Windows 8 and Android make strange bedfellows, yet Microsoft's and Google's operating systems are shacking up inside the versatile new $1,299 Asus Transformer AiO P1801 PC/tablet hybrid.
I've had a chance to check it out ahead of its April 12 sales date.
Docked in its PC Station base, the Transformer functions as a small all-in-one touch-screen desktop computer, complete with a wireless keyboard and mouse, 1-terabyte hard drive, built-in CD drive, 3-in-1 memory card reader, Bluetooth and full complement of connectivity options, including ethernet, HDMI, microphone input and four USB 3.0 ports.
It has a quad-core Intel i5 processor, graphics from Nvidia and stereo speakers. You can tilt the screen to adjust the viewing angle. It's perfectly suitable for casual gamers and for folks who turn to PCs to get work done or to be entertained. The whole thing weighs 9 pounds.
But that's not the complete story. Lift the screen out of the PC Station, and you're holding an oversize (18.35 x 0.71 x 11.57-inch) tablet.
It has its own Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 32 gigabytes of solid-state storage, microSD slot, plus separate volume controls and speakers. The tablet runs on a battery, of course, and also comes with its own dedicated power adapter.
A foldable stand lets you prop the tablet at different angles, and a handle lets you tote it from room to room. But given its 5.3-pound weight, and 18.4-inch tablet screen, this is not a portable slate along the lines of an iPad, much less any of the smaller Android tablet options on the market. I wouldn't expect to see a lot of these show up on planes.
Asus claims the battery on the tablet should last about five hours when you're playing high-definition video at full speaker volume. But battery life seems beside the point on a tablet of this size, because you're most likely using it at home or in the office.
The Transformer brings to mind the similar Sony Vaio Tap 20 desktop/tablet hybrid. But where the Sony is an all-Windows computer, the Transformer delivers Windows 8 and the Jelly Bean (4.1) version of Android. The machine's schizophrenic personality is what grabs your attention, and give Asus credit for coming out with a computer that provides choices. You can't help but wonder if this is one of those because-we-can products, rather than a machine that will be practical for most folks, especially when you factor in how much of your computing experiences overlap. The Web is the Web, after all, Netflix is Netflix, and it theoretically doesn't much matter whether you're in Windows 8 or Android.
Still, it's nice to have big-screen options to play Android games and run other apps that aren't available in a PC-type configuration.
It's worth pointing out that there are different options available in Windows and Android. Take the Angry Birds franchise. Angry Birds Space Premium costs 99 cents in the Google Play store; Angry Birds Space costs $4.99 in the Windows Store. Other versions of the game are available in one store but not the other. Having access to two operating systems increases the likelihood you'll find what you want, at least in theory.
You can run the two operating systems interchangeably, and -- if you connect an external monitor to the PC Station while you're using the Transformer in tablet mode -- the machine can even run Windows and Android at the same time, a boon to parents who want to work on the PC while letting the kids play with the tablet. You can also exchange files between the two platforms.
The PC Station storage is managed under Windows 8, while tablet storage is handled on the Android side.
I suspect you'll mostly rely on Windows 8 when the screen is docked. But even in the PC Station, you can switch to Android by pressing on-screen buttons or a physical button on the side of the screen. You can use both operating systems in tablet mode, too, but in the case of Windows, you're actually connecting remotely. Through software from Splashtop that sits on top of Android, the Windows 8 desktop environment is streamed to the tablet via Wi-Fi Direct technology. To run Windows 8 in this manner, the tablet must be within reasonable distance of the base station, perhaps 45 to 70 feet in a typical home. Outside that range, the tablet defaults to Android.
In my tests, I saw some sluggishness in Windows 8's performance as I moved away from the base, and at times, had trouble connecting to Windows even when I was close by.
I was able to browse the Web in Windows while listening to music from my Google Play library in Android. But I did find it a bit disconcerting that I could have two audio streams going at once. The Google Play music kept playing in Android after I switched to watch a Netflix movie inside Windows. Asus recommends shutting down the application you don't want to hear before switching to a new app.
The speakers within the PC Station and tablet itself were OK, but I wasn't blown away. When used as an all-in-one PC, the speakers are controlled by Windows 8 software. You control the tablet speakers with Android. In Windows 8 Remote mode, you can use either set of speakers.
The backlit display supports 10-point touch, meaning you can actually use all your fingers to make things happen through gestures. I was able to draw on the machine using my fingers. The decent (1920 x 1080) display offered wide viewing angles, but I wasn't blown away by it.
There was a time when no one could imagine an Intel-based Mac or Windows and Apple's OS X operating system running on the same computer. I suppose we shouldn't be shocked by a Windows-Android coupling. In the end, you appreciate the flexibility that Asus is providing. But this is not a computer and/or tablet for everybody.
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