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Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101G Review
Tablets make fun multimedia devices but when it comes down to real work, like typing out this review for instance, there’s no replacing the good ol’ physical keyboard. You could always buy a bluetooth keyboard as an add-on but that’s just one more thing to carry around. This has always caused a huge dilemma for first time buyers who are left with the painful choice of deciding between a tablet and a netbook. A hybrid device was needed to give us the best of both worlds. Lenovo teased us with the LePad but never actually got to putting it into production. Thankfully, Asus saw a window of opportunity and capitalized on it by creating, quite frankly, the best hybrid device seen to date. We give you the Transformer TF101G - a tablet for leisure and a netbook for work, just what the doctor ordered.
Design and Build
The Transformer comes in two parts, there’s the tablet itself and the keyboard dock which further expands its functionality. Let’s start with the tablet. Measuring just 12.9mm in thickness, it’s really slim and light too, at just 695g. The Galaxy Tab 750 still remains the slimmest and lightest 10.1-inch tablet though. The TF101G is built extremely well and it just feels like it costs a premium (which is does). Instead of a plain, boring back, Asus have gone with a nice patterned design and the colour is very eye catching as well. The tablet sports an IPS panel and a scratch-resistant glass for added protection.
All docked in
Connectivity wise, we have a 3.5mm headphone jack with support for a microphone as well, mini-HDMI (Type C) connector, microSD card slot while the left side houses the SIM card slot (For the TF101G model only) and the volume rocker and power/sleep button. The fit and finish of all the ports and buttons are well done giving you a sense of quality and attention to detail.
Buttons are crafted well
The proprietary connector is at the bottom and is used for charging, data transfer or to connect to the dock. In the rear, we also have a 5MP camera without flash and a front facing 1.3MP camera for video chat. While the TF101G does accept SIM cards, it does not support telephony functions. It does however come with 16GB memory, Gyroscope and E-compass and stereo speakers with SRS. Now, let’s turn our attention to the dock.
If you thought this was just a plain old keyboard, then you're sadly mistaken. About the same size as a 10-inch Eee PC keyboard, the dock weighs another 640g, which brings the grand total to about 1.3kg which is more or less what a typical netbook weighs. The dock is equally slim and continues the same patterned design on the base as well.
Comfortable keyboard, albeit slightly cramped
The four rubber feet help give it some grip when placed on a desk. The keyboard is your regular chiclet styled one but instead of the function keys, we have shortcuts for media, brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even a button to lock the screen. You simply dock the tablet in and it locks in place, transforming it into a netbook. The multi-touch trackpad supports two finger gestures so you can move through the home screens by swiping it left or right and swipe it up or down to scroll. Pinch-to-zoom is also present in the gallery and browser.
The dock can be charged separately as well
The dock also lets you expand the connectivity further by offering two USB 2.0 ports and a memory card reader. There’s also a charging port to charge the tablet when docked in. The USB ports support NTFS file format so a 500GB portable drive is a non-issue. 1080p files struggle to play via portable hard drive but work just fine through an SD card or onboard memory. There’s even a 24Whr battery stuffed inside the dock which prolongs the battery life of the tablet if you’re running low. In case the tablet is completely drained out, simply plug it in and it will charge it up to 50 percent.
Versus a netbook
The keys are incredibly comfortable to use but like any 10.1-inch netbook, feel a tiny bit cramped. Another thing is that it doesn’t recognize some basic Windows commands like Ctrl+S for saving, which, due to force of habit, you will inevitably do at some point while typing. It’s not a complaint, just that it would have been nice if Asus would have incorporated that somehow.
The Transformer is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2 processor and runs Honeycomb 3.2.1. Asus haven’t done a lot of customization to the interface other than a few widgets and different icons for the on-screen menu buttons. They’ve also thrown in some of their own widgets like MyZine which keeps circulating through your latest photos, music and web pages in a single window and a custom weather widget.
Stock Honeycomb for the most part
The interface is quick and fluid with very few signs of slow down. LinPack recorded a single thread score of 29.7 and a multi-thread score of 56.89 while AnTuTu gave us a score of 4679 points.
The Asus MyZine widget
Everything else remains pretty much stock Honeycomb which means it’s familiar and easy to navigate. The notification bar now shows some permanent icons for an inserted memory card or when the tablet is docked. Asus already claim that the Transformer will be upgradable to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in the future so that’s a bit of relief for those who buy it.
