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Extended review of Asus Transformer Eee Pad

I have already written a initial review of the Asus Eee pad transformer TF101. The first review was written when I had just received it. I've now had time to put it through it's paces and find it's good and bad points.

Android tablet

Asus Eee Pad Transformer - Android tablet

Android is a Linux based operating system specifically designed for use on smartphones and touch screen tablets. It is currently the most popular smartphone platform (December 2011) and is a great success on tablets.

The EeePad Transformer is one of the most popular Android tablets so far.

The tablet came with Android version 3.2.1. It is due to have an upgrade option to the latest Android (4 - Ice Cream Sandwich). Whilst Asus haven't provided an exact date for the software upgrade indications are that this will be mid February 2012.

In use the tablet is fast, looks good and is packed with features as well as access to over 400,000 applications through the Android Marketplace.

Browsing experience, including websites with Flash!

The default browser is based on Google's Android browser. When first launched it offers the chance to download Flash from the Market (free download), and is then a fully functional browser with flash. As this is a mobile browser some sites show the mobile version of their site. This is normally designed for smartphones and is usually better to click on a link to view the normal desktop version of the website. You can also change the browser settings so that it appears as a normal desktop browser which is perhaps the better option for a large tablet.

There are other browsers available from the Android Market. The Firefox browser is worth considering as it has an export to pdf option which can be useful for printing (there are other ways of printing, but I'll discuss that later on my blog). Firefox does not however work with flash so it's worth having both browsers installed and switching between them as required.

The one thing I do miss in the Android browsers is a spell checker. Firefox has had one in its desktop version for some time, but it is not included in the Android browsers. If you don't use the keyboard then the Android keyboard helps with spelling anyway, but not with the EeePad Transformer keyboard.

As I've mentioned before having flash available on a tablet is essential to me. The ipad / ipad2 etc do not support flash and as a result is very much a restricted browsing experience.

I use flash a lot, particularly when using my tablet with my children. Importantly my daughter's school sets homework using Education City, which cannot be completed without Flash. Also my children like to play many of the games and activities on the CBeebies website.

For me Flash allows me to access iplayer and other video based sites that use flash based video players.

The future is almost certainly going to be html 5, but today Flash is still far more prominent and tablets that don't support Flash (eg. iPad / iPad2) are very restricted.

Not quite a netbook - or is it?

With the tablet docked onto the optional keyboard, then Asus claims that it then doubles up as a netbook. At first I was going to write here that I didn't think the EeePad compared with a netbook, but after thinking about it, it is more the case that some of today's netbooks aren't really what a netbook was supposed to be. Let me explain...

I have a Asus Netbook, which is a 10" high spec netbook with built in hard disk drive. The netbook runs a full version of Ubuntu Linux and is in all intents a small version of a standard laptop. But that is not what a netbook was originally supposed to be. The original nebooks had little in the way of internal storage and were designed to access most applications over the network, hence the net in netbook. In that case the docked tablet is still far more versatile than a netbook was intended, but they are not the same as the mini-laptops that we currently call netbooks.

Rather than trying to be a full laptop computer the Android operating system has applications designed to make the most of the touch screen. In the future as laptops have touch screens as standard we will start to see laptops become more finger friendly (and we are starting to see that with Ubuntu's Unity already), but for now the applications designed for Android are more appropriate than trying to use a "normal" desktop operating system, although this does make some things feel a little more restrictive (with no right click and big buttons with reduced menu options).

If you need to be able to run the normal desktop applications on a small laptop then a netbook will work quite nicely (especially with a lightweight Linux distribution such as xubuntu which is fast and powerful), but if looking for something that has easy to use applications that work well with a touch-screen then an Android tablet is better. The EeePad is the latter, but with the advantage of a dockable keyboard it provides a good compromise.

I touch-type which is fairly straight forward on the docking keyboard, but is not quite the same as using a netbook. I have to disable the trackpoint when doing a significant amount of typing as it's easily knocked, but there's a specific button that makes that easy. The keyboard can be docked and undocked at will without needing to suspend the tablet in anyway, just make sure you are not writing to the SD card or an external usb drive when undocking.

Linux, but different - Android Marketplace

As a Linux user I find many of the applications on the Android Market place a bit of a disappointment. There are thousands of applications which is good, but most either include adverts or charge. Windows users will probably feel at home reaching for their credit card every time they want a new application, but as a Linux user I expect lots of quality applications for free.

