In the blockbuster movie Avatar, the head technician character grabs active telemetry data from a desktop workstation and continues to work with it on a networked tablet. This is the essential idea behind the Asus Transformer AIO (P1801-B037K) . You can start working on a project in Windows 8 while the screen is docked on the base unit. Then you can pick up the screen, which is an Android tablet that continues to act as a remote desktop. All of the computing happens on the base unit, but you can keep working on your work in the den, in the kitchen, or even out on the balcony. As long as you’re on your home Wi-Fi network, you’re still using your powerful Windows 8 PC. It’s a neat concept that has potential. It’s not perfect yet, but it works well enough to use, at least well enough for early adopters looking for new ways of doing things.
Design and Features
The Transformer AIO is, at its heart, an all-in-one desktop PC, and looks and acts like one when the screen is docked. The system’s PC components, including the Intel Core i5-3350P processor, 8GB of memory, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GT 730M discrete graphics, DVD burner, and USB ports, reside in the docking base, which has a cradle for the screen as well as a pivot mechanism so you can find a comfortable angle to use the system. The screen is actually an Android tablet, with its own Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 2GB of memory, and 32GB of SSD storage. Old school PC-based competition includes the Samsung Series 7 (DP700A3D-A01US) and the Dell Inspiron One 23, both of which are 23-inch all-in-one PCs with Core i5 processors.
The tablet has a MicroSD reader, mini-USB 2.0 port, headset jack, its own charging port (and AC adapter), and a dock connector to connect to the base. The base has a USB 2.0 port marked off for the wireless keyboard/mouse dongle, four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI-out port, Ethernet, audio ports, and an SD card reader. Both the tablet and base have their own Kensington lock ports and both have 802.11a/b/g/n dual band Wi-Fi. Both have Bluetooth: Bluetooth 3.0 in the tablet and 4.0 in the base.
The base and tablet are designed to primarily work together as any other all-in-one PC would, since the tablet’s screen acts as the Transformer AIO’s display most of the time. If you hook a monitor up to the base’s HDMI-port, then you can use both environments (Windows 8 and Android 4.1) simultaneously on separate screens. This differs from portable all-in-one desktops like the Sony VAIO Tap 20 (SVJ20215CXW), in which all the PC components are built into the screen.
The 18.4-inch tablet screen has a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, letting you view 1080p HD videos in native resolution. The screen itself is clear, with a wide angle of view, displaying both images and text smoothly while plugged into the base unit. It has a 10-point capacitive touch surface, which means you can use the screen with a friend or family member. Since the screen is functionally an Android tablet with video pass-through, it displays video from the Core i5 Windows based PC until you remove the screen from its base or switch to the Android environment manually via the blue switch on the side or with a soft button in Windows.
You’ll have to go through an extended setup process on the Transformer AIO, which includes logging into Windows and logging into the Android Jelly Bean environment. You can set up a local login in Windows, but for Jelly Bean you’ll need a Google account. Thankfully, once you’ve gone through the setup, both the PC and the Android environments will work together (mostly) seamlessly.
Both the soft and hard buttons switch the screen from Windows to the Android (Jelly Bean) environment, where you can run Google Play apps and the browser built into Jelly Bean. However, if you simply lift the screen out of its base while the PC is on, the tablet switches to the Splashtop remote control software. Splashtop is a remote control program, similar in execution to packages like GoToMyPC, VNC, or Windows Remote Desktop Connection. It’s not instantaneous, but after a few seconds you’ll have the same Windows 8 screens you were working on on the screen, which is now acting as a tablet device. You can continue to monitor a Windows process like a video transcode or the calculations on a humongous spreadsheet, for example. It also means you can run virtually any Windows program away from your desk, as long as you’re still in range of your Wi-Fi network (like on the patio or in the kitchen).
While some programs like Netflix exist in Google Play and in Windows 8, there are some apps that work better (or only work) on Windows. For example, the SlingPlayer app is $15 for Android tablets, but the Internet Explorer plug-in is free. When we played Netflix in Windows 8 then pulled the tablet, the video continued to play after a quick handoff. The first minute or two after switching was a little blocky and had video sync issues, but once the buffering caught up the HD video was rock solid. The moral is, wait until the next commercial break before switching between direction connection and the remote program.
If you are insane enough to commute with the 18-inch tablet, it works fine as an Android device, but you will need VPN to your home network if you want to use Windows 8 through Splashtop when you’re physically away from your home network. Splashtop remote control works fine as long as you’re connected to the same network as the base. The mouse and keyboard will continue to work with the tablet, though the keyboard and mouse are limited by the range of their wireless radios to the USB dongle. We got about 20 feet away before inputs on the mouse and keyboard became too jerky to use.
