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The eee Pad ‚ silent and even deadly

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Landing in South Africa in July, the arrival of the Asus eee Pad Transformer was very low key. But high battery life and low cost make it a contender, SEAN BACHER finds when he puts it through Gadget’s Ten Question Tablet Test.

In the past few months South Africa has seen a flood of tablets flowing into the market. Apple and Samsung have been advertising their tablets everywhere, and Blackberry haven’t been silent either. However, one company started shipping its tablets into the country well below the radar: Asus.

In July, the company sneaked its eee Pad Transformer onto our shores and, although it did not make any noise about it, they do expect to shake things up.

We put the Asus eee Pad Transformer through Gadget’s Ten Question Tablet Test to see just how much of a shake up.

1. The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other?)

The Asus eee Pad’s 10‚ screen means that the device is a little more difficult to carry around than its 7‚ counterparts. Add to this the 2.5cm-wide dead zone all around the device and you end up with a tablet that measures 27cm from left to right and 17cm from top to bottom. However, despite its large size, the device is extremely light and very thin, so it will fit neatly into a briefcase. Just don’t expect to slip it into your suit pocket.

Crafted from brushed aluminium, the tablet feels sturdy when you hold it and you can firmly grip it without worrying about crushing its insides.

Asus has done away with the standard Android Honeycomb virtual keyboard and has installed its own, with oversized keys and the inclusion of numeric keys above the alpha keys. This means you don’t have to switch back and forth between screens as you would have to do on almost all other tablets when entering numbers and text.

The Asus is a well-crafted device and the addition of the virtual alphanumeric keyboard makes typing easier and quicker.

Score: 8/10.

2. The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)

The Asus eee Pad uses the Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor running at a speed of 1.0Ghz and features 1GB of RAM. Add this all together and you are left with a powerful device, able to run almost any application you install.

Applications ran smoothly without any freezing or jolting. Flipping from one home screen to the next was effortless. The built in accelerometers were also very responsive, especially when playing a game like Lane Splitter, which requires you to navigate a motorbike through traffic by tilting the device left or right.

Angry Birds was also a pleasure to use on the device. Because the application was originally designed to work on devices with smaller screens, the Asus had to stretch the game to fill the 10-inch screen. At first I thought this would distort the images and make playing the game difficult. However, besides having larger birds and a larger catapult, the game ran effortlessly. The Asus is one of the first Android devices to use a capacitive LED (light emitting diode) backlit IPS (in-plane switching) screen. This is the same screen technology used for the iPad 2 and its main benefits are an increased viewing angle and reduced power consumption. The screen treated each and every swipe of the catapult with pinpoint accuracy.

The eee Pad does well in this department as its screen is bright, the device is responsive and its unique display technology means more battery life.

Score: 8/10

3. The tablet gender test (Can it multi-task? Hint: males can’t.)

With 1GB of RAM, the Transformer opened application after application without a hint of slowing down. A tap on the ‚open window’ icon at the bottom left of the screen lets you quickly navigate through the open applications. Unfortunately, to close one down, you first need to find it, select it, and exit it manually. There is no quick way to shut down an application. However, with its large amount of RAM and powerful processor, chances are you won’t need to shut down any applications in a hurry.

While the eee tablet is great multitasking device, and switching from app to app is effortless, not being able to shut them down as effortlessly does count against the Asus.

Score: 7/10

4. Testing by the book (Can it replace novels and textbooks?)

Included with the tablet is an app called PressReader. This lets you subscribe to newspapers and tabloids from around the world. Once you have downloaded your desired newspaper, it is clearly displayed and looks and feels like the paper version ‚ but you won’t end up with dirty fingers once you are done.

The reader lets you zoom in and out of articles you want to read. You can also increase the font size and bookmark your page for when you want to carry on. Best of all, though, is that the application lets you view a contents page ‚ letting you skip straight to the sport section without having to scroll through all the drivel in between.

The Amazon Kindle reader works well to. The large screen makes reading on the Asus easier than reading most novels. This tablet will even be lighter than some novels.

Score: 7/10.

5. Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)

According to Acer, the eee Pad offers up to 9.5 hours of active usage on a single battery charge. At first we were a bit sceptical about this claim ‚ mainly due to the device’s large screen. However, on a single charge the device lasted over two days ‚ we estimated the device spent two thirds of its time in standby mode and one third being actively used. Never did we completely shut the tablet down.

