The Asus Eee Pad Transformer runs Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the latest version of Google’s tablet OS – and the first to be made specifically with tablets in mind. Although the differences over the previous 2.x editions are significant, the basic rules of Android still apply.
Your experience is based around a series of home screens that can be customised – or decorated if you like – with shortcuts and widgets. Widgets from previous versions of Android are still compatible with the Eee Pad Transformer, but dedicated Honeycomb baubles look better on the high-resolution screen. A handful of the essentials are included from the start, such as a clock and an attractive weather widget.
The most important improvements to Android are in the ways Honeycomb relays information. Most Android 2.x devices that aren’t stretching the OS’s functionality limits don’t use screens bigger than four inches or so, but the increased screen resolution and size of Honeycomb devices increases scope for packing more info in. Now, the notifications bar isn’t a pull-down menu, it’s a constant feature that’s more like the start menu of a “full” OS like Windows. From here, you can check out the latest updates – emails for example – without ever delving into the respective apps proper.
Also part of this bar are indicators for Bluetooth, battery life and Wi-Fi signal, as well as soft key-style buttons for the back, home and menu functions. These are nothing new, but the scale at which they’re implemented is completely different from the Android old guard. Honeycomb marks the operating system’s gradual merging with laptops – if only in UI terms.
This sense of Android “getting serious” is also boosted by the Asus Eee Pad Transformer’s keyboard, as it packs-in shortcut keys for many key features, including brightness, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and playback controls. Although the apps you may use with the Transformer may not feel, or be, as fully-featured or complicated as Windows alternatives, with the keyboard in-tow the experience isn’t far removed from that of a full netbook or smaller laptop.
In this regard, it’s in stark contrast to the iPad that retains its very simplistic interface. There are merits to both but on principle we do prefer the more powerful Android approach. In practice it does slip up, but we’ll come to that in a moment.
In a very broad sense, Android Honeycomb within the Asus Eee Pad Transformer is a complete success. It’s easy to navigate with the touchscreen, the keyboard or the trackpad and is very intuitive if you have some experience with the Android OS. It’s still early days for this tablet edition of the operating system though, and it shows, occasionally.
We encountered plenty of bugs, such as the volume controls suddenly not working properly, the touchscreen deciding not to respond and the predictable array of crash bugs when within apps. However, there was nothing that shouldn’t be fixed soon, or that wasn’t much of an irritation in the first place. Certainly if you’re more technically minded these few glitches will all feel both familiar and almost like part of the fun. However, this is precisely where Apple’s controlled and simple approach for the iPad has played dividends – it just works.