It's not that I think all software should be free (in financial terms). I have bought some software for my Linux computer as well (notably Crossover Office and Subsonic) although even then to a good extent these are mainly free (as in freedom / open source).

There are other programs that I expect to be closed source, such as games. From a Linux perspective there is so much good quality free (open source) software that software has to be exceptional to expect people to pay for it, whereas some applications on the market charge for even very basic software.

Even open source software needs to make money (although typically less than commercial software) and a simple solution to funding is something that could perhaps improve many open source projects. Ubuntu has now added a lot of pay software to the Ubuntu Software Centre so perhaps this is the sign of things to come in general. We are also used to seeing advertising when visiting web sites without which many websites (including my own) could not afford to run. Perhaps one of the things about this being a commercial operating system with commercial applications rather than one based around the community and open source.

As long as there is some good free and open source software then I think both can live side-by-side, but some of the commercial software is just not up to the standard I have come to expect.

Specifications and build quality

The specification of the tablet is pretty good. It has a fast processor and the system shows that in use. It has 16GB of internal memory, but this can be supplemented by a microSD card in the tablet and a standard SD card in the dock. The standard SD card will be particularly useful for photographers or home movie makers as it compatible with most digital cameras and camcorders.

Build quality is good. It feels sturdy and the dock is well designed (although sometimes takes a couple of attempts to align correctly when docking).

There are 2 USB ports, but these are in the dock. There are no native USB ports in the tablet itself.

There is a HDMI port that can be used to connect directly to a TV which is useful for showing off your photos or for watching videos on a HD Ready TV.

Charger and battery life

Charging is done using a USB plug-in transformer and a proprietary charging cable. The tablet can be charged from a computer USB, but only when the tablet is switched off and even then very slowly. The charging cable is very short and makes using it whilst plugged in almost impossible. Using a standard USB/USB2 extension cable from the supplied charger will not allow the tablet to charge. Instead you need to get a USB3 extension cable (such as this blue USB cable from Amazon.co.uk ). Earlier buyers of the Asus EeePad transformer reported that you couldn't get a replacement cable if the supplied one broke, but fortunately these are now available directly from Asus (£29.99 for charger and cable).

Battery life is very good. I haven't timed the exact length of time we get out of a battery, but it is several hours. There is a second battery in the docking keyboard, when connected to the keyboard then the keyboard battery is used in preference to the tablet. The dock cannot charge the tablet unless plugged in, which could have been a good feature although perhaps not particularly efficient, but just needing to have the keyboard attached to extend battery life is not too bad. The only thing is that there doesn't appear to be anyway to see how much charge is left in the keyboard. Instead Android just reports the charge of the tablet which remains constant until the keyboard battery runs flat.

Successor - Eee Pad Transformer Prime

The Assus EeePad Transformer Prime is the latest model. It is not yet widely available in the UK, but is available through Amazon UK - Asus EeePad Transformer Prime TF201. The Prime follows the same concept as the Eeepad transformer TF101, but has an upgraded processor and was one of the first to get an upgrade to the latest version of Android (version 4 Ice Cream Sandwich).

Summary

Without the keyboard dock the Asus EeePad is an excellent Android tablet. Looks good, works well and will run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) when an update is ready. As such it is a powerful tablet. The only thing lacking on the tablet itself is a usb port. At the moment the only thing USB is used for is plugging in flash drives, but with Android 4.0 there is the potential for support for additional USB devices. This is not however an issue if you add the docking keyboard.

The EeePad transformer is currently the only tablet to have a docking keyboard that converts the tablet into a touch screen netbook type computer.

For me this was the only tablet I really considered. It runs Flash (which is why it had to be Android) and the keyboard is particularly useful when blogging etc. The full size SD card and support for external disk drives is also particularly useful as a photographer. The only negative thing being the charging cable, which was solved with a £4 USB 3 extension lead.

If you have a bit more money to spend then the Assus Transformer Prime has an even better spec, or if you don't need the keyboard then Samsung have some other particularly good tablets that you could consider. Bluetooth keyboards are available for other Android tablets, but they don't allow for on they knee typing as easily as the EeePad docking keyboard does.


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