It is strange to think that it was only 2007 when the first Asus EEE PC came onto the market. This fun little machine turned heads and would often be the subject of curious questions. I think it was also a bit of a game changer, opening a world of ultra mobile computing to a whole new audience. It is also ancient ancestor of the Eee Pad Transformer. I've had mine for just over a week and have sometimes used it as a tablet, sometimes as a netbook depending how I'm feeling. It is feature packed and runs on Android 3.1 (since a recent update), Google's optimised operating system for tablets. There is also a possibility that a lot of people might find it is the only machine they need.
The Eee Pad Transformer is a rather nice solution as you can use it as a tablet while browsing content, using apps or maybe sending short messages, but when it comes to the time when you want to do something like write an email to a friend or write up that important report you can attach a keyboard unit to it and start typing away happily. The flexibility doesn't stop there. If you are watching a video and find that the ten inch screen is not big enough you can use the HDMI out port to plug the device into your television. While you are at it you could plug in a gaming controller and pretty much use it as a games console. Then when it is time to go out you can even use the tablet as a giant satnav - yes Google Navigation and GPS are included!
The tablet has a rear five megapixel camera and a front 1.2 megapixel camera. Included since the Android 3.1 update is Movie Studio where you can edit video on the device, adding titles and transitions too so you could film, edit and show a movie just using the tablet! One issue I've found with Movie Studio though is that it seems to be quite fussy about video files. When I tried to add a video file taken on my phone it simply refused and displayed an unhelpful error message. The front camera looks set for video conferencing. I have not had a chance to try it but it looks like the Google Talk app will support video calling, something that Skype for Android does not yet do.
Lots of other hardware goodies are included too, the unit has various sensors including an accelerometer, a compass and a light sensor to help auto adjust the brightness of the screen. On the keyboard unit you get two full USB ports and a full size SD card slot. On the tablet there is a headphone/microphone socket and a micro SD card slot. Both the keyboard and the tablet units have batteries, so when the tablet is docked the keyboard battery will charge up the main tablet battery, extending the time that you can use it. The proprietary connection is a bit of bad news. It works well enough, but it is not good to think that if I lost or broke that little cable the unit would not be useful for very long.
Android itself includes lots of apps including GMail, a non-GMail mail client, Maps, Navigation, the Chrome browser (with tabs!), Calendar and GTalk. Third party apps can be downloaded through the Google Market. Interestingly I found that I didn't have to pay again for apps that I had already bought for my phone which is good news. Not many apps are tablet optimised yet, but there are a few around and these really show off what the device can do (and will be the subject of a future blog post). Phone apps also work, although they can look a bit strange on such a large screen. When not is focus apps will generally freeze to the background, when you go back to them you can just continue from where you left off. A task switcher makes this really easy for the user, which is great in a situation where you need to be able to use several apps at one - blogging for example where you might want to switch between various browser tabs, notes and maybe even a mind map.
Asus also bundle a number of apps. One is the Polaris Office suite. This is a little basic and disappointingly lacks a spell checker, but it will open and allow you to edit Microsoft Office documents. Also supported is the ability to upload and download documents to Google Docs, but not work on them in place which is a bit of a shame as Google Docs itself seems quite slow in the browser. MyNet was a pleasant find, this is a DNLA client and server which means you can stream video, music and photos from other DNLA-compliant machines in your home to the tablet, also you can stream content from the tablet to other devices. Handy for that movie example earlier.
Also included is My Library which copes with e-books and PDFs and a couple of apps to get hold of newspaper and magazine content. Asus also bundle a year of unlimited storage with their Dropbox-style cloud storage solution Asus Webstorage. They have clients for many other operating systems too so you can connect to your account. Sadly I found that the client software for Ubuntu did not seem to work.
The Eee Pad Transformer has attracted a lot of attention and positive comments since I bought it. Even my friend's one year old daughter seemed to like it, she liked the drawing program anyway! What will be interesting to see now is how it works out in the long term and how many people decide to go for Android tablets and innovate solutions such as the Transformer. The price point is very competitive too at around £429 for the tablet and keyboard bundle and £380 for just the tablet. Given the flexibility of the Eee Pad, would you need to own another machine? For developers and people with specialist needs the answer is probably yes, but for a lot of people the answer to that question could well be no, this machine will do what they need and more. This is a fascinating prospect that should make all of us in and around the IT industry pause for thought.