ASUS Transformer AiO P1801 Review
I’ve had the privilege of reviewing some pretty interesting gadgets over the years, some of which went on to be absolute killers in the market. I thought I had seen it all, but that was until the ASUS P1801 landed on my desk last week. At first glance I thought it was just another spiffy All In One for review, but something caught me eye that made me do a double-take. The box had a Windows logo as well as an Android logo emblazoned on it, which struck me as quite odd. Was there a tablet of sorts that bundled with this desktop? Or a phone perhaps? What had the crazy minds at ASUS managed to cook up this time? I timidly unboxed and setup the P1801, determined to get to the bottom of things.
Build quality & design
The ASUS P1801 is a very, very interesting piece of equipment. Like I mentioned before, at first glance it seems to be just another AIO unit, but this device has two very unique features. Firstly, the P1801’s screen can be completely detached from the base station, and secondly it runs both Windows 8 and Android. That’s right – two completely different operating systems in one device.
When the screen is docked, the device by default will boot into Windows 8 directly. The OS, storage, and components are all hidden away in the curved base unit. Detach the screen and it immediately boots into Android, however you can connect an external monitor to the base station via HDMI to continue using Windows 8 without the screen docked. By default when the Android mode is activated it automatically launches a remote desktop app that connects to the base station so that you can continue your Windows experience – I’ll elaborate more on this later on.
From a design point of view, the P1801 is certainly nothing to laugh at. As an AIO the base station is quite a heavy piece of kit, and its curved proportions are a bit odd, but not too bulky for a regular desktop. All of the P1801’s ports are on the base station, so you’ll find USB ports, a DVD-RW drive, memory card reader, audio jacks, gigabit Ethernet, and an HDMI out port. On the tablet you’ll find a mini-USB port, power button, volume rocker, audio jack, charging port, and microSD slot. There’s also a blue button on the side of the device that lets you toggle between Android and Windows, whether the tablet is docked or not. The tablet comes with its own power adapter, so if you want to use the tablet for an extended period away from the base station, you won’t have to worry about running out of juice.
Spec-wise our review unit was the higher-end model, so it had plenty of muscle under the hood. The base station packed an Intel Core i7-3770 @ 3.40GHz, 6GB RAM, 2TB HDD Drive, slot-loading DVD-RW drive, and a NVidia Geforce GT730M graphics chip with 2GB DDR3 RAM. It’s a bit disappointing that ASUS haven’t included an SSD option which would have been great for the OS, and looking over the base unit I wasn’t able to determine how easy (if at all) it would be for an advanced user to replace the hard drive. Still, the 2TB drive proved to be fast enough in our tests, so I won’t hold this against ASUS.
The tablet side of the P1801 is powered by a different set of hardware, mainly a Tegra 3 Quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM, and 32GB of storage. It’s a bit disorienting working with two very different sets of hardware specifications, but the average end user won’t be giving this much thought. The specs are good enough to keep running Android up and running, but there were certain scenarios where an app would take just that extra second to load up or quit, which did occur a few times.
Benchmarks & Performance
Obviously since we’re talking about two different operating systems here, we ran two sets of benchmarks on the P1801. The first series of tests were in Windows 8, which combined a series of basic productivity tasks as well as more intense applications like Photoshop and video editing. The results were quite promising, with the P1801 having no issues at all editing large images or churning out HD clips in Premiere Pro.
Where things did decidedly take a bit of a hit was with gaming. The Nvidia Geforce GT730M chip is certainly better than using an Intel HD 4000 chip, but you’ll only be able to play most games at low to medium details. Sometimes even on medium settings games like Tomb Raider and Borderlands 2 started to stutter, so if you’re looking to use the P1801 for a spot of gaming, you’ll have to contend with running things at lower settings. Having said that, any games you download from the Windows Store will run flawlessly, so if you’re a big fan of touch-based gaming, you can easily get your fix here.
In Android I ran the tests twice, since ASUS lets you choose between a ‘Performance’ or ‘Best’ mode. You can see the difference in the results below – you squeeze out a bit more juice in Performance mode, but you’ll certainly run out of battery life faster.
UI and Apps
On both the Windows and Android side ASUS have kept bloatware to a minimum. Apart from a few utilities in Windows, there isn’t an endless array of background applications to slow down your device, which is a welcome change. In Android ASUS have again opted for a mostly vanilla experience, which again keeps things clutter-free.
