Single page Print

Eee Pad: Transform!
Like all tablets, the Transformer has an on-screen keyboard with predictive intelligence. The large screen allows plenty of room for my fat fingers to spread out, but the complete lack of tactile feedback makes the keyboard frustrating to use for anything more than a tweet. Hammering out a few words for a web search is surprisingly quick and easy, though. For real writing, Asus has a very slick keyboard dock.

The keyboard is about the same size as the slate, and the two lock together to form a cohesive clamshell that doesn't require a separate case to hold everything in place. Although the chiclet array is a little smaller than what I'm used to on my 11.6" Acer ultraportable, I can still type comfortably at speed. Most of the credit goes to the keys, which have plenty of travel and a slightly chunky tactile response. They're laid out on a sturdy base that's almost entirely free of flex, which is more than can be said for the keyboards on a lot of modern notebooks and netbooks.

Unlike some tablet keyboards, this one features an integrated touchpad that's nice and large. Lifting one's hand off the keyboard to use the touchscreen isn't nearly as convenient as sliding a finger down to the touchpad. The pointy end of the mouse cursor is a heckuva lot more precise than my stumpy fingertips, too. You might not need the extra precision when web surfing, but editing text documents is much easier when you can place the cursor exactly where you want it.

Unfortunately, there are problems with both of these auxiliary input methods. Notebook touchpads typically ignore input if it occurs while you're typing, but the Transformer isn't that smart. I can't go more than a couple of sentences without inadvertently brushing my thumb across the touchpad, sending the cursor flying across the page. The narrow right shift key is also problematic, at least for my typing style. About half the time, I end up hitting the up arrow instead.

Recovering from errors and typos is more difficult than it needs to be because the keyboard inexplicably lacks a delete key. The only way to get rid of unwanted characters is with the backspace key, which is especially maddening when one counts all the extra function keys taking up valuable space. How anyone at Asus thought we needed a dedicated screenshot button instead of a delete key is beyond me, and delete isn't even offered as a secondary function. Backspace would be a less maddening alternative if the keyboard let you jump entire words at a time with the usual "Ctrl + direction" key combination, but that doesn't fly, either.

At least the button assigned to disabling the touchpad works. Hitting it takes only a second, and my middle finger can reach without the rest of my hand leaving the home row. As you can imagine, I've been using that middle finger a lot—to disable the touchpad, of course. The touchpad driver should be smart enough to know when contact is unintentional, though.

With a $150 asking price, the Transformer's keyboard dock sounds rather expensive for just an input device. Good thing there's more to it, including a full-sized SD card slot and a couple of honest-to-goodness USB ports. Asus has even gone to the trouble of covering the ports with magnetic doors that snap eagerly into place.

As an added bonus, the keyboard dock houses a 24Wh battery that Asus says can boost the Transformer's battery life from 9.5 hours to a whopping 16 hours. After using the Transformer for about a month now, I can confirm that Asus' run-time estimates for the tablet portion are pretty accurate. However, I can't comment on how much the keyboard adds to the equation because mine isn't working properly. The internal battery doesn't seem to be able to hold a charge, and the keyboard will occasionally stop working when connected to the system, even while it's locked in place.

I've seen several reports of keyboard issues online but haven't yet had the chance to swap mine out for a replacement unit. Asus has also acknowledged an issue with the keyboard that causes it to drain the tablet's battery slowly when the two are left connected in standby mode. There's purportedly a way around the problem, which appears to be an artifact of a power management scheme that keeps the keyboard in a low-power state during standby rather than turning it off completely.