Android tablets have thus far often filled us with a special sort of dread. They've tended to achieve a batting average well below what Apple's iPad series has mustered, and an honest reporting of their various failures has occasionally led to claims of fanboy-ism, money hats and the sipping of elaborate cocktails served around Steve Jobs's Cupertino hot tub. None of which are remotely true, sadly. Thankfully, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer is here to clean the slate.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is an Android tablet that employs Asus's netbook expertise, including a keyboard dock that not only makes typing easier - it also doubles the battery life and boosts connectivity. The package price is Â£429, while a keyboard-less edition is also available for Â£379, undercutting the iPad 2 by a cool twenty quid. Perhaps more importantly, it's significantly cheaper than the Android-powered Motorola Xoom, HTC Flyer and LG Optimus Pad.
Removed from the keyboard dock, the tablet bears a face similar to many of the top new-wave Android Honeycomb tablets. It's glossy, black and rather iPad-like. Surrounding the black bezel is a strip of bronzed metal, lending the Eee Pad Transformer an impressive sense of quality that we missed in the all-plastic Samsung Galaxy Tab - last year's top Android tablet. The back continues the bronze-brown colour theme, but is made from embossed plastic rather than metal. This texturing improves grip hugely, but falls some way behind the feel of the iPad 2's anodised aluminium back in the quality stakes.
It's a classy product though, more so than we initially expected from Asus after encountering Motorola's and Samsung's rival tablets at January 2011's CES conference. Build quality is great, and the sides of its body are tastefully minimal, in contrast to the rather laden (but feature-packed) swiss army knife-style Archos 101. On the right edge are the 3.5mm headphone jack, miniHDMI slot, microSD slot and a very low-key speaker grille. The big surprise about this tablet is that there's no standard USB on the tablet itself. Instead there's a proprietary connector that doubles as both power point and USB connector. This sits on the bottom edge of the tablet. Some will hate the merging of power and data transfer duties into a single proprietary connector (indeed we err towards this ourselves), but it does give the Eee Pad Transformer a hint of that Apple flavour - that taste of simplicity.
Other features include Wi-Fi, GPS and dual cameras, it's just 3G that's missing in this first edition.
At 13mm thick, the Eee Pad Transformer is slim but not aggressively so. A laid-back approach to dieting is seen in its curved back. This slight back bulge makes the tablet more comfortable to hold, but doesn't leave it rocking in either direction when laid on a flat surface, unlike the original iPad.
At 680g, it's a little too heavy to hold one-handed for significant periods. But of course that's what the keyboard's partly here for - to remedy the need to constantly keep your hands on the tablet to get it in an optimum position.