Requesting permission to dock
There's something very satisfying about touchscreen interfaces. Seeing UI elements change beneath one's fingertips fulfills my Star Trek fantasies and is gratifying in ways that traditional input mechanisms simply can't match. There are some drawbacks, however. The lack of tactile feedback makes typing with on-screen keyboards frustrating for anything longer than a sentence or two. Capacitive touchscreens are also short on precision, particularly when combined with my fat fingers, making photo and document editing much more difficult than it needs to be.
Some of these deficiencies are addressed by software. The on-screen keyboard makes generally useful suggestions based on what you've started to type. Android also incorporates a number of little features to ease text highlighting and cursor positioning. Ultimately, these are poor substitutes for a proper keyboard and touchpad; that's where the dock comes in.
With the dock attached, the Transformer very much resembles an ultraportable notebook. The weight balance is a little different, though. On a notebook, the screen is usually much lighter than the base because it's just an LCD. The Transformer's screen is the entire tablet—battery and all—and it weighs 16% more than the dock. Put the two together, and the combo is decidedly back-heavy when open.
If the Transformer is sitting on a flat surface, there's little danger it will topple on its own. However, when placed on even a slight decline, like my lap when I'm sitting in my office chair, the front of the dock has a tendency to lift up. Tilting the screen all the way back exacerbates the issue, although that isn't enough to reach the tipping point on a flat surface. A heavier keyboard dock would certainly help. Perhaps Asus should cram in a few more battery cells to add weight.
|Total keyboard area||Alpha keys|
|Size||250 mm||92 mm||23,000 mm²||154 mm||47 mm||7,238 mm²|
|Versus full size||87%||84%||73%||90%||82%||74%|
The dock's keyboard dimension haven't changed from the original Transformer. While the chiclet array falls well short of full size, there's enough room for my large hands to type comfortably at speed. Asus has done well to avoid obvious layout quirks. The only exception is the absence of a dedicated delete key. Shift + backspace performs the same function, but I'd rather see the Fn modifier in the lower right corner of the keyboard replaced with delete. There's a second, larger Fn key in the lower left corner. That's the one you're going to use, because only the keys in the inverted-T directional pad even respond to the modifier. Good luck positioning your fingers to hit one of those at the same time as the right Fn key.
Looking at the keyboard, it's hard to think of additional functions that would require the Fn modifier. Asus already lines the top row with dedicated function keys that include brightness, volume, and playback controls; shortcuts to the web browser and settings menu; and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles. There's even a key for screenshots and another that disables the touchpad. More on that in a moment.
The layout is only one part of the keyboard equation. The feel counts for a lot, too, and my first stab at the keys didn't impress. I looked down in horror as the entire keyboard seemed to deform under the weight of my finger. If you move the mouse over the image below, you can see what I mean. Again, it'll take a few seconds for the second image to load.
There's an awful lot of flex in the middle of the keyboard. Mercifully, there's virtually none around the perimeter. The old Transformer's keyboard feels solid no matter which key is pressed, so the 300 is a definite downgrade on this front.
The flex feels as obvious as it looks, especially if you're like me, and your fingers dance across the keys with all the grace of a mosh pit set to speed metal. Mildly mushy is perhaps the best way to describe the keyboard's feel. It's tolerable, especially since the keys have decent tactile feedback and a nice amount of travel. The tactile response is a tad vague and watered down when compared to the old keyboard, though. I much prefer the harder edge of the original.
Precision isn't a problem for the touchpad, whose smooth surface allows one's fingertips to glide effortlessly. The tracking area is generous for a 10" device, and it's sunken between the palm rests at a very slight angle to allow the edges to be detected by touch alone. An even larger tracking region could be offered by using edge-mounted buttons. (Don't most people tap to click, anyway?) The buttons sit under a single, painfully glossy cover. They have a nice click, but I could do without the prints left behind.
Asus is to be commended for pushing back against Google on the touchpad front. We've heard the Chrome OS folks are very protective of their turf, which is why Android treats touchpads like gesture panels. The pointer is replaced by a giant circle with all the accuracy of a bingo dabber. This abomination can be banished in the settings menu, where Asus has added an option to enable a real pointer. That mode supports two-finger scrolling but not pinch zooming, which continues to work on the touchscreen.
The addition of a precise mouse pointer is huge for productivity applications. I'd rather not edit documents, spreadsheets, and photos without. To be honest, though, the touchpad on my Transformer is disabled most of the time. The problem is the associated driver, which isn't intelligent enough to ignore incidental contact when one's fingers are busy typing. Countless profanities have been uttered at now three different Transformer tablets because I can't type at speed without routinely sending the mouse pointer halfway across the screen. Good thing Asus puts that touchpad toggle in the function row.