Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thoughts on the EEE Pad Transformer

Since my ties to the internet are basically now are restricted to the Transformer itself, there's no time like the present. The reason I didn't write up my thoughts on it right after I bought it is that I tend to get a tad blinded by my excitement for new tech items, especially their blind spots. So I'd like to say that this is pretty unbiased; I'm used to the device and I know alot of it's ins and outs. But as I was getting ready to write my thoughts down, Google released a firmware upgrade (3.1) which COMPLETELY changed the device.

Before we really get going, I need to make one thing perfectly clear: The Transformer is not a tablet/netbook; it is a tablet with a keyboard. The distinction here is subtle but critical. Many people will want to compare this to a netbook, in which case it will often fail, but that's because it is not meant to function as one and it cannot. The real reason behind this is not hardware; it has all the hardware for an awesome netbook. It's the OS. Android -even Honeycomb- just is not a netbook OS. (Before anyone mentions running Debian or Ubuntu in a chroot+VNC, that doesn't prove that Android is a full desktop any more than saying Mac is a good gaming system because you can run Windows in a VM.) Even with how open and free Android is as a platform, there are still many things that I find that I could do on an Ubuntu desktop that I cannot do on my Transformer. That is perfectly fine as long as you are expecting it. I was, and I that's why I chose the Transformer.

With that out of the way, let's get on with it.

The hardware itself is pretty standard, although still impressive. The screen is 10" and has a BRILLIANT viewing angle. (Seriously, I had like 6 people all standing around watching at once.) It has a front cam which is good, but I haven't found many apps that take advantage of it, especially where it counts. (Skype? IM?) The rear cam, however is also good, with very high quality, of what I've used. It's got a microSDHC port on the device itself, which helps to extend the storage, even though 16GB (or 32GB in my case) is more than enough for what I want the device to do. Now then, onto software.

With 3.0.1
My only other Android device I've ever owned is an LG Optimus V. I love Android because of it and it's a fine phone, but it's definitely not snappy. Things tend to lag a bit on it and while Android runs fine, it's definitely not a fluid experience. I like using it.
When I started using my Transformer right after I got it, I FELL IN LOVE with Android. I know that term is cliche, but that's just the phrase that kept coming to mind as I used it on my tablet. ("I LOVE THIS!") Everything was superfluid smooth, even the most intensive apps opened in just a second, and the home UI felt more intuitive than almost any UI I've used. It had everything going for it.

While I was concocting this post in my head, I was actually SEARCHING for negatives, just so I could actually make it interesting. The most I could fine was things like:
  • The ASUS apps (most notably MyLibrary, which I was looking forward too) almost all sucked. Not a big deal.
  • The Market had a few bugs when trying to install (sometimes it would crash the first time when trying to install, others it would only download and not install.) In any case, having to go in and click "Install" twice was annoying, but not a dealbreaker.
  • When having autocorrect turned on, you could not press backspace after the last word. You had to go before the last letter then delete all that and- it was just a weird bug, okay?
  • My Linux box could not detect it when connected via USB. (Plus their sync suite is only on Windows.) Really only means I have to use a microSDHC.
  • The microSD is very flush with the device and the spring is very strong so my microSD actually shot across the room several times.
There were other insignificant things, but those are there real things that noticably effected using the device. Other than that, it was a perfect experience, in terms of an Android tablet, I think. It pimped Honeycomb.

With 3.1
I updated mostly because of the Market crashing bug and because I figured that hopefully it would add some more nice features. (3.1 is a decent jump; I figured it might be like jumping from 2.2 to 2.3.) I was right.....but I was not expecting the whole user experience I had grown to love to go to shit. Just like it's hard to describe how amazing the experience was on 3.0.1, it's hard to describe just how terrible 3.1 fucked it up. But I'll try.
  • Everything just runs slower. ALOT slower. I click an icon to launch an application -even one that's already running, like Firefox- and it takes sometimes up to 10 seconds before it opens.
  • The Market literally -no exaggeration at all- took just as long to boot up as my desktop Mint install, from GRUB to login. That's not even powering up the device, that is launching ONE APP, not a graphically intensive one either. That is worse than Cydia.
  • Pressing the Home button takes 4 or 5 seconds at times to return you to the effing homescreen.
  • Flinging between homescreens is sometimes jerky.
  • Pressing an icon to launch an app sometimes doesn't register because the device is lagging.
  • Browsing with Firefox is extremely slow and painful. No, this is not Firefox's fault, because it ran perfectly and fluidly on 3.0.1. Now, if I want to swipe and see what tabs are open, my entire device freezes for a second.
  • Even staying on the same page in Firefox, scrolling will frequently freeze.
  • 1080p video -which was once near fluid- is now jerky and unwatchable.
  • Local non-HD video even lags at points.
It's not like the update didn't fix some things; like it improved the Market app by fixing the crashes and making it where going back brings you to the same place in the search that you were at before. It added nice little arrows on the WiFi icon for upload and download. It tweaked the box for setting a wallpaper to account for both portrait and landscape. It even added a kickass app called "Movie Studio" for recording and editing videos.
All of these things are awesome and welcome, but they are NOT worth completely ruining how the device runs. I will gladly put up with 100 tiny insignificant tweaks that I'd like for an otherwise perfect experience.

I feel very pissed and sad at having to write this post. I was so incredibly happy with the 3.0.1 experience, and having it so completely change with 3.1 is disheartening and maddening, not only in idealogy, but also having to use a device with many aspects that make it unusable at times.
It definitely should not be the specific hardware; the Transformer has very good specs on the market right now, right up there with the other Honeycomb tablets. I have considered the possibility that it is specific to my device, but I don't think it's very likely. I've also considered just trying to restore back to factory settings, but I really hate the idea of losing all my apps and preferences and having to build them back up. But if I get pissed off at 3.1 enough, I might just have to.

Right now, I'm just hoping that the next update will make it all better. It's a longshot, but I can dream.

I still would recommend the Transformer as a tablet; it's an awesome device....with the 3.0.1 firmware. -Bry

[UPDATE 6-21-11]
 Apologies for the lack of formatting. Apparently, not only does the mobile Blogger app not have the ability do things like bold and underline, it also does not auto-parse the new lines and turn them into HTML.

But in case you're wondering, it's getting worse and worse. I feel like if I don't revert the firmware back soon, I'm just going to end out never using this device again. THAT'S how bad it is.

[UPDATE 10-4-11]
I waited for a long time to put Ubuntu on it (natively) and in the process, I installed Prime 1.6, which fixed everything. I can now safely say that this tablet is still awesome, because obviously it was just something wrong with my update, or at least custom ROMs can perform better than stock.

...needless to say, the Ubuntu thing ended out bricking it, which is how it remained for a good month or so until school cleared out enough that I could try to fix it again. It is fixed now though. :)

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