Mobility

ASUS gets it right with the TF300, but is it too late?

Donovan Colbert is impressed with the ASUS TF300, and he can use it to complete most of his IT work. With the proliferation of iOS devices, do you think it's too late for Android tablets?

I was in a conference room, surrounded by the IT team of a company that recently acquired us. Two of their employees had Fujitsu convertible tablet PCs and iPhones. One of them had a new iPad. The other two had Mac PowerBooks — one of these guys also had an iPhone and an iPad2. So, when I pulled out my ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF300, I felt a bit self-conscious. All the big guns had iOS products, and I was the odd-ball with Android. I certainly picked a bad day to begin my test to see if I could replace all of my daily functions with the TF300 tablet/netbook convertible.

Surrounded by brushed aluminum and fancy folding magnetic cases, I'd like to argue that my TF300 looked more pragmatic and business-like than the sexy Apple devices surrounding it — but the truth was that it looked cheap and undependable. But let's overlook the superficial, career-limiting aspects of showing up for a black-tie event in a tuxedo t-shirt. How did my second-rate, non-iOS device perform?

Honestly, most of the flaws that remain in the Transformer line are the fault of the Android OS, not the hardware itself. Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich - ICS) remains a mixed bag, offering tremendous advantages in some aspects, and not quite delivering the goods in others.

First and most importantly, the device was stable throughout a heavy day of use. The only thing more embarrassing than the plastic aesthetics would have been telling my new co-workers, "Hold on, I think I'm going to have to reboot my tablet."

Chrome beta allowed me to keep an active corporate email connection via OWA and to pull up the full desktop version of vendor sites in other tabs while discussing them. I was able to transfer proposals from consultants and present those documents and slides without lags, hiccups, or glitches. I copied a PDF proposal from my laptop to Dropbox and back to the TF300, where it presented in an ideal format to pass around for review. The PowerPoint presentation using Quickoffice Pro 6 felt natural and intuitive. There were no issues with having multiple apps open.

Passing the PDF around was a great example of the utility of transforming from a netbook to a tablet. For accessing web sites, reading, and responding to email, the docked format worked best — but for handing it off for others to read, undocked was superior.

The new dock has a better tactile feel than the original. The keys seem to have more travel now, and my typing speed is improved. Perhaps this is just another example where the quad-core CPU of the TF300 delivers better performance. It's still a cramped fit for big hands and retains the original, unfortunate layout with the up-cursor key next to the right-shift key. I've adjusted to this after a year with the TF101, but new users will be frustrated as they adapt.

I felt some envy when one of the visitors pulled out his stylus and started taking notes on his iPad. Later, I realized SuperNote was installed on my TF300. Using my stylus, I transcribed my paper notes to my tablet, and it worked just as smoothly as his iPad app. I'll be ditching paper notepads in future meetings.

I started my morning at 7:30 AM, used the TF300 all day, and returned home around 9:30 PM. After a full day of use as a laptop replacement, the dock was depleted, but the tablet still had 60% charge remaining. After reading for an hour before bed, the charge was still above 50%.

Things were not perfect, though. Chrome Beta in desktop mode only offered the light version of OWA. I found myself wondering if a Motorola phone with a webtop dock and a non-mobile browser might have delivered a full Outlook web app experience. Little deal-breakers like this prevent users from replacing laptops with tablets. But the TF300 is not alone here. In fact, none of the visitors brought only an iPad. Tablet devices just aren't there yet.

The TF300 is a step in the right direction, though. The original Transformer suffered from laggy, virtual keyboard input and poor browser-based text input. Android 4.0 cleared up the latter issue, but the TF101 was still unstable. Battery management on the TF300 delivers similar run-time and better standby than the original, even when docked, and it's far more stable.

I'm a Windows IT professional. I need multiple machines for much of my work. I interact with dozens of PCs and servers daily. Increasingly, I can leave everything behind except my tablet and do the things I need to (including remote administrative sessions in RDP and Citrix through clients like 2x, PocketCloud, and Citrix Receiver). Android continues to mature, and tablet hardware is finally achieving the performance to support those ambitions.

ASUS finally had a launch go smoothly for the Transformer line. The TF101 was plagued with shortages and QA issues. The TF201 Prime arrived with Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi issues and at a premium price that caused a tepid reception. The TF300 was received in large quantities at big-box retailers, and at a great price point.

Suggested retail price:
  • $379 - 16GB
  • $399 - 32GB
  • $150 - Keyboard dock

So far, it seems like "no news is good news," concerning QA issues, but the question remains, "Is the third time the charm for ASUS, or will Android tablets strike out if the TF300 doesn't gain a better share of the market than its predecessors?" Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

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