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Review: Eee Pad Transformer TF101 with Dock

Prior to Amazon shaking the Android tablet market with the Kindle Fire, there weren’t a lot of really successful tablets out there besides the iPad. Motorola introduced the Xoom as a Google experience device sporting Android 3.0 but despite pretty good reviews it wasn’t embraced by the customers. One of the reasons was the high price and the fact that Android 3.0 had a lot of little issues while the iPad came with a solid iOS version alongside tablet optimized apps from day one. ASUS also joined the Android tablet market later with their Eee Pad Transformer series, which became one of the most successful tablets last year.

The Eee Pad ASUS Transformer TF101 is a 10.1 inch tablet with 16 or 32 GB storage, 1 GB of RAM, nVidia Tegra 2, 1 Ghz CPU, GPS, a 5 MP camera on the back and a VGA front camera. Furthermore you have a micro SD card slot to expand your storage as well as hardware volume buttons, a HMDI slot and earphone plugs. Using the keyboard dock you have even more options which i will list later. It’s good to see that ASUS follows a much more open strategy in regards to hardware interfaces compared to Samsung which seems to aim for a walled garden like Apple and doesn’t even support basic standards like micro SD card slots.

Compared to the Motorola Xoom or an iPad 2 the ASUS Transformer feels a little bit less tightly build, as you will find it creaking every now and then. So even though the built quality is not bad, its clearly not in the iPad league.

Power and volume buttons have been placed on the left side of the tablet, while the USB slot can be found on the keyboard dock.

On the right side you’ll find the earphone plug, HDMI slot and micro SD card slot. Regular SD, SDHC and even MMC cards can be put into the keyboard dock as well. ASUS really delivered a full set of slots you can use to transfer data between the Transformer and other devices. As far as i could see this works very well, as i had no issues with different storage media.

The IPS Gorilla glas display with a resolution of 1280*800 pixel has good viewing angles and nice color reproduction, but reflects light too much. Interestingly it seems to become smudgy very fast and swiping the fingerprints away was much more difficult than on other devices. I’m not sure what the reason for this is, but it looks like ASUS didn’t use an oleophobic coating for the display.

With its widescreen format it’s natural that you would hold the tablet primarily in landscape mode, especially since Android 3.0 and 4.0 are optimized for landscape viewing. Portrait mode is also possible but feels strange as the transformer is a little bit too long for my taste. On the iPad 2 and Kindle Fire both orientations work fine, since the iPad has a different screen ratio and Amazons tablet is only 7 inch which also helps. And even though the Eee Pad Transformer is not as heavy as the Motorola Xoom it still is a little bit too hefty for me. I think that we will see much lighter 10 inch ASUS tablets in 2012.

I was skeptical at first picturing the Transformer and keyboard dock as laptop replacement. Initially you’ll be doing a lot of stuff with the touchpad and cursor until you realize that all important Android buttons like home, back, menu or lock are available on the keyboard. Additionally you can use gestures on the touchpad. One example is to switch the homescreen page by swiping two fingers horizontally, or vertically to scroll through webpages. After a while it works really well, even though the keyboard can’t compete with the best laptop keyboards out there regarding haptics and feel.

Besides the fact that ASUS added a lot of slots and interfaces I mentioned earlier, the keyboard also has an own battery which can be charged to enhance the battery live of your tablet greatly when put into the dock. So taking all aspects like interfaces, battery and of course the hardware keyboard into consideration the dock really provides a lot of additional value.

The Eee Pad Transformer TF101 was shipped with Android 3.0 which was Googles first attempt at a tablet UI. And while the general style was quite good, there were a lot of strange usability decisions and instability issues. Luckily Android 4.0 was just rolled out so I will take an in-depth look at it on my next review.

The verdict

Even though the Transformer Prime is the current flagship and the next generation of ASUS tablets also just has been announced on the mobile world congress, taking a look at the older Eee Pad Transformer makes sense if you are looking for a good and cheap device with Android 4.0.

It has solid hardware specs and a great display. Together with the keyboard dock you have a combination which will work well for basic use cases like surfing, writing, media consumption, instant messaging and video calling. This will cover most relevant use cases for a lot of people, but there are also some things you won’t be able to do at this point. When writing this article I wasn’t able to batch upload pictures using the WordPress web administration. Seems like the flash upload has problems with the Android file system. Furthermore you can’t install desktop software like the Android SDK, Word, Powerpoint and Excel. So while the Transformer with dock will cover some main use cases, it can’t fully replace a real desktop/laptop OS like Windows or OSX.

If you think about getting a tablet which can be used as a laptop for basic use cases, you should take a look at the ASUS Transformer series. ASUS recently rolled out the Android 4.0. ICS update (review coming soon) for the TF101, which keeps the tablet up to date with the latest Android features and apps. So if the price point is important too, then the Eee Pad Transformer TF101 could be what you are looking for.