I considered upgrading to the ASUS TF201 Transformer Prime when it was released, but I was concerned when I heard early reports of trouble with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS -- plus all the retail vendors in my area seemed to be completely out of stock. The industry buzz is that ASUS may discontinue the TF201 for the upcoming (and more expensive) TF700T. As a result, I don't think I'd purchase either the TF201 or the upcoming TF700T at the moment.
This decision is also partly based on my experience with the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101. Don't get me wrong, I love the Transformer -- but it's tough love. Here are some areas where I've been disappointed:
- Battery issues with the dock. I've never received the 300 hours of standby time that ASUS originally claimed (coincidentally, that spec no longer appears on the ASUS web site). When I pick up the device after two days -- unused, undocked, and off the charger -- it's completely dead.
- Text input via keyboard in web-based forums. When I go to TechRepublic discussions, Facebook, or Google+ in various browsers (including the default, Dolphin HD, and Firefox), the keyboard is unusable because it can't keep up with my typing and it misses keystrokes. It also used to backspace twice for each single backspace I entered.
- The machine reboots frequently and for no apparent reason.
I'm not the only person who's complained about the Transformer's battery, but it mostly seems to affect users who have the optional keyboard dock. When docked, the tablet thinks it's plugged into an external power source, and it constantly recharges as the external battery runs down. Once the battery in the dock is depleted, the tablet battery runs out faster than it would if it wasn't docked, because it has to carry its own load and supply power to the dock.
Thanks to the assistance of the XDA-Developers community, I discovered several tools (Wheres My Droid Power, CPU Spy, and Dual Battery Widget) to isolate my battery problems. According to these apps, my tablet wasn't going into deep sleep (no single application was responsible) and Wi-Fi was always on.
Also on XDA-Developers, I found that there were several different revisions of the ASUS keyboard and tablet, distinguished by the device serial numbers. Mine was the earliest model. Those keyboard docks required a RMA back to the factory to actually add (fix) a component. I sent the device in, and it came back better. It still didn't meet my expectations, but there was certainly an improvement in the battery run and standby time.
Through a combination of the repair and manually managing my Wi-Fi connection (switching it off), I was able to get a suitable level of battery performance from the device. Now, if I use it all day, I have to charge it at night. It doesn't provide the "days-between-charges" experience of an iPad, but it works.
When I saw that Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich - ICS) was hitting the U.K., I promised myself that I wouldn't update right away, so other people could work out the bugs. However, when it offered me the OTA update, I caved in immediately. At first, I was very impressed with the following improvements:
- Text input in browser sessions is dramatically better. This alone is a major improvement that makes the Transformer a far more viable tablet for business users.
- Everything looks cleaner and crisper, because Android ICS is far more polished than Honeycomb.
While ICS addressed some of the Transformer's problems, it introduced issues that were arguably worse. I immediately started having trouble with stability, and another Transformer owner on my Google+ Stream reported stability issues as well. Some apps were force-closing, and so I ran the Android Market update on all of the apps that were available. This fixed the difficulty I was having with Google+, but other apps continued to force close. Even opening apps (like the native browser and email client) was sporadic -- they would either hang temporarily or for so long that I had to hard reboot the device.
The Transformer is still the best Android alternative to the iPad, delivering the right price point, feature set, and build quality. However, ASUS seems mired in a cycle of taking one step forward and two steps back. They've got the right idea, but they seem to do everything wrong that Apple does right.
In defense of ASUS, they responded quickly to a Tweet about my problems, acknowledging reports of stability concerns that they'e working to solve. ASUS is probably the most aggressive Android vendor in addressing issues and releasing fixes. I've had numerous, consistent updates to my Transformer -- and the fact that they've made ICS available for the original TF101 shows commitment to their legacy customers. I truly hope that ASUS gets their act together with a tablet that rivals the iPad, which they are clearly capable of delivering.
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 professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.