More Than Meets the Eye? The Asus Transformer Pad

These little posts sometimes come around in haphazard ways. See, this morning I tried to buy a keyboard dock for my Asus Transformer Pad. Unfortunately, I tried to buy it from Best Buy whose entire name is a lie in this case since they are not the best, nor could I buy the dock because it’s unavailable for shipping. (That makes me wonder how it got to the store in the first place. Maybe they sent it by magic.) It’s also not available in any store closer than Las Vegas. For those playing the home game, I live in the far Southeast Corner of Maricopa County in Arizona, about 533 km (331 miles) away.

However, a friend of mine, Jeff Moriarty, expressed interest in the Transformer Pad itself and how it handles. Well, Jeff is pretty cool, so I figure, why not? Here’s a little mini-review of the Asus Transformer Pad.

The Asus TF300T, the official name for what I have, is the best 10 inch Android tablet I’ve ever used. While the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10 is an excellent tablet, I still prefer the Transformer Pad. It’s rolling with a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor that makes it one of the speedier tablets I’ve ever used. While I don’t have any benchmarks, it feels as fast as the iPad 3. The 1280 x 800 resolution screen is beautiful and while it isn’t a “retina” screen, I have no problem reading or viewing anything on it. My personal tablet is the 32 GB variety, so storage space is superb. If that’s not enough, the MicroSD expansion slot on the side allows you to add more.

Responsiveness is excellent. The tablet came with Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich. While it was quick under ICS, we got an over the air update to 4.1, Jelly Bean. Jelly Bean delivered on the promise to increase smoothness, and it’s a slick interface on the ten inch screen. Like many modern tablets it’s got front and rear cameras with 8 MP on the rear and 1.2 MP on the front. Rounding out the feature set is 1 GB of RAM which makes slow down almost non-existent.

One of my favourite Australians.
One of my favourite Australians.

If there are any downsides, it’s not so much related to the tablet as it is to Android. Android does funky things occasionally. Apps stop working, I get the odd error message here and there, and that kind of thing. I love the style of the error message though “Unfortunately, APP NAME HERE has stopped working.” As a guy who uses both iOS and Android, there are some apps for each that I wish were on the other. In the end, that’s just the nature of the beast when you have competing OSes and manufacturers. Hell, I wish I could get GarageBand for Windows. I also wish I could get a week in Hawaii with Kylie Minogue. Both are equally likely to happen. (Actually I think I get better odds on Kylie.)

All that aside, let me tell you where this tablet just shines over the iPad. Even though I’ve got a Bluetooth keyboard for the Transformer, the keyboard dock for the device transforms (hence the name) the tablet into a 10 inch laptop running Jelly Bean. It literally clam shells like a laptop and you can carry it the same way. The dock includes a touchpad, so you’re able to mouse around as any other laptop. Beyond that, there’s a USB port to plug in devices and a secondary battery which boosts the tablet battery life to 15 hours. That’s why I was keen to pick one up. Oh well, such is life. I still have the Bluetooth and that keyboard is where things get incredibly cool, especially if you happen to be a geek.

I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts. When I’m surfing the Web, I rarely touch the mouse except to click. Navigating a webpage is done almost completely via the keyboard. CTRL+L highlights the URL in the URL bar and I can start typing a new one. CTRL+C to copy, CTRL+X to cut, CTRL+V to paste. I can do all of that in a website on a laptop. ALT+TAB to switch apps. Up and down arrows to move around on a screen. I can do all of that on a laptop.

And I can do all of that on the Transformer. One of the things I just do not understand about iOS is why they don’t have all the standard keyboard shortcuts and why they aren’t standardized in the OS. On the Transformer, I can enter most any keyboard command that I could do on the PC or Mac, and it works. This increases my productivity on everything. As a guy who generates and shares content on the web, both for fun and as an occupation,  not needing to tappity-tap the screen all the time saves me a lot of time and streamlines my process. Arrow keys work on everything, including changing screens in Jelly Bean. Even though I’ve never earnestly tried, I’m reasonably certain I could use the Pad with the keyboard and never touch the screen.

Ceci n'est pas une Transformer.
Ceci n’est pas une Transformer.

That’s the biggest difference, the usage. When I can hook up to this tablet and do real work, from simple web design to writing to creating and so on, that’s a benefit that cannot be measured. While I love the iPad, it just isn’t geared towards work like the Transformer and keyboard setup, at least not for me. Being able to quick switch between apps with ALT+TAB and various keyboard shortcuts puts me at an advantage because it feels like true multitasking. I can copy text from my web browser to my writing app and then save it to Dropbox to pick up on my laptop.

All in all, it’s a superior experience in usability over anything iOS currently offers. While the Transformer may not have the sleekness of the iPad or the aluminum back, it more than makes up for that with a feature set that remains stunningly absent from iOS.

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