A New Tablet

So I finally got round to buying a tablet. In a week where the whole world was going mad over the iPad Air, I bought an Asus T100T. A what? I hear you cry. An Asus T100T. It’s the latest release from the people who brought us the original netbook and more recently the very lovely Zenbooks.

Why did I buy it, rather an iPad? Well, I was curious, about a lot of things, Windows 8, Intel’s new Bay Trail processors and how useful a tablet would be in general. Given my needs a Windows tablet looked like it would be a better fit, particularly this one. Since the Asus has the full fat version of Windows 8.1, it runs Scrivener, Dragon Naturally Speaking and a lot of other software I use right out of the box. I wanted to use the tablet mostly as a PDF reader for my extensive collection of games PDFs, but I thought I might do a little light editing and emailing on it as well. Using speech recognition software obviates the need for a keyboard and, as I have remarked elsewhere, Dragon Naturally Speaking is very, very good for this.

The T100T was cheap. Roughly 10900 Czech Crowns, around £360, and that was with an Xbox 360 thrown in. Granted I suspect I was doing the retailer a favour by clearing the Xbox from his shelf space before the new Xbox Ones arrive but what the hell, I thought, I’ll set it up in my office and maybe finally get around to playing that copy of Dishonoured that has been sitting on my shelf since last Xmas. Not only that the T100 comes with a detachable keyboard and a free copy of Microsoft Office. Under the circumstances, it’s a bargain. For comparison the cheapest local version of the iPad Air (16Gb) is 12900 or so. In the US the Asus machine complete with Office and keyboard retails for $349, so you can see we Europeans are paying a bit of a premium.

The keyboard is pretty basic. It has no second battery in it, unlike the rest of Asus’s Transformer line and only one USB 3 port. On the plus side, I have to say it is the best netbook size keyboard I have ever used aside from the one on the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet, and let’s face it, you just can’t do better than a Lenovo keyboard. On the negative side, the trackpad sucks big time. Fortunately, the tablet part of the T100T doubles up as a touchscreen so I can ignore the shonky trackpad for long periods.

The build quality is solid. I have friends who tend to dismiss anything not made in Apple Aluminium as cheap-feeling but the truth is that I don’t care. I spend more time working with my computer gear than fondling it, and all I am concerned about is whether it will stand up to abuse. The T100T feels like it will.

There is the usual assortment of micro-ports—micro USB, micro HDMI, micro-SD as well as the aforementioned keyboard mounted full sized USB3 port. There is 2 Gb of RAM and 32GB of SSD. Much to my surprise I found I had 18 Gb or so left over after everything was installed. Many recent reviews of Windows 8 had led me to believe I would have about 4 Gb. 18 Gb is more than enough for my purposes but the memory card slot accepts up to 64 Gb SD memory cards so there’s more there if I want it.

The screen is not super-high res—its 1366 by 768, not anything like retina quality but it is clear and bright and perfectly readable, if a bit of a fingerprint magnet.

The new Bay Trail processor is pretty impressive for an Atom. I see no reason to doubt the claimed 11 hour battery life and everything runs with a certain snappiness. It is certainly more than capable of doing all the office work, web browsing and PDF reading I am likely to throw at it. I wouldn’t want to try the latest ninjatastic 3D games on it but that was never really going to be on the cards anyway. In truth, at the price I am delighted with the hardware. Which brings us to Windows 8 or rather in this case, Windows 8.1.

I have to say that I understand the hate that many people feel for Microsoft’s latest offering. I don’t dislike it myself but I can see why people would. It is schizophrenic in the extreme. The new Metro bits of the interface look great and work well but when you get into the Desktop itself, it is just familiar enough to be completely confusing. It looks like you should be able to understand it and do all the stuff you usually do in the way you would normally do it but when you come to try and do so, you find that nothing is in the right place. After a week I have gotten used to it eventually but I have to say I am felt some resistance at the start.

Going to the app store and looking at the reviews of the apps I use every day was also a bit of a shock. Dropbox and Evernote Touch appear to be watered down and very buggy versions of those old favourites. Fortunately since the T100T comes with Windows 8, not Windows RT, I can go to the appropriate websites and download the proper versions.

All of this leaves the T100T straddling a somewhat uncomfortable position. It is without a doubt, the best netbook I have ever owned. (That sounds like damning with faint praise, I know, but I’ve always kind of liked netbooks.) It can be split into a tablet that is only slightly heavier than the iPad Air and a detachable keyboard. As a tablet, the hardware is just fine but Windows 8 still has some ways to go as a tablet OS. The legacy desktop does not work very well with touch and the icons and menus are just a little too small and fiddly. The tablet does do everything I want it to, but my needs are not really those of most tablet users.

Would I recommend the T100T? Well, that depends. It is superb value, and it does everything the manufacturers claim and more. The problem is Windows 8 at the moment. If you are looking for an iPad-like tablet experience, or even an Android-like one, it is not quite there yet. If you know you are going to need a netbook-like computer and only want to do the most basic of Tablet-like things—answering email, streaming media, reading news and PDFs, I would say go for it. If you want something with the polish and limitations of an iPad, I would say go with that. The T100T is not really a tablet. It is something else, something new and something old at the same time. It is what netbooks look like in 2013. I wrote this blog post on it and it was a pleasure.

Comments

  1. After a year or so with a full sized tablet I went down to the iPad Mini, and I must say it does everything I want from a tablet. That’s mostly reading, the odd bit of browsing and light emailing. I gave up on trying to do any real text entry because I found the keyboards available for the original iPad to be a frustrating experience – it just felt like pushing the hardware to do something it wasn’t designed to do. The netbook approach does sound interesting – I’ve always been a sucker for modular technology – and the caveats around the OS are welcome. I’m not really in the market for a tablet just now, though a friend has just bought an A4 sized one just for reading comics. He does have a point.

