31 Oct 2011

ASUS EE Pad Transformer with Dock Review

Author: Andrew Jamison | Filed under: Reviews, Tech

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Recently I was put in the precarious situation of having to purchase a smart device (iPhone, iPad, Android powered device and so on) for school due to testing security practices regarding mobile devices of the 21st century.

The teacher justified the expense by saying that most people already had a smart device of some kind so most students would not need to purchase anything, sadly I was not one of them.

I do not like the idea of being tethered to a smart phone constantly texting and using the phone so a smart phone was out of the question. I then looked at the remaining possibilities, iPad 2 (wifi only) , iPod touch or an Android device. I settled on getting an Android device, while certainly an 8gb iPod touch would have been cheaper, it would also have been significantly more restricted in terms of functionality.

Ultimately I settled on the ASUS Transformer because of the price coupled with it being packed with features, including the dock which gives it the name Transformer. This in itself has its own ups and downs.

With the reasoning behind my purchase out of the way lets get into the real meat and potatoes as it were of the post, the review itself.

Transformer (tablet only)

Generally speaking the experience you witness when setting up the transformer is not dissimilar to other Android device initial setups. You are asked to enter your google account credentials or to create a new account. With the recent migration of the Android and general google accounts you can easily use your GMail login to satisfy this request.

Doing this allows for several things to happen, first your device is then able to connect and use the Android market. Secondly the installed applications are stored in a list on Google’s servers so that next time you log into an Android device you have the option of instantly beginning the process of installing all your favorite apps. Lastly it ties in all the various Google services to your device such as Maps, Navigation and Youtube.

Immediately after setting up the tablet I was notified of an update to the OS and was asked to reboot the tablet in order to install the update. This was followed immediately by another update when it rebooted causing yet a second reboot. However, after this reboot I was pleased to see that the tablet had in fact been upgraded to Android 3.2.1 which was the last release of the Honeycomb line of Android updates. ASUS has promised that in the coming months we will get an upgrade to Android 4.0 which contains many improvements to both stability and performance.

Off the bat one thing I noticed that was a little disappointing was the laggy rotation of the screen, when I would turn the screen around it would sometimes take up to 10 seconds before the screen flipped. This I believe is due to the OS acting a bit badly with the hardware however and hope it will be fixed in 4.0.

The suite of apps and widgets that come pre-loaded by both ASUS and Google are useful but not the equivalent of the bloat ware some windows machines get upon getting them from the OEM. Included in these are the Google music and Gallery apps as well as both the Google GMail app and the ASUS email program, additionally several other smaller apps that are not as often used are installed like the Supernote, and the ASUS My Cloud apps. One very  cool App that comes pre-installed is the Polaris Office Suite, this offers a great means for reports or other office related tasks. The big feature that Polaris Office and the Transformer in general is missing out of the box is a Spell Checker! Most people like myself are not the best of spellers and with out a spell checker we would sound more like a caveman trying to speak then an intelligent person. It is not exactly flattering when your told quietly that your blog has some of the worst grammar and spelling they have seen.

I also have found it very confusing at times to realize which email app I have loaded (the Google Gmail or ASUS mail) it is clear that ASUS went through great lengths to try and match the style of the Gmail app, however aside from different logos in the App switcher it can be hard to tell them apart.

I eventually had to stop using the GMail app as it did not allow for me to set up my non Google related accounts, ASUS however allows you to add as many accounts from whoever you want in the app. So here ASUS mail (or whatever they call it officially) wins and the Google app takes second place (note if all you have is a gmail account this app will handle GMail much more efficiently then the ASUS app).

I am considering trying out K-9 Mail more intensively in the near future ( it is installed and have fiddled with it briefly) as was suggested by the host of the Android Buffet Podcast Gadget Wisdom Guru. The hold up here is that this is one of those apps that has a steep learning curve but is extremely powerful once you get used to and figure out the controls.

