For a while now, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a Google Chromebook – just for something to play (and write) with on the train. But much to my annoyance, Samsung pushed back the release date of the 3g version until the 1st of August. Which was just rude. Anyway, in the meantime, a couple of chums of mine pointed me in the direction of the rather sexy alternative, the Eee Pad Transformer TF101. I had a look at the official advert for it and I have to say my jaw dropped a little bit.
I tried to argue with myself. Why do I need a tablet? I don’t. I just want something to write my stories on the train and maybe something that can browse the web well. Which is why the Chromebook appealed, it ticked both those boxes and has the added bonus of being ‘built for web’ – a fancy new (simple) OS and boot in 8-10 seconds. I tried to argue that a tablet is just an over-sized touchscreen phone without the actual ability to place calls. But the Eee Pad Transformer challenged me by being the best of both worlds. A tablet and a netbook with a keyboard. Plus there were some other little things that instantly appealed:
- 16 hours battery life
- Android OS (Honeycomb)
- Multiple inputs (2 USB, 1 SD, 1 Micro SD and even a micro HDMI out)
- 5mp camera on the back, 1mp on the front
- Keyboard, oh, wait, I said that already
So, at the weekend, I popped into PC World (don’t go there people, it’s evil) in the unrealistic hope that they might have a Google Chromebook I could have a play with. No such luck. They looked at me like I was mental when I asked. The first person I talked to didn’t even know what one was…Which was pretty poor since it’s only being sold in PC World and Amazon. Anyway, a little wandering and I discovered the Eee Pad Transformer, sitting there, tempting me. I’ll admit, my first thought was “Eurgh, brown” but that was a complaint which was quickly dismissed when I got my hands on the actual thing.
The first thing that leaps out is the Android Honeycomb interface. Wow, it’s impressive looking. Sure, there’s plenty of sexy looking tablets out there and they’re all much of a muchness, but Android does it well. The Asus screen compliments it nicely, shiny and sleek, just like you’d expect (though this is a minor complaint when I was out in the sun with it, but that’s a story for later).
As you’d expect, just like on Android phones, there are several windows which you can flick between and add apps to. The interface is smooth and works perfectly to the touch. Later, when I got the thing home and began setting it up, I was pleasantly surprised when, on logging into my Google account, it automatically downloaded all the apps from my phone, straight onto the tablet – “67 apps restored”. That was a nice (and welcome) surprise.
Being a tablet, there’s obviously more room to play with. 10.1 inches of screen space is hard to fill with apps, even if you have a wide selection. The default setup is nice straight out of the box. The weather app is already on the homescreen and works nicely with the default wallpaper giving the impression of sunlight breaking through leaves of a tree.
Those familiar with the Android operating system will have no problems navigating their way around. I found the process perfectly pleasurable. Honeycomb (and the Transformer) instantly has some features which are an improvement over Gingerbread on my phone. The first and most simple of which is the screenshot key which allows you to snap anything you’re looking at on the tablet.
Plugged in, the keyboard has a number of handy quick keys – allowing you to turn things on and off with ease and without going into the settings. There’s a button for bluetooth, wi-fi, the mouse pad, settings, volume, media controls and the screenshot button. The Esc key from a standard QWERTY keyboard has been replaced by a back button ideal for exiting applications or going back in a web browser.
The taskbar is almost windowsesque. Only better. You’ll probably have your e-mail accounts hooked up, when a new e-mail appears in your inbox a notification will appear in the bottom right next to the clock, similar notification images appear for Twitter and other social tools. Android market updates, download progress and wireless connections also appear down here. I immediately installed SYWPE once I had everything organised, so there are now no less than 3 keyboard options in this area which I can switch between (Asus keyboard, Android keyboard and SWYPE).
The taskbar also allows for quick system settings. You can adjust brightness, turn airplane mode on/off and access full system settings with ease.
As with other Android devices, you can customise your experience with widgets and shortcuts to apps. Going to the app menu, you simply press and hold an app, then your various home windows appear and you can choose where to drop it. Another nice touch here is an easy uninstall function. Usually if you want to get rid of an app you have to delve into the settings and hunt it down, but on the Transformer you simply hold the app and drag it to uninstall (top right) in much the same way as you would to remove it from the homescreen(s). Nice quick easy uninstall.
