Asus Transformer Tablet

I received the Asus Transformer Tablet on Friday (September 30) from Asus for a 30-day evaluation. This is a tablet based on Android 3.2 (Honeycomb). Asus included the keyboard accessory with the tablet as well.

My first impressions were mostly positive. I have used an iPad for roughly seven months, and I definitely liked the feel and styling of the Transformer much more than the iPad. There were a couple of features that immediately appealed to me. There is an HDMI connection, and a microSD slot. MicroSD cards are very cheap and are an excellent way to expand storage of a device and transfer files between different devices.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the charging/docking connector. This is a proprietary connector, and I don't really want to think about how difficult it might be in the future to find replacements. I'm sure it will be possible to order them online for a long time, but it won't be quite as easy as finding an iPod/iPad cable.

Other than those ports, the Transformer has a power button, volume rocker, headphone jack, and front and rear facing cameras.

I was pretty excited about the screen. Apple's choice of a 4x3 display on the iPad seemed so strange in a world moving toward widescreen. I never understood the push for widescreen, but I never saw it as something worth fighting either. Pick your battles.

As soon as I turned on the screen, some of the excitement faded. There was a considerable amount of backlight bleed. That is unfortunate on a device that seems ideal for watching movies. During regular use it isn't apparent, but it is noticeable during dark scenes in movies. At least getting the movie on the Transformer was ridiculously simple using a microSD card.

From my own experience, I know that my primary use for the iPad was web browsing, so I connected to the network and fired up the browser. Browsing on the Transformer was a significantly better experience than on the iPad. Pages loaded quickly, and didn't suffer from the checkerboard background I see on the iPad whenever I scroll through a page too quickly. Flash also worked quite well, but I have to confess that I use FlashBlock in Firefox on the desktop because most Flash elements are ads. Still, it's nice to know that Flash works well.

Next I started to explore the apps included in the Transformer. There is an office app (Polaris Office) for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. I will definitely try using that app later. One app that caught my eye was Movie Studio. I fired it up and started to play. I tried to capture some video from the cameras and quickly discovered the first real problem with the Transformer. The camera app would constantly crash. I tried restarting, but as soon as I fired up the camera app again, it crashed again.

I moved on and checked some of the differences between Honeycomb and Gingerbread (I have an Android phone running Gingerbread). While doing this, I noticed that there was an update available for the tablet. I applied the update and upon restart thought I would try the Movie Studio app again. This time it worked great! It isn't a full editing suite, but it is usable for producing simple movies for YouTube. You can clip and combine videos, and apply some transitions between the clips.

After playing with this basic functionality, I took the keyboard dock out of the box and connected the Transformer. The keys have a good feel, but they are a little too close together for my big hands. The dock includes two USB ports for connecting external storage. I tried connecting my Android phone, but the phone just seemed to charge from the ports and wouldn't detect that it should enable USB storage mode. I also tried connecting an old 500GB USB LaCie hard drive, but it didn't seem to be detected by the Transformer. A regular USB key worked just fine.

I tried to use the keyboard dock to type this blog, and I did manage to type some of this on the tablet. Unfortunately, I found that if I typed too quickly that some characters would get dropped. From there it became apparent that I have as much trouble with Android as I do with iOS accurately placing a cursor back to where I need make a correction. I guess that's my big hands again. I tried to continue with the on-screen keyboard. I definitely prefer the Transformer's on-screen keyboard over the iPad's. It includes the number keys above the letters so it isn't necessary to switch back-and-forth between virtual keyboards just to get to the number keys.

Eventually I decided to finish typing the blog on my desktop. The Android notifications let me know that there was a firmware update for the keyboard dock, so I'll have to try typing on it again in my follow-up.

I want to test the Transformer out in the following ways:
  1. Create a presentation using Polaris office and connect to an HDMI projector.
  2. Try watching a movie on an HDMI projector.
  3. Test out some educational apps that I have downloaded from the Android Market.
  4. Try using SMART's Flash-based Notebook Express on the tablet.
Now I just need to track down a mini-HDMI adapter.

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