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eee Pad Transforms into workhorse

Is it a notebook or a tablet? Try both. SEAN BACHER looks at the Asus eee Pad’s optional keyboard dock and is impressed at how well it transforms a tablet into a notebook.

A tablet is a useful in-between device, its larger screen making it easier to tap out quick e-mails and tweets than on a phone, and its smaller form factor making it more convenient than a notebooks.

But what happens when you need to do some real office work? Like send an in-depth e-mail, spread sheet or document? The tablet may have the processing power, the functionality and the apps to pull it off, but it lacks one crucial feature: a keyboard.

Die-hard tablet fans argue that you can do it all with a touch screen, but the question is: ‚Do you really want to?‚

When Asus announced the eee Pad Transformer, it went where no tablet manufacturer had been before and announced an optional extra QWERTY keyboard that docks with the tablet ‚ turning it into a notebook. Motorola had offered something similar with their Attrix phone, but this was a tablet first.

We put the Asus eee Pad Transformer keyboard dock through the Gadget 5 Question User Test to see how well it combines with the tablet.

1. Is it ready to use?

The keyboard is probably one of the most ready-to-use devices we’ve come across. Chances are you won’t even have to charge it before you begin using it, as there will still be enough charge in the batteries from when it left the manufacturer.

No software or drivers need to be installed beforehand, nor are there any locks you need to master before the eee Pad Transformer can be transformed into a notebook.

2. Is it easy to use?

Docking the tablet with the keyboard is as simple as sliding a spring-loaded latch to the left, pushing the tablet into the keyboard bracket and releasing the latch. The tablet detects the keyboard, re-orients the screen and is ready to go.

The keyboard does not just have the usual alphanumeric keys. It is a multi-functional keyboard, meaning it can control just about any aspect of the tablet. For instance, there are dedicated keys to turn the tablet’s Wi-Fi connection on and off, it lets you access Bluetooth settings, Contrast settings, and Volume settings. Dedicated keys allow you to Stop, Play, Skip and Fast-Forward tracks and videos.

Admittedly, the keys are a little smaller than average, but after an hour or so on the keyboard, their diminutive size will be a memory.

Below the keyboard, a shrunken track-pad offers left and right buttons. At first, using a track pad on an Android tablet felt a bit strange, but that too became second nature after a while.

3. Does it operate as advertised?

The published specs promise16 hours of battery life when the eee Pad is docked with the keyboard. That’s a rather tall order: considering the tablet by itself produced 9.5 hours sans keyboard in the Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test. (Click here to read the full review)

But here it delivered. On a fully charged battery, I used the tablet on and off for a full five days before getting the warning that battery power was running low.

Two USB slots and a SD card reader are built into the sides of the keyboard, pushing the eee pad and its keyboard further into notebook territory. When the two are docked together and closed, the tablet no longer looks like a typical 10‚ tablet, but more like a notebook. In fact, at a glance, you might mistake it for a notebook.

4. Is it innovative?

Many docking devices are available for tablets, some offering mini HDMI and USB ports, some as additional power sources and some merely as an easel. However, none are as versatile as this keyboard dock. Its ability to accept USB means a range of other devices can be hooked up to the tablet as well, including external mouses, cameras, MP3 players and, of course, memory sticks. Apart from that, just using the keyboard makes everyday tasks much easier and quicker.

5. Is it value for money?

The keyboard on its own costs R1 700, which is quite expensive when added to the Asus eee Pad Transformer. The 16GB version of the eee Pad, including the keyboard, will cost around R6 199, and the 32GB version R7 199. However, this still comes in cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, at R7 500. The Asus eee Pad Transformer and keyboard are definitely devices to be considered in combination if you need the best of their two worlds.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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