FEATURE REVIEW – ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA

Please hold while I try to resolve this problem…

Introduction
As I stated a little while ago, I’ve found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. It hasn’t been a lot of fun. Unfortunately for me, I really have no idea where Microsoft and Apple are headed with their computing initiatives. Its unnerving, too. I simply don’t know what to do at this point, and quite honestly, this is the first time I’ve been in this boat in the 20 plus years that I’ve been a tech journalist.

However, I think I may have found an interesting and rather affordable solution to my problem. Enter the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA-D4-GR. Is this the right solution? Does it resolve most, some or all of my issues; or am I chasing through a rabbit hole without the possibility of finding my way out OR the white rabbit that made the hole? Let’s take a quick look at the device and find out.

Hardware
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Surface Pro clone. It’s a 10.1 inch transformer (ultrabook and “tablet”) in one. It’s got a magnesium-alloy casing and weighs less than 800g; and is running Windows 10 Home.

The device has a quad core Intel Cherry Trail processor running at 1.44GHz. The device, as reviewed has 4GB of RAM and a 10.1 inch, 16:10 backlit, HD display sporting 1280×800 resolution and integrated Intel HD graphics. The device as reviewed has a 128GB EMMC SSD.

The device has integrated 802.11 AC Wi-Fi for wireless networking and internet connectivity. It also supports Bluetooth 4.1 for short range, accessory communication. The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H also has a 2MP web cam for video communications.

For connectivity, the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H has one of each of the following ports:

  • Combo Audio Jack
  • USB 3.0 Port
  • Micro USB Port
  • Micro HDMI Port
  • Fingerprint reader (supports Windows Hello)
  • microSD Card Slot

The build quality here is surprisingly high. I have been really impressed with the hardware and its fit, form and function. For the cost of the device, it’s going to be hard to find something better, in any class of notebook.

The full 360, below, has some really good shots of the hardware, including the included keyboard AND pen.

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The back of the device. Notice the circular fingerprint reader at the top The back of the keyboard
The device, opened up. The keyboard has magnets that attach it to the landscape side of the tablet The device, open
The left side of the device Close up of the left side, ports
The top side of the device with the microSD slot and the power button Right side of the device
Close up of the right side, volume rocker and speaker

 

Tablet
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Windows 10 ultrabook, just as the Surface Pro line of PC’s. However, it’s not a tablet. Please don’t consider this to be a true convertible – meaning this isn’t going to turn into your iPad or similar tablet when you remove the keyboard.

Like any other Windows 10 ultrabook convertible, all that happens when you remove the keyboard is that the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H becomes a slate PC.

A slate PC is NOT a tablet. It’s a regular PC with a touch interface that doesn’t require a keyboard or mouse.

A tablet is a content consumption device with an ecosystem – apps, videos, audio, etc. – available from a built in store, specifically made to consume ON that tablet. While a slate PC and an ultrabook have apps, and Windows has a “store,” per se in the Windows Store, you can get PC apps just about anywhere. You can also find videos and audio files (be they music, podcasts or other audio) nearly everywhere else that can easily be played on any Windows PC.

Windows 10 tablet mode is just a change in the standard Windows UI, nothing more. Nothing magical happens to the hardware. Nothing really magical happens to the OS after the keyboard is removed. It’s still Windows; just with a slightly different UI.

Aside from the whole Tablet Mode thing, this is really nothing more than a notebook computer with a removable keyboard. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it IS still just a PC. It just has more than one interface; but please don’t’ confuse this with a tablet like an iPad or a Galaxy tablet. It doesn’t run a mobile OS and it won’t. It’s going to have the same performance as it does when its keyboard is connected.

Keyboard
With the Surface Pro line of devices, the detachable keyboard is made of rubber and plastic. While this makes for flexibility, it doesn’t lend a lot of confidence that you’re getting a quality product. Well, that and the fact that the Surface Pro 3-4 Type Cover is an additional purchase that runs $129.99 for the older version to $159.99 for the version that has the Windows Hello compatible, finger sensor.

The keyboard that comes with the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is included with the tablet at no additional charge. It functions nearly the same way as the Microsoft Surface Type Cover, but has a metal alloy shell. The keyboard itself employs a butterfly switch under each key and sports 1.5mm of key travel. The extra-large touch pad is built in.

The typing experience is merely ok. It’s nothing to write – or type – home about. In the end, including the keyboard as part of the whole package, is another stellar move. It just cements the value of the whole package.

