Switching from the iPad to the Asus Transformer

Wed Aug 31, 2011

My blogs are usually technical in content and try to be objective in character, this blog is a bit different, it has an unashamed subjective bias (you’ve been warned).

Shortly after the iPad 2 was released I went over to the Dark Side and brought one (my first and only Apple computer). I was just fed up waiting for a decent Android tablet. At the time my only requirements were a decent ePub reader and a web browser.

After two months with the iPad I was still hankering for an Android tablet, I know this probably sounds a bit wishy-washy, but although I used it every day I never really bonded with the iPad, it always felt like an appliance, a black box, something that you turn on, use, then turn off. Don’t get me wrong, the iPad 2 is a nice piece hardware, it’s easy to pick up and use and the software does what it was designed to do. The best recommendation I can give the iPad is that it works.

Two weeks ago I bit the Android bullet and tossed up between an Asus Transformer and a Samsung 10.1 tablet. The Transformer won and I brought the 32GB model with keyboard dock. When I say “tossed up” I am being a little flippant – I compared specs, read reviews and got to play with a Transformer (I had been leaning towards the iPad-like Samsung 10.1 but the hands-on convinced me that the Transformer was a nice piece of kit and that the keyboard was going to be very useful). The transformer’s cheaper price was also a plus.

I haven’t touched my iPad since I got the Transformer, the more I use the Transformer it the more I like it (there’s a greater depth in Android vs iOS) so much so that I’ve given the iPad to my wife. It’s not all sunshine and roses though (see the bad parts), but Android is heading in the right direction – all it needs is for Google to keep on polishing the rough edges and not to take their eyes off the ball.

Here are some comparative observations – things that stood out for me (please bear in mind that these are personal observations, this is not a formal product review):

Thumb friendly UI:
The user interface is very “thumb friendly” – most of the time I hold the tablet in landscape mode with one hand either side using just my thumbs to execute commands – much more efficient that the iPad’s “hunt and peck” UI. I don’t know if this is serendipity or by design.

Weight and size:
This is interesting, the Transformer is marginally heavier than the iPad 2 (680g vs 601g) but it feels lighter, probably because it’s larger and less dense. The Transformer is also thicker (13mm vs 8.8mm), I thought this would be a biggy (most reviewers think it is) – I was wrong, for me there’s no subjective difference.

Batteries included:
The Transformer tablet has a built-in HDMI port and a Micro SD Card slot (iPad memory can’t be expanded and you need an external adapter for HDMI connectivity). The first accessories I brought for the Transformer were:

  • A 5m HDMI cable so I could play tablet HD video and audio on my TV.
  • A 16GB Micro SD card for transferring and storing data.

Cameras:
The 5M pixel rear camera produces much higher quality photos and movies than the iPad, there’s just no comparison.

Real keyboard:
The Transformer keyboard dock has a real keyboard (plus battery pack plus expansion ports) which turns the Transformer tablet into a Netbook PC and makes it useful for content creation. For me the lack of a real keyboard for the iPad was an increasing source of frustration (I know you can buy keyboards for the iPad but it’s just not the same as having a beautifully integrated keyboard unit)

Note::
The tablet lock/unlock slider should be on the left when inserting the tablet (I thought the slider icon meant locked_ – it actually means _unlocked).

Bundled apps:
In my opinion all the Asus specific non-Google apps that come loaded on the Transformer are crapware. I just wish manufacturers would ship vanilla operating systems without including other apps, or at the very least make them optional (there doesn’t even seem to be any easy way to delete the bundled apps).

The Android platform is relatively open:
The freedom to choose and create software without the platform vendor’s permission is important to me – Apple’s totalitarian control over iPad software installation and distribution is an unpalatable dead end.

What’s missing:
At the moment I’m mostly using the Transformer without the keyboard dock and what I miss most is the iPad Smart Cover – wandering around holding the Transformer in one hand with my fingers on the glass screen doesn’t feel right and there’s a constant nagging awareness of always having to be careful to protect the glass screen.

The bad parts:
In a word software (my unit is running Android 3.2).

  • Number one problem: The browser is appallingly slow on JavaScript heavy sites (try the jQuery mobile demos). I also tried FireFox, Opera and Dolphin – in all three cases the stability and usability was worst than the Android browser. I don’t know if this is specific to the Transformer or not (see Issue 17353: Honeycomb 3.1: Slow web browser performance on websites with a lot of JavaScript. This is frustrating because the tabbed Android browser has a better UI and many more features than the iPad’s browser.
  • Your TV HDMI inputs may or may not work with the tablet HDMI output. My Philips 42 inch LCD TV didn’t connect when plugged into the Transformer, it does not support the tablet’s 1280x800 output. I took the Transformer down to a local TV shop tried two 42 inch LCD TVs: it worked on a Sony but not an LG. This post suggest the problem is a software limitation a the moment: “Tegra 2 supports 1080p output over HDMI, but right now the product is limited to 1280 x 800 output over HDMI”.


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