My Take on Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101
I bought an Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101 pad only minus the keyboard dock. I’ve been using it as my main Android development box and instead of testing my app on an emulator I simply just send it to the tablet and run it there. Previously I use my laptop to read pdf e-books (I read lots of them), watching TV series and anime. These days I read those e-books using the tablet on my bed. Same thing with the TV series and anime, either I watch it before bed time on bed, or I watch it on bus while commuting to work. I also use the tablet for playing games and wasted hours on it.
So far it’s been a good experience except for customer support service from Asus Malaysia in Mid Valley Megamall – Kuala Lumpur. For me their attitude and level of support takes the meaning of bad customer service totally to a new level.
Here’s the quick summary of my take. You can read beyond these points to find a more elaborated explanations to each of them.
The Awesome part
- Nvidia Tegra 2 performance is good. Combined with the nice IPS screen makes it a good tablet for playing games.
- Video playback is smooth as long as the data can be accelerated by the Tegra 2, which is quite picky when it comes to format & compression.
- A MicroSD port for storing more data. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn’t even have this by default.
- Very responsive user interface. Again, thanks to Tegra 2.
- Most Android devices that I know of are not capable of taking screen shots let alone have it as a built-in feature. That is not the case with the Transformer. The tablet has it as a built-in feature.
- Asus Global service keep this tablet updated with the latest Android version, software patches and drivers. In the Android world this is really matters.
The Okay part
- The Front-facing camera works just okay. Like wise with the Back-facing camera.
- Nothing special about the Microphone. It works with Skype.
- I’m not a big fan of touch screen keyboard but I guess it will do for replying emails occasionally.
- The Battery life is okay.
The Ugly part
- You need the docking port/keyboard if you want to plug your USB drive.
- File transferring between the Asus Transformer pad (without the dock) and a computer is a pain if the computer is a Mac or a Linux machine. Windows machines have the least painful experience. Seriously Asus, do you think all your users are Windows user?
- Even though there is nothing wrong with the battery life but Asus Transformer is very fussy when it comes to charging. The idea is that you need to charge it from a wall socket for quick charging and you can’t use USB power from computers or any other USB charger (your phone charger for example). Not 100% true but you can read my explanation below.
- I had bad experience with their charger built quality and Asus Malaysia in Mid Valley makes it even a worst experience.
Parts that I might care but haven’t got the time to test it out
Parts that I don’t care
- Speaker. I use earphone most of the time and the audio quality is okay.
- Asus pre-installed apps except maybe for Supernote and Webstorage.
- No 3G. I don’t even have a 3G plan for my cellphone.
The Transformer TF101
The hardware specification of this tablet is awesome. I’m not going to repeat the whole specs in here as it’s available on the Asus page. I just want to point out some strong features it have.
- Nvidia Tegra 2 SoC. This does make a difference in playing games, watching videos and even basic user interface.
- 1 Gigabyte of RAM for helping Tegra 2 performance.
- 16 Gigabyte of internal storage plus a MicroSD slot.
- IPS Screen WXGA 1200×800. Games looks good on this tablet.
- 10 fingers multi-touch. At first glance having multi-touch might seems like not a big deal. But some application like SuperNote and many games are more easier to use with multi-touch. With games like Fruit Ninja it’s more fun when you do multi-touch slice. Of course most people are not gonna use 10 fingers altogether but it’s nice to have the feature.
The Awesome Part
It uses Nvidia Tegra 2 SoC with 1GB of RAM. This makes Asus Transformer a nice tablet for playing games especially those games with nice graphics like AirAttack HD, Guerrilla Bob HD, Dungeon Defenders and Plants vs Zombies. They all run just fine without hiccup.
Video playback on the Tegra 2 is a bit picky. It will only accelerate videos in .mp4 format with 1080p x264 Baseline Quality or lower. The issue here is that most of my videos are in .mkv 1080p/720p with High Quality x264. Playing those videos on Asus Transformer will be choppy. Videos that are lower quality than 1080p Baseline, such as DVD quality, should play just fine.
To convert a High Quality video to x264 Baseline I have to re-encode the video which takes a lot of time and CPU power, then after that re-muxing the video, audio, subtitles, etc in .mp4. Too much trouble for me since all I want is watching TV series or some animes.
I only transfers TV series and anime videos with medium quality to the tablet because converting high quality videos is not worth the time. Why would people watching high quality video on a tablet instead of a TV at home is beyond me. The screen size 1280×800 of the tablet is not even match HD 1920×1080. Therefore the hardware limitation with 1080p High Quality playback is not an issue for me.
The MicroSD slot is a big win because with it I can have more space to store pdf e-books, TV series, anime, songs, etc. Android apps and games are still installed in the main SD card though.
