The company responsible for pushing forth with hybrid tablets has done it again, building a new Android slate with an uber-high res screen and a keyboard to take with you on the go. Can this replace netbooks, or should you look elsewhere?
While Asus has made more Android hybrid tablets than it seems anyone else, we haven’t seen one for a while.
You can imagine our surprise when the company sent us something new that it plans to release later this year, bringing back the Android-based Transformer series and showcasing a new breed of Android tablet.
Following up from what we saw in the Transformer TF700T back in September of 2012 (was it really so long ago?!), the TF701T is now here, an upgrade of sorts, arriving a year and a bit later.
We’re not sure we get the timing of this, but the new tablet does bring with an assortment of new technology, changing a chip, increasing the display, and doing some other things that should grab the attention of any an Android tablet fanboy.
First up is the screen, and while the TF700T was praised for its IPS+ Full HD 1920×1080 screen, the TF701T one-ups this part by moving to a 2560×1600 display, higher in resolution and in the amount of pixels displays on the 10.1 inch screen at any one time.
Just like prior models, all of the technology sits underneath the screen in the tablet section, with the TF701T upgraded from the Nvidia Tegra 3 chip to a newer Tegra 4 processor, quad-core and clocked at 1.9GHz, and including a 72-core GeForce graphics chip inside. We’re not sure how many games will take advantage of this, but it’s cool to see, nonetheless.
Also inside is 2GB RAM, 32GB storage with support for more through the microSD card slot in the tablet section, and connections over 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, and Miracast’s wireless display technology. You can take pictures too, with a 5 megapixel camera on the back, and a 1.2 megapixel up front.
Asus is relying on Android for this tablet, and out of the box, it comes with Android 4.3 “Jelly Bean,” though we hear an upgrade to Android 4.4 “KitKat” is coming.
Wired connections are here, too, with a microHDMI and 3.5mm headset jack on one side of the tablet, and the Asus proprietary charge connector on the bottom.
You can, of course, choose to dock the tablet with the special keyboard dock designed for this tablet, and that will not only move the Asus proprietary port to the left side, but also add in a keyboard, touchpad mouse, SD card slot, and a lone USB 3.0 port.
Two batteries are included as well, with one in the tablet section that should last for up to 13 hours, while one in the keyboard section will top up the tablet, and provides roughly four hours of life.
It’s been over a year since we’ve seen anything from Asus in the Android tablet hybrid world, and while we thought the company was done and dusted, moving most of its research to the Windows environment, it appears we’ve been proven wrong, as a new Android model breaks cover to show us how Asus has improved over the past few years.
Let’s start with the good, or even the best, because the Asus Transformer Pad TF701 has one of the best screens out there on a tablet today, showcasing a brilliant 2560×1600 screen on a 10.1 inch panel.
This resolution isn’t just better than Full HD, but on this sized screen, boasts a pixel density of 300 pixels per inch, which is almost 40 pixels higher than what Apple uses on its similarly-sized Apple iPad Air.
Ignoring the numbers, the screen is very nice here, with razor sharp text, virtually no pixelation, and some excellent viewing angles, the latter of which is only hurt slightly by an overly reflective screen.
To its credit, Asus has also provided an application called “Splendid” which lets you change the hue, saturation, and other colour attributes of the screen, making it easy to make this lovely display work best for you.
Overall, this top display is one of the better parts of the tablet, and if this is the future of portable screens, we want more like it.
The screen is also encased in a metal chassis, with a brushed aluminium back that’s very cool to the touch. It’s nice to see another company embrace high quality materials, and the tablet section doesn’t just feel good, but also weighs only 585 grams without the dock.
Add that last bit, the keyboard dock, which can be connected using automatic locking clips on the dock (and disconnected by pulling on a release switch near the inside of the keyboard dock’s hinge) and the weight pushed up to 1.1kg, which isn’t much more than an ultralight computer.
