Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101: A Tablet In Disguise

Asus' Android Enhancements And Honeycomb 3.2


Home Screen: Eee Pad TransformerHome Screen: Eee Pad Transformer

We already dug deep into the Honeycomb UI on page three of Motorola Xoom: The First Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) Tablet.If you're not familiar with Honeycomb, consider starting there. Everything from navigation, app installation, syncing, and screenshots is discussed.

Asus Enhancements

Eee Pad TransformerEee Pad TransformerXoomXoom

The "normal" keyboard in Honeycomb features four rows of keys. No matter what tablet you're looking at, though, they're basically all letters. Entering mixed input (like numbers) requires that you hit some sort of function key.

Eee Pad TransformerEee Pad TransformerXoomXoom

Asus tweaks the UI on its Eee Pad Transformer so that's no longer a problem. Now you get an Android keyboard that features five rows, the fifth dedicated to displaying numbers. This is a welcome addition when you're editing spreadsheets or entering numbers into a search engine. But it also serves to make the layout more familiar to folks accustomed to desktop keyboards (another big positive for anyone having a hard time with a transition to tablets).

Honeycomb 3.2: Not Much New Happening

By now, most manufacturers have pushed out 3.1 or 3.2 updates. From a firmware standpoint, every update brings with it a performance boost. The list of changes in 3.1 was fairly short. Widgets are now resizable, though this only applies to the Gmail, calendar, and bookmark widgets. In addition, the multitasking switcher now holds the last 18 apps (up from five). 

In Honeycomb 3.2, there are three major changes according to the Android developer release notes.

New User Features
  • Optimizations for a wider range of tablets
    Android 3.2 includes a variety of optimizations across the system to ensure a great user experience on a wider range of tablet devices.
  • Compatibility zoom for fixed-sized apps
    Android 3.2 introduces a new compatibility zoom mode that gives users a new way to view fixed-sized apps on larger devices. The new mode provides a pixel-scaled alternative to the standard UI stretching for apps that are not designed to run on larger screen sizes, such as on tablets. The new mode is accessible to users from a menu icon in the system bar, for apps that need compatibility support.
  • Media sync from SD card
    On devices that support an SD card, users can now load media files directly from the SD card to apps that use them. A system facility makes the files accessible to apps from the system media store.

Like Honeycomb 3.1, the performance enhancements in 3.2 are limited to graphics. That's why you're not going to see vastly improved scores from CPU-bound tests.

The media sync feature isn't much of benefit. It only adds native support for apps to read and write to SD cards in the same way the 3.1 update added native USB support. However, it was possible to read and write to an SD card in Honeycomb 3.1 using the OI File Manager, which we covered on page four of Acer Iconia Tab A500: A Tablet With Honeycomb 3.1.

The most useful feature of 3.2 is dubbed "compatibility zoom," and it addresses applications developed for smartphones with smaller and lower-resolution screens by upscaling the image.

System Panel: Stretch with 3.2System Panel: Stretch with 3.2System Panel: Zoom with 3.2System Panel: Zoom with 3.2

It's a convenient feature overall, though it isn't perfect. For example, with System Panel, you get the option on the task bar to stretch or zoom the image. However, that's option isn't always available, which is what we see when we open IxChariot's endpoint. Instead, the image is automatically zoomed.