Eee Pad Transformer TF101 with EP101 Mobile Dock

April 27th, 2011 in .News & Events .Pads & Slates
James Kidder
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Although a tablet ticks all the right boxes for many portable computer users, not everyone wants— or is able — to work without a physical keyboard. After all, on-screen virtual keyboards are fine for writing short emails and filling in web forms, but sitting down to do some serious work for a few hours needs something more. And that’s where the ASUS Eee Pad transformer TF101 comes in.

The best of both worlds

On the face of it, the Eee Pad Transformer is a 10.1” tablet that’s both slim and light enough to slip into a bag and be carried everywhere with ease. Thanks to the Android 3.0 ‘Honeycomb’ operating system, it’s powerful enough to stand in for a laptop for most tasks too, whether it’s email, web browsing or light productivity work.

The difference, however, is that while the Eee Pad Transformer relies upon a virtual keyboard for input (and a good one at that), that isn’t its only input option. ASUS also offers an optional extra for the tablet in the shape of the EP101 Mobile Dock.

Although almost the same size and shape as the Transformer, the Mobile Dock is actually a combined Qwerty keyboard and battery that clips onto the tablet, transforming (geddit?) it into a compact laptop. So, the Transformer and Mobile Dock combination give the best of both worlds — a highly portable tablet for use on the go, and a clamshell laptop when it’s time for some serious typing.

Slim, stylish and highly portable

At a whisker under 13mm thick and weighing a mere 680g, the Transformer sits comfortably in the hand for tablet use. The plastic back has a dark bronze finish and a stylish textured diamond pattern, while a lighter-coloured metal rim runs around all four edges. This rim extends onto the front of the Transformer too, where it covers the left and right screen edges (in landscape orientation) to create two narrow strips of speaker grille.

This narrow metal rim aside, the front of the Transformer is all scratch-resistant glass — although there is a black bezel that’s just wide enough to accommodate a thumb without obscuring the display.

There’s a tendency for tablets to be cut-down affairs when it comes to ports, but the Transformer bucks the trend with mini-HDMI and microSD Card sockets, along with a combined 3.5mm mic/headphone jack (and the dock connector, but more on that later). There are only two physical buttons for power and volume, so all interaction with the Transformer is via the 10.1” capacitive touchscreen — press the power button to wake it from Sleep mode and the first thing to do is slide an on-screen widget to unlock the display (with the added security of a password, if you prefer).

Big screen, bright image

The screen is LED backlit and has a wide 1280 x 800 resolution, making it perfect for both watching widescreen movies with no black bars and browsing long web pages with the minimum of scrolling — an internal accelerometer flips the image according to the Transformer’s orientation. The screen is bright and vibrant and, thanks to its IPS technology, has a very wide viewing angle — some 178 degrees.

This makes the tablet perfect for sharing information with others with the minimum of fuss, whether it’s watching a movie, demoing a web page or making an informal presentation (though the HDMI port gives a big screen option for all three situations, remember). And with 10-point multitouch, plus the usual array of pinch and swipe gestures, the Transformer a pleasure to use in tablet mode.

As sweet as Honeycomb

Android 3.0 ‘Honeycomb’ introduces an array of new tablet-friendly features too, such as the static System Bar that runs along the bottom of the screen with useful shortcuts (including a pop-up active app switcher) and device information, a universal search option on the five Home screens and an improved virtual keyboard.

Android’s built-in apps have been beefed up too. The web browser offers side-by-side tabs, automatic sign-in to Google sites and auto-import of bookmarks and other settings from the desktop version of Chrome (plus it also feels extremely fast), while the email app has a new dual-pane interface that capitalises on the extra screen width.

The Transformer’s NVIDIA® Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM make for a smooth experience both with Android 3.0 and its with apps, while the internal GPS, gyroscope and digital compass open up a wide array of productivity and gaming possibilities. Support for Adobe Flash also means the Transformer can experience the whole of the web and even videos that haven’t been explicitly optimised for mobile use play back perfectly.

The dock that rocks

As we mentioned earlier though, the Eee Pad Transformer is only one facet of this tablet and the EP101 Mobile Dock brings a whole new level of functionality. The Transformer clips into the Mobile Dock in landscaper orientation and locks securely into place. The dock connection is hinged too, so the set-up can be closed like a clamshell laptop for carrying around and the screen positioned at a comfortable angle for typing.

The Mobile Dock Qwerty keyboard measures 10” from side to side and has large, well-spaced keys for comfortable typing. Android 3.0’s on-screen controls are duplicated too, and there are shortcut keys for volume, brightness and so on. Better still, the Mobile Dock also has a large trackpad, so there’s no need to lift your hands off the keyboard to prod the screen when you want to select something.

Built-in USB and SD Card slots also add some extra functionality for desktop use, while the Mobile Dock’s dedicated power socket mean that the Transformer can be undocked in just a second for instant mobile use. Not that you’ll necessarily want to leave the Mobile Dock at home, of course — ASUS has also taken the canny step of fitting it with its own internal battery that pushes the Transformer’s standard 9.5 hour battery life to an extremely impressive 16 hours.

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