ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi on April 21, 2011 4:00 AM EST
I've been on a bit of a tablet kick lately, so even if you have dinner with me—tablets are bound to come up (I only break out the SSD conversation for the truly patient). Last week I had the pleasure of having dinner with Tony Tamasi and Jim Black of NVIDIA, and of course—tablets came up.
I've been thinking about device synergy, something I brought up in our PlayBook review. The problem is as follows: if I'm on my desktop with half a dozen tabs open and perhaps a PDF as well, but I decide to switch over to a tablet—there's no quick way that I can transition my reading environment between the devices. What I have to do is sit down on the couch, whip out my tablet, and manually navigate to each website and redownload/open the PDF. What I'd like to do is something along the lines of HP's Touch to Share, but just on a larger scale.
HP demonstrating Touch to Share
I posed this question to Tony when he asked me about future tablet technologies. From Tony (and NVIDIA's perspective), the problem is a non-issue because eventually all computing is done on your smartphone and you simply dock it from one set of input/output devices to the next. At your desk you'll dock your smartphone to a large display, keyboard and mouse. On the go you'll either have your smartphone or dock it into a notebook like chassis. Presumably you'll have a mid-sized display you could tether it to for tablet use as well.
NVIDIA isn't the only company that believes in the future of dockable computing. Earlier this year Motorola released the Atrix, arguably the best overall Android phone on the market today, with an optional laptop dock. While Motorola's docked experience wasn't all that great, treat it as a proof of concept—there's potential here.
You might argue that Motorola's shortcomings with its laptop dock are a result of its unfamiliarity with making PCs; after all Motorola has never shipped a laptop, just smartphones. You might also argue that a PC maker would have an easier time delivering a more polished, functional solution. You might assume that a company like ASUS might be a good candidate for such a thing. You'd be right.
The Eee Pad
ASUS was at the forefront of the netbook revolution thanks to its close partnerships with Intel and Microsoft. ASUS has been all but absent from the smartphone and tablet revolution again, because of its two key partnerships: Intel and Microsoft. Both Intel and Microsoft lay dormant while the smartphone and tablet revolution pick up speed; granted this may all change around Windows 8, but for now it's the truth. If you're a partner of both Intel and Microsoft, you too lay dormant while competitors like Apple, Samsung, Motorola and LG take your cake. After more than enough thumb fiddling, it was ASUS' turn for a slice. The result is this:
Technically it's called the Eee Pad Transformer TF101 thanks to its ability to transform into a netbook/notebook with an optional keyboard dock and ASUS' inability to shy away from long model names. From here on out we'll just call it the Eee Pad.
At a very high level, the Eee Pad is yet another Honeycomb tablet. It's got an NVIDIA Tegra 2 SoC, 1GB of LPDDR2 memory, a WiFi radio, and 16GB of NAND on-board. Delve a little deeper and the story quickly becomes more interesting.
We'll start at the price: $399 for 16GB WiFi. That's $100 cheaper than the equivalent iPad, and $200 cheaper than the lowest priced Xoom. I've often called tablets luxury devices, but ASUS is putting the price pressure necessary on these things for the market to really thrive. While $399 isn't into the "why not?" category just yet, I like where ASUS is headed with this. In other words, I don't believe $399 is the floor here either. Up to now tablets (and smartphones) have been a cash cow for those involved. I don't mind there being premium offerings; I just also want to see something more affordable.
The low price point alone is enough to make the Eee Pad worth considering if you want an Android tablet, but surprisingly enough ASUS didn't sacrifice much in the way of quality to hit it.
The chassis isn't all metal, nor is it soft touch plastic, but that's not to say the feel is bad at all. On the front you've got mostly glass surrounded by a thin strip of metal that wraps around the Eee Pad. Around back there's a textured plastic covering that seems oddly reminiscent of a notebook (the foreshadowing here is quite thick).
The feel is what's most surprising about the Eee Pad. Despite not spending a ton on materials, ASUS managed to build a very comfortable to hold and use tablet. There's a bit of creakyness in the back plastic if you squeeze the Eee Pad, but it's not enough to make the tablet feel cheap. A benefit of not being made of aluminum is I'm not as afraid to set the Eee Pad down on a table as I am the iPad. It feels more rugged, more casual.
