What if an inexpensive Android tablet could also be a useful desktop and notebook computer? Well, Asus’s EeePad Transformer does a trifecta that covers just about all conceivable classroom uses, and does it for much less than the typical school computer.
The way the Transformer works is so simple and obvious that it’s a wonder that nobody ever thought of it before. The slate uses Android 3.2 software, can work on its own or with a snap-on keyboard and touchpad.
Just slide the slate into the keyboard base, and a chrome latch locks it into place. The beauty of the design is that removing or docking the slate doesn’t interrupt what you’re working on. In other words, touch or keyboard—you decide.
All told, it is a huge step forward for tablets, and I expect it to be copied quickly. On its own, the tablet is a gem with a responsive multi-touch screen, volume controls on the side and a pair of Web cams: a 1.2-megapixel device facing the user and a 5-megapixel one facing away.
The snap-on keyboard’s 17.3mm keys are a bit skimpy but they are much more comfortable than using the on-screen keyboard. There are also specialty keys for multimedia, volume and controlling wireless devices. My favorites are the go back and Home keys, which are essential for navigating Android. The only thing it lacks is a wireless mouse, but that can be easily and cheaply added.
On the other hand, the screen feels like it will tip the whole system if you put too much pressure on the display when the keyboard is in place. Plus, the hinge’s design raises and lowers the keyboard as the screen is pivoted forward and back. It’s annoying, but tolerable
With so many possibilities, you’d think that the EeePad Transformer would be a big and heavy behemoth of a machine that wouldn’t fit neatly into a kids backpack. You’d be wrong, because at 1.5-pounds, the slate computer is only slightly heavier than a comparable iPad 2, yet offers a larger screen.
At 10.7- by 6.9-inches, the Transformer slate is longer but narrower than an iPad 2, but its rounded back wobbles when used on a table. Together, the slate and keyboard add up to a 2.9-pound notebook equivalent that’s 1-inch thick, about what you’d expect from a good netbook.
Style mavens take note, the Transformer’s bronze tone metal looks great and is a welcome change from the brushed aluminum look that pervades tablets these days.
It runs rings around the minimalist iPad when it comes to connecting with the classroom. On top of the expected audio connections there’s a microSD card reader for adding storage or transferring files to and from the slate as well as a mini-HDMI connector for transferring what’s on Transformer’s display onto the big screen. It connected on the first try with an Epson projector.
The Transformer also has a full size SD card slot and a pair of USB connectors, but they’re on the keyboard, so are only available for use when the two are docked. This reduces the ability of the slate to fully operate on its own for doing things like using a memory key on the fly.
Inside is the latest Android-based hardware including an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor that runs at 1GHz and can perform multitasking. Its 1GB of RAM is disappointing, but is still more than Apple provides with the iPad 2.
While the version I looked at had an adequate 16GB of storage space, there’s a more spacious 32GB model that costs $100 more. There’s no 64GB Transformer to match the flagship iPad 2, but you can get to 64GB with a microSD card, which is a bargain at about $50.
At 10.1-inches, the system’s screen is not only larger than the iPad 2’s 9.7-inch display, but its 1,280 by 800 resolution beats the iPad’s 1,024 by 768 resolution. The Transformer’s display is also brighter and has a very wide field of view so that several can work around a screen at once.
Its chock full of techno goodies that other tablets leave out, like a light sensor, gyroscope and GPS. Asus offers a cool bonus: for a year you get unlimited online storage with the Transformer pad. After that, up to 2GB continues to be free, but unlimited storage costs between $30 and $50 a year.
The system has 802.11b, g, n WiFi networking, but like other tablets, no wired Ethernet. It does have Bluetooth for connecting a variety of peripherals. At this point, there are no Transformer models that can connect with 3G mobile data networks.
While it can’t work with PC or iPad software, Android 3.2 is best tablet operating system yet and can teach Apple a thing or two. I really like that the on-screen pointer is a circle, the Flash support and all the apps that come with the system.
The pad includes dozens of apps, including Infraware’s Polaris Office 3.0, which can work with most word processing, spreadsheet, presentation files as well as Acrobat documents. It’s not as good as having access to the full apps, but the price is right.
Unfortunately, like so many tablets on the market, there’s no stylus included. It worked fine with a Wacom Bamboo pen, but tethering it to the system will be difficult.
Saving the best for last, the Transformer has exceptional battery life that is unequaled by any notebook or tablet. It was able to get it to play audio and video for 14 hours and 2 minutes nonstop. That’s the equivalent of several school days of use, so you won’t need to recharge the slate every night.
All told, the EeePad Transformer is the rare combination of a visionary design and excellent engineering. At $550, the Transformer pair is on a par with similar systems from other vendors but includes the option of using a keyboard, but if you shop around, you can find the duo for closer to $500.
Either way, Transformer is an appropriately named tablet. It genuinely has the power to change the way children are taught.
Asus EeePad Transformer
+ Tablet with snap on keyboard
+ Has latest Android 3.2 software
+ Excellent battery life
+ Dual cameras
+ HDMI port
- Only has 1GB of RAM
- Wobbles on tabletop
- USB only in keyboard