Bigger tablets are gradually making better use of their extra real estate, both in terms of sheer resolution and software. ASUS' Transformer Pad TF701T ($429) -- a refresh of last year's Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 -- boasts a very sharp 2560 x 1600-pixel display and Nvidia's speedy Tegra 4 chip. Add in ASUS' nifty multitasking features, and the TF701T could be the large-screen Android tablet for you.
The Transformer Pad TF701T has a solid but not very exciting design. While the brushed metal back effectively rejects fingerprints, it doesn't feel very fresh.
The slate's 10.1-inch screen is framed by an inch-thick black bezel. Around back, a 5-MP camera sits at the top center, just above a silver embossed ASUS logo.
The top edge of the TF701T houses the power button, while the left side has the volume rocker, microSD card slot, microHDMI port and a 3.5 mm audio jack. A proprietary charging port with catches for the keyboard dock is on the bottom.
At 10.35 x 7.11 x 0.35 inches and 1.28 pounds, the TF701T is larger and heavier than most competing tablets, including the 2014 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (9.57 x 6.75 x 0.31 inches, 1.23 pounds) and the iPad Air (9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches, 1.05 pounds). However, the ASUS is thinner and lighter than the HP SlateBook x2 (10.2 x 7.2 x 0.38 inches, 1.34 pounds). With the keyboard attached, the TF701T weighs a hefty 2.6 pounds.
The optional keyboard dock snaps into place and folds out easily when connected, thanks to a sturdy hinge. ASUS claims that this dock, which costs an extra $149, bumps up the TF701T's battery life by two hours.
You won't be able to keep your eyes and hands off the TF701T's brilliant 10.1-inch 2560 x 1600 pixel 10-point touch screen. Details and color were so rich that we could clearly see the edges of individual ferns in a wide shot of Middle Earth's rolling fields in a 1080p trailer for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Text appeared crisp on websites such as Laptopmag.com and NYTimes.com, and a 2560 x 1600 wallpaper of Seattle's skyline was stunningly sharp.
Viewing angles were wide as we watched an episode of "Modern Family" on Hulu Plus; we didn't experience any washout even as we tilted the tablet beyond 45 degrees. Unfortunately, our view was sometimes hampered by glare from the TF701T's glossy screen.
At 2560 x 1600p, the TF701T sports one of the highest resolutions for a 10-inch tablet. The iPad Air falls just slightly behind with its 2048 x 1536 screen while the SlateBook x2 offers just 1920 x 1200p resolution. The Note 10.1 (2014) matches the TF701T's display at 2560 x 1600.
When we compared a high-res image of Seattle's cityscape on the TF701T against the iPad Air, the TF701T delivered more accurate hues. However, the Air was more pleasing to the eye, thanks to more vibrant blues and deeper blacks.
Registering 402 lux on our light meter, the TF701T is brighter than the average tablet (358 lux) and the SlateBook (265 lux). The ASUS trails the 427-lux Note 10.1 (2014) and the 411-lux iPad Air, but not by very much.
Placed on the back left, the TF701T's lone speaker with ASUS' SonicMaster technology delivered superior audio. Individual instruments, such as the drum intro and trumpet solo in "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities, sounded clear and well-rounded. Adele's melancholy voice in "Chasing Pavements" tugged at our heartstrings with its distinct, husky quality sans any distortion. While the speaker offered excellent sound, it was odd to only hear music coming out of one side of the tablet.
The TF701T comes with an AudioWizard app that lets you switch sound profiles between Power Saving, Music, Movie, Recording, Gaming and Speech modes. We noticed a significant reduction in quality when we engaged Power Saving Mode -- Adele sounded muffled and tinny. Movie Mode gave the audio a volume and surround boost, while Gaming Mode flattened the layers of music.
On LAPTOP's Audio Test, which involves playing a tone on max volume and measuring it from 13 inches away, the TF701T notched 78 dB. That's less than the average tablet (80 dB), but louder than the SlateBook x2 (71 dB) and the iPad Air (67 dB). The 2014 Note 10.1 notched the same 78 dB.
