change might be the notification area. One thing I like is the semi transparent status bar that you can call up in full-screen apps with a swipe downward (just like KitKat and TouchWiz). I'm less into the way the Quick Settings panel has been combined with notifications in the default Asus UI.
On most newer tablets, swiping down on the left or right opens notifications or Quick Settings, respectively. Here there is just one panel with toggles up top, a brightness control, several additional settings below that, then the notifications. The standard Quick Settings is for controlling things, yes, but it's also good for showing you the status of things like your WiFi connectivity, upcoming alarms, and battery status. You don't get any of that with Asus' implementation. Happily, you can turn this off in the settings and get the stock behavior. If only all OEMs were this accommodating.
Asus includes a number of custom apps, and they're actually quite good. The file manager is remarkably clean and snappy, and there are tools to backup and password protect apps. Asus even includes pretty robust parental controls. The company really puts itself in the top tier of Android tablet OEMs with the custom apps. Compared to Sony, which shipped multiple broken apps on the Xperia Tablet Z earlier this year, and Asus comes out looking like a pro.
I'm not too impressed with the sensor quality, but the camera app itself seems nice. There are plenty of settings, from the conventional stull like which balance and resolution, to more esoteric items like flicker compensation in the viewfinder and live filters. There is also a really cool "turbo burst shot" that snaps images at a rate of about 10 per second, then lets you review the ones you want to save. Heck, there's even a 4:3 viewfinder. If Asus had put passable sensor in the TF701T, it might take a nice image.
Performance And Stability
As I mentioned above, battery life has been disappointing for me on this tablet. That said, it's very snappy in just about everything. All the basic productivity stuff is more than fine, and even running heavy games is no problem. It's even feasible to jump out of a game, take care of something else, and go back to the game without any noticeable performance hit.
While tapping around is plenty fast, there is a bit too much lag between hitting the power button, and the device actually waking up – sometimes as long as 5 seconds. I'm not sure what's up with that, but it might have something to do with Asus conserving battery life. As soon as that Tegra 4 spins up, the battery starts to go fast.
The TF701T has exhibited no real stability issues while I've been testing it. No random reboot and virtually no system glitches. One small bug I've noticed is that the status bar sometimes hides itself on the homescreen after you've been in the overview mode to manage panels. The UI also cuts off the top and bottom of icons in the hotseat when you're arranging things on the homescreen (i.e. you are dragging something around with long-press).
The Transformer TF701T has a very premium feel in the hands. It's largely metal, seems sturdy, and the weight is evenly distributed. However, it's a little on the heavy side at 1.3 lbs, and the metal back does get uncomfortably warm during prolonged gaming. The inclusion of an easily accessible microSD card slot gets a thumbs up from me, as does the microHDMI port. However, I'd really prefer a microUSB charging port like found on the Nexus 10. The proprietary connector is probably necessary because of the power requirements of Tegra 4 and the dock, but I'm still bummed. I also feel like the screen could be a little better than it is, but most users won't be disappointed in it.
I'm a little surprised how short the battery life was on the TF701T – only 4 hours of screen-on is way less than I expect from a tablet with such a giant battery. I hope there's some way to address that in a software update, because it's kind of a deal breaker for me. The screen is also a little on the dim side, but I don't consider that a major issue.
I suppose one of the reasons you consider a Transformer is for the keyboard dock, and it's a neat accessory, though expensive. The keys are about what you'd find on a good netbook (read: okay-ish) and the extra battery capacity does help. Trackpad responsiveness has been cleaned up, but Android still doesn't feel native to the keyboard. At the end of the day, the dock feels a little gimmicky to me.
It's nice to see Asus getting an update out the door, even if it's only Android 4.3. I don't doubt KitKat will be coming to the TF701T before too long, but there's not much to complain about software-wise right now. It's fast, doesn't have too many pointless modifications, and the Asus apps are above average.
The Transformer Pad TF701T has a premium spec list, and the price tag to go with it. This is a good tablet, but the battery life issues should make you wary of buying it – especially for over $400. If the price comes down, and the battery issues are sorted out, then sure, it's a fine device otherwise. It's the best overall Transformer tablet yet, but there are just a few rough edges to be smoothed out. If you're interested, Amazon has this device in stock.