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Review: Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101

Melissa J. Perenson | May 9, 2011
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.

Asus explains that the Transformer's design also transmits audio through the same openings at the bottom of the tablet that serve as the connection points for the Mobile Docking Station. The tablet has SRS audio enhancements built-in, but there's no equalizer or similar app for adjusting sound, and there's nothing to adjust in the Android OS settings. The integrated SRS Wow HD audio does include support for virtual 5.1 surround sound in videos. In use, the speakers seemed superior to most tablet speakers I've listened to, but not nearly as good as the best ones I've heard on a tablet--those on the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook. Audio sounded reasonably full and distinct, with crisp though somewhat tinny vocals.

Running along the bottom edge of the Transformer is the 40-pin dock connector. The tablet comes with a power adapter and a USB-to-dock connector cable. The dock connector can charge from the adapter or via the cable, when connected to a PC (for a trickle charge only). The cable can also handle data transfers from a PC. Asus says that accessories will be available for the dock connector, including an SD Card reader and a USB-A port; however, the company hasn't indicated whether those accessories will ship in the United States when they become available later this summer.

At back is a 5.0-megapixel camera for still image capture and video capture at 720p; but there's no LED flash, as several competing tablets have. As on other Android 3.01 tablets, images look disappointing (for stills and videos both).

The Transformer uses a 1280-by-800-pixel IPS display, and has a widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio. As in Apple's iPad series, the use of IPS technology helps the tablet achieve excellent viewing angles (Asus says that the range is 178 degrees, and I noticed no color shift and a clear image as I shifted to extreme angles), improved color, and deeper blacks. Colors looked better than on other Android 3.01 tablets, but that could be because Asus adjusted Android's default color temperature and white balance to match its IPS screen. Still, the Transformer can't match the color accuracy of the Apple iPad 2.

The Transformer has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR connectivity in this version. Asus expects to release 3G varieties via mobile carriers (to be announced) later this summer.

(Stay tuned to this space; we'll update the review with full testing from the PCWorld Labs.)

Transformer's Software, Customized

When I first turned the Transformer on, I noticed immediately some pleasant user-interface improvements that Asus made to stock Android 3.01.

For starters, the core navigation buttons are dramatically better. Asus replaced the standard Honeycomb nav buttons (three light-blue outlines that serve as the primary navigation aids at the lower left of the screen) with three white, solid button formations that are crisp and distinct. In particular, the back/exit button, better represents its function with a looping return arrow--an improvement on the stock Honeycomb's chintzy back arrow that looks more like a bookmark symbol.

 

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