The TF701T's on-screen keyboard was a pleasure to type on. The keys are evenly spaced and offered ample haptic feedback. We also appreciated the dedicated number row at the top. You won't find features like trace typing or next-word prediction built in, but you can always swap out the keyboard.
We loved the travel and tactile feedback provided by the optional $149 keyboard, but we wish it had bigger keys, especially the right Shift and left Control buttons. There was also a little flex, which was most pronounced in the middle of the keyboard.
The 3.15 x 1.75-inch touchpad on the Transformer Pad is a bit small; we had to reposition our fingers often just to scroll through the first page of NYTimes.com. We liked that the touchpad was very responsive and performed two-fingered scrolling well. Unfortunately, we weren't able to carry out other multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom and rotate.
The keyboard dock also sports an additional USB 3.0 port and SD Card reader.
Software and User Interface
Running Android 4.3, the Transformer Pad TF701T's software adds value to user experience without being overbearing. The lock screen features a simple clock widget and an unlock icon. You can unlock the tablet directly to the Calendar, Calculator, SuperNote 3.1, Gallery and Browser. However, you can't change these apps.
On the home screen is a clock-and-weather widget next to a Google search bar. Below the search field is a small Mail widget that indicates the number of unread messages. Lining the bottom of the screen are shortcuts to Browser, Calendar, Email, Tasks, All Apps, SuperNote, Gallery, Camera and Play Store.
Swiping down from the top reveals a customizable notifications and settings drawer for quick access to often-used tools. Under the clock is a row of toggles for connectivity and profile options, such as Power Saving, Reading and Airplane modes. You can turn on Instant Dictionary, which turns your cursor into a highlighter to select on-screen text and immediately translate it. A slider for brightness comes below that, followed by a bar with options for Wi-Fi networks, Audio Wizard, Miracast and the full Settings menu.
Long-pressing the home button brings up a custom set of shortcuts that you can access even from within an app. They are laid out in two concentric semicircles: In the inner circle are Voice Search, System Bar Lock, Google Now, All Apps and Settings, while the outer circle lets you launch Calendar, Calculator, SuperNote, Gallery and Browser.
ASUS also packed its multitasking software Floating Windows in the TF701T, letting you launch apps that float above your active screen. You can launch up to six resizable floating windows by tapping the dedicated button on the bottom left of the screen. We especially liked being able to have a calculator, unit converter and note-taking app open while we watched a movie. Better yet, you can choose which of your apps to dock in the drawer to launch in a floating window.
However, unlike the Galaxy Note 10.1's Multi Window feature, there are fewer apps you can use in Floating Mode. For example, Facebook and Chrome aren't available. Plus, you can't snap two windows side by side or drag and drop content from one window to another, as you can with the Samsung tablet.
Packing Nvidia's Tegra 4 quad-core processor, the TF701T delivered speedy performance. We played a round of "N.O.V.A. 3" with smooth gameplay despite apps such as Chrome, Play Store, Settings, Gallery and Video Player open in the background. The camera shot successive pictures without lag, but switching screen orientation resulted in a 2-second delay.
Synthetic tests tell a similar story. On Quadrant, the TF701T scored 16,726, surpassing the average tablet (5,192) and the Nvidia Tegra 4-powered SlateBook x2 (13,880). However, the ASUS trailed the Note 10.1 (2014)'s Exynos 5420 chip, which scored 19,523.
The TF701T's Geekbench 3 score of 2,712 is also well above the tablet category average (1,766) and bests the SlateBook x2 (2,529), the 2014 Note 10.1 (2,516) and the iPad Air (2,694).
Transcoding a 200MB, 1080p trailer to 480p on VidTrim took just 4 minutes and 18 seconds on the TF701T. That's more than twice as fast as the average tablet (11:56) and the same as the SlateBook x2 (4:18), but slower than the 2014 Note 10.1 (4:11).
