The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 Tablet doesn't stand on its own. But when paired with its matching keyboard dock, the Transformer morphs into a tablet that strikes an admirable balance between productivity and entertainment. At US$399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model (or $499 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model, prices as of May 6, 2011), the Transformer is the least expensive Android 3.0 tablet to date; and the smaller-capacity version bests Apple's iPad 2 by $100.
None of this is to say that the Transformer's implementation is perfect. The hardware has some rough spots, and so do the Android OS and the $149 Mobile Docking Station option. But even taking those patches into account, the Transformer carves out a solid niche for itself in an increasingly crowded market.
Transformer's Hardware: Design Wins and Flubs
In its design, the Transformer shares some characteristics with other current tablets. The front face is dominated by a 10.1-inch display, with various buttons, ports, and slots distributed along the edges. The Transformer has familiar-sounding guts, too: It runs Nvidia's 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 platform, carries 1GB of RAM, and uses Google's Android 3.01 (Honeycomb) OS.
Like many of today's tablets--the superslim Apple iPad 2 being the notable exception--the Transformer measures 0.5 inch tall. It's longer than other tablets, besting the Acer Iconia Tab A500 by half an inch, the Motorola Xoom by almost a full inch, and the Apple iPad 2 by 1.2 inches. The extra length makes for an extra-wide bezel in landscape mode; it also allows the Transformer's physical size to match the Mobile Docking Station's, so the two can connect as a clamshell laptop would. (By itself, the Transformer measures 10.7 inches by 6.9 inches by 0.5 inch.) Designwise, this approach is a win.
What I found most disappointing about the Transformer was its physical build. At first blush, it feels sturdy enough, but I didn't like the flex built into the textured plastic back. The flex made the Transformer feel chintzy, as did the minute gaps between the metal frame and the scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass screen. But at least the Transformer's plastic design lowers its weight. At 1.5 pounds, it's heavier than the 1.3-pound iPad 2, but the Transformer benefits from good component balance on the inside that makes it feel lighter than it really is.
In other respects, the tablet's design is well executed. When held in landscape orientation, the power button and volume rocker sit at the upper right corners; and the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera is at the top center. Along the right-hand edge are a 3.5mm audio jack (which doubles as a headphone output and a microphone input), the Mini-HDMI port, and the microSD card slot. Toward the bottom corners of the left and right edges are stereo speakers, but they aren't the only source of sound. Even when my fingers blocked the speaker grilles, I could hear audio clearly.
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