There are countless trends competing for attention in the gaming notebook and laptop space but not all of them are either useful or benefit the core gaming experience.
ASUS Transformer AiO all-in-one PC
ASUS has created a desktop PC that incorporates an Android tablet
- Good performance
- Desktop PC and Android tablet
- Somewhat confusing product
- Tablet is huge
The ASUS Transformer AiO is one of the more interesting PC products to be released this year, incorporating both a desktop PC and an 18.4in Android tablet, which doubles as the PC's monitor. You can use the big screen as a regular Android tablet, or stream your Windows 8 desktop to it. How you use it and what you use it for are up to you.
Price$ 1,999.00 (AUD)
ASUS is a company that's big on innovation, and it has occasionally hit the mark with products such as the netbook, for example. But the company's ability to create interesting products doesn't always translate into products that are practical. With the Transformer All-In-One machine, we think ASUS has a product on its hands that might leave many people a little baffled regarding its usefulness.
What is it?
Essentially, the ASUS Transformer AiO is two different products that have been combined, in a way, to complement each other. You get a cool little Intel Core i5-based desktop PC that runs Windows 8, and you get an 18.4in touchscreen monitor that's detachable and usable as an Android tablet (with its own NVIDIA Tegra 3 ARM-based CPU, memory and storage). A lot of you may be asking why the monitor is a detachable Android tablet, and that's a valid question. The idea behind this product is that you can have the best of both worlds: a desktop PC running Windows 8 for your study or bedroom, and at the same time a tablet that you can use to take that Windows 8 interface with you into the lounge room, kitchen, or even outdoors.
It's a somewhat shaky premise, but that's the way this product works. ASUS has installed Splashtop Streamer software on it and configured it so that when the tablet is parked as the desktop's monitor, it's just that, a monitor for the PC. When you remove the monitor from the PC, it becomes a tablet that automatically streams the Windows 8 interface via the Splashtop app, and allows you to use the Windows 8 system just as you would if you were sitting at the desktop PC. However, its performance as a makeshift Windows 8 tablet does hinge on your wireless network's strength and reliability (the Transformer support dual-band operation).
Windows 8 running through Android
We tested the Transformer in our office, using an ASUS DSL-N55U 802.11n wireless router, from distances up to about 13m. Both devices were configured to use the same router, and the Splashtop Streamer software was set up to automatically switch to Windows 8 when we lifted the screen off the desktop PC (a blue button on the tablet also allows you to switch between Android and the Windows 8 mode manually). It worked very well. Seamlessly, in fact, and for the most part we forgot that we were using an Android tablet to 'virtualize' the Windows 8 desktop. All of the swipe-in gestures worked, the performance was swift, and we were even able to stream full-screen Flash-based video and full-screen Windows 8 games quite smoothly.
However, the streaming performance of the software does depend on your network conditions and if you venture too far away with the tablet, you're likely to lessen the signal and experience a drop-out. That happened to us a few times and it wasn't easy to re-establish a connection. We had to restart and re-initialise the product before it would work seamlessly again. That meant placing the tablet back into the desktop PC and removing it again after restarting the system.
For all intents and purposes, the removable 18.4in tablet allows you to effectively take your Windows 8 desktop with you, away from the physical desktop. Importantly, it can still also be used as a regular Android tablet — it runs the Jellybean version 4.1.1 — so you can run Android apps from the Play Store. It's strange, but we preferred to run the tablet as a Windows 8 device through the Streamer software. What's also strange is the look we were given by many co-workers while we used the tablet.
A very large Android tablet
At 18.4 inches, it's a big unit that looks rather comical when used as a typical tablet. You can't just rest it in your lap or hold it up. We tried both ways and it just didn't feel natural. We asked up to a dozen people in our office if they were prepared to use it as a tablet and all of them said no. Instead, you could use it as a huge screen on which to flip through photos while sitting on the couch or lying on the floor with the kids, with the tablet lying flat on the coffee table or the floor, for example, but for the most part, the best way to use the tablet is to pop open its stand and rest it on a table or the kitchen bench as if it were a picture frame. In this stance, you can flip through photo albums easily, watch videos, perhaps even read recipes — it's viewing angles are excellent, but because it's a glossy screen, reflections can be annoying. There is a certain appeal for this product when used in this way and, as a device for the home, it could actually be quite fun, especially because it's so different due to its size.
