Transformer…More than Meets the Eye.

I bought the second tablet that resides in our house.   We have a first generation iPad, which my wife constantly uses.  She uses way more than the iMac we have, and it does what she needs it to do.

Personally, I have never been thrilled with the iPad.   In some ways I felt it was to restrictive in the layouts and the way it operates.   Add to that my growing disdain for how Apple treats its developer community and their growing patent litigations.  Add to that the ever growing “AppStore” term usage controversy.    So when I started looking at possibly getting a tablet, my interests turned to Android based tablets.  In particular Honeycomb.    Doug Schaefer tweeted a while ago the a youtube video of the Asus Transfomer tablet.   What peaked my interest compared to the Xoom or other tablets (even the iPad), was it’s ability to turn into a netbook, by docking with an external keyboard.  There is a fundamental change happening in our industry, and our ways of developing and using our devices is changing.  Doug touches a bit on this.  By the way, with the Transformer, I see absolutely no need for ChromeOS.

As for my usage of smart devices, I find that on screen keyboards are still not ideal for typing, writing, or composing long messages.  As I tend to do a bit of writing, I wanted something that was netbook like, but was able to turn into a tablet when necessary.   The transformer fits this perfectly.    Also, at the price, $399 for the 16GB WiFi version of the transformer, and a plethora of external storage, and HDMI output abilities, it is also a bargin at that price.   It is price less than an equivalant iPad and has far more options.

I’ve had the transformer for a week, and did manage to find a local carrier for the Keyboard Dock at $149.   With this combination, the transformer works well as a netbook.   The keyboard and tablet are very responsive, the included Polaris Office application, is what the Google Docs for Android SHOULD be.   Everything isn’t perfect with the transformer though.

For one thing the provided recharging cable is proprietary, and they are currently out of stock on the Asus eStore.   Also, it is way to short.   When the transformer is connected to a USB port on a laptop or desktop it doesn’t get seen as an external hard drive.   Also, by default there is no on screen indication of how much charge remains in the keyboard dock.  Neither of these are show stoppers, as there are a couple of Widgets that have been developed by folks to show both the batter status of the tablet and the keyboard dock.  These unfortunately aren’t currently in the Android Market place.   The external storage issue can be worked around through either using the MyNetwork app that Asus provides, using one of several MicoSSD card slots provided both on the tablet and the keyboard dock, and installing SMB apps for connecting network shared drives.

The screen on the Asus transformer is fantastic.  It does have a bit of gloss, but this screen really does a good job, and I can definitely see using this for cross country movie watching.  I’m not a huge game player, but it will work well for that as well.

As for Honeycomb itself, Google has done a good job in allowing the synchronization between android devices.   Apple has recently promoted the over the air synchronization of it’s cloud computing platform, Android has had this for a while.   When I initialized the system, and synched it with google mail account, it not only synchronized the calendar, mail, and contacts, but also all of the apps that I had installed on my Nexus One phone.   Any that were known to be compatible with the tablet, were automatically downloaded and installed.

The responsiveness and feel of Honeycomb is good, but there are still some bugs to be fixed, even with 3.1.   The web browser occasionally force closes, and this is something that I expect better of from Google.   There are alternatives like Opera Mini, Dolphin, and FireFox, but the built in web browser should be rock solid.

Also, while not necessarily a bug, but Google really needs to fix their Marketplace application to realize that when I’m searching on the tablet for apps, that it really should give priority for tablet apps.   An example is TweetCaster, which I happen to like as a Twitter client.   If you search for TweetCaster in the marketplace, you get the phone version of the app shown.  However, there is TweetCaster HD which is optimized for tablets.   This was not even the first option displayed.   The good thing is that TweetCaster works on the tablet, however TweetCaster HD is even better, as it’s optimized for the larger screen.

Many of the apps, that work on the phone as work on the tablet, but you can tell they aren’t designed for the larger screen.   Given time optimized versions will show up, but the good thing every phone app I wanted and used regularly, works just fine on the tablet, and in many ways better than the iPad’s emulation of the phone apps.   If the apps is designed right, it will just work correctly with the larger screen (i.e. expand to fill the screen).  Some layouts will look a bit odd, and some are hard coded for portrait mode, where the tablet is primarily used in landscape mode.

Overall, though, if you are somebody that is looking for a tablet, but also need the convenience of a netbook.  I can recommend at the $399 price, the 16GB transformer.   Add in the dock even at $149, it is worth the extra money.   It does greatly extend the life of the tablet as it contains a battery that gives an additional 8 – 10 hours of continuous use.  One note is that if you leave the two docked, the tablet goes into standby mode, which is nice but it does drain the docks battery as the tablet is still running (it does shut off the screen to help conserve battery when not in use).   Even with this, I’ve only had to do one full charge of the dock and that was with pretty consistent useage in the evenings.

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3 Responses to Transformer…More than Meets the Eye.

  1. Pingback: Dave Carver: Transformer…More than Meets the Eye.

  2. FWIW. you can attach a keyboard to an iPad (or place the iPad into a dock with keyboard, pretty much the same as what you describe)….so the iPad is 499$ ok thats more…the iPad keyboard is 69$ only though. Just for curiosity (and I admit I am an Apple fan boy) what are the ” far more options” that you refer toooo ? Just so that I know what I am missing ?

    • kingargyle says:

      Well, in addition to the keyboard, you also get an additional 8 hrs of battery life when docked (the keyboard itself has a built in battery). In addition, there is a mouse pointer, touch sensitive touch pad, specific short cut keys for various actions. The far more options I’m talking about are the built in standard mini hdmi, MicroSSD card, plus when docked, you get two full size USB ports, and another MicroSSD card. As for the options of Tablet specific Apps, apple still beats the transformer hands down in that area.

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