|Tablet Specification Comparison|
|Apple iPad 2||ASUS Eee Pad||BlackBerry PlayBook||Motorola Xoom|
|Dimensions||241.2mm x 185.7mm x 8.8mm||271mm x 175mm x 12.95mm||194mm x 130mm x 10mm||249.1mm x 167.8mm x 12.9mm|
|Display||9.7-inch 1024 x 768||10.1-inch 1280 x 800||7-inch 1024 x 600||10.1-inch 1280 x 800|
|Weight||601g (WiFi only)||675g||425g||730g|
|Processor||1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9)||1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (2 x Cortex A9)||1GHz TI OMAP 4430 (2 x Cortex A9)||1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (2 x Cortex A9)|
|Storage||16GB up to 64GB||16GB + microSD card||16GB up to 64GB||32GB + microSD card|
|Pricing||$499 up to $829||$399||$499 up to $699||$799|
The Eee Pad has the thickness of an original iPad without the density, so it doesn't feel as fatiguing to hold—partially due to its larger size. It's definitely the largest ARM based tablet I've used, making it suboptimal for porting around town, but it's very nice to use at home. The Eee Pad is like the comfort food of tablets; it's not the most exquisite but it just feels good. My only complaint about the design is thickness. The iPad 2 and new Galaxy Tab have spoiled us here. I suspect we'll get a nicely redesigned version with Kal-El by the end of the year if NVIDIA works hard enough.
When cutting costs the display is usually the first to go, but thankfully our complaints have been heard. Not only has ASUS improved display quality on the notebook side, but the Eee Pad ships with an IPS panel guaranteeing good viewing angles and image quality. The display is a Xoom-like 1280 x 800 and measures 10.1-inches on the diagonal.
ASUS includes two small speakers, one on either side of the display. A volume rocker and power/lock button are both on the left edge of the Eee Pad. On the right side there's a headphone port, mini HDMI out and microSD slot.
The Eee Pad has two cameras: a 1.2MP front facing camera and a 5MP rear camera. There's no flash present.
Along the bottom edge of the Eee Pad is a 40-pin ASUS dock connector, which enables the Transformer part of the Eee Pad experience. ASUS ships the Eee Pad with a 40-pin ASUS dock to USB cable as well as a USB to AC adapter for wall charging.
Charging over USB is ill advised at this point since it'll take somewhere over 16 hours to fully charge the Eee Pad over a standard USB port. ASUS claims this will be fixed with a future software update. I didn't have the time to measure exactly how long a full charge over USB would take; I just measured long enough to know it would be a problem.
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spambonk - Thursday, April 21, 2011 - linkHey, Anand - did you test for light bleed?
Some people have reported light bleed at the edges in a dark room.
ol1bit - Thursday, April 21, 2011 - linkThese are great for flights over seas! 15 hours of battery life, you can watch movies, listen to music, browse the web (over the states), type emails, edit documents.
All without a power cord, and it's small.
I love it and the price is killer!
I still want one like the Atrix, so I can carry one less device, ho and for this device, it can't be on AT&T. :-)
lcjgol - Thursday, April 21, 2011 - linkAnand, you mentioned that the dock has a USB port. For the retail version review, could you stick a regular mouse in there and tell us how it works (or doesn't).
After reading this review, I'm 80% sure I'm getting this for my wife's Bday in May (the remaining 20% of my decision will be based on the final retail review).
My family may be Asus' target audience. My wife is a very light computer user at home and also slightly interested in an eReader and/or tablet. Up till now, she hasn't shown enough interests to warrant a single device, but this Asus tablet can do all of the above relatively well. I know an E-ink device would be better for reading, but she doesn't want another gadget around the house if it will only be used lightly. She also needs a keyboard sometimes, and that has been why we haven't bought a tablet yet. This dock solution is the best I've seen. Add to that the fact that I've been thinking about getting some kind of (relatively decent) touchscreen device for my young son to doodle with, and Asus may have my money yet again.
Great review of a great device.
mino - Thursday, April 21, 2011 - link"ASUS was at the forefront of the netbook revolution thanks to its close partnerships with Intel and Microsoft."
What the **** has ASUS team's ability to innovate to do with Intel or Microsoft ?!?
(Both of which actually tried to stifle the EeePC project.)
Anand, you have just proved to me you really lost it. Can as well rename yourself to Anand, The Spinner.
Old rule says "money rules". Having it only proven once again somehow fails to make me less sad.
Old reader turned hater.
bplewis24 - Friday, April 22, 2011 - linkOkay, hater, please explain to us how Asus would have innovated the netbook market without Intel and Microsoft products. I'll be waiting.
Do you see his point now? He's not taking anything away from Asus.
BugblatterIII - Thursday, April 21, 2011 - linkThat's too heavy to carry around with the dock attached, but while I often need the keyboard I rarely need the extra battery life.
Is the dock battery removable? If so does the dock still work, and how much weight does that save?
Abot13 - Monday, April 25, 2011 - linkWhen you remove the battery from the keyboard (if possible) would that mean that it topples over. iaw wont the "screen" be to heavy in contrast with the keyboard?
BugblatterIII - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - linkPossible; I saw another review say that the EeePad is top heavy even with the battery in the keyboard.
ProDigit - Thursday, April 21, 2011 - linkToo bad it's missing a mic/line in, and lan port, and 3 USB ports is a necessity for most!
Has a low battery capacity, though high battery life,
BruceOTB - Friday, April 22, 2011 - linkLack of 3G is a deal breaker for me.