Asus says that, when you connect the tablet to the external docking station, which is an optional extra, its battery life increases to a whopping 16 hours.

The Asus’s battery life was most impressive and confirmed the company’s view that it is one of the tablet’s selling points.

Score: 9/10

6. It’s all about You(Tube) (How well does it handle online video sites?)

The included YouTube application takes you directly to the site and adds a little spice to things. Instead of the featured videos being displayed in a flat window that you would normally see when accessing the site, the Asus displays the videos in a 360-degree layout, giving you the impression that you are surrounded by the videos.

Although Asus has not added a complete skin to the Android operating system, it has kitted out the eee Pad with the Asus WaveShare user interface. The interface hosts a variety of applications, like MyNet and MyLibrary. The MyNet app easily streams digital media wirelessly within home network devices, so HD videos or music can be played on devices such as an HDTV or desktop PC. Likewise, the MyNet application lets you control a computer wirelessly directly from the tablet.

The MyLibrary app arranges all videos, photos and music into easy to access categories, making finding your favourite music quick and easy.

The Asus also includes an HDMI output, letting you connect it directly to the HDMI input of a television or computer. Watching videos on the device was an absolute pleasure thanks to the great battery life and large screen. Videos were handled effortlessly and the ability to stream directly from a computer means you don’t first have to copy music or video to the device.

The eee Pad features Flash support too.

Score: 8/10

7. The retro test (Can it replace your radio? TuneIn Radio reveals all.)

The tablet features two speakers which promise a virtual surround sound effect. Unfortunately you won’t notice much difference in the sound quality when compared to other devices. It also features the obligatory headphone jack and Bluetooth connectivity.

TuneIn Radio worked exactly as expected. We were able to stream radio from South African stations and from ones around the world.

The Asus offers nothing spectacular in the sound department but the sound quality is good enough to watch your DVDs and listen to your MP3s.

Score: 7/10

8. On target (Is the on/off switch easy to find and use in the dark?)

The power button is located on the left of the device when in landscape mode. It doesn’t sit flush with the device and can be easily located in the dark. It is located very close to the volume button though, so don’t get a fright if you accidentally bump up the volume instead of powering the unit off.

Score: 6/10

9. Keep control (How effective are the control buttons ‚ hardware and software?)

The Asus eee Pad uses three ‚Äúsoft‚ buttons for control – a back button, a home button and a button to reveal open applications. A fourth settings button appears depending on the application you have open. We had no problem operating the device using these buttons as they are located at the bottom left of the screen, both in landscape and portrait modes.

On the right of the screen, you can easily access the device’s settings, view your new e-mail and access recently downloaded files and applications.

One huge problem with the Asus eee Pad, however, is the lack of a SIM card slot. This means you can only access the Internet, your e-mail and calendar when connected to a WiFi network. Very limiting and a mistake that Asus quickly realised as it has announced a 3G/WiFi version.

As previously mentioned, Asus does offer an external keyboard docking station as an optional extra ‚ hence the Transformer name. When docked, the Asus is transformed into a netbook, as it now boasts two USB ports, has an SD card reader, a touch pad and of course a full-on QWERTY keyboard. The docking station will set you back an additional R1 000.

The Asus is easy to control, and the option of being able to dock it to an integrated keyboard is unique, but its lack of support for a 3G network means the tablet doesn’t do well here.

Score: 6/10

10. The iPrice Test (Is it competitively priced? And we all know which device we’re comparing.)

The price is one of the best things going for the Asus eee Pad Transformer ‚ but it’s not quite enough. The 16GB version retails for R4 499, the 32GB version for R5 499. The 16GB and 32GB WiFi only iPads retail for R4 399 and R5 399 respectively. This makes the Asus a competitive tablet from a price perspective ‚ but not better than the iPad. To sell for more than the iPad, your tablet has to be better than the iPad. Simple as that. Asus needs to bring the price down by a couple of hundred rand. Just as the device is priced lower than the iPad in other markets, the same must apply in South Africa for it to compete here. It does not make sense that the global pricing strategy has been ignored in this country.

Score: 6/10

The bottom line

The only serious gap in the Asus is its lack of 3G connectivity. The device performs well in all other departments and will not disappoint should you always use it in a WiFi environemnt.

Overall score: 72/100

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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