Asus Transformer Tablet - HDMI, Apps, and Flash

Before I talk about the HDMI, apps, and Flash experiences, I want to touch on a few points and discoveries made over the course of the week I have used the Transformer.

First, I noticed that I was constantly having to charge the tablet. On a full charge, it would definitely last for my use during a day, but the battery would continue to drain even while not in use.  I have left the iPad for days without use and it generally loses very little of its charge. It is an interesting comment however that my iPad does regularly go days without being used.

I did find a setting to disable WiFi when the screen is off or if the tablet is not plugged in. This is not the default option, and I found it curious that it wasn't. After enabling the WiFi power off feature, the stand-by battery use improved dramatically, losing only 1% overnight. Unfortunately, when I tried going online, the wireless would not connect. I opened the WiFi settings and found that the WiFi seemed to be stuck in some sort of loop of turning on and off. I ended up having to restart the tablet to get back online. Perhaps that's why it's not the default setting.

I am getting better at typing on the keyboard dock. I do not believe it was a firmware issue, but just my normal method of typing. You do need to be firm with the keys. This is a bit of a challenge for my large hands on the small keys, and definitely slows down my typing. The other problem I faced was constantly touching the touch pad beneath the keyboard. This would end up moving the cursor around on me while I was typing. Fortunately there is a button on the keyboard to disable the touch pad.

The differences between Android for phones (currently Gingerbread) and for tablets (Honeycomb) are surprisingly minor. I wasn't sure what to expect considering Google has kept them separate. I know that the two will be merged into a single OS for both platforms with the next major Android release, Ice Cream Sandwich.

I did manage to track down a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable and connected the Transformer to an HDMI-equipped LCD projector in a classroom. When I first connected it to the wall jack, nothing happened and I started searching for the answer of how to enable the HDMI output. All results indicated that it should work automatically. I wasn't terribly surprised that it worked just fine with the short cable connected directly to the projector rather than using the wall jack which has a 50' cable running up the wall and across the ceiling. I have experienced a similar situation in the past connecting a phone up to wall jack RCA connections. Small devices, including tablets just can't drive a signal over longer cables.

We need wireless AV soon. Having to tether portable devices to projectors is bad enough, but not being able to use the existing wall jacks for installed equipment is frustrating.

Once connected, the Transformer did an amazing job with the movie. There isn't much to say beyond that. I am not an audiophile, so I don't really have any comments about the audio quality. The movie looked great.

I mentioned in my earlier post that the Transformer included Polaris Office. The presentation app in Polaris is really quite usable. You can create basic slides, and even insert photos directly from the tablet's cameras. Showing the presentation over HDMI was as easy as plugging in the HDMI cable.

The document and spreadsheet apps were equally capable, but obviously all of the apps were very simple compared to a full Office suite. Files were saved in Microsoft Office format (pre-Office 2007 format), so opening them up in another program is easy enough (especially thanks once again to the microSD/SD slots). The interface between the three apps was simple and consistent. I was pleasantly surprised, and even looked for it in the Market on my phone. I have learned that it is presently not available on the Market but rather it is sold directly to OEM's like Asus. That is too bad.

It was easy finding educational apps on the Android Market. There is an education category that you can browse through, or you can search. It wasn't difficult to find apps for spelling, math, language, art, and science. Much like with Apple's App Store, there seems to be a huge amount of apps, most of which I'm sure are not particularly great. Remember to always check reviews.

I did test out the Animal Book app which is similar to an iOS app I have on the iPad and it worked quite well. A class schedule app that I tried was a different story. It didn't seem to offer any functionality that isn't provided in the default calendar app, other than showing a background of a blackboard. I wonder how long it will be before children don't even understand what the blackboard is. I also tried a Flashcard app, and a How to Draw app. The Flashcard app was pretty good. The How to Draw app just had a handful of specific things that it would show you how to draw step-by-step.

The final thing I wanted to check was just how good the Flash support is on the Transformer. SMART Notebook Express ( is a full Flash-based application, not just a simple ad or animation.

The first challenge was opening a file. When choosing to open an existing file, I was presented with some sort of "Upload" screen that did not have any files to choose from, and no way to browse for files saved on the tablet. Using the File menu, there is another option to open a file from a URL. I saved a file to my file server's web share, and was able to open it in Notebook Express.

