Most Android tablets seem to look and feel like very similar devices, but the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer attempts to add some much-needed variety to the market. The Eee Pad Transformer is a 10.1in Android 'Honeycomb' tablet that boasts an optional, detachable keyboard dock, transforming it from a tablet into a notebook-style device. The Eee Pad Transformer is a good idea on face value, but suffers from a few niggling problems that prevent it from being a great device.
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer: Design and display
The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer obviously gets its name from the optional keyboard dock, but the tablet can be purchased without the keyboard dock for $599 in Australia. As a standalone device, the Eee Pad Transformer is largely unremarkable, though we do like the textured plastic on the rear which makes it easy to grip. We didn't have too many issues with build quality, though the plastic does exhibit a bit of flex when pressed, and the bezel surrounding the display seems a little large. At 271mm in length, the Eee Pad Transformer is the largest Honeycomb tablet we've reviewed. Weighing 680g, it's heavier than the featherweight Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v, but lighter than both the Motorola Xoom and the Acer Iconia A500, making it easier to carry around.
At 10.1in, the Eee Pad Transformer's screen is the same size as the aforementioned Honeycomb tablets, though ASUS has opted for an IPS (In Plane Switching) panel, the same technology used in Apple's iPad 2. The Transformer's screen displays vibrant colour and relatively crisp text, but the glossy surface doesn't always feel smooth to swipe your finger across, quickly becomes a grubby fingerprint magnet, and is tough to see in direct sunlight.
Disappointingly, the Eee Pad Transformer without its keyboard dock accessory doesn't have a full-sized USB port or even a micro USB connector. The only ports on the tablet itself are a standard headphone jack, a mini-HDMI port (for connecting a high-definition TV or projector), a microSD card slot, and a proprietary ASUS connector that doubles as a USB and charging port. Though the proprietary connection is a pain, it offers two benefits: it connects the tablet to the keyboard dock, and charges much faster (around one hour) than a regular micro USB charger.
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer: Keyboard dock
The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer really comes into its own when it's connected to the optional keyboard dock accessory (ASUS bundles the 32GB model with the keyboard dock for $799 in Australia). The Eee Pad Transformer's keyboard dock has two full-sized USB ports, an SD card slot and a trackpad, as well as its own built-in battery. ASUS says the battery offers an additional six and half hours of use. If both the tablet and the keyboard dock batteries are fully charged, the Eee Pad Transformer draws power from the keyboard dock first in order to preserve power for tablet-only use.
When connected, the Eee Pad Transformer folds over onto the keyboard dock and acts like a regular notebook, but connecting the two devices is best described as clunky. The tablet requires a forceful press to click into place, and there are no markers to help line up the tablet into its connector — it feels awkward to attach if it's not lined up correctly. We also don't like how the hinge raises the top half of the keyboard dock when the screen is connected.
The keyboard dock makes the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer easy to type on; its keys are well spaced and provide good tactility. We also love the addition of dedicated Honeycomb shortcuts including home, back, and settings keys, along with quick toggles for the trackpad, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, Browser, and media controls. There's also a button on the keyboard to lock the screen, which is handy if you want to keep the Eee Pad Transformer in its open position. The keyboard dock also has a touchpad, and you can use two fingers on it to scroll up and down on Web pages. It's easy to accidentally bump when typing though, so we suggest turning it off via the shortcut button when you aren't using it.
Unfortunately, the Eee Pad Transformer is very top-heavy, so it's almost impossible to position it on your lap without it toppling over. It's fine for use on a desk or table, but users planning to sit it on their lap should think twice. We also experienced some painful keystroke lag, most evidently when typing in the Web browser. This may be fixed in a future software update, but remains an issue out of the box.