Loading the graphics-intensive shooter "N.O.V.A. 3" took the TF701T just 11 seconds. That's faster than the average tablet (17 seconds), the 2014 Note 10.1 (18 seconds) and the SlateBook x2 (12 seconds). Only the iPad Air was faster, which took just 6 seconds.
Graphics performance was equally impressive on the TF701T. The tablet notched 15,182 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, beating the tablet category average (7,496), the SlateBook x2 (8,626), the 2014 Note 10.1 (13,539) and the iPad Air (14,850).
ASUS-branded apps abound on the TF701T. Included are App Backup, App Locker, ASUS Gallery, ASUS Story (a photo album-maker), ASUS Splendid (to adjust the display) and ASUS WebStorage Office. The latter is a Google Drive-like program that offers 5GB of cloud space free with each new TF701T.
The Transformer Pad also includes other stock Android apps, some with an ASUS twist. You'll find Browser, Camera, File Manager and Email. For instance, the dual-pane Email app has a dark gray background on the left side.
Third-party programs include e-reading app MyLibrary, news aggregator Press Reader, Amazon Kindle and note-taking app SuperNote 3.1. MyBitCast lets you take notes, pictures, audio or video clips and store them directly to your WebStorage account.
Sporting a 5-MP rear camera, the TF701T took clear and colorful pictures. Our shots of Manhattan streets exhibited vivid colors; red awnings and trucks stood out, as did a yellow cab. Video quality was similarly good, with bright colors and well-defined buildings.
The 1.2-MP front camera took bright pictures, albeit grainy ones. The red and white stripes on our shirt popped, but our skin appeared pixelated.
Instead of the stock Android app, the TF701T's camera app features a dedicated video recording button and a shutter button with a Turbo Mode toggle above it. In Turbo Mode, the shutter button snaps pictures twice as fast as regular mode.
Three buttons on the left let you switch camera, color profiles and settings. Tapping the settings button lets you change a slew of options such as white balance, exposure, ISO, resolution, timer and quality levels for stills and videos.
A grid icon at the bottom right brings up eight shooting modes: Auto, HDR, Panorama, Beautification, Night, Smart Remove, All Smiles and GIF Animation. Smart Remove takes five shots, after which you can erase unwanted objects from the background. All Smiles lets you select the best facial expression after five snaps, while GIF Animation lets you create a 30-frame moving image.
The 7,820 mAh battery on the TF701T lasted 8 hours and 33 minutes on LAPTOP's battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display on 40 percent brightness.
That's almost an hour more than the tablet category average (7:35), the 2014 Note 10.1 (7:44) and more than two hours longer than the SlateBook x2 (6:04). However, the ASUS was bested by the iPad Air (11:51).
With its keyboard dock, the TF701T lasted 9 hours and 54 minutes, beating the SlateBook with its dock (9:16), but still trailing the iPad Air.
Transformer Pad vs. The Competition
The closest competitor to the TF701T is the HP SlateBook x2, which is also powered by a Tegra 4 CPU and comes with a keyboard. The ASUS has a sharper display and lasts 2.5 hours longer on a charge than the HP. However, you'll need to pay $579 to get the keyboard and tablet with the ASUS, versus just $479 for the SlateBook x2.
If productivity is paramount, the ASUS' $399 Transformer Book T100 with Windows 8.1 is a better value. You'll get Office for free and even longer battery life than the TF701T, though you'll have to settle for fewer apps.
The Galaxy Note 10.1 is another excellent option, which offers pen input and better multitasking features than the ASUS.
For a 10-inch tablet, the $429 Transformer Pad TF701T packs an excellent high-res screen and superior sound, providing a compelling multimedia and gaming experience. We also appreciate ASUS' software enhancements, even if they don't go as far as Samsung's TouchWiz features. However, ASUS' design doesn't exactly wow, and the TF701T is bulkier than some competing slates. Bottom line: While we wish ASUS included the keyboard, the Transformer Pad TF701T is a very good premium Android tablet.