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ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 Review: Assemble!

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: ASUS

User Interface and Connectivity, Display and Audio Quality

 User Interface and Connectivity

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When used as a stand-alone tablet the Transformer’s interface is not much different from the competition. The large 10.1” capacitive touch display is smooth and responsive. There are only two buttons on the tablet itself, one for power and a rocker for volume control. Both are comfortable, but the volume control position makes accidental volume changes a possibility while handling the tablet in landscape orientation. Opposite of the power and volume buttons you’ll find HDMI out, a headphone/mic jack, and a microSD card reader.

The dock is the real user interface story. Compared to most tablet docks or accessory keyboards, it’s a wonder to use. It’s large and intuitive – anyone who has ever used a laptop or netbook will feel at home. Individual keys are quite small, however, and the keyboard feels cramped as a result. My first fifteen minutes with the device were frustrating, as my fingers were confused by the diminutive layout, but I eventually adjusted.  

This same comment can be applied to the touchpad, which is a throwback to the tiny, fiddly touchpads that were common on the first netbooks. There are individual left and right buttons available on the touchpad rocker, but the right-click function often does nothing, since it’s not commonly used in Honeycomb. 

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Besides the additional user inputs, the dock also adds laptop-like connectivity in the form of two USB ports and a regularly sized SD card reader. I tested each USB port with several different keyboards and mice and found that all worked instantly. I was even able to use a mouse scroll wheel to move between home screens.

Display and Audio Quality 

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Shallowness is part of the tablet market. It’s all about the looks, or rather, how the display looks. It’s both input and output, so it has to be great. 

The good news comes right from the spec sheet – this is an IPS display. While the iPad has offered IPS since its birth, this feature isn’t common among Android tablets. The difference is immediately apparent when viewing from an angle. The Eee Pad Transformer doesn’t wash out quickly and remains completely intelligible when viewed from any reasonable angle. 

Contrast and white saturation also proved themselves excellent via the Lagom LCD test images, but black levels were less impressive, which may be why the display doesn’t have the “pop” I expected. The entire top row of the black level test page was not easily visible, although the 4th and 5th blocks could be made out on close inspection. While the display on this tablet is excellent, and better than most of the competition, the iPad 2 still has a slight edge.

Audio quality is not up to the same high standard. Both bass and volume are lacking, but despite this, audio distorts badly as volume is raised towards its maximum. I’ll go far as to say that the speakers are entirely unusable in any room with a moderate amount of background noise. If there’s a TV on in the background, or music playing in another room, it’ll likely be enough to drown out this tablet. 

 

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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