Another big change involves the Asus keyboard. The stock gray Honeycomb keyboard is available as an option, but by default the Transformer uses Asus's own keyboard, which features a lighter gray background and dark, well-defined letters and numbers. The redesigned keyboard has a row of number keys up top; and keys in both the number row and the first letter row are slightly taller than the ones on rest of the keyboard. The keyboard appears to occupy about the same depth as the stock Honeycomb keyboard, but with the added benefit of the number row (a native first among the Android 3.0 tablets). The keyboard incorporates Google's predictive text, too, another native first for an Android 3.0 tablet. Unfortunately, this feature behaved a bit unpredictably in my testing. For example, it didn't work consistently when filling in fields in the Web browser. Also, the keyboard sacrifices some of its QWERTYness--by having its Z and S keys stacked, for example. On the whole, the keyboard was responsive.
In addition to introducing these adjustments, Asus provides a small selection of its own Android widgets to use in customizing the front face to dictate how you access your data. For example, you can get a large, friendly weather update; or choose My Zine widgets that present your photos, weather, and recently accessed Web, music, and book content in a fresh way. The approach is similar to--but not as far reaching as--Acer's handling of its Iconia Tab A500, where widgets appear as additional app icons primarily to create a sense of categorized folder hierarchy for your apps (Android 3.0 doesn't have folders, as Apple's iOS does). Asus's approach isn't as far-reaching as Samsung's TouchWiz interface on the 7-inch Android 2.2 Galaxy Tab or HTC's Sense UI overlay planned for its 7-inch Flyer. According to Asus, by omitting an extra overlay, the company can respond faster to OS updates as they come available from Google.
Asus also provides a couple of custom wallpapers, including the interactive MyWater wallpaper that reacts to the motions of the built-in gyroscope, and shows the battery level by changing the water level in the wallpaper. Fun touches, to be sure, but detrimental to battery life.
In use, the Transformer felt about as zippy (and as sluggish) as I've come to expect from the current crop of Tegra 2 tablets, depending on the activity. Its camera was actually slightly faster on the trigger than the ones on other Android 3.01 tablets I've used--but still pokey as molasses. This version of Android has image and text rendering issues, too, as its predecessors did. Images aren't rendered sharply and with good detail in the Android Gallery, and text appears to be insufficiently antialiased. Android 3.01 hasn't yet received a major update; one can only hope that these issues and others will be fixed in the future.
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