The Asus Transformer Pad TF300T tablet is great on it's own, but Asus marketed along with a keyboard dock to basically "transform" the tablet into a little Android netbook. But does this whole she-bang works?
Well, sort of.
Asus Transformer Pad Keyboard Dock
Asus has 4 Transformer tablets, and each one seem to need their own keyboard dock. The docks are not universal, so if you own the Transformer Pad TF300T, you need they keyboard dock made specifically for it. With the different styles, Asus also created some minor tolerance differences so that one Transformer model may not be able to dock in another model's keyboard. So it's no surprise to see that the keyboard dock made for the Transformer Pad TF300T would fit perfectly, as well as having the perfect color match. They are simply made for each other.
But do you really need it? Well, that's what we are here to find out.
Besides the obvious keyboard, the dock also adds a full size SD card slot (in addition to the built-in micro SD slot on the tablet), USB 2.0 port, and additional power in a form of a built-in battery. There is also a touchpad so you don't have to reach towards the screen when your palm is already comfortable on the keyboard palm rests.
There is also a jack that is the same as the bottom of the tablet, which allows you to use the same charger to charge the keyboard dock's battery. Of course, if you tablet is docked on the keyboard, it charges that, too.
Docking & Undocking
Dockinng the tablet is actually not that hard nor that easy. If the dock isn't already upright for you to dock, you have to wrangle it upright. The hinge is so tough, it feels like you might break the plastic doing so. Unfortunately, it needs to be this stiff or else it won't hold the weight of the tablet.
You have to center it (there are small visual indicators on the tablet and the dock itself), then push down until it clicks. With the tablet in the dock, the hinge can be easily manipulated, due to the physics of leverage.
To undock, just pull on the release tab while pulling the tablet out. The hinge can then be rotated for easy storage (flatter profile), but as before, it's hard to rotate the hinge without the tablet docked.
There are people who reported that scratches and scrapes can appear on the tablet from using the keyboard dock. You may want to have some form of skin wrap such as Ghost Armor or InvisibleShield installed on the tablet before using the keyboard dock. Even so, I'd still call this bad design on Asus's part.
With the tablet and keyboard folded like a netbook, it takes on the same form as one, too. The display automatically turns off like it should. Opening up the "lid" doesn't turn the screen back on, though. There is no key to turn on the display, either, leaving you with just the sleep/wake button on top of the tablet. There is a setting you can flip to enable waking the tablet with any keystroke, however.
The Keyboard & Touchpad
It's tough to cram a full keyboard into the small-ish 10.1" tablet frame, but this keyboard dock must do so in order for the whole thing to fold up neatly. While not full-size, it still feels pretty good. It has enough feedback, stiffness, and bounce to be comfortable to type on. Spacing is a bit small for my tastes, but it wasn't very hard to get used to it.
Instead of function keys, which Android won't understand, those keys are used for turning Wifi and Bluetooth on and off. They also allow you to adjust the screen brightness, take a screenshot, quickly go to your browser, settings, adjust volume, play/pause/skip, and even lock (sleep) your tablet. In place of the ESC key is the back function on the tablet. The "Start" key is actually the Home button, while the menu fuction is between the Alt and Ctrl keys on the right.
Overally, keys are smartly placed. I do wish there was a Recent Apps key somewhere. However, you can still Alt-Tab to switch applications just like on a computer.
Typing in Android isn't as quick as it should be. There are many times where there is a slight delay between what you typed and what is displayed on the screen. At times when the response is as fast as a computer, it's great.
With certain apps, it is hardcoded to bring up the software keyboard when the focus is on the text input box. When this happens, the software keyboard will come up and block most of your view. There are also some apps that force themselves to portrait mode, which makes it hard to work on when your tablet is docked in the landscape orientation. Unfortunately, there's no way around that short of turning the whole thing 90 degress, or by cocking your head.
The touchpad can emulate a mouse (if you ever plugged in a mouse in an Android device). You can also change it to emulate your finger on the screen. I actually find this "gesture" mode more intuative than the mouse. Either way, you can scroll by using two fingers and flick around. Pinch to zoom still works, but only in Gesture mode.
