There has been much ado in the mobile computing world of late as a new platform has threatened to kill the netbook. The netbook was developed as secondary device to a regular notebook computer to allow more portability with internet access. Many netbooks even come with 3G network access for internet access while on the go. Opponents to the netbook bemoaned the fact that although smaller and lighter, it was essentially the same user experience as a notebook–kind of redundant. A new device, the tablet, was developed with two distinct camps touting the praises of their respective platforms while degenerating the opposition. This polemic view of this next evolution of personal computing is no where near resolution as developments on both fronts push the debate along. I joined into this debate this past month by finally buying a tablet PC.
The two dominate formats for tablet computing are Apple’s iPad with iOS and any number of tablets running Android. Apple gets points for introducing the tablet PC to the public with the first consumer model in the iPad. There had been a Microsoft Windows-based tablet floating in the fringes of the market for high end users, but it was aimed at doctors or similar professionals and priced out reach of most consumers. Windows also lacks a viable touch interface with XP or Windows 7, making the user experience less than par.
Apple had already won the hearts and minds of the public with its touch-based iOS on the iPhone and iPad touch, so it seemed logical to use the same interface for a full-sized tablet. The iPad was touted as the netbook killer and projected to redefine the mobile market. It did redefine the market, but it did not kill the netbook.
I have been using a netbook to write for the past three years and it has done a wonderful job. I used an Acer Aspire One with Win XP and Word to write, surf and email while on the go. Of course for more serious applications, I had my work laptop and the home media center to carry the heavy computing load. Since my netbook has become, in personal electronics years, the equivalent of geriatric age, it was time to replace it. The question was, what to replace it with; a new netbook or something more portable.
I have watched the tablet market for the past year as HP, Acer, Samsung and others battled to produce a tablet to compete with the iPad. Android and Windows both are being pressed into service on tablets, but as I have said earlier, Windows does not make for a good tablet interface. It also eats batteries for lunch. For example, Asus makes two tablets, one that runs android and one with Windows 7. The Android tablet gets 8 hours of service, the Windows tablet only 5.
I found that most tablets are using the Nvidia Tegra 2 processor chip. It is a respectable dual core processor and fast enough for most applications.
I played with all kinds of tablets in the store trying to find the one that said “buy me.” None did. Not even the iPad.
The iPad has smooth scrolling on its pages, and the applications seems fluid enough, but the iOS leaves me wanting. It does not support widgets and it does not multitask very well. In fairness, iOS 5 does multitask, but not as well as Android 4.
Android has widgets and multitasks very well–though not as well as Windows.
So where does this leave the prospective buyer? Looking for other features. Like a keyboard.
There are plenty of keyboard options for tablets users who want one. Most of them are Bluetooth, which poses its own problem. Bluetooth uses more power. Also, most Bluetooth keyboards for tablets are flimsy sealed rubber key devices that are integrated in a tablet case. Only two manufacturers have dedicated keyboards that make a direct physical connection to the tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a plug in keyboard that holds the tablet in an attached stand. Not a bad solution, but not optimum in my opinion. The clear advantage goes to the Asus Transformer Prime, which touts a snap-on keyboard which turns the tablet into a netbook. The Transformer Prime also touts the latest Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad-core processor and now updates to Ice Cream Sandwich upon making a network connection.
I bought the Transformer Prime about a month ago and waited to write this review until I had put it through its paces. I am glad I waited.
The device has redefined my use in many ways. I have had the Kindle app on my phone for more than a year and even had a book. But I rarely read it as even with my Epic 4G’s large screen, it was not big enough for comfortable reading. On my Prime, reading is an enjoyable experience. I have finished three novels in the month I have had the tablet. I have become addicted to spider solitaire. Netflix is awesome again. Every app I enjoyed on my phone is better on the tablet–except, of course, calls and text messaging.
The drawback (and its biggest complaint from the iPad crowd) is the lack of GOOD productivity apps for the Android platform. Asus ships the Prime with Polaris Office, a Microsoft Office compatible program that allows one to view and edit Word docs, Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentations. I found this app lacking, unfortunately and while there are alternatives, none have the full-functionality of a dedicated professional word processor. As a writer, this is quite distressing and it has kept me from using my tablet as I envisioned until tonight. I have had the WordPress app on the tablet from day two, but since I have never composed IN the app before, I didn’t know it has some really cool and productive features, including spell check.
Armed with this knowledge, I anticipate breaking my writers’ block that has kept my blog silent for more than 2 months. Let’s hope anyway. The action of this keyboard is fantastic for such a small and light device and with the Quad-core processor, the Prime is more than up to the task.
In full disclosure, many Prime owners have complained about WiFi and GPS signal issues. These complaints almost made me rethink my decision to buy one. Now, I will first say that I have experienced absolutely zero problems with WiFi on my Prime. It finds my networks at home and the office and here at a B&B in Smithville, Texas with no difficulty. I am streaming Tune-in radio right now with no buffering and no chirps, gaps or dropouts while I type this. Now as for the GPS issue, one: Google maps locates me using the WiFi positioning faster than any GPS ever found me. Two: Google maps requires a constant internet connection to work. The Transformer Prime is WiFi only (no 3G or 4G option is available) so having Maps work from the WiFi signal shouldn’t be a problem. Google Nav does need GPS to triangulate and plot course, so those who would use that feature may have an issue. I tried it twice and once it didn’t locate me and once it did and it worked for the duration that I used it. I see no problem in my case since I use my phone for GPS navigation anyway. It fits in the center console and this tablet won’t.
I also use my phone as a camera. The Prime has two cameras: one 8 MP rear-facing and a 2 MP forward facing. I have taken 2 pictures in the month I’ve had it. I take a lot of pictures both with my phone and my real camera; a Nikon D80. I can’t see the benefit of holding a full-sized tablet up to take a picture.
I love my Transformer Prime. It has replaced my Acer Netbook, but I won’t say it has killed the class of Netbook, merely replaced it.