By SHAUN A. NOORDIN
It's a laptop. No, wait, it's an Android Tablet. No, wait, it's both! Asus' Transformer TF101 is a hybrid machine that pulls off both roles pretty well.
"WRITE a review for this Android Tablet," our Editor told us as he handed us what was clearly a compact laptop.
We thought that he had gone a bit bonkers until we realised that the Asus Transformer TF101 really lived up to its name - a quick slide of a latch and the "screen" of the laptop detaches from its keyboard, transforming the device into a Tablet.
After a few impressed exclamations, we were ready to find out if this interesting Tablet-laptop hybrid was... more than meets the eye.
Oh come on, you know we wouldn't pass on the Transformers references.
Asus is selling the Transformer to fulfil the roles of both an Android Tablet and a functional laptop. Initially we were pretty skeptical whether a simple "keyboard attachment" was sufficient to turn a tablet into a laptop replacement, but after spending time with the Transformer we're starting to think Asus can actually pull it off.
We enjoyed using the Tablet mode for more casual stuff such as web browsing, checking e-mail messages and throwing angry birds around.
The laptop mode, on the other hand, really shone when we wanted to actually do work. This review, for example, was written using the keyboard and the preinstalled Polaris Office application.
Let's talk hardware. The Transformer is composed of two parts as previously highlighted. The Tablet features a 10.1in touchscreen, WiFi, Bluetooth, a 1.2-megapixle camera facing forward, a 5-megapixel camera facing the user, a mini HDMI port and a slot for a microSD card.
The combination of the Transformer's slightly curved, textured back (which doesn't compromise its ability lie stably on a flat surface) and weight of 680g makes it a nice Tablet to hold in your hands.
The keyboard attachment is equipped with a Qwerty keyboard, a capacitative touchpad that recognises multi-touch gestures and - quite importantly for enabling its laptop functionality - slots for USB devices and memory cards (MMC/ SD/SDHC).
But hang on, there's a bit of a twist for the keyboard and touchpad.
First, the keyboard replaces the F1 to F12 keys with more Tablet-specific keys. So, on the plus side, you'll have buttons to instantly access the web browser or disable the touchpad (useful when typing).
On the down side you'll need to re-familiarise yourself with shortcut keys if, say, you normally use Ctrl + F4 to close browser tabs. (The alternate is Ctrl+W for the browser app, in case you're wondering.)
Second, the "mouse" doesn't work exactly like a computer mouse, so you can't highlight text using the old' click-and-drag-the-cursor method.
Basically, what we're getting at is that the keyboard and touchpad take some getting used to, but they work great once you get familiar with them.
Asus also claims that the Transformer has a battery life of 9.5 hours, and while we tried to verify this by spending an entire weekend using the tablet, we couldn't for the life of us drain enough power to put it into the red.
Combined with the fact that attaching the keyboard adds extra hours to the device (it has a built-in battery that Asus claims will extend the power supply to 16 hours) and you'll understand why we gave up on trying to see if Asus was wrong.Suffice to say, the Transformer will outlast most laptops out in the market right now.
Androids have taken over
Of course, all the awesome hardware in the world won't do you any good if the software running on it isn't as great. That's where the Android 3.0 (aka Honeycomb) and its suite of apps come into play.
The OS features a beautiful GUI with five different homescreens that you can populate with widgets and app shortcuts.
The built-in software includes the web browser and e-mail client, which both make use of your Google account, and the YouTube app that presents videos in a nifty "panorama."
The Android software implies a few things. First, and most obviously, we sure hope you like the powerful, flexible but also pretty fiddly system. This reviewer has more familiarity with Apple's line of devices, so it took us some time to get accustomed to Android's not-as-simple way of doing things.
For example, we had to root through the system settings to figure out why the built-in browser kept trying to sign in with our Google account every freaking time we opened a new tab.
Second, what you actually get out of the Transformer is entirely dependent on the apps that you have on your device, which in turn depends on what's available on the online Android Market.
Now this makes things a little tricky to review because at the time of writing the Market is not fully open to Malaysian users.
We can't purchase a lot of the software, so we cannot at this moment tell you for sure that, hey, you can just download a media player from the Market so you can use the Transformer to watch videos you (legally) have on your USB thumbdrive.
The situation is poised to change, however, since it was only recently that the Market allowed Malaysian users to at least download the free apps.
We might not be able to say for sure right now, but we anticipate that you'll be able to do much, much more with theTransformer once you have the full library of the Market apps at your fingertips.
We were sceptical about a lot of things at first - whether the laptop was actually a Tablet, and whether the Asus Transformer could fulfil two different roles simultaneously - but now that we've had more experience with the device, we've gone from doubting it to really loving it.
The Transformer might not be able to completely replace a full-fledged laptop - for example, you can't play PC games or listen to songs on YouTube while writing a review on Polaris (one app at a time!). But it's making a good attempt to do so.
Whether it's work or play, the Asus Transformer is more than happy to transform itself to suit your needs.
Oh, and hey, Asus, if you're reading this, here's a tip on making your incredible device even better: Next time, let it also change into a robot.
Pros: It's a Tablet and laptop; It's the best of both worlds.
Cons: Keyboard/touchpad might take some getting used to; Android OS can be powerful but fiddly.
Eee PAD TRANSFORMER TF101
Android Tablet computer
Operating System: Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
Display: 10.1in (1,280 x 800-pixels) with LED backlight
CPU: nVidia Tegra 2
Cameras: 1.2-megapixel camera, 5-megapixel rear camera
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1
Slots: 2-in-1 audio jack (headphone/mic-in), mini HDMI 1.3a, microSD card reader
Other features: Mobile dock (keyboard, touchpad, 2 USB ports, MMC/SD/SDHC card reader), accelerometer, light sensor, gyroscope, digital compas, GPS
Size: 271 x 171 x 12.98mm
Price: RM1,799 (with mobile dock)
Review unit courtesy of Asustek Computer (Malaysia) Bhd, (03) 2141-6650