Hands-on with the Asus Eee Pad Transformer

The recent explosion in the tablet market - never more obvious than walking the floor at this year's CeBIT in Hanover - has started to eat into the netbook market, but Asus thinks it has the answer: the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.

The Transformer is, at its heart, a simple tablet. Powered by Nvidia's popular Tegra 2 ARM-based system on chip, it features an impressive 10.1-inch 1280x800 display using In-Plane Switching, or IPS, technology - and it shows, giving the brightest and clearest image of any tablet on display here.

The remainder of the spec sheet reads like a wish-list for a tablet buyer: between 16GB and 64GB of eMMC flash storage, integrated GPS, mini HDMI output, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR, an optional 3G module, G-sensor, electronic compass, light sensor, and gyroscope, and a 1.2 megapixel front camera and 5 megapixel rear camera.

Despite the dual-core CPU, impressive feature list, and generous 1GB of LPDDR2 memory, the Eee Pad Transformer still manages to get eight hours of battery life without weighing too much: the Wi-Fi only model is 680g, while the 3G version adds 15g to that weight.

While the Transformer is an impressive tablet in its own right, it's hardly going to be unique in the market place when it launches in April. To get the unique selling point of the Transformer, you'll need a second bit of kit.

To differentiate the Transformer from its other tablet offerings, Asus has added something a bit clever: a docking station that adds a keyboard, touchpad, and two USB 2.0 ports - turning the Transformer into an Android-powered netbook.

When docked, the touch-screen is disabled in favour of the trackpad - although that's not a final decision for the retail model - while the tablet's battery is supplemented with a second in the base, extending the overall lifespan to an impressive 16 hours.

The island-style keyboard is light and comfortable, keeping the tablet balanced without making it too thick and heavy. The docking mechanism was a little tricky - although a spokesperson assured us that it was simply an issue with the pre-production demo model, and has been solved for the production run - but the overall feel of the device was extremely impressive.

While a firm launch date has yet to be set, the company confirmed that it's aiming for a late April launch of both the displayed docking model and a second slider model. Pricing for the 16GB tablet on its own will be around the £379 mark in the UK, with the price rising to £479 to get the dock included.