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Devices

Media Playback

Cameras
Front1.2
Rear5
Flash
N

One of the primary uses of larger 10" tablets is media consumption, and the Transformer is no different. The Tegra 2 chipset provides excellent hardware acceleration of most major video codecs, including MPEG2 and H.264.

ASUS doesn't bundle any video players with the Transformer, so I used MoboPlayer and arcMedia, which I used in my Dell Streak review, and they worked well. I also could have used VPlayer. But it's a paid app (~$5) and who does that on Android?

Playback of a 720p H.264 movie showed no stuttering and further underscored the excellent IPS panel. I would go so far as to say it's better than the iPad 1, and equivalent to the iPad 2 in clarity, color reproduction, and viewing angle.

Photos and Music were equally handled well. The stereo speakers (lacking on both iPad 1 & 2) reproduced the sound about as well as any PC laptop. Although they are admittedly nowhere near as good as my Macbook Pro, which has a built-in subwoofer. I'm a Picasa user, so all of my photos synced onto the tablet when I entered my Google Account information and were viewable using the standard Gallery app.

Taking pictures was a bit of a disappointment. The 5 MP rear-facing camera does a mediocre job of focusing, and most pictures came out looking soft. Additionally, it had trouble handling extreme lighting cases, which might be understandable for low light, since these kinds of cameras usually want more light than you can normally give them. However, most pictures looked washed out when taken in the afternoon sun (see the gallery for some examples).

On the other hand, the 1.3 MP forward-facing camera was quite nice, and worked well for video chatting using Google Talk (which comes pre-installed with Honeycomb). The built-in microphone worked equally well here, and should suffice for any adhoc video chat sessions.

I took the opportunity to try out the combo Headphone / Mic In port and plugged in a microphone. It worked well, and the other party said that I sounded noticeably better using my Sennheiser headset. Unfortunately this means you can't use a pair of headphones. So I would recommend just using the internal microphone, or a Bluetooth mic.

I tried out some Flash and HTML5 websites, and both were handled surprisingly well. Adobe recently released Flash 10.3 for Honeycomb, which makes a number of significant performance improvements, and it's noticeable. Flash-only websites are now at least usable, although I would say still run at about 10-15 FPS.

Sadly, flash video sadly does not play "in browser", but is shelled out, iPhone-style, to a full-screen window. This usually makes whatever content you are playing look really pixelated and just plain bad. HTML5 video is played in-browser, however, and overall is handled much better.

I also tried both Hulu and Netflix. Neither of these big video sites have dedicated apps available for Honeycomb yet, so I tried to load them in the browser. I had a fairly good idea Netflix wouldn't work. So when it failed complaining about not having Silverlight access, I was unsurprised. I held out more hope for Hulu, but was equally disappointed. So Honeycomb is still behind the iPad with regards to video support.

Pandora rounded out the Internet streaming tests, and worked well enough. Pandora also seems to have updated their app to be resolution independent, so it took advantage of the screen real estate (although I think the iPad implementation is still nicer). Background audio worked fine, and co-existed nicely with the built in music player ,as it does on iOS.

Comparisons and Conclusions

ASUS has a couple of new tablets on the horizon to add to the Eee Pad family, although supply chain issues continue to plague the current Transformer series. This may spell trouble for ASUS as Samsung launches its Galaxy Tab 10.1, which I've also had the opportunity to use. All I can say is that the iPad 2 is going to have some competition, and ASUS will be forgotten if it can't solve its production problems.

That said, the Transformer's $400 price tag is probably the biggest advantage ASUS has. For $400, you get a device that could easily have bested the iPad 1, had it been out a year ago. Versus the iPad 2, however, the Transformer's battery life is worse, and it's about 3/4 of a pound too heavy. The keyboard dock is an interesting peripheral, although for an extra $150, it launches the Transformer into "more expensive than iPad" land, and thus easily forgotten about.

I will probably keep my Transformer, because I enjoy using it, and the display is nicer than the Galaxy Tab 10.1's, which is important to me. With the Galaxy Tab launching this week for $499, I would recommend users to try to play with both units and see if you feel the $100 extra is worth it. For an Android tablet, I would say not, and instead pick up the Transformer and also a keyboard dock, if you're really set on spending the extra $100.

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