Tablet

ASUS Transformer TF101: Experiential Review

There are many reasons to get a new gadget. My reason for getting the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer is a light-powered light-weight multi-functional computing device. My current iPad would have fit the bill if not for the following limitations:

  • The soft keyboard is not suitable for extended typing, say, writing blogs.
  • iPad does not support Adobe Flash, and because of that, many websites do not display properly. That totally spoils the web surfing experience.
  • No multi-tasking. Only one app can run at any time. Which means I cannot make one app do some kind of background processing (e.g. image processing, news feeds, file downloads) while I access another app.
  • Inadequate notification engine. While iOS 5 offers better notification features, it is still not as flexible as Android.

The only good thing I’d say the iOS platform offers is the reliability of the apps. If you need an app to do a darn good job, then iOS delivers. The app store is more organised and offers all sorts of visually exciting apps in the name of entertainment.

A netbook/laptop doesn’t exactly fit my requirements because its functions are an exact duplicate of a desktop in a smaller package. A laptop generates more heat, is heavier, does not go on standby as fast as Android/iOS tablets. Also, a netbook with a low-spec processor running on Windows 7 probably runs laggier than the Android doing equivalent functions.

So, what can I do with the Transformer?

Wrong question. The question you should ask is: what can the Transformer do for me? Let me count the ways.

At Work – with the keyboard dock



The first impression that everyone has on the Transformer is “netbook”. In fact, no one notices anything unique about it until I start to tap on the screen. Would you agree with me that when someone uses a tablet during office meeting, he is seen to be “playing” instead of doing work? With the keyboard dock, I can really do work with the Transformer. Two weeks back, when I had problems with my office laptop, I actually took out the Transformer and use for work – taking notes, managing office email. Even after owning the iPad for nearly a year and bringing it to work almost every day, I never could use it to do work, simply because of the on-screen keyboard that takes half the screen space. The ability to dock and fold like a netbook adds to the portability and convenience. The Transformer also comes pre-installed with Polaris Office, proven by independent comparisons and reviews to be the best app that loads your MS Office documents most accurately.

As my Transformer is Wi-Fi only, I Internet-tether to my iPhone 3GS via Bluetooth, which I feel is consumes less battery and delivers higher reliability. I can also tether to my Samsung Galaxy S via the usual Mobile AP (Access Point) protocol.

Battery life is magnificent. With the keyboard dock, I am supposed to get up to 16 hours without charge, although realistic reviews put it at about 13 hours. Still a feat compared to the peers.

File Management: 2 USB Ports  + 2 Storage Slots
A computer is nothing without apps and data. Getting data into the Transformer is extremely simple. You can of course use the Cloud to access your data – apps like Dropbox and Google Docs lets you access your documents, edit it, and save it back to the Cloud.

For off-line access, Transformer offers you 2 full-size USB ports, 1 microSD slot, and 1 MMC/SD slot. You can plug all 4 storage devices at one go and move your files around. Having these standard ports make the Transformer even more computer-like and there is no roadblock on the ability to access any data from the most common storage devices.

On your favourite file manager, click the file you want to view, and if there are multiple apps that support the file, a pop-up will ask you which app you wish to open this file with. To remove this nag, you may choose to define a default app (similar to your desktop OS).

Remote Desktop and Content Access Apps unique to ASUS Transformer
The Transformer comes pre-installed with a suite of ASUS apps that improves your usage experience. You can easily remote access your desktop with MyCloud, or view your photos, music and videos from your DLNA-supported devices with MyNet. To achieve the same functionality for other tablets would require separate app purchases, so it’s so nice that ASUS throws in as part of the deal.

ASUS also provides free webstorage for a limited time, and a music content platform asus@vibe where you can listen to free music stations or purchase music content.

Multimedia Showcase- Videos, Music and Photos
The Transformer isn’t that impressive when it comes to multimedia. The built-in front and rear cameras don’t offer as high-quality image capture as my Samsung Galaxy S, though I find no reason why I should be using my huge tablet for serious photo or video capture.

Video playback compatibility is also not that versatile – my Galaxy S can playback exotic high-definition video formats like MKV without lag, yet the Transformer stutters with the same files. Having said that, most of the mainstream file formats like AVI and simple-profile MP4 play just fine using third-party video apps, and when it plays well, the display quality shines.

