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ASUS, $599/$799


IT’S hard to stand out in the tablet mar­ket. Touch­screen, rec­tan­gu­lar form, metal chas­sis? They all have ’ em. Google apps, dual cam­eras and wifi? Com­mon. Key­board dock that changes the tablet into a lap­top re­place­ment?

Now that is un­usual. And that’s the hook for the lat­est tablet com­puter from ASUS.

The ASUS Eee Pad Trans­former is de­signed to strad­dle the lap­top and tablet di­vide by de­liv­er­ing a lit­tle of both.

This could be a recipe for a clunky de­vice but, to its credit, the Trans­former is a solid unit.

The tablet ar­rives in a bronzed plas­tic shell and is a touch lighter than the orig­i­nal iPad at 680g.

It of­fers a 10.1-inch LED back­lit screen that is crisp, even at an an­gle and longer than you may ex­pect, a rounded back that’s easy to hold and some im­por­tant ports on its right edge— a Mi­croSD slot, a head­phone jack and a Mini HDMI con­nec­tion.

The tablet uses the lat­est ver­sion of Google’s An­droid Hon­ey­comb soft­ware and ASUS has added handy wid­gets to keep users up­dated on the weather and the state of their in­box.

Like many An­droid tablets, the Trans­former of­fers cam­eras front and back, with the bet­ter model be­ing a 5-megapixel rear shooter.

All this is run by a 1GHz Te­gra 2 pro­ces­sor and 1GB RAM, which makes the tablet and its multi-task­ing apps tick along in a speedy fash­ion.

ASUS will of­fer two tablet ca­pac­i­ties in Aus­tralia— 16GB and 32GB — though both will be wi-fi-only mod­els.

By it­self, this ASUS tablet is user-friendly, slick and a good ex­am­ple of the An­droid fran­chise. By pack­ag­ing this tablet with a key­board dock, how­ever, this ASUS tablet earns ex­tra cut­ting-edge cred.

The pair dock to­gether with rea­son­able ease and lock in place. By­standers will swear you are us­ing a lap­top.

The dock of­fers a six-row, well-spaced key­board with a touchpad that con­trols what is on the screen (in case you don’t feel like reach­ing for it), as well as two USB ports, an SD mem­ory card slot and a built-in bat­tery that ex­tends this tablet’s life from 9.5 hours to 16 hours.

Best of all, the key­board has a row of func­tion keys that con­trol the tablet.

These in­clude a ‘‘ back’’ but­ton, screen bright­ness and vol­ume con­trols, screen­shot and set­tings short­cuts, and a ‘‘ lock’’ but­ton that puts the tablet to sleep.

To­gether, it is easy to see how this tablet could be used as a lap­top — for low­in­ten­sity tasks at least.

It has some nig­gling is­sues, how­ever.

In lap­top form, the Trans­former is topheavy and tends to top- ple in your lap. Its glossy screen is also a fin­ger­print mag­net, the screen bor­der is quite big and, most an­noy­ing of all, there is no 3G ver­sion yet. Users will have to bring their own in­ter­net con­nec­tion to get it on­line.

Even so, stu­dents, light in­ter­net users and those on the cusp of buy­ing a tablet are likely to be tempted by the Trans­former be­cause it does blur the com­put­ing line.

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