One other cool feature that the Transformer has that I have yet to see on other devices is screenshot support out of the box! You do have to go into settings and check a box to enable it but this is a feature that previously required rooting your phone or device. This feature when enabled allows you to hit the button that cycles through open apps and hold it down for a few seconds to take a screenshot of the screen ( all screen shots in this post were taken in this manner). I should note that Google plans to implement native screen shot support in Android 4.0, so if your device will be upgraded you can use that when the update hits. The annoying thing here is that every time the tablet successfully takes a screen shot it asks if you want it to stay in screenshot mode, saying no to this will un check that box i mentioned earlier in the post. As for what setting you need to check in order to enable the screenshot function, look at the sceenshots attached here for pictures of the correct categories in the settings menu.

Transformer w/Dock

I also purchased the dock as I mentioned above, this dock adds another 8 hours to the battery life and has the unique ability that it charges the tablet when it is plugged in while also powering the tablet for use at the same time.

There was only a few flaws I saw with the dock and an handful of advantages, the first flaw being the keyboard keys. While I can appreciate that ASUS put some tough keys on the board, it becomes a bit of an issue when the keys are so stiff that it requires more pressure to push them (to the point they make contact enough to type the letter) then a traditional Desktop Keyboard. I found myself frequently typing and the words would be missing letters because i did not exert enough force on the keys for it to actually type the letter, this is eventually circumvented by learning to apply a bit more pressure (though not to much) to the keys as you go. In any event the occasionally missing letter is still there but decreases the more you use the keyboard and the more you get used to the required pressure changes.

The other flaw with the dock was simply the connector that you use to dock the tablet to the keyboard. This requires you to place the tablet as precisely as possible over the keyboard and gently (but with a bit of light pressure) push the dock into the keyboard. A satisfying click can be heard to ensure you have it docked firmly.

Apparently the Dock has its own firmware because this was updated as well the first time i docked it with the tablet, the good news however is that it does not require a tablet reboot.

The keyboard is very spacious and almost as big as a full laptop keyboard! The buttons across the top are not function buttons as they are on most laptops, instead they have some useful commands programed to them for the tablet like volume control, one button locking, one button Wi-Fi on/off and Bluetooth on/off. For those features that are not mapped to a key you can still use the touch interface on the tablet while its docked allowing you to access something quickly if you do not feel like trying to find the keyboard equivocal command.

The dock also adds two USB 2.0 ports which I have not been able to get to read either of the two USB Sticks I Have. It may be that the sticks are not formatted in a file-system the tablet can understand. In addition to that the docks adds a full size SD card-slot so you can add extra storage that way. Couple that with the MicroSD slot on the tablet itself and you have the potential for a massive amount of storage. From what I can tell the Tablet can read both the MicroSD and regular SD slots at the same time meaning you could have a card in both slots and in essence triple the storage of the tablet itself or more.

As mentioned above the Dock is designed to charge the Tablet, this means if your dock has a full battery and your Tablet is low you can dock the tablet and then the dock will begin using its battery to re-charge the tablet while also providing enough current to run the tablet off the dock’s battery. If both the Dock and the tablet have a full battery (you charged the tablet from the wall while it was docked for example) the the Dock’s battery depletes first before the Tablet battery. This means that your Tablet will retain as much battery power as it can for as long as possible when connected to the dock. Additionally if you are docked and the dock’s battery dies the tablet will then power both the dock and the tablet but will NOT charge the dock.

ASUS designed the dock in this manner to ensure that your content would always be the priority when using the two devices instead of focusing on the conservation of the battery in the dock.

All together both the tablet and the tablet with the dock are excellent experiences but for what its worth the dock is so much more then just an keyboard with an extra battery, its the power to turn your tablet into a net-book with 16 hours of battery life!!

I only felt it proper to mention that in the spirit of the tablet this post was written and published entirely from my Transformer not once did I edit or change the post on my desktop. I call it an experiment to see how easy it is to create content on this thing others might call it common sense.

Thanks for reading this review and if you have any comments please leave them below or recommend this article to friends if you found it helpful or enjoyable to read.

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