The file did open, and the various elements did seem to work. It was difficult to tell for sure though, because everything responded so slowly that I lost patience and gave up. So, while I can say that Notebook Express seems to work, it is far from usable on a tablet at this point. I do not have any inside information, and do not want to start any rumours here, but it is my guess that SMART is likely working on stand-alone apps. If that is truly the case, hopefully they have Android in their sights and not just iOS.

Overall, my experience with the Transformer was positive. Although it would be extremely difficult to claim that it is "better" than the iPad, it can definitely compete. If I personally was choosing between them, the Transformer has more of the features and capabilities that I am looking for.

Asus Transformer Tablet

I received the Asus Transformer Tablet on Friday (September 30) from Asus for a 30-day evaluation. This is a tablet based on Android 3.2 (Honeycomb). Asus included the keyboard accessory with the tablet as well.

My first impressions were mostly positive. I have used an iPad for roughly seven months, and I definitely liked the feel and styling of the Transformer much more than the iPad. There were a couple of features that immediately appealed to me. There is an HDMI connection, and a microSD slot. MicroSD cards are very cheap and are an excellent way to expand storage of a device and transfer files between different devices.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the charging/docking connector. This is a proprietary connector, and I don't really want to think about how difficult it might be in the future to find replacements. I'm sure it will be possible to order them online for a long time, but it won't be quite as easy as finding an iPod/iPad cable.

Other than those ports, the Transformer has a power button, volume rocker, headphone jack, and front and rear facing cameras.

I was pretty excited about the screen. Apple's choice of a 4x3 display on the iPad seemed so strange in a world moving toward widescreen. I never understood the push for widescreen, but I never saw it as something worth fighting either. Pick your battles.

As soon as I turned on the screen, some of the excitement faded. There was a considerable amount of backlight bleed. That is unfortunate on a device that seems ideal for watching movies. During regular use it isn't apparent, but it is noticeable during dark scenes in movies. At least getting the movie on the Transformer was ridiculously simple using a microSD card.

From my own experience, I know that my primary use for the iPad was web browsing, so I connected to the network and fired up the browser. Browsing on the Transformer was a significantly better experience than on the iPad. Pages loaded quickly, and didn't suffer from the checkerboard background I see on the iPad whenever I scroll through a page too quickly. Flash also worked quite well, but I have to confess that I use FlashBlock in Firefox on the desktop because most Flash elements are ads. Still, it's nice to know that Flash works well.

Next I started to explore the apps included in the Transformer. There is an office app (Polaris Office) for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. I will definitely try using that app later. One app that caught my eye was Movie Studio. I fired it up and started to play. I tried to capture some video from the cameras and quickly discovered the first real problem with the Transformer. The camera app would constantly crash. I tried restarting, but as soon as I fired up the camera app again, it crashed again.

I moved on and checked some of the differences between Honeycomb and Gingerbread (I have an Android phone running Gingerbread). While doing this, I noticed that there was an update available for the tablet. I applied the update and upon restart thought I would try the Movie Studio app again. This time it worked great! It isn't a full editing suite, but it is usable for producing simple movies for YouTube. You can clip and combine videos, and apply some transitions between the clips.

After playing with this basic functionality, I took the keyboard dock out of the box and connected the Transformer. The keys have a good feel, but they are a little too close together for my big hands. The dock includes two USB ports for connecting external storage. I tried connecting my Android phone, but the phone just seemed to charge from the ports and wouldn't detect that it should enable USB storage mode. I also tried connecting an old 500GB USB LaCie hard drive, but it didn't seem to be detected by the Transformer. A regular USB key worked just fine.

I tried to use the keyboard dock to type this blog, and I did manage to type some of this on the tablet. Unfortunately, I found that if I typed too quickly that some characters would get dropped. From there it became apparent that I have as much trouble with Android as I do with iOS accurately placing a cursor back to where I need make a correction. I guess that's my big hands again. I tried to continue with the on-screen keyboard. I definitely prefer the Transformer's on-screen keyboard over the iPad's. It includes the number keys above the letters so it isn't necessary to switch back-and-forth between virtual keyboards just to get to the number keys.

Eventually I decided to finish typing the blog on my desktop. The Android notifications let me know that there was a firmware update for the keyboard dock, so I'll have to try typing on it again in my follow-up.

I want to test the Transformer out in the following ways:
  1. Create a presentation using Polaris office and connect to an HDMI projector.
  2. Try watching a movie on an HDMI projector.
  3. Test out some educational apps that I have downloaded from the Android Market.
  4. Try using SMART's Flash-based Notebook Express on the tablet.
Now I just need to track down a mini-HDMI adapter.