The Dock Experience

The dock experience is better than I had originally written, but I still have issues with the setup. Typing on the dock is a non-issue, in fact I'd call it a pleasure, as long as you're fine with the short travel of chicklet style keyboards. Other than some slight differences in keypress sound, the dock's physical keyboard is very similar to the MacBook Air keyboard. Given how closely ASUS learns from Apple, this is a decision I'm not surprised by.

Many of you have asked about the experience with the dock connected and whether or not the Prime is capable of replacing a netbook or notebook. Depending on your usage model your satisfaction level will vary. As a glorified typewriter the Prime + dock gets the job done. ASUS preloads the tablet with Polaris Office just like it did back with the original Transformer. This time around however Honeycomb is far more stable, and as a result I don't get the crashes in the middle of writing like I used to. Honeycomb still does crash from time to time but now it behaves a lot more like a reliable OS than it did when it was first introduced.

What Polaris Office really needs is an auto save feature. I mentioned this in our original Transformer review, especially as the app would frequently crash back then. Now it doesn't crash so frequently but there's another issue—if you switch to another app while you're typing in Polaris Office, and Android's process manager unloads Polaris Office from memory, you'll lose any unsaved changes to your document. This doesn't happen all of the time. For example, I spent a lot of time in Polaris writing the Momentus XT review and switching between it and the Honeycomb browser without ever losing any data. However, doing the same experiment while installing Pandora and Twitter apps from the Android Market resulted in Polaris being evicted from main memory and me losing any unsaved changes to my document. While I understand this is outside of ASUS' control (short of outfitting the Prime with more memory), it's something that I do believe impacts the overall experience.

Multitasking in Honeycomb with the dock isn't too bad. A while ago ASUS added alt+tab support to the Transformer platform and the Prime gets it as well. The biggest usage hurdle here is the fact that the alt key is only on the right side of the keyboard. Once you get used to that however all you need to do is hold down the alt key and hit tab to cycle through recent apps. This addition alone is a huge boon to using the Transformer Prime + dock as a netbook replacement.

As a machine that's used for web browsing, checking email and taking notes, the Prime + dock is easily a netbook alternative that's significantly better thanks to its tablet flexibility. I still personally prefer a MacBook Air as my choice of ultraportable but that's mostly because I tend to have a heavier workload while on the road. Despite the Prime's quad-core CPU, performance isn't quite good enough for a heavy multitasker. Not to mention that Honeycomb's responsiveness is just as much of a limit there as well.

The trackpad is still a disappointment to me on the dock. Not only is the track area pretty small but the surface of the trackpad isn't the sort of glass smoothness we've come to expect. Two finger scrolling on the trackpad suffers as a result, which forced me to scroll via the touchscreen instead. Thankfully the Prime, while docked, is still close enough to the keyboard to touch without having to reach out too far.

The security of the dock connection doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence. With the tablet locked in place, there's still a few millimeters of travel if you rock the tablet back and forth. When closed in its clamshell however you'd be hard pressed to tell the Prime + dock apart from a traditional netbook/notebook. That's the beauty of building the two parts of the system out of aluminum; it all feels very solid when closed.

If you plan on doing a lot of typing on your Transformer, the dock is an obvious must have. Still, it's important to keep in mind that just because you have a keyboard doesn't mean the system will turn into an Ultrabook/MacBook Air alternative, particularly in the multitasking/performance department, but it is a nice addition if you're fine with the limits of a tablet.

 

Changes to the Browser & Performance Analysis Final Words
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  • medi01 - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    It's not about "what is Prime's color gamut", but rather "how does it compare to other tablets".

    Hopefully it will become standard part of your tests, since brightness/contrast tell only small part of the story.
    Reply
  • Ric_Margiotta - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    Thanks for this follow-up article, Anand! It was a good read and answered some of my remaining questions about the TF Prime. Still looking forward to picking one of these up in January! Reply
  • sotoa - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    Too bad these weren't ready in bulk for Christmas. Not to mention ICS. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    I read elsewhere that engineering samples of Tegra 3 weren't performing as much better as Nvidia originally expected them to, due to the cores and GPU being constrained for memory bandwidth. I don't know of them changing this in the original design. I'm curious how much ICS will improve T3 performance with its better multithreading and better GPU acceleration, and how much comes down to all the elements competing for bandwidth or some other hardware limitation? Reply
  • druter - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    I guess we should not have expected a non apple slanted review from such a mac fanboy site. I dispair for tech journalism when the point becomes less about an honest unbiased review and more about ones allegiance to apple.
    Nice try though to sound unbiased though, stating that it is a much improved tablet, your apple bias showed through though when you indicated you felt that it was only in comparison to other Androids and that it was still below anything Mac.

    The lesson I learned don't come to Anandtech.com when you want an honest unbiased review.
    Reply
  • piiman - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    If you think this is an Apple fan site why do you even come here? Just so you can bash the reviews? Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    What parts of this came across as biased? To me it seemed all the facts were laid out impartially, and they put effort into correcting the old battery life measurements as well as promised performance updates when ICS hits. If everything comes back to the iPad, its for a reason, like it or not its still the standards bearer for these tablets, and I'm a hardcore Android user. I think the Prime will be better than the iPad personally when ICS hits, but the review is based on current software of course. Reply
  • IKeelU - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    It's important to show how it performs against the iPad, especially with regards to battery life. Most people don't care about android vs iOS, they just want a media consumption device, and will therefore choose the device that allows them to do that better.

    Second, the numbers for battery life are in Apple's favor. It would be biased to ignore them.

    Sounds to me like you would be better served by going to an Android fanboy website.
    Reply
  • Belard - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    You are a fool druter. I and others do not know WHAT you think you read or watched.

    A) Anand isn't much of a tablet user (AFAIK from his previous articles)

    B) He uses all kinds of technology - he does have the right to use what he wants for his personal uses, no? He uses AMD and intel for his own servers and in general - has kept standards pretty good on this sight.

    C) All devices WILL compare market leaders, including the iPad. With what is on the market TODAY from Samsung, ASUS, Toshiba, etc - None of them have the battery or GPU (graphics) performance of the 9 month old iPad2 and some are below that of an iPad1 especially when it comes to battery life.

    D) "below anything mac"?? he didn't compare the TF-Prime to any Mac. Apple only has one type of tablet on the market and its NOT a Macintosh. He stated the simple fact that tablets DO NOT replace actual notebooks. That is true if the iPad2 as well.

    E) Use the best tool for the job or personal preference and budget. Simple as that, eh? I build my own desktops, own ThinkPad notebooks and have an iPad. My dislike for apple is the same for Microsoft, so it just doesn't matter.

    F) Get over yourself.
    Reply
  • melgross - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    Some people aren't happy unless something is reviewed as being much better than any comparable Apple product.

    Like it or not, the iPad is still the gold standard, and everything is going to be compared to that. This guy will be very unhappy in March when the new one comes out.
    Reply

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