Friday, November 15, 2013

[Article] Asus Transformer Book T100 - first impressions of the first BayTrail tablet

Like I said in the previous post, I bought the 32GB model of the Asus Transformer Book T100 a couple of days ago. The exact model number of the one I bought is TransBook T100TA-DK32G and I bought it from Sofmap. This post is about the first impressions about it. Actually, since the post is quite long, I'm going to split it into two parts.
 

Packaging

The packaging of the tablet is way superior to that of the Latitude 10. Both the outside of it and inside of it. When I first held the tablet, I felt it was smaller and sleeker than the Latitude 10 as well. You can see in the following pic, how the T100 compares to my old tablet.

No idea what Dell was thinking! Why would you need such a huge package for a tablet?
 
Thinner bezels on the Asus making it smaller
 
The tablet itself is thinner (top) than the Dell (bottom) making it lighter

Exterior

It is about 100 grams lighter as well. The weightlessness was obvious right from the very beginning. However there is one problem. The backside of the tablet is glossy and finger print prone. And it is slippery if you place it on cloth. In that regard, the Latitude 10 was better as it had a textured back with was easy to grip.

All that shine!
 
Remember how hideous the charger of Latitude 10 was? This one is much smaller and better looking. It resembles an iPad charger somewhat but a little bigger.  The charger plugs into the Micro USB port on the tablet. The other end of the cable is a jack that plugs into a regular USB port.  So you can charge it by plugging it in to your PC. However if you do that, it would take much longer to charge the tablet.

Unlike the Dell, the tablet body itself doesn't have a full sized USB port. Just the micro USB port. You don't get a micro USB to USB converter in the box. Not sure about US model though. So the only way you can get full sized USB support out of the box is by connecting the keyboard and using the USB port on the keyboard. Good news is that this is USB 3.0 port. I didn't get to use it yet though.Basically, if I was to use the USB port on the tablet, I will need to use a converter. I wonder if there are Micro USB hubs out there.
 
The hardware start button of the tablet is located on the left hand side below the volume rocker buttons. On the Dell, it was on the front face, right in the bottom. I prefer the Dell's implementation because more often than not, you press the start button unintentionally when it is on the side. There is also no Kensington lock port. No big deal. One thing is miss is that there is no hardware screen rotation lock button. The Dell has one. On the Asus, it automatically changes the orientation when you turn the tablet. However, just as on the Microsoft Surface, you can use the software rotation lock button instead.

Micro USB (left) and Mini HDMI (right) ports on the tablet body
 
USB 3.0 port on the keyboard dock
 
When it comes to the screen quality, I felt that the Dell had a better screen. Brightness was also higher on the Dell. This is still an IPS screen with the same resolution of 1366 x 768. But when you look at it from different angles, you would get different levels of brightness. It doesn't mean that the viewing angles are bad. Just that it is not bright enough. But that is not a problem when using the tablet normally though. The touch is just as responsive. No big issue there. Sometimes Metro apps don't give the feedback for your button presses - especially in IE when you click on links. In that regard Safari on iOS is brilliant. It has nothing to do with the tablet.
 

First time booting up

When I pressed the power button at first, it would not turn on. The battery was completely dead. So I plugged it into my PC to charge and pressed the power button. It turned on alright. The initial setup screen of Windows 8 came up and I did the usual thing. When I got to the desktop and tried several things, tablet suddenly turned off. I pressed the power button again and even though it came on at first, it didn't even get to the desktop before turning off again. I thought that the power given from the USB port of the PC was not enough and the tablet was draining the battery faster than the PC could charge it. When I tried the actual charger the problem went away. Luckily,  it did not break Windows 8. Things can go terribly bad if you didn't shutdown Windows properly. (Even with the wall charger, it took a long time to charge completely. I let it charge overnight later on.)

 
When I got to the desktop, I didn't feel this tablet was any faster than the Latitude 10. That was a huge bummer!! I thought it would fly compared to the Latitude 10. But I let it settle for a while. It must have been indexing files, updating Windows and doing the other house keeping stuff on the first boot.

Before ordering this tablet, the biggest thing that concerned me was whether 32GB was going to be enough for me. After analyzing things and reading a review posted on kakaku.com, I felt it was enough.
 

Keyboard Dock

 
Let me talk about the keyboard, shall we? The keyboard is pretty small. But I don't necessarily press other keys by mistake as I have small fingers. However, the layout needs some getting used to. The keyboard adds more than 100% weight to the tablet. But I believe it is still lighter than the MacBook Air. Even though the keyboard has decent weight, when I use this as a laptop on my lap, it flips over as the tablet potion has considerable weight. It doesn't happen on the desk though. In fact, I dropped the whole thing on the floor once already.

The track pad is quite small and crap. It does't work well actually. It is not responsive enough. It could be that I've been using the track pad on the Mac Book Air and it is quite good. I don't know if any of the Windows laptops have such good track pads. Often I use the touch screen even when I have the keyboard plugged in, because the mouse it kinda hard to use. It is fine as a backup though. I've always hated track pads. They can never take the place of a mouse. And like most reviewers stated, it takes a while to respond to the first finger instruction as if it was fast asleep.
 
The hinges that connect the tablet to the keyboard. Middle one is just for data.
 