To me, the lack of true multi-format video support is not a deal breaker as I could still stream content from my home networked PC using VLC Direct. As a comparison, the iPad fares no better in supporting various video formats, and I too use Air Video to stream video from my PC. I certainly look forward to better video format compatibility, either with firmware update or improved third-party video apps.

Photos fare much better because the high-quality IPS display brings out the colours and vibrancy. Even with DSLR high-resolution images, the Transformer renders them clear and sharp. You can also mirror the tablet output to a larger screen via the built-in mini-HDMI, though the tablet appear rather awkward when the cable is plugged to the port at the top right of the Transformer with the keyboard dock.

Keeping In Touch with Social Network – Notification and Multi-task
With the Transformer – or any other Android tablet for that matter – you can rest assured to be notified of any system messages or incoming app updates even when you are occupied with your current app. With the dual-core 1GHz Tegra2 processor (and some rooting enthusiasts even overclocked it to 1.6GHz), multi-tasking among apps are snappy. As I was drafting this article on the pad, I could receive notifications of my TweetDeck feeds or new mails from Gmail, and I open the apps directly from the notification bar to read them for a moment before I return to my blog draft via the task switcher. There is a row of pre-defined function keys to access the most common tablet functions. If this feels like operating a normal laptop, it is. To me, the beauty of the Transformer is that I can use it for doing serious word-smith, or I could remove the dock and enjoy it like a tablet.

Entertainment – Games and Apps
The truth is: Android devices can’t hold a candle to iOS when it comes to the variety of game apps. For my case, that’s what I need the least.  Even after owning the iPad for a year, I probably spend less than 20% of the time playing games. But now that Android 3.x officially supports USB peripherals, it means gamers can plug-in USB game controllers to play games on Android tablets instead of the on-screen controllers. The Transformer dock already comes with 2 full-sized USB ports, so you can get into the game at this instant rather than having to purchase proprietory connectors to plug USB devices.

All In A Day’s Life
To sum it all up, the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is a multi-purpose computing device. With the keyboard dock, you can use it like a netbook, doing all the word processing, managing file transfer across devices, or a stand with extra battery juice. Remove the dock and you can play games, watch videos, read ebooks, like any Android tablet. If you are deciding between a basic netbook or a tablet, then the Transformer would be the most ideal option.

I love everything about the Transformer, but every device has its weaknesses. The challenges of using the Transformer would have to be:

  • weight: with the keyboard dock, it can be relatively heavy and bulky. But then again, I could just remove the dock and it’ll be as compact as a tablet.
  • keyboard size: the keyboard layout is too cramped for me to type accurately, and the touchpad is too close to where I place my lower thumb area, resulting in numerous unintended cursor actions.
  • hardware button placements: the power button is placed close to the volume buttons, and many times when I want to increase the volume, I ended up pressing the power button instead.
  • reflective screen: it can be hard to view the screen under bright lighting conditions. But you could stick-on a matt screen protector.
  • limited tablet-optimised apps: the Android app developers don’t seem to be churning out enough apps to utilise the Android tablet form factor. To make it worse, the Android Market does not segregate the Honeycomb apps.
  • bugs: Android isn’t as robust as iOS. You will experience minor technical bugs that geek like me would probably understand and accept. For instance, occasional force closes on apps, unexplained battery drain on the keyboard dock even when the device is powered down, keyboard response lag when using with some websites. If you are expecting a bug-free tablet, then you will be disappointed.

The Asus Transformer offers me the tablet experience with the versatility of a detachable keyboard. It is truly a transformable device for all uses: from the demanding road warrior to the laid-back couch browser.

Join Chester on Twitter at http://twitter.com/musicdiary/  to hear of his rants and findings as he uncovers them. 

3 comments
  1. Anonymous

    I saw on the specification that the transformer have GPS capability, have you had the chance to use the transformer as a large screen GPS? How is the user experience like if you have used it before? Are there any offline maps available for Android tablet?

  2. Unknown

    Hi, How do you internet-tether to your iPhone 3GS via Bluetooth? sorry for this silly questions as I just gotten my transformer and I'm totally new to andriod! 🙂

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