Life with an Android Tablet One Week On
I’ve had my Asus Transformer tablet for approximately one week now. I have endeavoured to use it fairly constantly and as my sole means of computing. It has worked to varying degrees of success. After the first couple of days, I discovered that if I actually wanted to achieve anything, I needed a proper keyboard. To that end, I have ordered the keyboard docking station for the Transformer, and I am also writing this post on my three year old netbook.
A word of warning though about the Transformer docking keyboard – buy the package of tablet and keyboard to start with! This only attracts a £50 premium over the tablet alone. Buying the docking keyboard separately has set me back almost £120. I purchased from Amazon and couldn’t find cheaper on eBay, Google’s shopping results nor Tottenham Court Road (where it was not possible to buy the keyboard as a standalone item). I’ll live and learn.
There are both good and bad points about this Honeycomb 3.1 tablet. Let’s start with the good.
The Gmail integration is stellar. It is a much better Gmail experience that I have ever had through a regular web browser. I suppose this is as you would expect from a tablet running Google’s Android operating system.
The tablet is great for having around on the coffee table, on the train, in bed etc. It’s very easy to simply pick it up to check email, read a website or research something of interest.
The “instant on” aspect, with massive hours of standby battery time, is much better than any laptop I’ve ever experienced.
Now for the frustrations….
There is another built in mail client, which can be used to connect to both IMAP and Exchange email servers. Unfortunately this has some limitations that frustrate me when trying to deal with business email. There’s no search functionality, it is only possible to synchronise up to one month of email from the server, it is impossible to create an HTML or Rich Text email signature and I also can’t figure out how to synchronise IMAP calendars (Exchange calendar works fine though).
The standard web browser is buggy and crashes regularly. I haven’t thoroughly tested, but I also think it may have a memory leak. Over time it simply slows down to a grinding halt. Using the back button to return to a Google search result often loads just a blank page and sometimes after entering a website’s URL, I am simply re-directed to Google’s search homepage. This browser has a user agent of “Android Tablet,” however many websites simply see this as “Android” and deliver a mobile version of their offering. I can change the user agent to “Desktop” instead, but that also creates a few rendering problems. Opera Mini and Firefox Mobile don’t seem to have this option, and thus you’re stuck with mobile webpage versions in some cases. I’m now trying the Dolphin HD browser. One would think, that with an excellent browser in Chrome/Chromium Google would have this area sorted out.
Some apps from the Market are OK, but it’s a bit hit and miss. Many of them are built only for Android phones, so don’t render brilliantly on the wider tablet screen. I haven’t bought any apps yet, as I haven’t found anything so compelling to warrant a purchase. I have found some nice free apps though, such as MapQuest’s OpenStreetMaps and FBReader for ebooks (I grabbed a lot of classics from Project Gutenberg).
The on-screen touch keyboard is reasonable, but still has some frustrations. For some reason at least 10% of the time my space bar presses do not register. There are also no forward and back arrows. The only way to jump to another part of the text is through very delicate and precise touches on the screen. This might improve when I have a mouse connected to the docking keyboard’s USB port, but for now so much for keyboard navigation. There’s also no Control key, which makes cutting, copying and pasting laborious.
I can’t find any virtualisation software for Android either, which I wanted to use to run a different flavour of Linux. Maybe I can do do something via dual booting, from a USB key in the docking keyboard. That will be the next project.
In summary, after a week’s solid use, I can’t see this being my sole computing device. I’m just not sure Android’s mature enough. It’s a good enough device, which I am sure I will continue to use regularly, but it is not the one device to rule them all.