Once the keyboard is connected
 

Speaker quality

The biggest issue I had with the Latitude 10 was with the speakers. It was not loud enough. The quality was horrible as well. Every review was praising the audio on the Asus and it sure is very loud. The quality is also good enough for me. But when you ramp up the volume to max, the tablet starts to vibrate. You can feel it in your hands. It's probably what you get form a plastic tablet. If it was made of metal, you probably wouldn't feel it. I didn't get a chance to use the headphone port yet. The audio chip is provided by Related and the driver installs a control panel in which you can hardly do anything. Not funny!!

(Will post a video comparing the audio levels between the Latitude 10 and this later.)

Software

 The one I bought came with the Japanese Windows 8.1 OS installed. Good news is that you can easily change the display language of it to English. But only English, it seems. The experience is not as 100% smooth as a original English OS though. The fonts are a little strange at certain places. But this was something I knew before hand. No big deal.

To my surprise, it didn't come with Microsoft Office 2013 installed. What??? I checked the product description again and it was saying that Office isn't bundled with it. Ouch!!! The US model comes with Office. I was furious. It's my fault for not reading the description properly. Lesson learned: always read the description before buying something. But doesn't matter, I'll use Google Docs!!!

However, instead of Office, it came with a free 32GB Micro SD card. It's not that fast though. Just class4. But something is better than nothing. I'm going to use it to store all my data and the use the internal storage just for apps.

The tablet came with unlimited or 1TB free Asus Web Storage. I don't really understand if it is really unlimited because I also got a message about 2GB is free. Whether that 2GB free limit is for normal users or for the owners of this tablet is unclear to me. I am syncing the Micro SD card to it. It also comes with a metro app.
 

Updating firmware

 

I also checked if there were any firmware updates and driver updates. There were several driver updates and a firmware update available on Asus website. (Even though automatic update feature didn't work at that time, later on it came up and downloaded more drivers which I didn't install thinking they were not that necessary.) I tried to update the firmware. The way you do it on this tablet is like this. There is a tool that you can download from Asus website and the firmware binary file itself. You open the binary file from the tool and it will reboot to a DOS like environment and the firmware will update. It will automatically update and do some other things and shutdown. Even though I thought it would automatically reboot, it didn't. It just powered down. I had to press the power button and turn it on manually.

Updating firmware

But then I went into a little bit of trouble. 

You see, the Bit-locker Drive Encryption is automatically enabled on this tablet. (You can disable it in Windows but it said it would take a long time, so I left it as it is) So if you plug the drive to some other PC (I don't think you can do that for the tablet though), you cannot access the data without a recovery key. The key is stored in BIOS and it is unique to this tablet (I believe. Not sure how it actually works though). The key is validated when you have UEFI Secure Boot enabled. For some reason, when I updated the firmware, that setting got disabled. So, when Windows booted up, it asked me for the recovery key. I had no idea what the recovery key was, but there was a way to find it. You see, the tablet is registered under your Windows Live account. Maybe it only starts encrypting when you register it with your Windows Live ID. Maybe that's why it was slow at first. Anyways, I was able to recover the Bit-locker recovery key using this link and entered it in the box provided. It worked and I could enter Windows normally. Perhaps if I rebooted, entered BIOS and enabled Secure Boot, it would have worked without me needing to put in the recovery key. I don't know what could have happened if I restored the factory image in this situation. I'm glad I didn't have to do that.

(In all that chaos, I forgot to take a screenshot!)
 

Factory restore

Talking about factory restore, unlike the Latitude 10, it is using Windows' own backup and recovery functionality. I believe the Dell was also using it, but it had a separate layer which could screw up things. You can simply use Refresh or Reset on the Asus to send it back to the beginning. That's great! No bloat required!!!

After the BIOS update, the tablet was much snappier. It could be that Bit-locker had finished encrypting stuff and indexing service had finished indexing the drive. I don't care really. If it is snappier than the old one, that's is all that I care.

Performance

I'll just talk about the performance compared to the Dell. If you want to get an idea about the absolute performance figures, read this Anandtech review.


The app launching speed is better than the Latitude 10. The apps respond faster as well. I wish there was a better browser though. IE is great for touch but as a browser, it is inferior to Chrome. Chrome sucks in the UI department. The network performance is also great. Unfortunately, my router supports only the 2.4GHz band so I cannot get the full speed of the tablet. Actually, I cannot get the full speed of any wireless device I have in the household. Should I get a dual band router from the points I got when I bought the tablet? Boot times are unchanged. The Dell was very quick to boot up. Battery life also seems better on the Asus, but I have no idea how better it is yet.

Storage

There was about 18GB free space left on the internal storage at first. Now I have 14GB left. I think I can manage. It's mot as if I'm going to install games on it. I might install Visual Studio on it though. That would be the biggest thing that I might install. I don't have Office so I don't think I will install it ever.

 

Conclusion

I've only played with the tablet for one day and I might find more issues or good things about the tablet in the coming days. I will surely talk about them when there is something noteworthy. Until then, the only issues I have with this tablet are,

  1. The glossy back
  2. Microsoft Office Home/Student Edition was not included
  3. Cannot connect a USB drive directly to the tablet as it is
But I really enjoy this tablet more than the old one.


 

 


 

 
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