The Asus Transformer is also very responsive. I’ve played around with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 before and I noticed many times that the Galaxy Tab is a bit laggy. Both tablets are using the same Nvidia Tegra 2 SoC but with different Android version. Galaxy Tab the one that I tried uses Android 3.1 without the UX update while my Asus Transformer has been updated to 3.2. This makes a difference because with Android 3.2 also comes with the updated graphic drivers from Nvidia. This excellent short article and benchmarks from AnandTech can give you a clearer idea on this matters. As you can see in there, the Galaxy Tab UX update includes the updated drivers from Nvidia which will gives the nice performance boost while still keeping the Android version to 3.1. Asus uses different route. They decided not to update just the GPU driver, but to update the whole Android version to 3.2.
Like I said, the way Asus keep this Android device updated and not abandoning their tablet softwares is what took me to their side. When the new update for Tegra 2 GPU was available they were working to release it in a reasonable time frame. I don’t know why it took quite sometime for Samsung to update the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Now I know that I’ve made the right decision because when Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich got announced, Asus says they will update their Eee Pad Transformer tablet to the new OS.
As I said earlier, for a vendor to keep updating their device is something to be applaud for in the Android world. This article will gives you a bigger picture on how bad the Android support is with vendors, especially smart phones. They just busy selling their stuff to you, take your money, walk-away and don’t care about maintaining their devices. These gadgets are computer devices that needs update & support. It’s not like they are just another microwave or fridge. Most companies only care for profit and they want to milk their customers for money. That is obvious. But at least very few companies have strong attachment with their own products. I have to admit that Apple is very good in this regard.
The Okay Part
The Front-facing camera and the Back-facing camera along with the microphone works just fine with Skype. The quality is nothing spectacular and definitely not bad.
The touch screen keyboard is okay for typing short emails. But if you’re using the tablet to do a lot of typing like writing documents, lots of email, and even chat, then I would suggest you get the keyboard. I don’t do those kind of activities with the tablet. I do it using my computer instead. That’s why on my tablet I don’t have applications for chat and social networks (like facebook, twitter, etc). I only install GMail for checking email occasionally. The good part is that having the pad only without the keyboard makes my tablet lighter and easier to carry around.
The Battery can support full gaming sessions for 3-4 hours which is fair enough for me because even my PSP last that long. I guess for light usage like web browsing and pdf reading it should last way longer than that. Asus website claims the battery should last at least 9.5 hours. I’m not sure about that since I never read more than 2 hours on it.
The Ugly Part
For pluging a USB drive to the tablet you need to have the keyboard dock which has couple USB 2.0 ports. For this one I guess it’s not really an ugly part of the tablet and it’s more like a feature I wish they have on the pad.
File transfer between the tablet and my computer is an ugly part of the Transformer when you only have the pad only without the keyboard. Apparently there is no easy way to transfer files between it and my Linux machine. Same thing with Mac OS, no support at all. Only Windows machines can transfer files easily and the software for that can be downloaded from the Asus website. I know some companies are reluctance to support Linux because most of them are snobbish thinking that Linux is for
hackers hardcore geeks only. But no support for Mac OS? These companies are making Android tablets and trying to snatch people from iPad and yet they don’t even provide support for Macs? What a joke.
Without keyboard dock transferring files takes a lot of extra steps. The only way for my tablet to get files from a computer is to transfer it over the network. To do that I need to use an Android file manager that supports reading SMB/CIFS network drive (Windows share drive) and get the files from there. That means both the computer and the tablet has to be on the same network. And the computer has to share it’s drive using SMB protocol. Again, if your machine is not Windows this is a pain. If you tried it before then you know how painful it is to set up SMB in Mac OS and (a bit less pain) in Linux.
Fortunately I have a CentOS file server at home that serve shares using SMB for media playback. I just put my files in there and using an Android app ES File Explorer I browse my network drive and copy the files from there.
Another ugly side is that the charger is very fussy. Even though the Asus Transformer charger uses USB but the output is 15 volts which is 3 times more voltage than the normal standard USB which is 5 volts. That is why if you plug the USB cable to a standard USB port like the one in your computer (or cellphone charger), the tablet won’t pick it up. It will shows no sign of charging. Only when you plug it to a wall socket then the tablet battery icon will shows lightning sign which means it’s charging.
Apparently with the normal 5 volts USB it does charge the tablet even though it won’t shows the sign, but takes 10-12 hours to fully charge! So the only way for quick charging which takes 3-4 hours is to use your Asus charger that goes to the wall socket. Some people on the Internet found few universal AC/DC chargers that can give custom output and they say it works with the Transformer as long as you can get 11 volts – 15 volts output. I personally never try it.
For charging using the normal 5 volts USB some people suggest that you shutdown (switch off, not sleep) the tablet to speed up the process. But I bet it still takes more than 4 hours to fully charge it from an empty battery.
Parts That I Might Care
Asus Supernote is a very cool note taking application from Asus. It included with the Android 3.2.1 update. This page from Asus (along with the youtube video in there) explains it very well.
Just a quick summary. Initially I was having a hard time deciding between a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and an Asus Eee Pad Transformer. From the price / performance ratio (Galaxy Tab is roughly $100 USD more expensive) and with the software updates it’s obvious that Asus Transformer is the winner here. After I spent some time with it I’ve found out that I like my Transformer a lot.