Editors' note (May 14, 2012): The Eee Pad Transformer is now upgradable to Android 4.0; however, those interested in this product should also check out the new step-up version, the Asus Transformer Pad TF300.
Tablets are still a hard sell to most, but one of the most important factors is price. The lower the price (without being too low to raise suspicions of quality), the more likely consumers are willing to part with their money.
At $400, the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only version of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer is the cheapest Honeycomb tablet on the market and undercuts the lowest price iPad 2 by $100. But, what sacrifices did Asus make to get it that low?
Design and features
Before even powering up the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, we were struck by its wider-than-normal left and right bezel, each measuring about 1.1 inches. That's a lot wider than the Motorola Xoom's 0.5-inch bezel. We also noticed that the Transformer is the longest of the new generation of tablets, measuring a full 10.7 inches in width compared with the Xoom's 9.8 inches. Make no mistake, this is a large tablet; it's the largest Honeycomb tablet we've seen, in fact.
I thought of writing a superlong paragraph detailing dimension differences between the latest tablets, but that's what charts are for. Here's a handy chart to illustrate the size differences between the Transformer and other recent tablets.
|Asus Eee Pad Transformer||Acer Iconia Tab A500||Motorola Xoom||Apple iPad 2|
|Width (in landscape)||10.7||10.2||9.8||9.5||9.6|
|Side bezel width (in landscape)||1.1||0.8||0.6||0.8||0.9|
Complementing the Transformer's wide-screen aspect ratio is a 10.1-inch 1,280x800-pixel capacitive touch display. As a result, we felt more comfortable holding it in landscape orientation. Unfortunately, the corners and edges of the tablet aren't rounded and smoothed off like they are on the G-Slate or Xoom, for example, and while holding the tablet, we felt the corners slowly cutting into our palms. Not nearly enough to draw blood or anything, but enough to convince us we'd rather hold a less aggressive tablet.
At first glance, the build quality of the Transformer seems solid enough; however, pushing in on its backside with even just a medium level of pressure yielded a bit too much give, making it feel a lot less substantial than the G-Slate or Xoom. The Transformer's textured, almost snakeskin backside provides an added level of grip compared with silky smooth tablets like the iPad 2, which are prone to slippage at times.
Speakers are located on the left and right sides. The requisite two cameras are here as well; there's a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing one. Both are located near the top center of the device.
On the right side are the microSD card slot, a Mini-HDMI port, a microphone pinhole, and a headphone jack. On the left are the power/lock button and volume rocker. The bottom houses the 40-pin connector for charging the battery or connecting to a PC for data transfer, but unfortunately, no USB port is included. This is may be an intentional oversight that may incentivize the purchase of the keyboard/dock accessory.
Once attached, the Transformer's $150 keyboard/docking station option transforms the tablet into what could be considered a Honeycomb Netbook. The keyboard includes a full array of keys and a multitouch touch pad. It also includes two USB ports, an SD card reader port, and its own battery. The keys feel soft, snappy, and are wide enough and spaced far enough apart to provide comfortable use by someone with larger-than-average hands. Like on a MacBook, two fingers are used to scroll up and down on Web pages via the touch pad.
Attempting to properly connect the keyboard to the tablet can be a highly frustrating experience. There are no markers to assist you in lining up the two pieces, and you essentially have to slide the tablet around until you feel it connect. Also, in order to get the tablet to lock into the dock, we had to push down fairly hard on it.
The usual suspects of tablet features are available with the Transformer, including Bluetooth 2.1 for audio and peripheral support. The Wi-Fi antenna supports bands up to 802.11n. Embedded sensors for screen brightness, accelerometer, and gyroscope are all included.
With no cellular option, the Transformer is a Wi-Fi-only tablet. A 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core mobile processor and 16GB of storage round out the specs.
Up until the Xoom, every Android tablet we'd reviewed suffered from behaving too much like a smartphone. Google's mobile operating system, its apps, and its developer tools were all geared for the small screen, and it showed.
With the introduction of Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb), Google is showing its commitment to tablets. With the exception of legacy support for existing Android apps, Honeycomb is a dramatic departure from the Android of smartphones.
Even experienced Android users will need some time to get accustomed to Honeycomb's navigation. Gone is the familiar four-button navigation across the bottom of the screen. Contextual menus and options are accessed through the top of the screen, notifications pop out from the lower right, and the trusty old back arrow will occasionally morph into a down arrow when the keyboard is engaged, allowing you to conceal or reveal the keyboard.