Touch input is instantaneous while the screen is connected to the base, but when running Splashtop, touch input and onscreen graphics may be a little laggy depending on network traffic. We were able to get almost 6 hours of battery life out of the tablet (5:52). During testing, all the Windows gestures worked, including Charms and swipes to close apps. The tablet doesn’t have a Start button like true Windows 8 tablets, but the Charms bar worked fine during most sessions. That’s not to say the experience was hiccup free: occasionally when apps in desktop mode stopped responding, as Windows programs do, we had to reboot the Windows PC using the Start menu in order to get control of desktop mode back. We could switch between Windows 8-optimized apps and the Start screen, but the desktop mode was locked up. You may have to touch the reconnect button in the Splashtop/Transformer AIO screen, but it reconnects almost instantly when you do.
The performance of the screen as a tablet is entirely average, due to its Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and 1080p screen. It’s adequate for Web browsing, video streaming, and casual games, but an Android fan will find it slow for 3D-intensive gaming. Think of the Android tablet as a bonus to the Windows PC, and you’ll be fine.
Physically holding the screen in tablet form is tiring: the screen measures about 18.5 by 12 by 0.71 inches (HWD) and weighs in at 5.49 pounds. It’s quite bulky to hold in one arm for any length of time, but you can do it while moving from one room to another. The tablet comes with a handle, so you could theoretically carry it one handed like a six-pack of beer. There is also a kickstand built into the tablet portion’s back that gives you a wide range of tilt, so you can use the tablet while seated or standing. The tilt ranges from about 30 degrees to 100 degrees back. When tilted all the way back, you can use the on screen keyboard fairly easily.
We did run into situations where either Android or Windows programs crashed. When this happens, you can still switch over to the other environment and save work there before troubleshooting the crash. Recovering from a crash was easy, usually involving a reboot of either the Windows desktop or the Android tablet. When the offending party came back, it was simple to reconnect the bridge between the two environments, whether the screen was docked or roaming free.
The system came with some extra apps pre-installed, mostly familiar suspects like Skype, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Office (Trial version). The 1TB drive was almost empty, so there’s plenty of room for apps, videos, and photos. There’s a little less room on the tablet’s SSD, but 32GB is sufficient for many apps and maybe a few local video files. It’s worth noting that if you are a stickler for OS and app updates, you’ll have to keep track of both the Windows 8 environment on the desktop as well as the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean environment on the tablet. The Transformer AIO comes with a one-year warranty and 24/7 tech support for both environments.
With its Intel Core i5 processor and Nvidia GT 740M graphics, the Transformer AIO is a decent multimedia system for power users. It was faster overall on the PCMark 7 benchmark test than the Dell One 23 and Samsung DP700A3D-A01US; the Transformer AIO positively destroyed these two on the 3D tests, including gaming. Though it’s not a gaming rig by any means, the system is powerful enough to play modern 3D games at lower resolutions, something that can’t be said by all-in-one systems using basic integrated graphics like the Intel HD Graphics 2500 in the Dell One 23 and Samsung DP700A3D-A01US. About the only rival the Transformer AIO has on performance tests is the current Editor’s Choice for midrange all-in-one desktops, the Apple iMac 21.5-inch (Late 2012) or the more expensive Toshiba LX835-D3380. The iMac also has a Core i5 processor and Nvidia graphics, explaining its multimedia and 3D prowess, while the Toshiba LX835-D3380 has a Core i7 and Nvidia graphics as well.
Essentially, the Asus Transformer AIO (P1801-B037K) lets you do that thing that looks so cool in science fiction movies. It allows you to grab information from your desktop and bring it along around the house or office without having to sync it to another device. You can grab your work and keep working on it as you walk out of the room towards better scenery.
The Transformer AIO is certainly innovative, and is thus far in a category by itself. There are still a few quirks to work out, like the occasional lag when remote controlling the base PC via the tablet/screen, or managing Windows 8 program issues, but it is a very promising concept. It remains to be seen if the extra complexity and processing power of a desktop paired with a tablet screen will be more acceptable to the public than a simpler portable all-in-one PC with integrated graphics. It’s a good first effort, but because of the complexity of managing two platforms in one device, we’re recommending the Asus Transformer AIO (P1801-B037K) for early adopters only. They will tolerate quirky systems and new ways of dong things more easily than mainstream users. The Apple iMac 21.5-inch holds on to its Editors’ Choice for now.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS:
Check out the test scores for the Asus Transformer AIO (P1801-B037K)
More desktop reviews:
|Primary Optical Drive||Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW|
|Processor Family||Intel Core i5|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GT 740M|
|Screen Size||18.4 inches|
|Monitor Type||LCD Widescreen|
|Type||All-in-one, Touchscreen All-In-One|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||1000 GB|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc