Back in 2011, the original Asus TF101 Transformer tablet was a revelation.
Long before Windows 8 and the first Microsoft Surface, Asus offered consumers a 10-inch Android tablet featuring an optional keyboard dock.
Since then, the tablet market has changed dramatically.
For those looking for productivity, hybrid Windows 8 tablets offer the ability to run all your desktop PC applications – including a full version of Office.
At the low-end of the market, a reasonable Android tablet can be had at a fraction of the price of the Transformer.
Meanwhile, in terms of premium tablets for people who already have a laptop, Apple’s iPad Air and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 are tough to beat.
So is it still worth getting an Asus Transformer in time for 2014?
It’s time to take a look at the latest incarnation, the TF701.
Hardware and features
The TF701 is an Android tablet running 4.2 JellyBean.
It features an NVIDIA Tegra 4 quadcore ARM Coretex-A15 with a 72 Core GeForce GPU.
The tablet features a Micro HDMI and MicroSD slot, with an SD card reader and USB 3.0 port on the optional tablet dock.
Without the dock, it measures 263 x 180.8 x 7mm and weighs 570g, while with the dock it measures 263 x 180.8 x 16.5 by 18.9mm and weighs a hefty 1135g.
It features a 10.1-inch IPS LED display, with a resolution of 2560 x 1600.
What’s the consensus?
PC Mag says the display on the Transformer looks fantastic, but when it comes to productivity, it’s outclassed by the stylus on a Galaxy Note 10.1:
The 10.1-inch, 2,560-by-1,600-pixel IPS display is an absolute stunner. The panel gets exceedingly bright, features a nearly 180 degree viewing angle, and delivers inky blacks and accurate whites for excellent contrast. Colours appear true, but if you’re particular about your saturation and hues, Asus includes a calibration utility to adjust the display to your liking.
When paired with the keyboard dock, the TF701 is among the best Android tablets for productivity, but it’s not the absolute best anymore. I’d argue that the Galaxy Note 10.1, with its stylus support and excellent multitasking implementation, is a superior tablet for actually getting things done in a way that’s not possible on other tablets—and you can always pair that tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard if you want.
According to CNet, the TF701 manages to give excellent performance in terms of running apps, including processor-hungry games:
Asus is aiming high with its release of the new Transformer Pad TF701. The high-end tablet will sport an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor and boast an impressively high-resolution screen that will likely cause Android aficionados to uncontrollably froth at the mouth in anticipation – and maybe catch the wandering eye of a few Apple iPad loyalists.
Apps opened quickly, widgets whipped by in a flash of 60 frames-per-second (fps) smoothness, and gaming was even more impressive than what I’ve seen from Nvidia’s Shield. Dead Trigger on the TF701 ran at a full 60fps with tons of particle effects and characters on screen.
ZDNet gives Asus credit for making the TF701 close to stock Android, meaning it’s not bogged down by a slow and sluggish skin or other gimmicks:
Asus has skinned Android with a light touch. At the more gimmicky end, a quick-launch utility pops up if you tap and hold the Home key which lets you run a variety of apps simply by sliding your finger towards their icons.
However, while Asus have upgraded the internals to give the device a performance boost, its physical design is getting a little long in the tooth:
At first glance, the Transformer Pad TF701T looks very similar to previous models, both closed and with the lid open. The differences lie primarily under the surface, with successive Transformers becoming ever more powerful.
The Transformer design is starting to feel a little tired, and Asus has done nothing to counter the longstanding problem of a top-heavy, easily-tipped tablet section. Many people probably could work with the Transformer Pad TF701T in place of a notebook, and its extra-long battery life is a plus point, but it’s debatable whether many will actively choose it over a notebook — or even Microsoft’s similarly priced Windows RT 8.1-based Surface 2/Type Cover 2 combo, which comes with a bundled copy of Microsoft Office.
Who’s it for?
By all indications, if you want a fast Android tablet with the option of attaching a physical keyboard, the Transformer is still one to look at.
That being said, if productivity or style is a key deciding factor, there are now better options on the market, including both Windows 8 tablets and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1