Out of the box, the keyboard of my ASUS Transformer T102H had a problem with the touch pad. The keyboard is supposed to support a right click via clicking the lower right corner of the track pad. This hasn’t worked right from the moment I pulled the device out of the box, and it’s obvious that the issue is a hardware issue and not a software or driver issue.

I called ASUS Tech Support and got someone who read a script at me and had me uninstall and reinstall APK and touch pad drivers. Getting her OFF the script wasn’t possible. However, 4 restarts and one full uninstall/ reinstall round and me insisting that this wasn’t a driver issue stopped the tomfoolery.

She then told me that I could return the device to my point of purchase, or could send the device to ASUS for warranty work. I told her that since this was a detachable keyboard, and that was the only part that I needed, couldn’t ASUS just send me a replacement keyboard?

No. ASUS doesn’t send parts to customers. If I wanted a replacement keyboard, I would need to send in the entire device, and then they would examine it and then determine if they would repair my existing keyboard or send me a new one. When I reminded the tech support rep that the keyboard was removable and that all that anyone in Repairs was going to do was take a look at the paperwork, grab my unit, pull the keyboard off, attach another one and then call it a day.

I got similar service from Newegg, as I bought the device from them and also purchased their extended warranty for $50. I would need to send the entire device and they would then send a replacement. Both companies knew that this would leave me without a working machine and didn’t care.

I blame Newegg more than I do ASUS, simply because they are the ones that I bought the extended warranty from. Why no one will send me a detachable keyboard is way beyond me.

Performance
I’m going to get to battery life and other performance factors in just a moment, but I wanted to take a moment and talk about this computer and its processor and RAM performance.

In a word – WOW!

The Intel CherryTrail Atom processor definitely makes a difference. I’ve reviewed value based tablets before and haven’t been impressed. Atom processors promise decent performance coupled with battery savings, but, in my opinion, always have a hard time delivering.

My assessment of the Dell Latitude 10-ST2’s Atom processor can clearly be seen here:

The Atom processor doesn’t have a lot of horse power. In fact, it’s pretty anemic. The system is optimized for a few specific apps – Microsoft Office being one of them – but don’t expect it to power through anything else. The weak processor performance even seems to affect network traffic, disk I/O and display performance as well, though obviously system interaction between dedicated subcomponents will also factor in.

With the ASUS Transformer T102H, the tune is a little different. While this is NOT going to run Photoshop or Lightroom with any sense of reliability or desired performance, it can ink notes in OneNote 2016 without ANY ink lag at all. It will also handle most, if not all, your PowerPoint and Excel documents – barring any really complex macros or large, external data calls – with reasonable results. For reliable, light to medium level productivity work, this computer should more than adequately meet all of your needs.

To be honest, I don’t know if the level of performance satisfaction I have is due to the more advanced Cherry Trail processor in the ASUS Transformer T102H vs. the Atom processor in the Dell Latitude 10-ST2, or if the satisfactory performance is due to the device’s 4GB of RAM… or both. I don’t have the 2GB version of the device to compare mine against. However, I’ more than certain that it plays into the equation more than you might initially think. At the very least, it’s the combination of the quad core, CherryTrail processor and the device’s 4GB of RAM that are making such a remarkable difference in my expectations.

Battery Life
Led in part by its 1.44GHz CherryTrail Processor, I’ve found the battery life to be totally crazy awesome on the ASUS Transformer T102H. The device advertises an 11 hour, all day battery.

These estimates are close but I’ve found my results to be about half of what’s advertised in real life. However at five and a half hours, this should get me through most of the work day without really NEEDING a charge. This is great news; and a huge relief, as having a day long note taking solution is HUGE in the office, especially when you have back to back meetings and CAN’T get back to an AC outlet and charging cable.

I wish that all of my notebooks were as good on battery life and did me so well when it comes to the task at hand.

Software
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Microsoft signature PC. This means that its free of crapware. It doesn’t have any third party add-ons or software. The only thing that it really does have is the installation stub for Microsoft Office 365. Other than that, this PC is junk free.

In my opinion, Signature PC’s are the best on the market. I know in many cases that software companies cut deals with OEM’s to help defer the cost of software development, and the OEM’s get help to defer the low cost of the device. I think the software companies come out on top of that deal; and that’s fine when the software in question is useful; but when it’s something that’s so bloated like Norton Antivirus or MacAfee Internet Security, you really have to wonder why the OEM chased after it.

I’ve seen MacAfee software preinstalled on low end PC’s with budget processors and quite honestly, all that it really does is bring down the performance of the device. Having the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H be a Signature PC without all of that garbage software, is a huge blessing. Those apps don’t always remove themselves well, and you can end up with a gimpy system afterwards. Here, you don’t have to worry about that.