Asus hasn’t messed around with the stock audio and video player so you’re left with limited functionality out of the box. they have incorporated SRS Premium Sound technology for the speakers but we couldn’t find any traces of that in the settings, so we’re going to have to take their word for it. The sound quality is good through a good pair of in-ear phones but feels a little weak coming through the side speakers. At max volume, it's quite loud but the tone is a little thin and weak.
The stock music player is all you get
Videos are limited to MP4 by default by that’s soon rectified by installing some third-party media players. We were successfully able to play 1080p files via microSD card and the internal storage but it refused to do so with a portable hard drive. The picture quality is really good with rich and vibrant colours thanks to the IPS display. MKV files play smoothly as well but only through the internal storage or an SD card.
The TF101G has full 3G HDPA+ support and is quadband GSM ready. You still can’t make calls using the SIM card though, just messaging is supported. We also have Wi-Fi ‘n’ and Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR functionality. DLNA is also present and can be accessed through the MyNet app. You can share music, photos and videos to any DLNA certified device. The built-in browser does a good job of rendering web pages as well. The memory card slot supports hot-swap but the SIM tray will require you to use a pin to access it, iPhone style. HDMI-out is present as well allowing you to quickly connect to an HDTV. This is a Type-C connector and not a Type-D that we saw on the Motorola Xoom and the Lenovo K1.
The stock browser
We also have Asus WebStorage which gives you unlimited web storage space for one year after which you have to pay a fee to continue the service. MyCloud lets you quickly browse and sort out your media files saved in the cloud.
Other apps include MyLibrary which lets you read Ebooks and popular news publications. Kindle app also comes bundled. There’s MovieStudio for editing your captured videos, Polaris Office for working on Office documents and spreadsheets.
Use the cloud to expand your storage
SuperNote lets you scribble notes, embed images, etc. Since this is a Tegra-powered device, we get TegraZone allowing you to purchase and download games optimized for this hardware. Sadly, Asus doesn’t bundle along any games with the Transformer.
The 5MP autofocus camera fails to impress with very basic functionality and poor options. The sensor fairs strictly average when it comes to snapping indoor pictures.
Camera interface is extremely basic
Since you don't have much control over the autofocus as there’s no grid or focus point for your reference, you simply point at your subject and hope for a well focused shot.
The camera is average at best
The video recording isn’t too impressive either. The recorded video is very jittery even if you move the tablet around slowly. Overall, Asus fails to impress us in this department.
In our video drain test, the SIM was set to 2G mode, Wi-Fi was off and brightness was set to medium. We first started the test with the tablet disconnected from the dock. Here, we managed to get 7hrs and 40min of battery life before the tablet refused to boot up. This is pretty good given the slim form factor. But it doesn't end there. Once docked, we managed squeeze out another 4hrs from the Transformer which gives us a total battery life of almost 11hrs. Asus claims 14hrs which I’m sure is achievable if you tone down the brightness further and perhaps put it in Airplane mode. Nevertheless, this is more than you will ever get on most netbooks without having to deal with the ugly bulge from higher capacity battery packs. Next, we managed to get 8hrs in our loops tests which included a video loop, audio loop and streaming radio over Wi-Fi.
Asus seemed to have delivered well on their promise. They’ve created a device which gives you the best of both worlds, something we’ve long been waiting for. However, they seemed to have gotten carried away a bit with the success, which reflects in the pricing. Generally, a 3G version of a tablet is a couple of thousand more than the Wi-Fi only version. You can find the Wi-Fi Transformer or TF101 for about Rs.30,000, which is good bargain. However, the 3G model (TF101G) is priced at a whopping Rs. 43,000, which is simply too expensive. At this price, we expect a near perfect product, which it isn’t. The Wi-Fi version makes a better buy. You could use a 3G USB modem as well but that involves some rooting and messy procedures which I doubt many will bother with.
The Transformer TF101G
So should you buy the Transformer TF101G?Well, you’d be a massive fool if you did, and it’s not because of the pricing. The next version, dubbed the Transformer Prime is due to arrive anytime before 2011 ends (hopefully) and it will pack in Nvidia’s spanking new Tegra 3 processor or Kal El, which will make it the first ever tablet to sport a quad-core heart. It will also be more than twice as fast as the current Transformer (if these scores are to be believed). We suggest you hang on your wallets for a little while longer. If anything, at least we can expect a nice price drop for the current one once it launches.