There are plenty of widgets to choose from, including clocks, calendars, weather widgets and more. The default layout is actually so well done I’ve barely changed it. You can always download more from Android market…
…including live wallpapers.
This is a solid piece of kit. A number of times I’ve been using it and forgot I was on a tablet – especialy when using the keyboard. There’s a CTRL key and the number of times I’ve hit CTRL+C/V and wondered why something hasn’t copied/pasted is amazing and I’ve only had it a matter of days. But this is meant to be a compliment. Despite essentially only being a netbook, it still runs with impressive grace and speed. It’s easy to believe you’re using a standard PC or laptop.
Unplugging the tablet allows for some fun-packed Android enjoyment. There’s plenty of tablet games out there, but it’s also great for photos, video and web browsing. Having a (large) touchscreen makes browsing a pleasure. It’s far easier to surf the web, click links and see pages how they were intended on a big(ger) screen than it is on my phone. The unit itself could possibly be little lighter, but this is a minor gripe considering what’s included. There’s a pretty nifty camera on the front and a bog-standard 1mp camera facing the user, webcam style. It does capture video and for what it is, it’s not too shabby. Let’s face it though, if you want good quality video/snaps you won’t be using your tablet (or your phone for that matter). But it is all signing all dancing.
The speakers and pretty good and there’s a headphone/mic socket for more peaceful listening.
It’s worth noting at this point that there is no 3g built in, but it’s not a major issue. I’ve simply turned my phone into a wireless hotspot and leech the internet off that. Which works well enough and because the Transformer is essentially still a mobile webbrowser, you’ll be viewing most sites in their mobile friendly form and thus won’t chew through the data. It is of course easy enough to set it to browse the standard (full) versions of any site and it handles that perfectly as well.
Video browsing/streaming is pretty good. I’ve not had any problems and when I did – with a little lag on a high quality Youtube video – I simply used Advanced Task Killer (see market) to stop applications that were running but not needed and returned to a smooth viewing experience.
I think the best compliment I can give the unit is simply be saying that I have no post-purchase depression. I was concerned I might regret not buying a Chromebook, but sod it, the Transformer is nice. It’s the best of both worlds and then some.
- 16 hours battery – I said that already, but it is worth saying again. The tablet holds 8 hours, but as soon as you plug it into the keyboard dock it starts to leech power from the dock, replenishing its battery power.
- The keyboard – allows you to enjoy the goodness of tablets without the frustration of not having a proper keyboard when you need to type something more significant than a URL (e.g. an e-mail). The tablet slips easily into the dock and if you store it this way then it protects the screen from damage you might otherwise risk with a tablet.
- Android Honeycomb – it’s quick and sleek. There’s plenty of improvements, visually and in terms of usability. These have to be seen to be appreciated but include something simple like the ability to take screenshots
- Price – It’s only £429 with the dock, which I think is pretty bloody reasonable for what you get frankly. Sure you could get a netbook for cheaper, but it won’t be better.
- It’s not an iPad – not trying to be a snob here, but Apple is highly sort after. If you have an iPad you’re more likely to get robbed for it (by Apple and by Criminals).
- Inputs and storage – as standard there’s only 16gb of space, but you have the option to use “the cloud” (it comes with a years free storage through Asus) or simply use the SD/MicroSD slots and USB ports to store more of your stuff. Of course nothing on Android is especially massive. There are no Windows programmes to install, so plenty of free space to play with. You’d be surprised how far 16gb wil go.
- It’s not Windows – Yes, this might seem like a downside if you want to use photoshop or Microsoft office, but why are you trying to do that on a tablet anyway? There are good office alternatives like Google Docs and Polaris office, so you’ve got that covered, but if you intend to do anything more intensive you better look elsewhere. The upside is you don’t have to worry about Windows updates, drivers, patches, BIOS flashing or any of that jazz. Just enjoy your Android OS.
- The power lead – the chraging cable is probably about a foot in length, which is thoroughly awkward and inconvenient. It’s not charged through USB, but some silly little thing which would probably be hard to find a replacement for…
- It’s brown!
That’s about it really. There are very few downsides that I can see in all honesty. Asus have built a corker.