Conclusion
This one is fairly easy. If you’re looking for a Microsoft Surface Pro clone and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on the device, this is likely the PC for you. Its CherryTrail processor isn’t going to be something that’s going to punch through any audio or video editing or run Photoshop or Lightroom, well, really at all; but if you’re looking for a productivity machine for you or your kids, THIS is a really good choice.

The device will run Office very well; and if you’re into OneNote at all, then you’re in for a treat. The device comes with both a detachable keyboard and a pen, so you can take notes, draw, markup documents – whatever – right out of the box. There’s NO ink lag with the pen in OneNote 2016, and with an Intel Atom processor, that’s really very surprising. I’ve had other devices where that was NOT the case.

A side view of the ASUS Pen The top of the ASUS Pen. Notice, there’s no application button on the end.

This is an ultrabook PC, so even though you can remove the keyboard and use it without a keyboard, it is not a true tablet, as it doesn’t run a mobile OS. It runs 64bit Windows 10 Home. In any “mode,” PC or tablet, this is a PC. Period.

Speaking of the keyboard, it provides a decent typing experience. While it’s not something that I’d like to work with all day long, its ok; and can get you through a meeting in a pinch. Again, the fact that this device comes WITH the keyboard is huge. On the Surface Pro, it’s a $129 – $159 add on.

As a Signature PC, this device is awesome. No junk software! No crapware! This is huge on a device like this with a budget processor, no matter how good that processor may be; and huge when it has a non-upgradable SSD as a main drive. While it does have a microSD card slot for additional storage, the fact that you don’t have to run an app like the PC Decrapifier to try to remove all of the OEM sponsored junkware that comes on most Windows PC’s is huge.

The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H runs $349.99 for the 64GB version and $399.99 for the 128GB version. It is readily available on the internet and is perhaps one of the best budget PC buys you can make this year.

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2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 2

Computers – or How to get Some Serious Work Done – Introduction

image3809I’ve been working with computers since 1981 when I began managing a computer retail store at the age of 16. Back then, in the days just prior to the retail introduction of the IBM PC and PC AT (the AT stood for Advanced Technology) most computers were very much reminiscent of the game consoles of today.  Computers like the TI99-4A and the Commodore 64 or the Apple II, were common place and were really more about playing games than getting serious work done.

Today, things are much different.  Computers can do real work and be taken most anywhere you need them to go. You can get them with a number of different operating systems on them, and in some cases a single computer can run more than one operating system…sometimes, even at once.  However, that may require some expertise and/or optional hardware and/or software in order to get it to run correctly.

There are a number of different choices in the desktop, notebook and ultrabook categories of hardware as well as in operating systems.  There’s a bit more to consider here than there was for tablets, so get ready to take in some information.  It may be a bit long, but in the end, I think you’ll find it worth the read.  Finding the right computer for your loved one(s) this Christmas is going to require you to consider the following:

What are you trying to do and how critical is the mission?

Assessing what you want to do and how important it is to you is totally subjective.  No one can really tell you that the tasks that you’ve set out for yourself are unimportant other than YOU. The answer to this question will help guide you to the right type of hardware.  The point is you want the right tool for the job.  For example, if your most important task is school work, you’re going to want something with a decent keyboard, and probably a dedicated – rather than integrated – pointing device. If the most important task is digital photo retouching, you’re going to want something that has a decent, monitor or screen. If you’re doing video work, you’re going to need a decent amount of processing power.

If you’re looking for a recreational PC, and your most important activity is social networking or email or web surfing, then the class of machine you’ll likely want or need is going to be completely different. You need to choose the hardware type and configuration that best suits your needs.

What software tools are available to satisfy that need; and at what cost(s)?

One of the best things about Soft32 is that it has a number of different resources for a number of different hardware platforms.  You can find software for Mac, Windows as well as mobile platforms. Having a place where you can find different kinds of applications at affordable prices is important.  Keep our link close at hand.

When you consider what you want to do with a computer, determining what tools might best perform those tasks is important. For example, while “Program X” may be available for both Mac and Windows, it may actually work better on one platform than on another.  Specific features may be better implemented on one side of the fence than on the other, or it may be easier to get the TYPE of applications you’re looking for on one platform rather than another.

Determining what you might want to complete your mission critical tasks with and what operating system they work best under will be a key factor in determining the kind of computer you buy. For example, Quicken from Intuit has always been much more advanced and much more complete on the Windows than on OS X. If financial management is your mission critical task and Quicken is your tool of choice, then a Windows machine may be a better choice than a Mac or Linux machine.  The differences between the way Microsoft Office functions on a Windows box vs. a Mac has closed a great deal with Office for Mac 2011.  Word for Mac 2011 is very similar in functionality to Word 2010/2013 for Windows.  The same can nearly be said for both Excel and PowerPoint. In this case, you could choose either a Mac or a Windows box.

