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Asus Transformer TF701 review

I’ve eyed Asus transformers for a while. They offer the best of both worlds with a detachable keyboard and tablet functionality. Unlike Windows tablets which fall down due to the lack of proper touch support in the apps and operating system itself Android was designed from the start for touch screens. Add in a keyboard, glide point and proper mouse support and this opens a world of possibilities.

Physically the TF701 is an elegant albeit simple design. Nice big screen, a micro SD slot (for memory expansion), 3.5mm audio plug, power switch conveniently located on the back and volume rocker also on the back. Last but not least there is a proprietary (non-standard) charge/data cable. On the tablet itself there are no USB or micro USB ports so sadly any options of using USB flash storage, USB keyboard/mouse, or a USB data card (without the keyboard/docking station) are out the window. The proprietary charge/data cable is readily available on ebay and inexpensive. There is no wired Ethernet port, something you might want if you were to use this heavily with xbmc.
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The keyboard/dock adds in a second battery 7,820mAh in the tablet and 4170mAh in the dock, to up your running time, a great keyboard, a glide point and a single USB 3 port. The keyboard dock does add a bit of weight/thickness as you would expect with one having a battery in it. But it also means the extra weight makes it more balanced on your lap. The keyboard is well laid out and can be used easily for touch typing. Like writing a blog 🙂 Keys for the most part are well placed with a few keys taking some getting use to. Like the positioning of the back button where esc usually is and the lack of a delete key. The biggest miss on the keyboard comes when you try and use it for RDP. The lack of function keys, no alt key, no delete key all make using this device with RDP clumsy at best. Now that said, this is not unique to this device. Any time you cross platforms I have found this an issue. Try using a Mac to do RDP. Or try using a PC with Hackintosh. Very common issue. This does create a fairly significant hurdle for me for using this device as a complete laptop replacement. The connector between the dock and the tablet is not the best. It has an almost rubbery feel to it. You have to press reasonably hard to mate the two and it’s best done on a flat surface. It really does not give you the best feel. There are quick keys to allow you to turn wfii on off, the glide point on off (yay) and others. Handy and efficient.

Charging options abound on this device. You can charge the dock on it’s own, the tablet on it’s own, have the dock battery charge the tablet battery or charge them both. If there is anything Asus missed is they should have upped the current from the adapter when charging both the tablet and dock to reduce charge time. The power is drawn out of the docking station first to insure the tablet always has the most power as possible. The device will always maximimize the battery in the tablet. Draining the dock first. But don’t expect the world out of the second battery. I started with a dead battery in the tablet and a full charge in the dock. In an hour and a half the battery n the dock was down to 5% but the tablet had only risen to 20% meaning the charge is only about 38% efficient. Which is extraordinarily low.

USB compatibility is really quite good. I plugged in a USB hard drive (the kind of thing that most Android devices would simply ignore due to it’s power consumption) and it worked. I tried my Garmin foretrex 401 (which mounts as a flash drive) and it worked perfectly. Even my Kindle worked perfectly. Of course USB flash drive, keyboard and mouse, they all work. I have to say this is the first time I have seen this work this well.

Let’s cover off specs. Dimensions are 263 x 180.8 x 8.9 mm (10.35 x 7.12 x 0.35 inch with a weight of 585 g (1.29 lb). Overall I find size and weight excellent. This is absolutely not an ultra portable, 7″ and 8″ tablets own that space in my mind. You can stick them in your back pocket and your good to go (well at least until you sit on them :)) The screen is 2560 x 1600 pixels, 10.1 inches (~299 ppi pixel density) which is bright and vivid. Covered with Corning Gorilla glass 2 for protection. There are lots of inexpensive covers readily available on Amazon and ebay to protect the device. Storage is 32G with another up to 64G possible on the micro SD card, so lots of space for your stuff. Ram is 2G allowing lots of memory for running apps. WIFI is abgn, and bluetooth is 3.0. Pitty it’s not 4.0 then I could use my heart rate monitor and other bluetooth low energy devices, but hardly an issue for tablets. Processor is a quad core tegra 4 1.9G. Not the fastest on the planet but pretty close to the top of the heap! There are cameras on the tablet, not that I care. I’m never going to be one of those idiots you see blocking some scenic view while they crop and get the best picture they can with their iPad. Let’s face it, none of these devices have any kind of decent optics so who cares what the mega pixel is. And what exactly is the point of cropping on the device before you take the picture? It’s a digital zoom idiot. I digress.

There isn’t a lot of fluff added by Asus to Android which is nice. An updated Contacts and Calendar app. All in all a nice load of Android. I tried using a pen on the screen and it basically ignored a thin pen but detected a fat pen. The fat pen I have has too much drag to be useful. Pooh. Someday maybe I will be able to use a tablet for writing 😦

Movie playback is pretty good. The built in player is a bit jittery on playback (I am being SUPER picky here) and XBMC 13.2 shows the usual assortment of issues (same as on other Android devices). This includes on some files not being able to fast forward, not showing where in the video file it is, and not resuming properly. All these I have also seen on the Kindle Fire TV so this is not specific to this device. I tried one of the early beta releases of 14 and it looking better, guess we will see. From a media compatibility point of Asus nailed it with support for large files (needed for movies) through BOTH NTFS and exFAT. A first for the devices I’ve played with. Well done Asus!

The home, back and options are all soft buttons so they work properly when the device is connected to HDMI. Yay! Add in a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and it works well. Speaking of mouse, the right mouse button is properly supported on RDP clients like 2X, but acts like a back button when not needed. A nice touch. HDMI outpt is the best, clearest I have seen to date outside of the Kindle Fire TV. You can actually use this device with a large monitor and external keyboard and mouse. Unlike all the Samsungs I’ve tried HDMI with the device does not overheat, can do HDMI without being plugged in, and didn’t require a custom (expensive cable). Again a first for Android. Asus got it right. Impressive.

Overall performance on this device is excellent. Browsing is a smooth experience. Instant on is as good as it gets. Battery life is great especially when the external dock is attached but it will take a while to charge it back up so be ready for that.

Lots has been said about market fragmentation in the Android world, and tablets like this do not help this issue at all. A number of apps that I wanted to run on it (BBM, Lennox iComfort etc) were not on the playstore for this device. I suspect it’s a combination of the fact it’s a tablet and second it is very hi res. So don’t be surprised if you can’t get all apps to install on this (or other hi res tablets). I was able to manually install a couple of them (such as BBM) only to discover they do not support landscape mode so useless when the keyboard is attached.

Wifi connectivity was good including dual band N with connections of 150 mb/s from a fairly close access point.

Asus have lumped mirrorcast (they call it screen mirroring) as well as DLNA support into one menu they call play to. I’ve not seen this before but it seemed to work reasonably well. The mirror cast was a little underwhelming. but DLNA worked fine allowing me to stream content from the tablet to XBMC. When I connected to screen mirroring it needed to disable bluetooth as well as disconnect WIFI while it connected. Oddly it did not turn bluetooth back on when screen mirroring ended. An inconvenience because I was using a bluetooth mouse. And not having WIFI when connected to Mirror cast is severly limiting leaving this functionality useless.

In terms of size everyone has their thresholds and preference. I found this size to be great for in the home. Big for out and about and particularly big for use in a car to navigate.

All in all I have to say this is the best hands down Android device I’ve played with to date. The keyboard is awesome. Power management terrific. Bright vivid hi res display. Excellent HDMI. I have to say I love it!

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September 23, 2014 - Posted by | Android

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