Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 Tablet doesn't stand on its own. But when paired with its matching keyboard dock, the Transformer morphs into a tablet that strikes an admirable balance between productivity and entertainment. At $399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model (or $499 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model, prices as of May 6, 2011), the Transformer is the least expensive Android 3.0 tablet to date; and the smaller-capacity version bests Apple's iPad 2 by $100.

None of this is to say that the Transformer's implementation is perfect. The hardware has some rough spots, and so do the Android OS and the $149 Mobile Docking Station option. But even taking those patches into account, the Transformer carves out a solid niche for itself in an increasingly crowded market.

Transformer's Hardware: Design Wins and Flubs

In its design, the Transformer shares some characteristics with other current tablets. The front face is dominated by a 10.1-inch display, with various buttons, ports, and slots distributed along the edges. The Transformer has familiar-sounding guts, too: It runs Nvidia's 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 platform, carries 1GB of RAM, and uses .

Like many of today's tablets--the superslim being the notable exception--the Transformer measures 0.5 inch tall. It's longer than other tablets, besting the by half an inch, the by almost a full inch, and the Apple iPad 2 by 1.2 inches. The extra length makes for an extra-wide bezel in landscape mode; it also allows the Transformer's physical size to match the Mobile Docking Station's, so the two can connect as a clamshell laptop would. (By itself, the Transformer measures 10.7 inches by 6.9 inches by 0.5 inch.) Designwise, this approach is a win.

What I found most disappointing about the Transformer was its physical build. At first blush, it feels sturdy enough, but I didn't like the flex built into the textured plastic back. The flex made the Transformer feel chintzy, as did the minute gaps between the metal frame and the scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass screen. But at least the Transformer's plastic design lowers its weight. At 1.5 pounds, it's heavier than the 1.3-pound iPad 2, but the Transformer benefits from good component balance on the inside that makes it feel lighter than it really is.