When I saw that the Asus Transformer AiO all-in-one PC came with an 18-inch detachable monitor/tablet I knew I wanted to review it, and I stopped reading anything about it as soon as I sent the request in to the company.
Imagine then, if you will, my genuine bewilderment after assembling this fairly bulky monster on my desk (more on the styling later), powering up and discovering the start screen for Android’s Jelly Bean 4.1. On what was clearly a desktop computer. What on Earth was this thing! After futzing around on largest Android homescreen I’d ever seen, a quick check of the quick reference guide pointed me to a small blue button on the side of the monitor that switched me over to a standard Windows 8 desktop operating system. It booted up fairly quickly, and I had the Microsoft box I had expected when I initially plugged this thing in.
This isn’t an All-in-one, it’s a Two-in-one.
My shock in that first moment was mixed with delight: It opened my mind to the possibilities of having a fully functioning Android platform as my main computing platform, not just for the mobile parts of my life, but everywhere. That said, I have quibbles with a number of features about the AiO, and overall I’m not sure Asus has made a device that will find a hungry market for their strange hybrid.
Asus has built an interesting metaphor for home computing: a base station with fully featured PC software (as well as beefy speakers and drive space) and a big ole movable screen more optimized to the touch experience. The two keys to making that metaphor work – as I found out – lie in getting that software bridging between devices right and in having compelling physical products.
But before we talk too much more about the software’s potential, let’s talk specs:
The base unit (which powers the Windows part of the two-in-one) I drove comes with an 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-3350P quad core processor (there is a cheaper model with an i3 processor), 8 GBs of DDR3 1600 Mhz memory and a 1 terabyte 3.5” spinning hard drive, an NVIDIA GT 2GB graphics card and built-in dual band wireless LAN (802.11a/b/g/n, 2.4GHz/5GHz). It has a boatload of ports: 4 USB 3.0 hookups, HDMI out, Ethernet port, SD/SDHC/MMC card reader, the usual microphone, headphone stuff, and even a slot-in DVD optical drive.
But wait, the “monitor” is its own standalone tablet computer as well and packs an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad core processor, 32 GB of SSD storage and 2 GB of ram. The polymer battery claims five hours playing 1080p video and maximum speaker volume, 15 hours playing music, but in my test it barely made it to six hours just playing an animated gif. I’m guessing that’s because it takes a lot of juice to power an 18.4 inch long, 11.5 inch high LED backlit capacitive IPS display (1920 pixels by 1080). And it’s heavy, more than five pounds (and feels even chunkier than that). It has its own SD card reader, a micro-USB 2.0 port and comes with a 33w port for its own AC charger (separate from the docking port), as well as its own microphone and headphone ports. There’s no 3G or 4G wireless option, but really, you’re not leaving the house or the office with this bad boy.
I wasn’t blown away by the screen quality: While big, the colours seemed washed out, and Android appeared somewhat pixellated on it. 1920 x 1080 is typical of an HDTV resolution, but it’s worth remembering while newer iPads are half the size they look way better with that gorgeous 2048 x 1536 pixel density. Couple that with the bulky chassis of the tablet when it’s off the base, and the whole thing felt a little cheap, and a little old. It doesn’t feel like a big tablet, it feels like a normal sized flatscreen monitor, and that massive kickstand and handle are stark reminders that it’s not meant for your lap or for your commute.