    • Comics are another reason for using a tablet, mate– one that I had completely forgotten about. I foresee a subscription to Marvel Unlimited or whatever they call it these days in my near future. I like the look of the iPad mini. My main reason for getting a bigger tablet was to read my gaming PDFs which are all in letter/A4 size. My experience of reading them on the small screen of my Galaxy Tab 7 left a lot to be desired.

  2. You just out-hipster’d the hipsters didn’t you?

  3. Thanks for that. I too have been considering what piece of hardware will fill the gap between my 40kg of double-screen desktop and my Samsung Galaxy. It’s not a very big gap – only really watching movies in bed, reading A4 PDFs and emailing/messaging while I am travelling. If it was not for the latter use, a regular tablet would be fine. But on an average day I must type at least 3000 words of something and there is no way I could do that without a proper keyboard. So the Asus sounds like it could be just the right tool for the job (and Apple won’t be making any of their insanely high margins at my expense either!)

    • Happy to be of some use, Nick! Be aware the T100T keyboard is still netbook size. I find it very usable but you might want to give it a try first. If all else fails, you could always wait until Lenovo release their Thinkpad Tablet with the Baytrail processor. You’ll get a really nice keyboard with that but you’ll pay for it. At this stage, it’s worth waiting for the Bay Trail versions– great battery life and actually pretty powerful by netbook standards. You know– like last years Pentiums– good enough for office work and video for sure.

      • Thanks for the advice. I just checked out the ThinkPad 2 and they reckon it is due in Q2-2014. Hopefully the timing should be about right as I am planning on spending April in Dubai for visa reasons (the one advantage of turning 50 next year – I qualify for a pensioner’s visa in Thailand!). So was planning on picking up something there as electronics should be pretty cheap there with no taxes.

      • Must be the first time in Thailand that a resident has gone from being a student to a pensioner within a period of three weeks!

  4. I suspect portable computers offer three qualities – power, portability, and affordability – but you can only have two of those qualities in any one machine, alas.

    I’ve tried writing on a Chromebook and a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard, and I’ve found they’re both great for raw composition, but less than great for editing. Also, there’s inevitably one thing I need to do that I can’t do on either one – EPUB or image editing, or file conversion, or something with VMWare. So when my 11.6 inch laptop died halfway through my last book, I bit the bullet and got a low-end 15.6 ASUS Ultrabook. With all the unexpected traveling I do, I figure it’s better to endure the extra weight than to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with a computer that can’t do the one thing I have to do right then.

    • I think any hardware executive who thinks. “Who needs a harddrive when you have the Cloud?” should be forced to spend at least a month living outside Silicon Valley where he will soon realize that most of the world’s population does not need to wait 20 minutes to download a simple document that he would be able to access in under a second if it was on a good, old-fashioned harddrive.

    • @Jonathan. I think your absolutely right about the power, portability, affordability equation. I do think Asus usually gets the balance better than many other companies. In general I am a fan of their stuff. I’ll keep my eyes open for the 15 inch Ultrabook when I am looking for a new machine next year, although right now I confess I am leaning towards a Lenovo.

      @Nick. I love the Cloud but I don’t want to have all my stuff there and only there. I back all my work files up to Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon’s S3 Cloud and sometimes MS’s Skydrive. I also back things up onto multiple USB sticks and Apple’s Time Machine. It sounds paranoid but the extra work only takes a few minutes and who knows, it might be useful some day. My usual work routine revolves around Scrivener and Dropbox these days.

  5. I’ve been an Evernote/Dropbox user for a couple of years however I’m finding the OneNote + Skydrive much nicer as I make the switch to a windows tablet and Office 2013.

    I loved the line about not fondling your device! lol

    • I’ve always liked OneNote, Neil. I just started using the latest version on my Windows machines in the last couple of days and I have to say I am impressed. I just switch it on and the notes are there. It seems really smooth. I am wedded to Evernote though– I have years worth of notes and clippings there and it is cross-platform to my Mac and my Android phone. That said, I believe OneNote is going that way too. I shall continue my experiments!

  6. I have a quick question for you on this machine. How well does Dragon Naturally Speaking run on the Asus with only 2GB of RAM? I’ve been thinking about looking at one of the 8″ form factor Windows 8 tablets for doing some dictation, but am wondering if the Bay Trail processor is up to the job. Not many people have mentioned this on the web and would value the feedback.

    • To be honest, I haven’t got round to installing it yet but I don’t imagine there will be too many problems. I have used Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 on a Windows virtual machine running on a linux netbook with 2 GB of RAM and one of the older Atom processors. It was a strain but it worked. (For the record it was an Asus eeePC 1005 running Ubuntu with Windows inside Virtualbox.) Dragon strips itself down to a minimum configuration based on the hardware. Some of the more complex features may not work but the basic speech recognition engine will. The new Bay Trail processors are a lot more powerful than that generation of Atoms and you won’t have the overhead of running two operating systems like I did when conducting my mad experiment.

  7. Hi William, have you gotten around to installing Dragon Naturally yet?
    I’m considering buying the Asus T100T to ‘write’ (ie dictate) a memoir into on the go, and would love to know how laggy it is given the processor doesn’t meet the software specs.
    If you haven’t gotten round to it yet, no big, but if you have, I’d love your thoughts.

    Cheers

    • I’m afraid I haven’t yet installed Dragon Naturally Speaking yet — the result of a combination of having multiple deadlines and no real need to use the tablet for work so far.

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