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ICS update fixes some problems with ASUS TF101 but creates others

Donovan Colbert updated his ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 to Android 4.x (aka Ice Cream Sandwich). Find out what issues it solved and what problems it created.

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.

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...

14 comments
Odie1966
Odie1966

Luckily, I didn't experience serious problems like mentioned above on my TF300T. The only noticible thing so far is I can't access the URL input area from the Browser...not Chrome's browser which works well, the blue globe that brings up ASUS Account Login. Once you press and hold one of left or right arrowheads, a menu will come up. You then must select "Open in new background tab" to bring up top line. Anyone else experiencing this?

radsec
radsec

Here are the problems I have experienced running the latest firmware... Battery drain to 0% sitting idle overnight regardless whether docked or undocked. What I found one night when I woke up I noticed that the tablet had rebooted and was stuck on the boot screen. I suspect that the screen lockup eventually drains the battery completely. This has accured with or without docking station. Sometimes I can go for days with minimal battery drain while idle, then one day I pick up the tablet and its completely dead. Never had these issues before ICS upgrade.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Updated to the latest firmware about 15 minutes ago. I'm entering this from the default Android Browser on the TF101 right now. I figure it is my job to be the Guinea pig for you guys. I'll let you know what I find out.

dcolbert
dcolbert

You guys install it first and let me know how it goes.

dcolbert
dcolbert

If you're really having a tough time with the ICS update, I'm discussing this with several different ASUS users on my Google+ stream at this point - and a couple of them have had good luck with doing a factory reset. I know that is a last ditch effort for many of us - and I'd recommend you use some sort of backup before you reset (I use Astro to back up all my important programs to SD, then I can reload them at will from there). Still, if it is to the point where you're losing your love for the device, what can it hurt to give it a shot? I also recommend using the tools I suggest above and seeing if you can narrow it down to one or more offending applications that aren't playing well under ICS. I've removed a couple of apps that seemed to be causing problems, and overall there have been less hiccups and a more stable experience since. ICS is really an awesome OS - but we're the trailblazers on adopting it. The only other official ICS devices out there are the Galaxy Nexus and the Transformer Prime (and there aren't a lot of Primes relative to TF101s, is my guess). Once you get ICS running relatively smoothly and you compare the new benefits (like Browsers that can handle text input in online forums) versus the liabilities (a little more platform and app instability) - I've personally found it is worth the upgrade. I wish it were *better*... I think there is still a lot of potential locked in the TF101 that hasn't been released - but I think it is a step in the right direction.

jpouellette1
jpouellette1

Donovan's article very clearly articulated my recent concerns with the ICS update of my TF101.

david
david

Like many others, I get a few random reboots, the Wifi problem and occasional freezes. I think the overall performance under Android 3 was better, I would have been happier to wait another month or so till they ironed out the kinks and then updated. most annoying thing is the inability to set the browser iD string to desktop and have it remember the setting, somthing which was easily done in Honeycomb

RoyBrander
RoyBrander

I had some battery problems, but they were hardware - confined to the keyboard, which was replaced. (The charger also died, but was quick & cheap to replace). I had no software problems worth mentioning - yes, some trouble posting in forums, which I put down to the web browser, not to mention general performance (a javascript-heavy, flash-heavy page can sure take a while to load). I considered all this minor and found it the most "just works" appliance I'd ever owned. Until the ICS upgrade two weeks back. Yikes. I've had the random reboots and shutdowns, a few of the browser and some other apps, but mostly the whole machine. Worst bug is that now it keeps dropping WiFi sessions, but is unaware that it has done so. I have to go through this little ritual of either turning the WiFi off/on - twice - or connecting to another network then back to my network - and hitting CONNECT twice. And dumb browser bugs, like it can't remember that I want the UAString to say I'm a desktop, not mobile - I keep getting the thin versions of sites. So I do the "about:debug" URL that makes the DEBUG menu appear under settings so that I can see the UAstring is still on Desktop - so I switch it to something else then back to Desktop again. That seems to remind it. Very clearly, it is somehow losing "state" information - about the WiFi being connected, about the UAstring...and whatever else makes javascript stuff behind forum postings work, since forum postings are now nearly impossible. I sure wish I could "downgrade" but that doesn't appear to be possible.

