Alongside other innovations we've seen in new Windows 8 computers comes the Transformer AiO from Asus: It's an all-in-one desktop computer with a detachable screen that you can use as an 18.4-inch tablet. If that's not enough, it's also the first dual-OS hybrid desktop that's switchable on the fly. We tried out a press sample (the AiO will be available to buy on April 12 for $1,300). The AiO display is small for a desktop and large for a tablet—but we like its unique versatility.
The two-device-in-one AiO promises to expand the productivity of an all-in-one desktop to include the entertainment value and flexibility of a tablet. The AiO runs on the Windows 8 OS when docked in PC mode and can run on either Windows 8 Remote or Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) when detached and used as a tablet. A button on the right edge of the display lets you swap between OSes pretty seamlessly. When you remove the display from the dock, it connects automatically to the dock through your Wi-Fi network.
Built in is a handle you can use to tote around the very heavy (5.28-pound) tablet, as well as a tiltable stand. This isn't a tablet you'll use to read in bed or watch videos on the train—it's just too heavy to be truly portable. But it'll work just fine at home, whether you're holding it in your lap, using it on the stand, or laying it flat on a table for multi-player games like Air Hockey.
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The system features two quad-core processors, one for the PC station and one for the tablet. We noticed when the tablet was detached, the Windows Remote interface was a little laggy. This will depend on the speed of your Wi-Fi connection, and was better when we switched to a high-band Wi-Fi router that had fewer PCs competing for bandwidth.
The tablet has a microSD card slot, Mini USB 2.0 port, and charging port. On the dock you'll find a reader for SD, SDHC, and MMC cards, two built-in speakers, and a DVD player, among other features.
Here are more observations on the Transformer AiO:
Display. The 18.4-inch LED touch screen has a full-HD resolution of 1920 by 1080—it's high-res for an Android tablet, but since the screen is so large, the pixels are bigger than normal as well. But since you'll generally be using it further away than you would a smaller tablet, you won't notice artifacts too much. The 10-point multitouch capacitive touch screen was very responsive.
Keyboard. The AiO's wireless keyboard was very comfortable to type on. The large, well-spaced keys have a velvety feel. There are function keys to adjust things like sound volume and screen brightness, but they only work in Windows mode.
Sound. In the Windows mode, the sound—from stereo speakers in the docking base—was about what we expect from a good all-in-one desktop, pleasant and well-balanced, though shy in the bass. In Android mode, though, whether docked or not, the sound comes only from the two tiny, tinny speakers in the screen. No matter which of the five tonality settings we chose, the sound was no better than that of a typical tablet.
Bottom line. The Asus Transformer AiO is a truly creative attempt at increasing the versatility and usability of a home computing device. If you're intrigued by the idea of being able to use your computer in several completely different ways and don't mind the compromise between a smaller desktop and larger tablet, this system might work for you. $1,300 is certainly not cheap for a tablet, but it's in line with prices of the all-in-one desktops in our computer Ratings. We look forward to testing a retail version of the Asus AiO Transformer in our labs.
More on Windows 8 PCs:
Microsoft Surface Pro hybrid succeeds more as a laptop than a tablet
Hands-on with the dual-screen, convertible Asus Taichi
Vizio 11.6-inch Tablet PC is biggest we've seen so far
The Transformer AiO in tablet mode (photo: Asus)