Asus Transformer, the practical tablet, hits India at a price of Rs 31,500

Are you one of those people who look enviously at your neighbour’s iPad or tablet, but can never get yourself to spend Rs 35,000 on a ‘glorified surfing machine’?

Do you find the prospect of carrying two computers, one for reading and another for writing, ludicrous?

Fret not, the Asus Transformer is here in India.

The Transformer is both a notebook and a tablet (and hence the name, in case you still haven’t figured it out!)

So you want to read the news? Hold the 680 gm tablet in your hand like you would a book.

Got an email? Need to edit an spread-sheet? No problem, latch it onto the keyboard (that comes free in India) and you have a laptop in front of you.

It’s an idea as old as the palm-leaves.. well, at least as old as the Palm Folio. While Palm was perhaps the company to lay the ground-work on the design, Motorola was the first to commercialize such a hybrid device in the form of the Atrix.

However, unlike the Asus Transformer, the Atrix is a phone (not a tablet) that would convert itself into a laptop when attached to a shell-notebook.

It is not as elegant a solution as the Asus Transformer, since you had to carry almost a computer-like device in the bag. Many preferred to simply carry a light notebook instead.

In case of the Transformer, you just need to carry a comparatively lightweight (300 gm?) keyboard (see picture below.)

The Motorola experiment also had the drawback that the dumb computer shell, into which the phone had to be inserted, itself costs $500 (Rs 22,500) — more than an AMD-Fusion notebook does.

So back to the Asus Transformer; no, it does not cost heaven and earth.

At Letsbuy, the online retailer, the price of the entire bundle, including the keyboard, is only Rs 31,500 ($700).

That is slightly more than the Rs 29,000 price that an WiFi-only iPad (without the keypad) commands, but less than the Rs 32,500 that a WiFi-only Motorola Xoom would set you back by. Add the value of the detachable keyboard, which also acts as a back-up battery, and no one can call the Transformer over-priced.

Before we move into the details of the Asus Transformer, we must get one piece of bad news out of the way: there is only a WiFi option, at least in India.

To get 3G, you will have to use a separate stick, like in most laptops, of course.

Other than that, the Asus Transformer is as good as any other Android tablet in India.

It is built on the Tegra 2 chipset from Nvidia, with a dual core 1 GHz processor, like the Motorola Xoom. In fact, the Transformer tablet shares many specifications with the Motorola Xoom. Both have 1 megapixel (800 x 1280) displays, 5 megapixel cameras at the back, video-calling (using front cameras), HDMI Out, 1GB of RAM and capacitive touch-screens with support for multi-touch (for pinch-zooming etc.) (see chart below.)

Both run the tablet-oriented Android Honeycomb (Android 3.0/3.1) operating system too. All of the major tablets (including the Transformer) have 1 GB of RAM or system memory [this is a correction from an earlier version of this story.]

The Transformer (excluding the keyboard dock) weighs only around 680 gram, 50 gm less than the Xoom. It gives around 8 hours of battery life (like the others), but if you hook it to the keyboard, it runs for 16 hours because the dock too comes with a two-cell battery. This is a trick that the others don’t have up their sleeve.

So, in short, taken purely as a tablet, the Asus Transformer is not over-priced, but is close to what similar offerings from Motorola and Apple cost, just as the specifications too are largely the same.

There is, of course, the question of brand. While Motorola, Apple and Samsung have big reputations to defend, the Taiwanese firm Asus, which practically invented the netbook with its iconic EeePC, is less well known in India.

But other than that, the Asus Transformer is the best bet for someone who does not want to buy a very expensive browsing machine. Without costing double, it converts what is essentially good-looking browsing machine into a very useful computer that can be used to deal with office emergencies while travelling or at home.

Of course, you can argue that the apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tabs can all be connected to wireless keyboards, but getting your driver to hold up your iPad while you type on your wireless keypad is not the same as having a single, compact unit that, for most frequently-used purposes, is indistinguishable from a laptop.

The Transformer, at last, offers the possibility of the Tablet Nirvana to the hard-nosed utilitarians among us.


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