Road Worrier Tests The EeePad Transformer

Adding a keyboard to an Android tablet should give you the advantage of two devices in one, but Asus' Eee Pad Transformer didn't quite make the grade when I took it for a spin.The concept of the Eee Pad is simple and appealing: you've got a standard 10-inch Android tablet (running Honeycomb), which gives you all the usual tablet advantages for browsing, gaming and light work. Then you can connect to the dock, which incorporates a full keyboard, charging and additional battery. The end result when you've done that is a device that looks virtually indistinguishable from a 10-inch netbook, but lets you work either in "notebook mode" or as a more traditional tablet. At $799, it's slightly cheaper than buying a tablet and netbook separately (though not if you're happy to settle for a lower-priced Android 2.2 unit).

I love Android tablets and my existing Asus netbook is one of my favourite travel devices, so I was looking forward to trying out the EeePad. Unfortunately, the whole experience got scuppered pretty fast by an unfortunate reality: using a keyboard attached to a tablet is not similar enough to using a keyboard attached to a notebook to make the experience actually productive.

I got off to a very bad start by diving into Google Docs to try some typing. For reasons I never adequately established, there's a really noticeable typing lag when using the EeePad keyboard in Docs -- so much so that I was often several words ahead. It doesn't seem lose any text, but the experience was still discomfiting.

Once I installed AK Notepad, that problem disappeared, but there's still some other keyboard nuisances that would put me off using this for large amounts of typing. In particular: I'm used to using Control+Shift+arrow keys to select entire words. That isn't possible on the EeePad, because Control+Shift asks you to select an input device. Another problem for an experienced typist is that where you're expecting the ESC key, there's the Android Back key. That's not entirely illogical, but if you're used to hitting Esc to cancel something, it can have unexpected effects, especially if you're typing inside a browser based app and suddenly find everything you have typed disappearing off screen without warning.

The keyboard also doesn't have a replica of the Android menu key that works with Honeycomb's expanded range of options, so there's lots of tasks that require using either the trackpad or the touchscreen. (There are useful keyboard shortcuts for Android devices with keypads, but those don't help with all these issues.) And a final physical design issue: on a smooth desk, the feet on the base of the dock aren't sufficient to stop it from easily slipping.

Tweaking and customising might solve some of those problems, but there's still the issue of whether this would actually be more helpful to me than travelling with a similarly-sized notebook. (The combo weighs in at 1325 grams; my current netbook is actually lighter, at 1250 grams.) There's many things I can do on my Windows 7-based netbook that simply aren't possible on the EeePad; there's almost nothing I can do on the EeePad that won't work just as well, or better, on the netbook.

Yes, I could detach the tablet and just use that for browsing. But I can do that with whatever phone I'm travelling with, and I'll need a phone anyway; the EeePad isn't a phone substitute right now. (A 3G version is expected later in the year.)

Ultimately, I can't imagine why I'd pack this rather than my trusty existing netbook. If the keyboard issues get resolved in version 2, my interest might be piqued, but right now it feels like a case of "neat idea, but I don't actually need it".

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman reminds manufacturers to not define Control+Shift as a shortcut in its own right. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    Latest android update unfortunately wrecked text input in the browser. It's nothing to do with the kb, all text input in the browser is horrid.
    Until Google releases a proper Tablet docs app, google docs will be a bit crap on Tablet. But Asus included a 3rd party office suite (word, excel, etc) that supposedly works wonders (I don't yet have the keyboard, and don't use word processors on the road much, so I haven't tried it).

    It's a shame to hear about ctrl-shift not working as expected (As I use that a lot).

    I'm finding the tablet on its own fantastic (especially at $500 delivered from the states). Wireless tethering to my Android phone makes for convenient internet (Internet on a tablet is that much better than on a phone...) Not sure if I have need of the kb, but I guess I'll grab one eventually.

    the lag problem with google docs is often due to the autosave function IME

    I've hooked up a Bluietooth keyboard to my GalaxyS and experienced exactly the same lag effect. In other programs it's not an issue and I was successfully able to take minutes for a meeting using the BT Keyboard/Galaxy S combo.

    How does it go using Citrix Receiver?

    Would it be plausible to use a virtual desktop environment via the tablet? Even accessing published app's, that could be something quite beneficial if it worked well, that way I wouldn't need a laptop for business.

    Some further tests would be great.

    Why are you using Google Docs when you could be using the Polaris Office suite included with the tablet? I think the idea of the transformer is to give you a functional keyboard option instead of just a tablet form factor. A great idea that I'm sure will be refined. Overall, ASUS has succeeded.

    p.s. If you dislike the transformer so much, give it to someone who would really appreciate it.

      It was only a review unit and it has gone back now, sorry :)

        So only really a review on Google Doc's and a couple of keyboard/key mapping issues then? I guess you only had it for a couple hours?

        You're obviously not a fan of tablets, and fair enough, but I was hoping for a review based towards people who want to get a tablet but also have a notebook and whether this could serve as both (it seems a lot of people have iPhone, iPad and a notebook). Not whether you can function better with a smartphone and a notebook or not.

        For people always on the road or people always in and out of meetings, tablets seem to be very popular because the form factor is less intrusive to use during meetings (or it just "look at me I've got an iPad syndrome", my assumption anyway), if you're then able to plug the tablet into a dock and use PC applications via rdp/citrix or edit simple meeting notes et al and gain an extra 8hrs of battery from the dock, this device would be spot on I would have thought...?

    An interesting 'review' but a little short on information!
    I'm holding off getting one of these hoping to get over the hype and find a 'real' review - I have to say that at least yours wasn't a fanboi review - which so many others seem to be - but really covered very little other than is it a good replacement for your netbook.
    What about the responsiveness of the touchscreen? The reported light bleeding? how sturdy did it seem? What was the battery life like in real use?

      Yes, I did only have limited access to the device, so it was never going to be a mega-comprehensive review. But to my mind, if the dock doesn't make it an effective substitute for a netbook in typing terms, then it's unlikely I'd want to use it. I'm already familiar with Honeycomb tablets so didn't spend much time here on that aspect.

    just saying..

    I'm on my laptop most hours of the day, and use keyboard shortcuts like crazy....however i can't recall the last time i used the Esc button. Ever.

      I use the 'ESC' key frequently to cancel dialogue boxes, popups, etc

      In fact I use most of the shortcuts mentioned here so clearly a tablet+keyboard isnt for me. Then again, I already knew that which is why I bought a netbook instead.

      I still cant see the appeal of tablets outside of sales reps and marketing goons. I think everyone else is kidding themselves that they'll find it useful versus a netbook.

    I just bought the Transformer and I think its brilliant. I don't have a netbook and was definitely getting a Honeycomb tablet so the keyboard dock for extra $200 won me over. You also forgot to mention the cool things that the dock gives you other than the keyboard, you get another battery, 2 USB 2.0 ports and a full SD card slot. The battery alone is awesome as it almost doubles the time between charges. The USB ports support removable hard drives plus peripherals. 100 grams heavier... true but I doubt your netbook would give you 16 hours between charges.

    I don't think you can really compare the browsing experience on a tablet to that of your phone... Bit of a fail review IMO

      I did mention the extra battery from the dock. Each to their own :)

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