Tapping is like touching the screen, but so is left-clicking as well. Right-clicking emulates the back function. I actually wish it would emulate the menu button instead, since I'm used to the right mouse button to bring up contextual menus.
The touchpad is responsive and easy to glide across. The problem is that it's in gets in the way of my palms when I type, producing accidental clicks. Nothing is worse than typing something out and then loosing focus on the text box because you accidentally clicked somewhere else - or worse, the Back or Cancel button on screen! You can turn off the touchpad using one of the "function" keys at the top, but you would have to remember to turn it back on afterwards. The ergonomics just isn't great with the small physical size.
SD Card & USB
Plugging in a SD Card or a USB flash drive or hard drive will show up as SDCARD2 and USBDISK0 in the File Manager app. All of the storage can be found in the /storage folder (not the usual /mnt folder as in most Android/Linux devices). SDCARD0 and SDCARD1 are the internal and micro SD storage found on the tablet itself. From there, you can copy and paste files like you'd normally would. Any media in any of the storage device will get indexed and found in the music, video, or photo apps.
The USB port can also be used for an external mouse. The mouse is forced to be used as a mouse (no gesture mode), so you get a mouse pointer and there is no multi-touch emulation. You can also plug in an external keyboard.
I don't have an external USB headset, but I would love to see if USB sound will work. Either way, it can provide a way for you to charge your phone.
Charging & Battery Life
There is no extra charger that comes in the box. The keyboard dock relies on the charger that came with your Transformer Pad TF300T. The connector is the same one found on the bottom of the tablet. To charge both the keybaord dock's battery and the tablet, just leave the tablet docked and connect the charger to the dock instead.
The charging algorithm is unexplained, however. It doesn't just charges the tablet first, then the keyboard. It seems to switches between the two (according to the battery history chart in the settings menu).
When fully charged, discharging while using is also weird. The battery history chart shows that it will drop around 70%, then gets charged by the keyboard dock, and then drops for another undetermined amount before it charges again. It keeps doing this until the keyboard battery is exhausted. Of course at this point, you're left with just the battery in the tablet. The keyboard dock functions as usual even when out of power, though, so don't worry about one dying out before the other.
While the tablet works for 10 hours straight alone, with the keyboard dock, I can get 16 hours! The extra 6 hours may not doubling the battery life, but it's a significant amount.
Without the keyboard dock, the 10 hours actually stretches to about 4-5 days with regular use (most of the time it's sleeping, remember?) With the keyboard dock, it lasts beyond a week - sometimes even two. Not sure how that extra 6 hours of continuous use translate to 2 weeks of non-continuous use, where 10 hours is only 4-5 days... but that's my experience.
Either way, you can be away from a power outlet for a very long time with the keyboard dock and tablet fully charged!
So, do you really need it? As with many things, it depends. My reasons to justify it as "worthy" is not what the primary marketed reason, however. Let me explain.
As a keyboard? No. It's not worth it. Android wasn't made with a physical keyboard in mind. Just look at the keyboard slider Android phones out there. There aren't many. It's nice for long stints of typing, so if that's what you need to do, then you don't really have much of a choice. Get it. The touchpad is redundant because the screen is touchable, and it gets in the way of the keyboard palm rest.
The extra storage capacity is nice, however. Stick in the largest full size SD Card in the keyboard dock, and you have another place to store your wares along side the built in micro SD card and internal storage. For those who like to root and make backups of their ROMs, storage space is invaluable. It's also easier to transfer files using a full-sized USB port, since USB flash drives are ubiquitous. I haven't found any other use for the USB port other than that, as it doesn't make sense to use a mouse on an Android device.
Those reasons are nice, but the real reason I feel made it worthy of purchase is the extra battery life and the fact that it makes a nice "case" when folded. It protects the glass display while providing extra juice and utility in a form of a keyboard. It makes using it as a serious note taking device a reality. Pair this up with Evernote and you're golden. Missing, of course, is always-on internet access to sync Evernote. I guess you can always tether your phone...
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