A few months ago I wrote a post detailing how to dual boot Android 2.3 and Ubuntu 11.04on the Asus Transformer TF101 tablet. This has become by far the most popular content on this blog. However, development has moved on and the process is now much, much easier than previously.
I am not going to go through all the steps required again, which may make this a short update. Basically, go to the Wiki page and follow the very good instructions there.
I did not care very much about the data already on my Android tablet, so I ignored the Backup sections, skipping straight down to “Installing Ubuntu.” Well, I did take the time to read the earlier sections very carefully, and one thing to note is that the described method is designed to be completed from a computer running Linux. Apparently it is possible with Windows too, the Wiki has a very short section on this, but if you want to run Linux on the Transformer, it is assumed you already have a machine with this operating system available. If you don’t, it may be best to create a bootable USB stick with Linux on it.
The new version of this process is as simple as downloading one 850MB file, extracting it, connecting your Transformer, running a script from the command line and following the presented instructions. The total time taken to have a dual bootable device ready for use depends on your available bandwidth for the download, but I was finished within an hour late one evening.
Despite what the Wiki intimates, I didn’t bother with building a custom kernel to activate the mousepad, this all seemed to work correctly using the OLiFE Prime download.
In terms of performance, I found Ubuntu 11.10, with the new Unity interface to be a bit slow and unresponsive at times. Instead, I installed the Lightweight Desktop Environment (LXDE). After making a few changes to the default apperances and theme, I now have a very nice looking Linux installation which performs admirable when compared with my three year old Asus eeePC netbook.
All default installed Ubuntu applications are available from the menu, and I am writing this within Firefox running in Linux on the Transformer. I have not yet tried all functions – webcam, mini-HDMI port, keyboard shortcuts etc – but I am assuming some will work, some won’t. The key thing to remember is that the Asus Transformer has an ARM processor and Linux development for this is still in its infancy.
Overall, this new process is a tremendous improvement over the old method. Steve Barker and associated developers have done a great job in making this whole thing much more accessible. And development hasn’t stopped yet! I wonder what the new Asus Transformer Prime, recently announced, will bring to the table.
I have had my Asus Transformer TF101 Android tablet, with dockable keyboard for a few months now and this article is primarily my findings with regards to trying to using it as my day to day computing device. I specifically bought this machine to try and replace a much larger 17-inch laptop and an older Asus eeePC netbook.
From day one, it was pretty clear that my dream of using just this device was unlikely to happen. There are some things that Android does not do well. I have rooted the device and installed Prime 2.1.1 , an Android 2.3 Gingerbread based ROM, which has resulted in a number of performance gains. However, my crucial reason for doing this was so that I could install the 3GToggler application, which would allow me to access a Huawei 3G Internet dongle.
Android Gingerbread doesn’t do office productivity. Editing word processor documents or spreadsheets is laborious and time consuming with the supplied Polaris Office. It’s just really clunky. Don’t even think about trying to create a presentation. I then also tried the Google Documents App from the Android Market, which is so clearly focused at mobile phone devices, again the user experience was terrible on a tablet. Lastly, I attempted to use Google Docs online to edit documents. Sadly this was also less than a compelling experience, but I believe this was down to the web browser itself, which neatly brings me to my next point.
Many of the Android Market applications are targeted squarely at the mobile phone user. That is usually someone with limited screen real estate, using their device in portrait mode. Trying to use these application on a docked tablet is a lesson in disappointment. Hootesuite for example, lacks the consolidated view across messages and requires many taps to navigate around. Other applications lack the key functionality that is usually available via the normal website. For example, if using the Google+ application, I found it impossible to access a Company Page I had created. This is simple enough from a drop down box on the Google+ website when viewed through a browser.
Just so this piece is not all doom and gloom, it is certainly worth mentioning what an Android tablet does well. Email for a start. The Gmail application is a joy, and I find it much more user friendly than the recently redesigned Gmail website. The other default mail client also does a great job of unifying a number of other accounts I have, including an Outlook Exchange Inbox. This is a much better experience than trying to use Thunderbird for this. There are also a few other email clients in the Android Market that are worth looking at, such as the Open Source K-9.
I’m sure Android tablets would be great for consuming media, if I did much of that. The only thing I have really tried is to watch a film through the LoveFilm website, but this was done via Flash in a web browser so was acceptable without being wonderful. The UK’s Sky Broadcasting has a catch-up TV player, which requires Silverlight, so again not happening on an Android tablet.
I love the battery life! A battery in the keyboard dock and one in the tablet itself provides for around 15-16 hours of cable free use. This is brilliant.
I have also quite successfully used the tablet to present PDF documents in one-on-one meetings. It’s quite a bit better than remembering to print out reams of paper. If I connected the device to a larger screen using the mini-HDMI connector, I’m sure this same process would work for larger group presentations.
Overall, without the docked keyboard of the Asus Transformer TF101, I would find the device practically useless. My main use of the tablet is to write emails, fortunately this is something Android does very well, and the keyboard enhances that experience. I would probably be much more productive with the Transformer if I didn’t want to stick needles in my eyes every time I tried to edit a spreadsheet or create a new document.