|The Eee Pad Transformer, Specs and Video Demo|
Half-baked. That would describe the large majority of Android-based tablets we've seen come through our test labs here at HotHardware thus far. Even Motorola's Xoom, though infused with Google's latest Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) release, felt like it could use a bit of polish in spots, though most of the refinement wouldn't need to come from the device so much as its operating system. If you were wondering why Google was restricting the Marketplace on any device larger than 7 inches, the reason is simply that 2.X versions of Android were engineered with handsets in mind, not tablets, netbooks or larger devices. And though Honeycomb has made great strides in an effort to enabling Android for larger devices, the Android tablet scene thus far still has a ways to go with respect to catching the kind of polish and refinement that Apple is enjoying with the iPad.
That said, certain manufacturers like Motorola, ViewSonic, Toshiba, Acer and of course Asus are leading the charge now that Honeycomb is out in the wild. A maturation process is taking place as we're writing this and Asus seems keen to get things done "right" sooner rather than later. A lot of the competition was either pre-announcing very early systems or releasing cobbled together Android 2.2-driven devices while Asus was quietly refining their product, waiting for Honeycomb's go-ahead. Today we've got a look at what is essentially the first real Android tablet to hit the market from Asus and it's also safe to say, at this early juncture, that it's also one of the most refined, well-planned Andorid tablets to hit the market yet.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer tablet is a more complete Android-based tablet PC with a companion docking station that affords it the ability to act as an Android 3.0 Honeycomb-based netbook as well. It's based on NVIDIA's powerful dual core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor with 1GB of RAM and 16 - 32GB of internal storage. If you were waiting for Android tablets to get "real," today might be a good day to finally take the plunge. Here's a detailed look at the Asus Eee Pad Transformer tablet PC and Netbook convertible.
The 32GB version of the Asus Transformer is priced at $499, while the 16GB version has a $399 MSRP. Comparatively, Motorola's Xoom is available in a WiFi-only version with 32GB of storage for $599 currently. This puts the new Asus Honeycomb slate at a $100 cost advantage over Motorola's, with nearly identical platform specs (Tegra 2 and 1G of system memory). However, beyond its price advantage there is obvious design differentiation as well. We'll take a look at that in more detail, next.
|On its own, the Eee Pad Transformer is a well-appointed slate PC, but with its companion keyboard dock, the device takes on a whole new level of functionality. As you're also probably aware, Asus has spent many years perfecting ultralight netbook designs, so the Transformer's dock has a build quality and feature set that feels and functions like a ground-up design, rather than an afterthought bolt-on for the tablet.
The side benefits of the keyboard dock design that Asus has put together are the additional ports it brings out for the tablet, including a pair of USB ports and a full SD/MMC flash card slot. The dock also offers an additional 6.5 hrs of battery time as well, with its own internal battery. However, one small let down is the the Eee Pad Transformer tablet itself doesn't have a micro USB port available. Instead Asus forces you to go through their synch cable to get access to the tablet's storage. However, there is a micro SD card slot on the tablet, thankfully, as well as HDMI output, a pair of speakers as well as front and rear facing cameras (1.2MP and 5MP respectively). More on those cameras, shortly.
The Eee Pad Transformer has a really nice copper brown finish on what appears to be an all aluminum construction, with the exception of the keyboard key caps. There's a knurled sort of textured pattern on the back lid of the tablet that resists fingerprints very well. Even the wrist-wrest of the keyboard dock resists fingerprints well, however, there is of course no getting around the fingerprint issue when it comes to the display's glass.
We wouldn't say the Transformer's screen is anymore fingerprint prone than any other tablet on the market though. The Transfomer's LED backlit screen supports a native resolution of 1280X800 and has really nice viewing angles as well as excellent contrast, black reproduction and color saturation. We did however, notice a bit of backlight bleed under certain conditions, when the screen was turned up. Bleed was visible mostly in the lower bottom corners of the display and it was a minor annoyance that didn't get in the way of functionality in the least. Finally, as you could see in our video preview of the Transformer, the touch screen is very responsive and supports traditional pinch/zoom gestures as well as ten finger multi-touch. Backlight bleed aside, the Tansformer has one of the nicest, most responsive touch screens we've seen on a 10-inch slate.
