Review: Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101

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Try as others might, there really hasn’t been a true Android tablet that could go toe to toe with Apple’s iPad. Sure, there’s the Motorola Xoom, but the Xoom was a horrible release – bugs heaped upon bugs, plus an $800 price tag that didn’t even come close to being as competitive as the iPad’s $499 sticker price. Android tablets that run version 2.3 or earlier doesn’t count either, because those devices don’t even bring a fraction of the user experience that’s needed to compete realistically with the iPad.

That’s until the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 came along.

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is the first Android tablet in the market that can realistically go up against Apple’s entrenched iPad. It has the right price, the right amount of features, is easy to use and has enough innovative features of its own to entice customers away from the clutches of the fruity one.

Let’s get all the technical data out of the way first. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is a 10.1-inch Android Honeycomb tablet that’s powered by NVIDIA’s dual-core Tegra 2 processor.

Like the Motorola Xoom, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 has few hardware buttons, and aside from the power/lock button and the volume rocker, the sides of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 are devoid of buttons.

The right side houses the HDMI port, headphone jack and microSD card slot, while the bottom holds the power/data port.

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is powered by Google’s Honeycomb tablet OS, which is definitely different than Android on your smartphones. The screen to screen transition is smooth and you get that nice border-line effect when you swipe from one screen to the next. Navigation is done via the back, home and multi-task buttons on the lower right side, while battery status, time, wireless connectivity and other information (such as mail notification) are located on the lower right.

You can access the main screen via the grid icon on the upper right marked apps, and you can quickly customize the number of apps on your different home screens (you get five) by pressing the plus button on the side of the app button.

Another nice feature of Honeycomb is its ability to multitask like crazy. You can press the multitask button and you can easily go to the previous programs you had open before.

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101’s large screen size make it a natural choice for reading books and comics, and its overall weight doesn’t make it hard for you to lift it up to your face while laying down. The on-screen keyboard is easy to use and worked well enough in practice.

Unlike most tablets, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 can take a keyboard accessory which also pulls dual duty as an additional battery, extending the quoted 9.5 hour battery life to 16 hours.

With the keyboard attached, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 resembles a netbook – complete with a touchpad for navigation. The dock also has an SD card reader and a USB port. The keyboard dock allowed me type long articles fairly easily as the keys have enough travel and the keyboard in general is extremely comfortable to use.

There were a couple of games installed on the device I reviewed which really showed off the power of the Tegra processor. Samurai Vengeance was a fairly demanding game graphics-wise, but the device handled it with ease, and I never really felt it was struggling with the graphics even with multiple enemies on the screen. Additionally, with the Honeycomb 3.1 update in the winds (I’m in Taiwan as I write this and I’ve received the update already) it’s now possible to connect a USB game controller to the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 and use that to play games.

Probably the only complaint I have with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is the scarcity of apps on the Android Market. Sure, there are apps in there that were ported from the Android marketplace, but I would have preferred a bit more apps created solely for Tablets. While there was a dedicated ereader for the device, there wasn’t a native comic book app – an odd complaint, but I know more than a few people who bought their iPads with the sole purpose of using them as comic book readers. There’s also no orientation lock, or none that I could see right away, and the constant auto-rotation of the device while lying down when I was browsing the internet got a bit annoying, to say the least.

Those are really small complaints, and in the end the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is a solid tablet and the first real contender to Apple’s iPad. Its ability to take a keyboard and act more or less like a traditional netbook puts it in a class of its own when it comes to versatility. The Eee Pad Transformer will be available this month, and will retail for 22,995 (32GB) (16GB) for the keyboard-less version, and 29,995 (32GB) (16GB) with the keyboard.

 

What’s Hot:

Has a proper tablet OS

Has an option to take a keyboard that acts as a secondary battery

Powerful Tegra 2 processor allows graphically demanding games to be played

 

What’s Not:

Needs more apps developed specifically for tablets

Needs a native comic book reader

No obvious orientation lock

 

Bottomline:

There are not enough superlatives in the world to express my feelings with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101. It’s the first, real contender to the iPad and it’s probably the Android tablet you’ve been waiting for.

Buymeter: 9

Edit: Apparently the prices and specs we were initially given were incorrect, the review has been updated to reflect this.