However, if Exchange connectivity with a Microsoft tool (namely Outlook) or working with desktop database apps (namely Access) is an important part of your productivity regimen, then again, a Windows machine is likely your best bet.  At the end of the day, you need to assess what apps you will have access to, to satisfy your computing needs and then pick the hardware platform that has those tools.

This isn’t an easy task, and will likely take the most time in choosing either a first time PC or in reassessing what options you have when considering a computer upgrade.

What hardware configuration best meets that need; and where do you need to perform the work?

Different computing devices are better suited to the specific tasks for which they were specifically designed. In other words, you’re not going to want to do CAD/CAM work with a smartphone or netbook. You’re going to need to choose the type of device you need based on what you’re trying to do.

If you don’t need to cart your computer around, then picking a desktop is likely an easy/easier decision.  If portability is a need, then you need to determine HOW portable you need to be; or more easily put, how much junk are you going to be carrying around with you when you’re likely to need your computer? If you’re a mobile warrior – sales exec or IT consultant/contractor – frequently bouncing from place to place, then you may want something that is small and easy to carry along with the rest of your gear. If you’re a photographer or other video or freelancing professional, you may want or need  something with a large, or high resolution screen.

With the implementation of touch and the growing popularity of tablets, you now also need to consider how important a touch screen will be to you, as many notebooks and ultrabooks now come with touch screens and either a capacitive or resistive stylus. You need to determine if you’re more interested in a standard touch experience (best with a capacitive touch screen) vs. handwritten note experience (best with a resistive touch screen).

There are a lot of choices to be made here, the least of which include rotating hard drive or SSD, hard drive or SSD size, RAM amount, processor brand, type and model and graphics adapter and RAM amounts. Then you will want to determine if you’re going to want to upgrade any of these. Your PC choices may be limited by the amount of end user upgradeable equipment in your PC of choice. Generally speaking, desktops offer more expandability options than laptops or ultrabooks.  Many, if not most or all of these decisions, will also have a cost component as well.

Working though this task may also be difficult and will take up a bit of time when choosing either a first time PC or in reassessing what options you have when considering a computer upgrade.

What is your hardware budget; and how flexible is it?

Of all the decisions you have to make, this is probably the easiest decision out there.  Many of the Mac choices beyond the entry level build of each model can be very expensive.  Many Windows desktops and laptops are much more affordable than their Mac counterparts, even at the higher end models.  However – and this is a very important point – a Mac is a very versatile machine.  It can dual boot OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7.x/8.x natively via Apple’s Boot Camp.  With some basic Linux hacking, you may even be able to get a native triple boot – Windows, OS X and Linux – going. However, it’s clear – Macs are expensive.

Windows machines are generally much more affordable. While that’s partially due to the diverse hardware manufacturers, it’s also due to availability of components. OEM’s have a choice in buying components and can buy in bulk.  With more than one OEM making Windows machines for the masses, it’s easy to find something that’s in your price range.

If the model you choose is end user upgradable, buying the entry level model for the processor type you want and then upgrading RAM, hard drive, and other components can save you a ton of money over time.

At the end of the day, what you decide to buy should be tied to what you want to do and where you need to do it.  Please notice that I didn’t ask you what operating system preference you might have.  In fact, that wasn’t even part of the equation.  The bottom line is that what you do and where you need to do it will drive how you work and the tools you use, including the operating system driving the PC. Period.

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Can Lean Back Devices be used for Lean Forward Activities

…or can you really do that with a tablet??

6a0120a805e490970b01538e1c68a3970bI saw an interesting article by Preston Gralla the other day about how productivity boosting tablets were the gift worth giving this year. Preston sites three in his article – one Android (the Nexus 7) and two Windows Pro (Surface Pro 2 and the new Dell Venue 8 Pro). The bent of Preston’s article is that while there’s a great deal of convenience and multimedia capability built into these, they also contain a great deal of productivity power, providing the user with a well-rounded computing experience.

In his mind, this combination of lean back form factor and lean forward productivity is what makes these types of devices a sure winner. Preston has a point, but I’m not entirely convinced. I think it’s this mixing of features and form factor that are causing problems for these devices.