thomas.bihn
thomas.bihn

I submitted a ticket 2 weeks ago identifying an issue with my tablet where it turns itself on and stays on for an extended period of time. So far, no response although they claim it is escalated within 48 hrs if no response is made. I guess the escalated level doesn't care about customer service either. As far as ICS goes, I cannot get mine to update to it. It is not offered as a notification and when I go to "Check for Updates" it says no updates are available. Many users have had to manually install the updates. Reading the Transformer forums, I find myself relieved that mine won't update OTA. Many users are having major stability issues with ICS. This includes Dolphin HD force closing. My advice. If you get a TF101 at the proper price point, like I did on Black Friday (about half the cost of a comparable iPad), it's worth it. If you have the budget and could go with either an iPad or a TF101, go with the iPad..but wait for the iPad3, which is said to be lower in cost yet. I don't regret buying my TF101.. until I owned a tablet, I didn't know how natural it is to browse the web and read ezines compared to my laptop. I use it for mostly web browsing with some casual games and social media mixed in. I own a keyboard for it, but rarely use it. I really should sell it, but the extra battery is handy when I travel.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Really seems to be the Achilles' heel of the ICS update. Someone had suggested that maybe I should just do a factory reset and then re-install apps one-by-one. This seems far too close to the old days of knowing that a new NT or Windows version would require a clean install because the upgrade hardly ever worked correctly. I've tracked down some apps that didn't seem to be behaving well and removed those - and that seems to have increased stability considerably. There are still some hiccups and misbehavior going on, and it is very difficult to narrow it down to what precisely is causing the problems. All-in-all, I'm pretty happy with ICS. It adds some new features and the major win remains that it makes the browser experience far more usable when going to most sites. It isn't perfect. I was on a Galaxy Tab 7.7 (Honeycomb) tablet last night, trying to share a post to Google+. It wasn't working well on the browser on Honeycomb, and the Native app didn't have an option to share (more about this in a future article - it isn't platform fragmentation that is the most frustrating thing - it is APP fragmentation. Why are native apps and web-based apps so much different on what they can do? Why are native apps so different in what they can do between different mobile platforms? If you can do something in one place, it should be consistent across apps. Facebook and Google+, I'm looking at you). Anyhow, so I tried it on my Transformer, and encountered the same thing in the native app under ICS. So then I tried the browser, and changed to Desktop view. I was able to share it, but trying to put a title/subject in didn't respond right. I ended up with a garbled subject that I couldn't edit and finally just posted it that way in frustration - figuring I'd go back and clean it up later from a desktop browser. This is where the major frustration comes in - where you're NOT free of a desktop system. You can do most of the steps, but for any fine detail, you still need a "real" PC. ICS gets us a lot closer to that promise, but still falls short, and the stability concerns require a lot of post-install massaging in order to get it running acceptably. This seems to be the case for a large number of Transformer users, judging from the forums on XDA-Developers and on other tech blogs discussing the ICS update.

rhonin
rhonin

Updated mine to ICS. For the most part it is a great improvement. Issues that bother me are the random reboots. I did uninstall all my secondary apps, cleaned it up and reinstalled one at a time checking each. I did find a number of free and inexpensive game apps that caused problems. Since then it has been quite good excepting the infrequent random reboot.

denbo68
denbo68

Since upgrading to ICS I've been hit with random reboots and sometimes it just hangs during reboot. When that happens, the battery loses power very quick. I also noticed my CPU would peg for no reason. Running System Tuner I discovered it was Media Services. Apparently Media Services will go apesh*t when it hits a corrupt video/audio file so I removed all files including those in the gallery. It still pegged the CPU so I disabled the process. Now I no longer have this problem but apps that depend on the service running are not happy. One reason I wanted ICS was to try out Chrome. It works and it can be rather fast. It also is still very beta and will die randomly. I've stopped using it until it a new version comes out. Overall I am not that happy with ICS.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Although it seems to have stabilized. The strange thing is that I haven't added or removed any apps and there were no further updates but the problem seems to have gone dormant. That doesn't make sense to me. I do know that managing the WiFi manually (turning it off before putting the tablet into sleep) seems to help this problem. I experienced exactly the problem you described though. Woke up one night and the room was getting brighter and then darker. I thought it was an LED alert on my phone, but when I rolled over, it was the tablet sitting on my night-table caught in a reboot cycle and unable to get past the ASUS initial splash screen.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I don' think I'm probably even on the radar of ASUS as a tech blogger - and if I were, they probably wouldn't lose much sleep over not responding to me. I'd love to have the IT blogging clout and credibility of Jason Hiner or a ZDnet or Wired writer - but the reality is that I'm one of a million faceless bloggers on the Internet. From the perspective of ASUS, I'm just another gadget buyer like any of our readers. In FACT - I tried to get a hold of their US PR group, and was ignored. :) They responded to me as a random Twitterer - just another person, quickly with a response and acknowledgement of the issue. They've been consistently good about releasing frequent updates for the TF101, including being the first to release ICS for their tablet. They have some challenges with operations from a customer service standpoint for sure. But they're among one of the top companies in adopting social media and networking, communicating with their customers/users and generally supporting their products. I want to be fair to them where they're strong - but you're right, they're not without their weaknesses in their customer support model. They also quickly responded to the original dock problems, accepting that there was a problem and covering the repair under warranty. They didn't assume shipping costs except in the UK, and that kind of bites, but at least they acknowledged the problem. They didn't tell us, "You just have to hold your Transformer differently". :) As for your observations - I have the budget not just for one or the other, but for both - and I have a 64GB 1st Gen iPad that I bought within a couple of months of release. It was nearly $900 at that time. I gave it to my wife and I use the TF101. There are a lot of ways where the TF101 lags behind the iPad, especially from a *consumer* oriented device perspective. But for half the price, the Transformer is also twice the machine that the iPad is in some other significant ways, for a less *consumer* more technically oriented device perspective. So I think the important question to ask yourself is what you want to use your tablet for. I agree with your final observation completely, though. Lots of people who don't see the justification of a tablet interface device haven't spent enough time to understand how intuitive and natural they are for certain tasks. I think a lot of this has more to do with touch-screen interfaces in general, and I think Windows 8 and touch-enabled notebooks and All-In-Ones are going to illustrate that there is a use model for the touch-centric interface outside of tablets and smart-phones, in the next 10 years. People didn't see the justification for a mouse when it was first released, either, and it took awhile to catch on.