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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  • kishorshack - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    That graph is still a bit difficult to understand
    a typical graph comparing two transformers would have been great :|
    Reply
  • freedom4556 - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    While your video reviews are really cool and you should definitely keep doing them, I think you should have some sort of a sign-off at the end of them. The way it just cuts is really abrupt. You know, something simple like along the lines of "I'm Anand Shimpi and this has been the Eee pad Transformer Prime" or something. It'd add a little polish.

    Good review though, I much prefer listening to reading
    Reply
  • Matias - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    Sign in too, something like "Hi, my name is Anand from Anandtech and today I'll be reviewing..." you know?

    20 minutes is ok, good video.
    Reply
  • Andrew Rockefeller - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    I think this passage from an interview with Anand may sum up his feeling on extranious self promotion:

    http://www.theverge.com/2011/11/14/2560801/5-minut...

    "...when I first started attending industry events I noticed everyone always introduced themselves as Name from Publication. It always rubbed me the wrong way. If I'm asking a question, and my question is appropriately phrased, the publication I write for is irrelevant information."
    Reply
  • Belard - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    In asking the question at an industry event, I agree with your view and Anand's. Its a really KISS MY BUTT thing to do, like should you get a difference answer because who is asking?

    But this is about the video. A proper closing (perhaps with a fade to black) would be nicer and more polished. Even the video editor in Windows7 can handle such jobs easily - and I think his Macbook can as well.

    Also, his video can be embedded onto other sights, people may not know WHO is talking or where it came from.

    It is the end that is at issue.
    Reply
  • bungfinger - Tuesday, January 03, 2012 - link

    "Also, his video can be embedded onto other sights, people may not know WHO is talking or where it came from."

    yeah! because it's unfair to all the illiterate folk... who cruise geek sights for reviews on tech.. who can't read... that small inconspicuous sign over your left shoulder... wait... what?
    Reply
  • MrTeal - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    I know I always enjoy being told to stay classy. Reply
  • Graag - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    That would be a *great* sign off line.

    "That concludes our review. This is Anand Shimpi for Anandtech.com reminding you to stay classy."
    Reply
  • Belard - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    Also... OMG! He lost his hair! I remember about 10 years ago when he had... hair, on HIS HEAD!! Put a wig on man, please!!

    Don't take it personal Anand... I knew I would be balding when I was a teenager and my hairline started thinning in my mid-20s. I tried that Rogaine (sp?) crap for about 2 days, but that sticky nasty stuff felt horrible and the IDEA of putting sticky crap on my head every day for the rest of my life (at about $25 a month) seemed stupid.

    I shaved my head that day. And I keep it shaved. I've haven't seen my curls in years, I don't need a comb. Makes me look a bit tough too :)

    PS: Asus has done a great job with their tablets... It amazing how HP, RIM, Toshiba and others have screwed up.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, December 15, 2011 - link

    To be honest, there was about another 30 seconds at the end of the video that ended up being cut out which contained a more gradual sign off. I appreciate the feedback for sure :)

    I try to do these things in one take, it significantly reduces editing time and helps me get them done given the already insane schedule we have to work on at times. This one suffered as a result but I'll do my best to avoid the abrupt ending happening again in the future :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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