Aesthetically, mechanically, and functionally the Eee Pad Transformer is top notch in our book. Perhaps its color scheme is more of personal preference but we think the machine looks great. One final note, with respect to the keyboard is that, if you're use to ultralight notebook or netbook keyboards the Transformer's dock should provide a reasonably satisfying and comfortable typing experience. You're not going to fly on this machine like you would at on full-sized workstation or notebook keyboard but even those with larger hand prints should find the Transformer's dock easy enough to work or play with.
|User Interface and Camera|
|Asus also had their thinking caps on when it came to software for the Eee Pad Transformer; in other words, they were smart enough not to overload their new tablet with too much bloat. The light skin they've loaded on top of Android 3.0 only enhances the experience with subtle visuals and a battery level indicator represented in the screen shots below by the water level with ice cubes floating there.
Android 3.0 - Lightly Skinned, Apps, The Market and Transformer Firmware and Hardware
Logically, as the system's battery level is depleted, the water level goes down. Also, tiny bubbles float up when the tablet is charging. Nice touch, Asus. And that's all we needed was just a touch, thanks very much.
Music, Gallery, Books, Youtube, MyNet and Polaris Office - Pre-Installed - Bloatware at a Minimum
The rest of the Eee Pad Transformer experience is pretty much stock Android 3.0, with various apps pre-installed like Books, Music, Gallery and Youtube. Asus does load on something call MyNet but don't let the name fool you. MyNet is a media sharing and streaming app that allows you to access files from other systems on your network for display and playback on the tablet. Asus does install Polaris Office on the Transformer, however, and the app is actually a really nice office suite of programs for word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. It's compatible with the standard PC file formats for various office document types and comes with a really slick UI that is designed for smaller screens with bright colors that call attention to commonly used functions.
5MP Rear-Facing Camera Performance -
Honeycomb's camera application has definitely been polished up versus previous Android versions. It has a number of settings to control things like exposure, picture quality, resolution, white balance, and even a few special effects. However, if you're looking for this tablet to double as a back-up digital camera, you're out of luck.
The Camera App and Our 5MP Models, Wet Nosed, Floppy-Eared and All
The optics and lens design of the Transformer, while they support a 5MP resolution, just don't have the kind of quality you'd hope for in a device of this size. In fact, we've seen 5 - 8MP cameras in some smartphones offer better results. An on-board flash would have come in handy as well. That said, camera performance with the Eee Pad Transformer isn't a show-stopper by any stretch in our estimation. The tablet's front facing 1.2MP camera is quality enough for Facetime-like chats with apps like Fring for Android, however, the rear-facing 5MP camera isn't going to replace your Canon PowerShot any time soon, nor should you expect it to, to be fair.
Next, we'll take a look at how the Eee Pad Transformer compares to other tablets by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace. The first two tests are general purpose computing type benchmarks.
Surprisingly, though the Transformer is based on the exact same dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of DDR2 RAM, it handily outpaced the Motorola Xoom and the ViewSonic gTablet, the latter of which was running Android 2.2. We asked Asus why their Honeycomb slate was so much faster and we were told that the company worked very closely with Google to optimize performance wherever possible.
An3DBench is a benchmarking tool based on an Android port of the jPCT 3D engine. The app runs 7 tests in total that look at graphics processor fill rate and complex rendering workloads and scenes. We also were able to run some tests with An3DBenchXL, which is a newer version of the app that is significantly more demanding.
Once again, in both versions of this 3D graphics benchmark, the Asus Transformer puts out scores that are on par with or lead the pack. When the Transformer leads, it's roughly 10+ percent faster than competitive Android tablets, either running Honeycomb or Android 2.2 (Froyo).
|Battery Life Test|
attempt to quantitatively measure the Transformer's battery life in a controlled
benchmark environment, we also ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a
mix of graphics and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes.
