I was looking for a replacement for my five year old notebook which has been acting up lately. I also wouldn’t mind replacing my desktop computer which is even older. After looking around I took a chance on a very small lightweight notebook that can be converted to a tablet, the Asus Transformer T100.
The T100 comes in a couple of different varieties. The more affordable option has 2 GB of RAM and a 32 GB of storage space in flash memory (no hard drive and no DVD). Unlike slate models, it comes with a full version of Windows 8, in fact this version also includes a home version of Microsoft Office which includes Word and Excel. This is kind of underpowered and undercapacity for me. The processor is an Intel Atom processor, which is also kind of underpowered, but it doesn’t use a lot of energy, and still is quadcore. The low power requirements give the battery approximately 11 hours of life whereas regular laptops run 3-6 hours, so there is an upside. I definitely wanted more storage capacity. Of the 32 GB of storage, there was only about 10 GB left after installing Firefox and Chrome and activating Microsoft Office. There is a hidden recovery drive that can be used to restore Windows, but it can’t be used for anything else. I bought a 32 GB Micro SD card at Fry’s to give myself more storage for documents and movies and then set up my My Documents folder to be on the SD card. I think this slows things down because the SD card isn’t as fast as the internal storage, but buying the 64 GB version of the T100 would have been $400 vs. $330 plus an $18 SD card. Still not a lot of storage though. There is cloud storage, but my home wifi is very slow and it is only available when I am home, not at work or on the go. So I could set up a home external drive on my network and have a local cloud, which I am kind of doing by storing stuff like music and other documents in shared folders on my desktop computer which is usually on.
The screen is only 10.1 inches, but it packs 1366×768 pixels, which is more than my old laptop. The display is very clear and crisp, but not quite a retina display. HD movies look great on the screen and if I look at the screen on my lap vs. the 51-inch TV across the room, they are about the same size. So it is great for watching movies, much better than the iPod that I use on the train to watch TV shows, or the Nexus 7 (also made my Asus).
In addition to the Micro SD card slot there is a Micro USB slot for power and a full-size USB 3.0 slot on the keyboard. There is also a micro HDMI port. I bought a micro HDMI adapter so that I could hook my big screen TV to the Asus and this works pretty well. You can extend the desktop onto the external monitor (the TV) and then play movies at full size on the TV. Although I am pretty sure HDMI carries sound, for my TV I have to hook up the sound separately via a headphone jack to RCA cable. Not too bad except the HDMI adapter I got partially covers the headphone port (I can make it all fit). It is easier to run the sound through my amplifier than directly to the TV since the ports on the back of the amplifier and TV aren’t easy to get to, but I already had the headphone cable available for hooking up my iPod to the amplifier. I still have to remove the HDMI cable from the satellite receiver and attach it to the Transformer, but that one is easy to get to. Then the only problem is using a remote control control the video from the sofa. Eric put software on the Transformer and on the Nexus7 that lets me use the Nexus7 as a remote over wifi. Eric was psyched about this because he has a bunch of shows he has been watching on his computer, but would rather watch them on the TV.
The screen and keyboard are pretty small, but you kind of get used to them. Some web pages get shrunken down so far that I can’t read the text. For that reason, I wouldn’t want this to be my only computer by any means. I think ultimately that’s where this computer can excel: as an extra computer that is very portable. And the big extra is the screen snaps off of the keyboard and can be used as a touchscreen tablet. Now instead of a small laptop, it is basically a Windows iPad, running full Windows 8.1 instead of iOS. The tablet weighs about the same as an iPad (1.2 pounds). The keyboard is weighted so that the laptop doesn’t fall over backwards (also weights 1.2 pounds). Some people have taken out the steel plate in the keyboard and dropped about 6 ounces of weight. A 2.4 pound laptop is pretty amazingly light.
The biggest thing for me to get used to is Windows 8.1. Even though this version has been improved from the original Windows 8, it seems like a terrible operating system to me. I couldn’t do anything on this computer without being shown how to do it. I had a book on web page design back in the early days that said avoid mystery meat. Mystery meat was any link that you couldn’t tell what it did just by looking at the screen. Windows 8 is all mystery meat. There are all kinds of gestures you do to bring up commands. I think they are after a clean design but, they got rid of all the controls. If you don’t know the gesture, you can’t even turn the computer off. I still don’t know how to exit an app. Apps are programs that run from a special Windows desktop, but there is another Windows desktop that works more like the old one, except the Start menu is gone. The new desktop works better with a touchscreen, but it is kind of cumbersome to set up, with a bunch of tiles that can be different sizes and in different orders. It’s great that it can be customized like that, but it is more work than I want to do. I liked the widgets of Windows Vista more, but those are gone from the classic desktop.
The Transformer has a very large (in comparison to its small size) trackpad with multi-touch interface. What I found out is that maybe I have some bad habits regarding the touchpad, like leaving one finger braced next to the trackpad for stability, while I do stuff with my index finger. But there isn’t room for that finger, so it ends up touching the touchpad and causing weird things to happen due to magic spots on the touchpad (the corners typically) bringing up menus. The left edge of my old laptop’s trackpad was a scrollbar so that I could easily scroll using the trackpad. But the Asus doesn’t do that. Instead, it uses a multitouch gesture of sliding two fingers up or down to scroll. I liked it better the other way, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to reconfigure that. The multitouch gesture appears to be more standard at this point, but I also suspect the corner magic spots messed up allowing the edge to be used for scrolling. The bottom corners of the trackpad can be used for clicking the mouse, though there aren’t separate buttons for this. The result is a very loud actual click noise. To avoid that I have been trying to tap the trackpad to click, which you can do, but that doesn’t seem to work consistently. Some of that may be me and my clumsy fingers, but not all of it.
In the end, I feel like the screen is too small for me. Even though the resolution is the same as a full-size laptop, that doesn’t do me much good because it is hard for me to see the tiny text. The storage is a real problem too. It is a pain using a storage card and it tends to pop out if you touch it the wrong way, so I put a piece of tape over it. I also don’t like the very loud clicker on the trackpad. So I found myself using my old laptop instead of the T100. If I want to go on a vacation where I might take pictures, I would probably want to take my laptop which would let me store and back up the pictures. I haven’t really used the T100 as a tablet, but it might have some pretty good use for that.