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ASUS Eee Pad Transformer review – more than a toy?

by Scott Bicheno on 26 May 2011, 15:57

Tags: ASUSTeK (TPE:2357)

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Interface and software

The interface is defined, of course, by Google. Honeycomb is a bit of a slow burner, even for a seasoned Android user like me. Initially I was a bit: ‘is that it?', but when I started investigating what you can do new layers of functionality opened up to me.

The home screen is, frankly, a tad messy initially, but it is fully customisable. It comes with various date, weather and email widgets on it and a row of app shortcuts. Adding new apps or widgets isn't the same as it is on my phone. You still long press to bring up your options and then it leads you to a menu screen that guides you though your choices - apps, widgets, wallpapers, etc.

Once you select one it shows you which of the five available home screens the item has been sent to. You then have to manually exit the menu screen, go back to the home screen, and reposition the new icon or widget as you see fit. This is a bit more laborious than on a phone, but then you get more options.

On the bottom of all screens are some universal navigation buttons - there are no hard buttons. There's the usual ‘back' and ‘home', but also a unique multitasking button, which superimposes a choice of all the apps you currently have open to allow easy switching between them. This is a good feature, but only seems to allow a choice of five open apps at a time. Towards the left corner there's a battery indicator, Wi-Fi indicator, time and space for other alerts, such as software updates.



As you would expect, Google apps work well in Honeycomb. Gmail has a nice tablet-specific layout and offers discrete audio and visual alerts when you receive an email, even when you're in the middle of something else. Maps seem pretty similar to on the phone, and there's a tablet-specific Google Market.

I found the latter could have been better optimised for tablets, however, as it was difficult to find which apps had been written specifically for Honeycomb, and I lost track of one of my downloads. On the flip side my Google account automatically downloaded all the apps I have on my phone - a handy feature, but it would have been nice to be asked.

There were also a few ASUS apps, including some cloud storage, but their lack of prominence on the home screen made me assume they were a bit of an afterthought, and I didn't get round to exploring them.

One preconfigured shortcut was to YouTube, which reveals a cool 3D effect interface. This was also a good opportunity to test out the capabilities of the Tegra 2 chip, given that all the games I'd tried out didn't seem to be tablet optimised. I have to report that playing back a fully downloaded trailer for COD: MW3 on ‘HQ' setting, which presumably means 720p or above, was decidedly jumpy. This calls into doubt any claims of ‘PC class' or ‘console class' graphics, but having said that, transitions and that sort of thing were always smooth.

A definite positive was battery life. Not only does the Transformer move in and out of sleep mode almost instantaneously, the power use when asleep seems to be very low. I've had the Transformer for a week and always just left it on standby. Each time I've started it up in the morning I've been pleasantly surprised to see the batter indicator at the same level as the previous evening.