A lot of folks are lusting over that certain tablet from Cupertino, but there are other new releases worthy of consideration. Quick on the draw, ASUS responds with the Eee Pad Transformer TF101. And no, despite it's name, it can't turn into an Autobot!
The "Transformer" moniker is for the TF101's ability to morph into a netbook thanks to the optional QWERTY keyboard. Besides providing another input method, the keyboard increases the tablet's battery life to 16 hours (according to ASUS), as well as serves up two extra USB 2.0 ports and a reader accommodating MMC, SD and SDHC cards. Unfortunately, we didn't have the keyboard (which is sold separately) on hand during our review period, so our fingers got a lot of quality time with the TF101's scratch-resistant 10.1" display.
Android users accustomed to running either Froyo or Gingerbread are gonna have a field day with Honeycombthis time, the tablet-optimized version of the OS. Couple that with the TF101's NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor, and you've got a tablet that scores high on both visuals and speed. Users have five home screens to play with and customize with various widgets, and all screen controls are limited to the bottom portion of the display: three buttons (Back, Home and Multitask) take up space on the lower left, while device and account notifications are situated on the lower right.
The minimalist approach is also seen on the TF101's exterior design: the Power button and volume rocker are on the top left side, while ports for mini HDMI, audio, microSD, charger and keyboard are on the bottom and right sides. Slim stereo speakers flank the touchscreen (and both sides of the unit as well), and a 1.3MP camera is placed on the display's top portion. At the back, the TF101's textured pattern, the ASUS logo and a 5MP camera make up the simple but striking aesthetics.
All apps on the Android market will work with the Transformer, but since there's not a lot of apps made specifically for tablets, you may have to contend with slight orientation and image quality woes for some apps. But the tablet does come with stock applications from both Google and ASUS, and a bit of digging on the Android market will yield apps that make the most of what the TF101 has to offer. In time, we'll find more tablet-friendly apps to use.
We found it quite easy to work on our documents, play our media and staple Android games (oh hey, Angry Birds Rio!) and do the usual social networking rounds with this tablet. Also, its lightweight and slim profile made it a good e-book reader alternative; we had no problems holding it and flipping through digital pages for prolonged periods. (We preferred using the Amazon Kindle app, but ASUS's MyLibrary also does well.) All that activity would give you around 6-8 hours of battery life - shorter than the claimed 9.5 hours, but still impressive.
Some people continue to work even while out of the office, and these consumers may be thinking of shelling out for a tablet; it's much lighter than a laptop, and can be converted to a netbook with a separate keyboard (much like the Transformer or the iPad 2). Thing is, if you want to use the Transformer as a backup workhorse, you're limited to Wi-Fi connections - unlike the iPad 2, there's no 3G variant. Cost-wise, it's a good thing since you don't need to pay more for a data plan. Also, if you already have an Android phone, then you can turn that into a portable Wi-Fi hotspot and share your data connection with the Transformer. But if you're in an industry that requires constant connectivity (or if you're just that hooked on being online), a 3G option would be nice to have.
At almost P23,000, the ASUS EEE Transformer TF101 costs a grand less than the basic version of the iPad 2, but is as attractive and fast as the latter. We say this one's a keeper. And that detachable keyboard you see in the photo, it's sold separately at P7,000 a pop! More photos below.
Thinking about buying one? Click here to view the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer in the Buyer's Guide.
Check the gallery below for review images...
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