Hardware-wise we have almost no complaints about the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, but what about its software? The most serious shortcoming of the tablet in use isn’t one that Asus has any control over – it’s Android 3.0 Honeycomb apps.
While many Android essentials, like Angry Birds, Twitter and Facebook, all work just fine on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, very few are optimised for the tablet’s large, high-resolution screen at present. This is a symptom of the platform’s young age more than anything else, but it’s disappointing to see so few of the app scene’s biggest players step up a gear for the launch of the first Android 3.0 tablets. Some apps refuse to work properly too.
We couldn’t get the BBC iPlayer’s app to work properly, for one, while plenty of others just don’t look right – yet. Oddly enough, we found the app situation to be worse than an Android 2.2 tablet in some respects. Give it a month or two and this situation should improve significantly, fingers crossed.
Asus and Google both give the Eee Pad Transformer a nudge in the right direction, with some built-in Honeycomb-optimised apps. The YouTube app’s perhaps a bit snazzy for its own good, but the multi-pane email app and much-improved browser make excellent use of the tablet’s increased screen real estate. Like the structure of the Android Honeycomb OS itself, the browser demonstrates Android’s convergence with a larger-scale “full OS” experience. It introduces full tabbed browsing, which, along with full Flash support and multi-touch, provides a web experience on par with a proper computer and that far outdoes Apple’s iPad.
There’s one hugely disappointing omission in the Asus Eee Pad Transformer’s built-in apps line-up though – a decent video player. Asus offers a reasonably friendly DLNA interface through MyNet and there’s a basic media player too, but the codec support available here is below-par. Where awful no-name Android tablets often offer MKV, DivX and Xvid support, the Transformer seemingly offers only the Android basics of H.264, H.263 and MP4. When the screen and battery life of this tablet are so impressive, Asus’s decision not too boost its video skills seems a misstep.
There are solutions, naturally. Apps such as Rockplayer and yxplayer can provide non-native support for these other codecs, but performance and playback quality is below what we’d hope for. Some of our simple 720p video samples stuttered when played-back with these third-party apps – not what we’d expect from a dual-core Tegra 2 processor. Hopefully the VLC app will clean up this problem once it arrives in Honeycomb form on the Android Market.
The built-in apps also do not make full use of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer’s dual cameras, but this is something we’re glad it has left to third-party app developers. With 1.3 megapixels and five megapixels a piece, they have unusually powerful sensors (for a tablet) too. By comparison, the iPad 2’s cameras are both less than a megapixel each, and the more expensive Motorola Xoom offers a 5-megapixel and 2-megapixel pair. To see the rear camera in action, check out our page of camera test images.
When we first saw the Asus Eee Pad Transformer pop onto the scene, we were sceptical. It seemed to promise everything, for less cash than the competition, and our spider senses are all too attuned to the pitfalls of setting hopes high. Yet it has pulled-off this feat, producing what is the best value Android Honeycomb tablet out there. Just like it did during the birth of netbooks, Asus has jumped in with both feet and the risk has paid off.
It’s cheaper than the premium tablet competition, such as the Motorola Xoom, while offering similar specs, and it far outclasses the cast of budget Android tablets we’ve seen so far. Not only that but the keyboard really sets the Asus Eee Pad Transformer apart – not only is this tablet capable, well built and stylish, it’s also practical. Android still has a few bugs that need ironing out and it’s probably a bit geeky for some but overall we think Asus has produced one of the best tablets on the market.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is what we’ve been waiting for – a tablet that can truly replace a netbook or ultra-portable laptop. With the keyboard disengaged, it’s a slim, fairly light tablet with a great screen and touchscreen. With the dock in-tow, it’s a typing demon whose battery will outlast almost any laptop or tablet you can find. Android 3.0 Honeycomb apps need to catch up for it to compete with the iPad but we fully expect this to happen soon, and Android has its own trump cards like Flash video in the interim. What really completes the picture for the Transformer, though, is its ultra competitive pricing – this is an absolute bargain compared to its rivals.