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ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 Review: Assemble!

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

Camera Quality, Portability, Interface & Software

Camera Quality

Both front and rear cameras can be found on the Eee Pad Transformer tablet. The rear mounted camera is rated at 5 megapixels, while the front mounted camera offers 1.2 megapixels. 

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Quality is best described as acceptable. The rear-mounted 5 megapixel unit can snap excellent photos on a bright sunny day, but quality decreases noticeably when used indoors. There’s no LED flash, so the camera becomes essentially useless in dark rooms or outdoors after dusk. While the camera can take reasonable pictures, using such a large device to snap photos both looks and feels absurd. There’s no easy way to hold the device, and as a result the tablet’s modest weight suddenly feels significant. 

The 1.2 megapixel camera on the front is entirely acceptable for basic video conferencing, but not much else. Fortunately, that’s all anyone will ask of it. 

Portability

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Alone, the Eee Pad Transformer tablet weighs in at 1.5 pounds and is about 10.5 inches wide by seven inches deep and half an inch thick, although it’s slimmer throughout much of the chassis due to a tapered design. These stats make for a device that’s easy to stick in backpack, messenger bag or even most purses without trouble, but they’re entirely average for the class. 

Attaching the dock to the tablet adds about 1.4 pounds and another half inch of girth, resulting in a package that’s about the same size as your typical 10.1” netbook. This is more remarkable than it sounds. Remember, an iPad user who wants a similar experience must buy – and then lug around – either a beefy third-party case with built-in keyboard or Apple’s own iPad keyboard dock, which isn’t designed to be portable and weighs only a fraction less. 

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There’s another trick in the dock, as well – an extra battery. The tablet’s battery alone is rated at 9.5 hours, which is on par with competing products, but the dock adds another 6.5 hours of power when it’s fully charged. In our real world YouTube streaming test, reality came close to the claims. The tablet alone lasted 8 hours and 24 minutes, while the dock extended life to over 14 hours! While the endurance of the tablet alone is only good, adding the dock makes it excellent. Forget all-day computing; how about two-day computing?

Even alone, this tablet would provide excellent portability. With the available dock, it’s the most portable tablet on the market. While the dock does add substantial bulk, it’s easily left at home for short trips where the keyboard and/or the battery will not be needed. This is flexibility that no other tablet or netbook can match. 

Interface & Software

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Android Honeycomb is the operating system that powers the Transformer, and as of this writing it’s been updated to version 3.2. This was a quick deployment of the upgrade, a trend that will hopefully continue in the future. 

Most of the surprises come from the pre-loaded apps, which are in some cases quite useful. The MyNet app allows for the sharing of media files via DNLA, a nifty feature if you have a home theater with compatible equipment. There’s also a handy pre-baked productivity app called Polaris Office. While basic, it provides compatibility with both Google Docs and Microsoft Office. ASUS could have left its customers high and dry, searching for a tablet-friendly productivity app on the Marketplace, but instead has gone to the trouble for them. 

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While Honeycomb itself is remarkably stable, I did run in to some software issues with the dock. Attempting to use the dock with the browser often provided negative results. There was significant lag on some sites, and other sites failed to accept input from the dock at all. Problems such as this made web browsing with the dock attached a frustrating experience. 

Otherwise, Honeycomb is as it has been. I recommend that anyone completely unfamiliar with Honeycomb take a look at our Motorola Xoom review, which provides an in-depth look at its features.

September 6, 2011 | 04:12 PM - Posted by Scomma (not verified)

Great review, I personally wish it was 3G tab, but soem day it will :) Thanks guys for great review!

September 7, 2011 | 11:58 AM - Posted by jimmyveri

I'm in love

September 8, 2011 | 09:48 AM - Posted by JonathanCR (not verified)

This is a nice review of a great tablet. My wife has one and it is an excellent bit of kit, and so versatile. I agree with you that over-focusing on the dock actually does the Transformer a disservice: it's a great tablet in its own right. But I disagree with you about the keyboard - I find it perfectly fine for typing with, certainly the equal of any netbook keyboard. It really is an impressive piece of technology, especially when you can plug almost anything into the USB ports and have them work as if on a laptop. (One exception: an external DVD drive won't work in this fashion, so don't expect to be able to plug one in and watch DVDS on it. That is a limitation of Android rather than of the Transformer itself.) I really like its somewhat retro design, almost steampunk in feel, which does indeed differentiate it from the crowd of iPad wannabes.

I must also mention that the lag when using the dock to type in the browser is a known issue, and one that can be circumvented by downloading another browser instead.

Asus did a great job with this, remarkably so when, as you say, they're not exactly known for tablets. I especially like their attention to detail on the software. As you say, Polaris is a nice inclusion (essential really, given how the device is marketed) and actually one of the best mobile office suites available (and it's not available on any other tablet). Asus have also made some subtle but genuinely useful changes to Android, unlike some of the clunkier changes that other tablet makers have implemented. For example, they've added a setting to the browser to have it load PC versions of websites by default instead of mobile versions. That is useful.

I have an iPad 2 myself, which is also a great thing, but I think the Asus Transformer is its equal. This is partly because it is quite different. If you want to use the device for work and productivity, the Transformer seems to me a much better choice than the iPad. (Conversely, the iPad is better for other things.) In my view the Transformer is the only Android tablet really worth considering (unless you have a religious objection to Apple, as some people do), because it is the only one that really offers something different. The other Android tablets are, to varying degrees, just not-iPads and don't offer compelling reasons to choose them instead, especially given the poor selection of apps available for Honeycomb compared to the vastness of the Apple app store. The Transformer, by contrast, does things that the iPad can't, and for some people these will more than make up for its weaknesses in other areas.

September 8, 2011 | 01:06 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

I do agree that the keyboard is about as good as many netbooks, but I'm generally down on netbook keyboards as well. I just don't find that sort of experience comfortable, not only because of the small keys, but also because of the lack of palmrest space below the keyboard.

Using another browser hadn't occurred to me. Hopefully that tip will help other Transformer users who run in to issues with lag.

I'm happy that you're enjoying your Transformer. It is the best Android tablet out there today. If I were going to buy one right now, a Transformer without the dock is what I'd go for.

September 9, 2011 | 05:22 AM - Posted by Johan (not verified)

What's a "content creature"? Sounds scary!

September 10, 2011 | 11:07 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Nice review. The performance charts need a little help. Do longer bars indicate better performance?

September 10, 2011 | 11:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

YOU ARE WRONG-the right click button always does something in Android. It is another back button. Did you even use the TF101!

October 5, 2011 | 04:28 PM - Posted by MikeP5 (not verified)

You did a great job on this article. I would really love it if you expaned a little more on the subject. pacman game online

October 12, 2011 | 12:42 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is the 3G upgrade firmware-based or hardware - i.e. is the circuitry already built-in but just needs new firmware to 'activate' it, or do you actually need to buy another unit?

November 3, 2011 | 06:41 PM - Posted by Britgeezer (not verified)

I'm looking for a tablet with ability for:

-Skype
-Kindle/Amazon books
-USB connector to ext HD to run MKV files.
Is this it am I still looking?

November 13, 2011 | 04:04 AM - Posted by Digital Loupe (not verified)

Have made one review for TF101 myself. Weak points of this device is slow response time from keyboard.But overall it's good price/performance
digitalloupe reviews

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