The choice of underlying technology is also a good one, with a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 chip, clocked at 1.9GHz, with similar benchmarks to the Qualcomm Snapdragons we saw on smartphones last year.
That’s plenty of power for most of what you’ll be throwing its way, and the inclusion of 2GB RAM matches the sweet spot Android seems to prefer.
Most of the time, the Transformer Pad TF701T handles itself quite nicely, with very little lag across switching apps or loading the menus.
Sometimes, though, it seems to jam up a bit, and you may notice the odd slowdown here and there as we did, especially in some of the Asus-supplied apps.
Switching the tablet on reveals this slight performance hit, as the power button on from standby seems to need a full second to respond, a difference from the immediate springing to attention that other tablets and smartphones tend to have.
When you do get in there, Android might look a little different from what you’re used to. To its credit, Asus has’t veered too far from what the stock Android experience is, but has added a couple of tabs for downloads and frequently used in the menu section, a big homescreen widget, and a slightly different take on the drop-down menu that Android normally comes with.
It’s a slightly more refined Android experience, and it looks nice and is easy to use, so should be good for most tablet users out there.
Some of the multimedia features will delight, though, and while we’re not huge fans of using our tablet as a camera, the inclusion of a 5 megapixel rear camera will be useful to some.
Also useful is the sound, which thanks to the Asus SonicMaster technology is clear and precise, though desperately needs more volume than what it currently has.
Asus certainly has some technology in this machine that puts a big smile on our face (like that lovely screen), but then there are things where we feel the company has taken the cheaper option.
One of these areas is the keyboard dock, which not only feels like a shadow of some of the keyboard docks Asus has produced in the past, but even misses out on some of the functionality of existing Transformer tablets.
For instance, the battery in the keyboard section is much smaller than it normally is. That’s one of the bits we’ve always been impressed with on prior Asus Transformer tablets, because it meant there was so much extra life in the tablet.
But no, that battery is now much, much smaller in the TF701, and is roughly half the size, not the close to the same size it has been in past models. It also means the dock barely gives you an extra few hours. It’s something, sure, but not much, and makes us wonder why Asus didn’t flesh the keyboard section out with a bigger battery.
Also missing is a decent typing experience in the keyboard dock. Maybe it’s because the battery underneath the keys isn’t that big, or maybe it’s because the plastic is too flimsy, but there is just so much flex in the keyboard as you type that this entire section feels cheap and nasty.
This review was typed on it, and while the error rate wasn’t particularly high, it’s still noticeable, with some keys requiring an extra heavy touch. The keyboard is by no means as good as we’ve experienced on prior Asus models, in fact, and we’d say that this is one of the weakest Asus keyboards yet, and is trumped even by the one Asus uses on its Transformer Book T100, a Windows equivalent that manages to produce a more solid typing experience.
Of course, you don’t need to bring the keyboard dock with you, and can always remove it from the dock if you don’t need the keyboard, SD card slot, or full-side USB 3.0 connector.
Regardless of how you plug the device in, you’ll still be forced to use one other thing bugs us, and that’s the proprietary port for charging the Transformer Pad.
It’s weird, because Asus has ditched the unorthodox connector in some of its products, moving to the more commonly used microUSB, but yet not in this tablet. Rather, in the TF701T, you’ll find a thin and long connector that is about half the length of the old iPod dock connector, but very specific to the Asus products.
We wish Asus would move on past proprietary plugs, as it means you’re forced to carry yet another plug style around with you that you don’t want to lose, for fear that it’ll be impossible to find another later on.
A return to the hybrid tablet style for Android almost feels like a half measure, with an update to the excellent TF700T coming up short, and feeling like less of an update, and more of a compromise in some ways.
There are still things to admire here, such as the excellent screen and two batteries, even though the second is smaller than we’d like. Still, it’s not quite the superior brother to the Infinity, and there are better devices coming if you’re looking for an excellent experience from a tablet equipped with a keyboard.