The main app that I want to focus on is the Splashtop app. This automatically kicks in when you use the P1801 in tablet mode (or you can fire it up at will), and connects to the base station to continue your Windows experience, as long as the base station is left on. In theory it hopes to make the transition from a desktop to tablet device as seamless as possible, and for the most part I have to give ASUS credit for that. But once you’ve moved away from the docking station, a few cracks do start to show with the remote desktop. For one, there is a noticeable amount of compression going on, so your once pristine view of the Windows desktop will be a slight shade murkier.
Having said that, the touch-responsiveness on the P1801 was fantastic when using Splashtop. Swipes, gestures, and zoom all worked perfectly – despite the absence of a physical Windows button to get out of apps, I was able to painlessly access the Charms bar from any app and navigate from there. But one major fault is that if a Windows app crashes or the Splashtop app locks up, you pretty much have to either reboot the tablet or the base station. This is incredibly annoying and really spoils the experience, so hopefully there can be some kind of failsafe mechanic in place soon. Outside of your network you’ll need to set up a VPN to connect to your Windows 8 machine.
When used as a standalone Android tablet, the P1801 performed well, but the sheer size of the tablet made some apps look a bit skewed. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to play Temple Run 2 on a screen of that size without looking like a complete nutcase. Games like Fruit Ninja worked fine, but Gun Bros 2 was simply awkward to play with fingers instead of thumbs. The integrated kickstand at the back lets you position the P1801 at a variety of angles, so once it’s on a flat surface you can adapt it to a variety of uses – from reading news websites to drawing to playing interactive games with other family members. You’ll certainly not be bringing this tablet along with you on the Metro, as it won’t fit in any messenger bag and would look absolutely ridiculous. Around the home or office it might be acceptable to lug it around, but take it out in public and you’re sure to get some bewildered looks. Plus, it’s not exactly the lightest tablet around.
I do have to stress that there is zero relationship between the Windows and Android side of the P1801. By this I mean that if you’re working on a Word document in Windows and switch over to Android, there’s no way to get text from that document copied over into Android, or even access that document (unless you use something like Dropbox). This makes your reliance on the remote-desktop app even more critical, so it’s important that ASUS makes the experience as smooth as possible with further updates.
The screen on the P1801 measures 18.4”, which is awkward because that’s too small for a desktop screen (by today’s standards) and too large for a tablet. Having said that, the 1920 x 1080 screen is perfect for viewing HD content on it, and looked good when propped up on a desk to stream video content. The screen is quite reflective however, so you need to tweak the position so that outside or internal lighting doesn’t get in the way.
As with most all-in-ones, the bundled keyboard and mouse is of acceptable quality. The keys are quite flat and spaced out properly, and typing for extended periods didn’t put any strain on my wrists, which I’ve experienced with other AIO keyboards. The mouse however is a slightly different take – it’s not quite as ergonomic as I would like, and the haptic scroll feedback seemed to be more of a gimmick than a necessity (it also occasionally goes into frenzy if you scroll too rapidly) . For most users the bundled keyboard and mouse would suffice, but personally I would use another mouse with the P1801. What is handy though is that if the screen is docked and you are in Android mode, you can still use the keyboard and mouse which is great.
This obviously applies only to when you’re using the P1801 as an Android tablet. Given the size of the P1801, you’re looking at a battery life of around four and a half hours, which is plenty of time for watching a full-length movie or to get some multiplayer touch-based gaming done. Yes, four hours is nothing to talk about for a tablet battery, but given that ASUS opted not to bulk up the device by adding a bigger battery, I think it’s a respectable decision. Heat-wise the tablet didn’t get too warm when streaming media, but again you won’t be propping this in your lap – you’ll want to have this set up at an angle to watch media. The base station runs relatively quiet even when doing some serious multitasking, thanks to plenty of ventilation slots at the top.
It’s no doubt that ASUS have a very unique product here, and no other manufacturer has anything quite close to it on the market. Looking at the P1801, I can see it instantly finding a place in a family home, with mum or dad doing some work on the AIO before quickly sliding out the screen for some gaming time with the kids or an interactive bedtime story. The P1801 could also potentially find a place in the workplace, but I would think it made more sense then to have regular desktop machines and a separate, smaller, tablet. While the P1801 is certainly an original piece of kit, its awkward size as both a desktop PC and tablet makes it a hard sell. Yes, there are issues that can be solved eventually with software fixes, but it’s hard to ignore the hardware powering the P1801 will soon be dwarfed by newer components for both desktops and tablets. One thing is for sure, the next iteration in this lineup will be a force to be reckoned with.