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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  • Alienate - Friday, December 16, 2011 - link

    So, if I buy one of these now, will I be able to upgrade to Icecream ?

    If so, how?
    Reply
  • niteflyguy - Friday, December 16, 2011 - link

    My one concern is the single speaker. How doesit sound? Reply
  • stelek - Saturday, December 24, 2011 - link

    Hi Anand,
    Have you tested the GPS performance? Does it work? What's the accuracy?

    The first users report some serious problems and for me this is definitely a deal breaker. Could you please verify that? Please see here:
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1...

    I'm supposed to pick up my pre-order in a few days. But I'm not gonna do that unless I know that GPS is not broken in Prime.
    Reply
  • Krewe - Monday, January 02, 2012 - link

    A brain injury rewired my hearing so that fan noise from computers/TVs/etc can literally cause me to leave the room.

    To Anand or anyone who is absolutely sure on this issue, are there fan(s) in the original Transformer or Prime or their Docks?

    Many thanks in advance.

    Krewe
    Reply
  • Krewe - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    Thank you for the Transformer Prime teardown. Your attention to the Prime's fanless heat dissipation was not lost on me.

    Krewe
    Reply
  • shopscounty - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Surely you will find on ShopsCounty. You can buy a <a href="http://www.shopscounty.com">ASUS Transformer</a> at ShopsCounty. Reply
  • kulpret - Saturday, March 03, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    Would love to see an update to your review now that ICS has been on this tablet for awhile. I personally haven't touched my iPad2 since I received my TP. I use it in place of my laptop and netbook as well. I rarely have to pick up anything else. I am a road warrior with a Verizon MiFi and Sprint Hotspot on my phone and always have internet connectivity and this thing is always with me.

    Games:

    Between onlive, emulators and all the gaming options from Android (including the great Tegrazone games) this makes the case for a mobile gaming platform with console quality graphics but also the dead simple casual gaming making this a great fit for both types of gamers. Onlive is excellent on this platform btw.

    Productivity/Web:

    I just recently added Onlive Desktop to my subscription and I have full blown Office at my finger tips along with Internet Explorer. It is limited to the MS stack on the desktop, but I find that good enough. Native to the tablet I use Polaris Office, Adobe, Firefox, Chrome, Android Browser and Dolphin. I literally have not found office content that I can't access. The same is true for web content including Flash support.

    Media:

    All the usual app suspects are here. Netflix, Pandora, Hulu + (installs but doesn't officially support the device takes a little bit of know-how to get it working. ie developer mode and config files.) One must have app for Android here MX Video Player It plays all my years of movie collecting, works as good as VLC on Windows/Linux.

    I also have this working with my ActiveSync Mail server for my corporation and actively use this device for presentations and note taking in customer meetings.

    I only hope they continue to develop and support the Transformer platform and I only see a bright future for this tablet.

    -Jon
    Reply
  • gmulak - Saturday, March 31, 2012 - link

    What a great review. Very detailed and complete. I do agree a signoff would be nice. I have had a little trouble finding out about battery "memory", I didn't catch that in the review, which would have been nice. Finally found what I think is correct on Asus web site. It is best to let the tablet discharge completely and then recharge it. I will definitely follow you. Great job. Reply

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