The Asus Eee Pad Transformer’s keyboard peripheral is one of its key differentiators that sets it apart from the rabid pack of Android rivals. It adds just £50 onto the price of the tablet, but improves the package and its flexibility hugely.
Build quality is just as impressive as the tablet too, surprisingly. The top of the keyboard is a metal plate, coloured in the same bronze hue used for the tablet’s screen surround. Similarly, the back uses the same embossed plastic as the tablet. When closed, there’s a pleasant cohesiveness to the design that reaffirms the Eee Pad Transformer’s position as a premium product.
The hinge is bound to become the part that takes the most wear if you’re planning on frequently transitioning between this device’s tablet and netbook forms, but we’re confident it can take the strain. The part that rests on whatever surface the Eee Pad Transformer is laid upon is made from metal and is protected by two little plastic feet that sit at each end of the hinge – which takes up the centre two thirds of the tablet, not the whole length.
The tablet slots into this hinge, which is fully lined in felt, and is held at three spots – the data/power connector and two stabilising clips. Unlike the now-obsolete iPad keyboard dock, this peripheral lets you angle the screen just as you would with a dedicated netbook, including closing it fully, thereby protecting the screen when travelling. The design and colouring of the Eee Pad Transformer are so consistent that we’re sure you could convince most of your less techy friends that it’s simply a laptop when in the dock. Those in the know may take its slightly bulbous hinge as a giveaway, but it’s no eyesore.
The keyboard dock uses an isolated-key keyboard with near full size keys. The key action is slightly mushy but certainly distinct enough for speedy touch-typing. Indeed it’s comparable to the best netbooks. All of which makes this attachment a huge boon over other tablets – the brilliance of having the ability to bash away at full speed on a proper keyboard really cannot be overstated.
When dealing with casual keyboard duties, the temptation to tap away at the touchscreen rather than use the trackpad is very strong but for longer-form emails and documents the full keyboard obliterates an on-screen virtual alternative. We took the Asus Eee Pad Transformer out for a test drive in that traditional space of the netbook – the train commute – to see how it performs. As with any smaller laptop-style device, accidental disruptive touches of the trackpad were frequent, but there’s a hardware button that lets you disable the pad for more accurate typing – which we found indispensable.
With the troublesome keypad silenced, the keyboard is very comfortable to use, while the docked tablet itself sits very happily on the knees. Unless your knees are completely straight, you’ll need to keep your hands on it to avoid it slipping off onto the floor – as all the “brains” of the Eee Pad Transformer are in the tablet rather than the dock, the weight distribution is more top-heavy than a traditional laptop. When laid upon a flat surface though, it doesn’t need any such stabilisation.
The benefits of the keyboard dock don’t end at typing. It houses a second li-on battery that Asus claims will boost battery life up to 16 hours – double the eight hours of the basic tablet battery. What’s more, the dock battery will charge that of the tablet, allowing you to boost its longevity when away from a wall socket.
Unfortunately, it won’t charge over a simple connection to your computer, instead requiring the supplied USB adaptor. What’s more we found it wouldn’t charge using the USB cable and our standard selection of USB plugs designed for smartphones, suggesting it draws more power than the norm. This could be something of a deal breaker were it not for the Transformers other many merits.