TORONTO - There's a lot of sameness in the tablet market, which makes the decidedly different Asus Transformer AiO stand out.
While most tablet makers have started exploring smaller models, Asus believes there's a demand for something bigger.
The Transformer AiO stands out because it's really big. Really, really big. "Saturday Night Live"-sketch big. Twice the size of an iPad kind of big — its 18.4-inch screen is just short of double the iPad's 9.7-inch display.
In actuality, the Transformer AiO is not purely a tablet. The AiO acronym stands for All-In-One, indicating that it's a tablet that doubles as a computer. When plugged into the included base, the tablet becomes a monitor for a full-fledged computer running Windows 8. Pull the screen from the base and it's automatically back to an enormous tablet running Google's Android operating system (it comes pre-loaded with version 4.1 Jelly Bean).
In considering whether the Transformer AiO makes sense for you, it's best to think of it as a home-based tablet. Weighing in at more than five pounds, this thing is not very mobile, particularly for those who walk or take public transit for their daily commute. It's far too unwieldy to regularly leave the house with — I struggled to find a bag large enough in which to safely transport the oversized tablet.
But it's not arduous to lug around the house and there is a certain appeal in buying one device that can function as a powerful home computer in the den — it can be outfitted with an Intel i7 processor and eight gigabytes of RAM — and a tablet for the rest of the house.
Pull out the kickstand built into the back of the tablet and you've got a huge web browsing or video screen to prop up on the kitchen counter, dining table or coffee table. The kickstand can also be balanced on your lap quite well if you don't fidget too much, although the weight of the tablet feels like it's digging into your legs after a while. I don't recommend bringing it to bed — the massive size looms ominously over you while trying to use it lying down.
Ignore the Transformer AiO's giant screen size — which is impossible, granted — and it's merely a very average Android tablet. It only gets about five hours of battery life and the screen isn't nearly as sharp as newer competing tablets. What's really missing is a killer app or two developed specifically to take advantage of the big screen, something like a newspaper or magazine app offering well laid-out designs that mimic print.
Also, think of it as a tablet designed to be used strictly in landscape mode, because turning it vertically into portrait mode feels ridiculous, and the kickstand doesn't work in that orientation. Unfortunately, several apps I tried would only work in portrait mode — I only used those once or twice before deleting them.
It's admirable that Asus has come up with a fresh concept for the stale and predictable tablet market — even if the idea is pretty niche and may not appeal to many. Given some refinement — shave off a few pounds, add sharper video resolution, and package it with some apps to take advantage of the extra screen real estate — the idea of a jumbo tablet could be a good one. It's just not there yet, but it's good that someone's thinking about it.
The Transformer AiO is expected to be available as of Friday at Best Buy, Future Shop and Staples starting at $1,200.