When the screen is used independently of the desktop PC purely as an Android tablet, you can attach a big-screen TV or another monitor to the desktop via HDMI in order to continue using the Windows 8 desktop. By the same token, the tablet screen, when used with Splashtop to stream Windows 8, can be used as an extended or duplicated Windows screen.
A zippy little desktop PC
As a desktop PC, the Transformer is a zippy one that can be used not only for basic office work, Web and email tasks, but also for editing video, converting files and even some gaming. Its configuration is comprised of an Intel Core i5-3350P, quad-core CPU, 6GB of DDR3 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 730M graphics adapter, and a 1TB, 7200rpm hard drive.
In our Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tasks, the system got times of 25sec and 43sec, respectively, which are excellent for a Core i5 system. Using Handbrake, it took 10min to convert a DVD file into a more compact MP4 file, and this is also a competitive time. Meanwhile, the 7200rpm hard drive recorded a read rate of 181.7 megabytes per second (MBps) and a write rate of 169.1MBps in CrystalDiskMark. These rates are a very good showing for a conventional hard drive and they can be attributed to the high density of the 1TB capacity.
The tablet screen has a native resolution of 1920x1080, so if you end up playing Windows games on it, you'll have to run them at a lower resolution and perhaps with low image quality depending on the game. In 3DMark06, a score of 11450 was achieved, while in the latest 3DMark, it recorded 6984 in the mid-range Cloud Gate test and 1135 in the high-end Fire Strike test. Both are decent results.
Getting lots of battery life out of the tablet will be hard because it's so big and reliant on its Wi-Fi connection, but it lasted us almost two hours when using it to mess around with Windows 8 through the Splashtop Streamer app. Because it's the type of tablet that's not likely to be used on the road, you can just plug in its supplied power adapter to keep it alive when using it around the home.
As an overall product, the ASUS Transformer AiO is unique and, dare we say it, strangely interesting. It may not be the most practical of products due to the tablet screen being so big, but we can see it being of use as a media consumption device.
We wouldn't use the Android tablet to write emails or browse the Web — it can be quite difficult to type on because the onscreen keyboard is so big and it can be frustrating to browse the Web because pages are rendered very large — and we also wouldn't use it as a typical tablet simply because of its large physical size.
If you're after something different, though, and not just a typical desktop all-in-one, then it's worth considering. The PC itself is fast, it's packed with USB ports and ships with decent wireless peripherals, and the touchscreen works accurately.
Related Windows 8 laptop and PC reviews:
• Sony VAIO Tap 20 all-in-one PC
• Dell Inspiron One 2330 all-in-one PC
• Gigabyte U2442F Extreme Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite P870 notebook
• Medion Akoya E6232 (MD 99222) notebook
• Dell Inspiron 17R notebook
• Acer Aspire V5 touchscreen laptop
• Toshiba Satellite P840 touchscreen notebook
• MSI GT70 Dragon Edition gaming notebook
• ASUS VivoBook S400C touchscreen Ultrabook
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T hybrid tablet
• Venom Blackbook Windows 8 gaming notebook
• Sony VAIO Duo 11 Windows 8 tablet
• ASUS VivoTab 810 Windows 8 tablet
• Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (3347-3EM)
• Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T (XE700T1C-A02AU)
• HP Envy X2 hybrid PC
• HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite L850 Windows 8 laptop
• ASUS Taichi 21 Windows 8 hybrid Ultrabook
• Medion Akoya S4216 (MD 99081) Windows 8 Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite U920T hybrid Ultrabook
• Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook
• ASUS Vivo Book F202 touchscreen notebook
• Acer Aspire S7 touchscreen Ultrabook
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