For this test, we set the Transformer's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. The Transformer was able to last well over 8 hours on its own before it powered down.
This is a fairly new test in our set of benchmarks, so we don't have a lot of other tablet data yet to which we can compare. However, we have run the test on a few smartphones and the Motorola Xoom. The graph above shows how the Transformer compares. Versus the Motorola product, we pulled almost an additional 3hrs out of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer--impressive. We should note however that, the reason you're not seeing test results with the Transformer running in its keyboard dock for that extra claimed battery life, is that we believe we're seeing an anomaly with our dock at this time causing it not to perform as we expected. We're in touch with Asus on this and will update the graph here once we get reliable data.
|Performance Analysis and Final Thoughts|
Performance Analysis: The Asus Eee Pad Transformer offered up the best 10 or 7-inch tablet benchmark numbers we've seen to date. Even in our graphics testing, versus Samsung's potent Hummingbird processor in the Galaxy Tab, the Transformer outpaced all competitive offerings by at least a 10% margin. In terms of performance, with a generous 1GB of DDR2 RAM on board, accompanying NVIDIA's potent 1GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor, you won't find a faster Android tablet on the market right now. Of course, this position for the Transformer may be short-lived with new processors from Qualcomm and Samsung on the horizon as well.
In terms of battery life, again, though we couldn't properly test the Transformer in its keyboard dock, we were very impressed to see the tablet itself last a full 8 hours and 52 minutes. The Transformer's battery life performance lives up to every bit of Asus' specifications for the device it appears.
We expected a level of polish and refinement with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer tablet. After all, Asus has been on the sidelines baking their Android-based offerings for sometime now. It's actually pretty surprising that the company known to literally have pioneered the netbook, took this long to get an Android tablet offering to market. Regardless, Asus did not disappoint. They may have been on the sidelines for a while but it's obvious Asus was perfecting their Android tablet experience and to be fair, Honeycomb needed to come to fruition first, in order to really do a 10-inch tablet justice. That's not to say that Android 3.0 is perfect, far from it actually. However, what Asus delivered with the Eee Pad Transformer is like night and day, versus previous generation Froyo-based tablets, even those based on basically the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 platform.
So, what could Asus have done better with the Eee Pad Transformer? It's safe to say that we're none too keen about the minor backlight bleed we observed with the Transformer's screen. This seems like something Asus could easily remedy in future designs, or perhaps even in an early update of the device (action item!). We also think a micro-USB port on the tablet itself, rather than just its optional keyboard dock, would offer a bit more flexibility for users. However, these two quibbles are minor, considering the device as whole. The bottom line is the Asus Eee Pad Transformer is easily our favorite 10-inch slate PC that we've seen to date. The tablet's performance and its lightly skinned Honeycomb Android UI, make using the tablet a real pleasure. Also, the wide viewing angles, excellent contrast and color reproduction of its multi-touch IPS LCD are just gorgeous. Asus also bundles just the right assortment of apps with the device as well, and the addition of Polaris Office 3 was a nice touch that doesn't end up feeling like bloatware in the least.
In short, we think the Eee Pad Transformer is about as close to an iPad 2 killer as we're going to get right now in an Android-based product, though it's arguable by some perhaps, that we're still not quite there yet. For its base $399 price, we'd beg to differ though. It's no wonder the Transformer is virtually sold out across the net and in retail right now. Which brings us to one final drawback of the device. Good luck finding it. Asus appears to be catching up to initial release demand and the device is on back-order wherever we looked, except for a few that like to gouge. Keep an eye on more reputable places like NewEgg or B&H or just get in line for a pre-order if you're in the market for one. It's a good problem to have for Asus but they better make hay while they can. The onslaught of tablets will continue for quite some time we're sure. In the meantime, we like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer so much, we felt it more than worthy of our Editor's Choice award.