The Asus Transformer line was the first to make a case for productivity-focused Android tablets. Their excellent keyboard docks and reliably speedy performance made them nice alternatives to sluggish netbooks or expensive laptops. But the mobile landscape is undergoing a significant transformation – an influx of ultra-affordable, fully capable Windows tablets threatens to drive Android tablets further into obscurity. The Transformer Pad TF701 is the pinnacle of Android productivity power, but despite its superlative display and fast hardware, it's caught in a grey area between the Apple iPad Air and Windows tablets like Asus’ own Transformer Book T100.
The TF701 strongly resembles Transformer Pads past, with subtle concentric circles etched into the anodised aluminium casing. This year's model has flatter edges than the Transformer Pad Infinity's sharply tapered edges, which makes it a bit more comfortable to hold.
Measuring 180 x 9 x 260mm (WxDxH) and weighing 585 grams, it's actually slightly larger than last year's Transformer Pad, and noticeably heavier than the iPad Air (which is 470 grams). Along the left edge you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack, microHDMI out, and microSD card slot. The bottom edge hosts the proprietary dock connector and slots for attaching the keyboard dock. Power and volume buttons are situated on the top left corner.
The 10.1in, 2,560 x 1,600-pixel IPS display is an absolute stunner. The panel gets exceedingly bright, features a nearly 180 degree viewing angle, and delivers inky blacks and accurate whites for excellent contrast. Colours appear true, but if you're particular about your saturation and hues, Asus includes a calibration utility to adjust the display to your liking.
This is a Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11a/b/g/n/ac networks on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. There's GPS and Bluetooth, but the latter is only 3.0, so it won't be able to take advantage of Android's Low-Energy Bluetooth 4.0 support. The microSD card slot worked fine with our 64GB SanDisk card.
Not much has changed with the bundled keyboard dock – it's still a well-built and comfortable full-QWERTY keyboard with an extra battery inside. The keys are actually slightly larger than the Windows-based T100's dock, but both offer essentially identical typing experiences.
The default pointer speed is too fast and jumpy, but once you dial it down in the settings, the trackpad on the dock is accurate and useful. The hinge doesn't feel all that sturdy though, and the TF701 has a bit too much wiggle room even when properly docked.
The TF701 contains a quad-core 1.9GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 processor and 2GB RAM, making it one of the most powerful Android tablets available. It breezed through all of our benchmarks, posting top marks across the board, and edging out the Galaxy Note 10.1 on system and graphics tests. It also posted one of the better SunSpider scores we've seen, completing the test in only 598 milliseconds in comparison to the Note 10.1's 1095 milliseconds. Asphalt 8 looked and played great on the TF701, and web pages rendered very quickly – this tablet's got horsepower to spare.
Asus keeps its skin of Android 4.2.2 relatively unobtrusive, with mild cosmetic changes and useful tweaks to the notification shade like quick settings toggles. Pressing and holding the home button brings up a quick launch menu with customisable shortcuts for your favourite apps. Asus includes a persistent software button for accessing "Floating Apps," which pops out small utilities that run on top of whatever app you're currently using. It's a very basic form of multitasking, but it's no match for Samsung's split-screen mode or resizable Pen Window. On top of that, Asus nixed the Browser floating app found in older models. For all of its power, there's not much added functionality with the TF701 when compared with more modestly equipped tablets. It does things quicker, but it doesn't do them better like the Note 10.1.
Media support is excellent with the TF701, which lets you really take advantage of the beautiful display. For video, the TF701 supports H.264, MPEG4, WMV, DivX, and Xvid at resolutions of up to 1080p. It also played WMA, OGG, WAV, MP3, FLAC, and AAC audio files without any issues. Of the 32GB of internal storage, 25.27GB is available to users out of the box.
Cameras and battery
The rear-facing 5-megapixel camera takes serviceable still images and videos that are suitable for web uploads, but can't really be relied upon for quality results. Outdoors, images in good lighting looked reasonably sharp and retained decent detail, but low-light images looked soft and grainy. Video tops out at 1080p and frame rates held steady at around 30 frames per second. The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera is fine for Skype or Google Hangouts.
In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to maximum and Wi-Fi on, the TF701 lasted 3 hours and 5 minutes. That's well short of the iPad Air's 6 hours and 14 minutes, and the Note 10.1's 7 hours and 31 minutes. However, that’s battery life for just the tablet, and when attached to the keyboard dock you get an additional 4 hours of battery life, according to Asus.
Complete with its keyboard dock, the TF701 is among the best Android tablets for productivity, but it's not the absolute best anymore. I'd argue that the Galaxy Note 10.1, with its stylus support and excellent multitasking implementation, is a superior tablet for actually getting things done in a way that's not possible on other slates – and you can always pair that tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard if you want.
Beyond that, Android tablets are seeing increased competition from new Bay Trail-based Windows tablets that push the envelope when it comes to price and features. The Asus T100, for example, does everything you can do with a full Windows machine, and it includes a full version of Microsoft Office along with a keyboard dock, all for £340 – nearly £100 less than the TF701. It’s true that there are more touch-friendly apps available for Android, but if you're in it for the apps, then there's no beating the iPad Air and its selection of tablet-optimised apps. And if you must have Android, the HP SlateBook x2 offers very similar specs and is pitched at £380 (including a keyboard dock).
There's no denying the raw power and stunning display you get with the Asus TF701 – it's what you don't get that's problematic. You don't get real multitasking. You don't get Microsoft Office or other Windows apps that make the keyboard dock really useful. Hybrid Android devices like previous Transformer Pads made nice proxies for laptops when affordable, portable, and proficient laptops were few and far between. That's no longer the case, though, and as more and more sub-£400 Windows tablets emerge, I suspect we'll start seeing fewer and fewer hybrid Android devices like the TF701.
Manufacturer and Model
Asus Transformer Pad TF701
2560 x 1600 pixels
Google Android 4.2.2
180 x 9 x 260mm (WxDxH)
585g (without keyboard dock)
Screen Pixels Per Inch
Video Camera Resolution
Nvidia Tegra 4