Tablets were originally (re)introduced as relaxation, or lean back, devices that provided basic, essential computing power in a highly portable, light weight, performance minded form factor. They were small enough to take and use nearly everywhere from the bathroom to the beach; and they got you on the internet, reading and answering email and posting to your favorite social networks without requiring a lot of bulky, computing hardware. They did just enough just about everywhere, and that’s what made them successful. Taking the lean back out of the tablet has changed the dynamic of the device.

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device was a movement that BYTE tried to address between July 2011 and April 2013 over at InformationWeek.com I wrote many BYOD focused articles there and you can still find many of the articles I wrote here. The entire house of cards starts to crumble the moment you try to bring your iPad to work. I know, I tried to do it for 3 or more years. Part of what I wanted to do on the iPad – hand written notes – really doesn’t work well, due to the type of digitizer and touch screen the tablet uses. To this day, handwritten notes aren’t easy, despite the advances in processor, memory, etc.

I have found that both iOS and Android, while capable of running productivity apps, are more suited to handling content consumption focused activities. In other words, while possible, both mobile OS’ are really better at running entertainment software – audio and video players, book reading software, game play, etc. again, even with the enhanced hardware they’ve received over the past few years.

When you put a more productivity based OS on a tablet as well as add a keyboard, you get devices like the Surface/ Surface 2 series type devices that have more in common with an ultrabook or notebook PC than they do a tablet. While this has a bit to do with hardware, its really more pointed at the OS. Windows 8 is more suited towards full-blown productivity apps than entertainment software, though they also do exist on the platform.

Portables_2_Rect

Interestingly enough, my son-in-law recently received a Toshiba Satellite Click 2-in-1 13.3″ Touch-Screen Laptop for his birthday from my daughter. The device comes with a detachable keyboard and Windows 8.1 Pro. He is using it as a productivity machine for school. I recently asked him how often he had used it as a tablet. He hasn’t. Not once.

He said while he can use the device in tablet mode, the device works better as a notebook. When I pressed him for an explanation, it was clear to him that Windows 8.1, despite its live tiles and ModernUI interface, is more of a familiar notebook OS than a tablet OS. Office works better while using the attached keyboard than the on-screen keyboard. Computing in general, worked better with the attached keyboard; touch pad and extended battery than simply with the tablet. So, he is clearly leaning forward rather than relaxing and leaning back with it. He also hasn’t used it as an entertainment device – i.e. to watch movies, listen to music or to read eBooks – though he can do all those things quite easily with the device.

I’m finding that is exactly the case with the Dell Latitude 10-ST2 Windows 8 Pro Tablet. Its all productivity and very impractical as an entertainment device.

You’re likely going to hear a great deal of advertising this Holiday Shopping Season on how Windows 8.x tablets are the perfect combination of lean back and lean forward – entertainment and productivity – devices. In most of the cases I’ve seen and in my personal experience, it just doesn’t work out that way.

The potential for having both in a single device is great. If it works out for you, you can obviously save a great deal of money. However, I’ve noticed that most people don’t actually take advantage of both in a single device. Their device gets “mentally tagged” with a single or main purpose, and using the device for something else violates that tag.

I’ve seen people do that with a number of things – cars, pens, clothing, AND computers. Its not that you can’t drive the sports car to the office, its that you’re saving it for the fun times. As a child, I had school clothes and play clothes. You didn’t mix the two; and I suspect that with many people, whether they do it intentionally or not, they aren’t going to be able to put a ton of movies and music on their work machines. Let’s forget about how most enterprise admins frown on stuff like that and just say that you probably aren’t going to want to give up all the space you might need for documents, spreadsheets and presentations to MP3’s and videos.

In the end, it’s a metal paradigm that I think many people won’t accept. Its not because they can’t, but because for them, the whole idea just doesn’t fit well.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion below.

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HP Envy Spectre – one of the best-looking ultrabook you’ve ever seen

Do you remember the teaser clip released by HP which showed a mysterious device dubbed Spectre ? Well, now we can be more accurate and tell you that the mysterious device is called HP ENVY 14 Spectre and it’s possibly one of the best-looking ultrabooks you’ve ever seen.

Sleek, midnight black glass on the outside and stark contrast silver glass on the inside make Spectre extraordinary, defying conventional notebook design,” said Eric Keshin, senior vice president, Strategy and Marketing, Personal Systems Group, HP. “We chose the Spectre name to evoke mystery, and we packed it with the best in entertainment technology to satisfy those who expect the unexpected.

HP Spectre weighs less than 4 pounds and uses lightweight, scratch- resistant glass on the lid, display, palmrest and HP ImagePad and a full 14-inch screen HP Radiance Display which offers higher resolution, richer color, better brightness and wider viewing angles than traditional notebook displays.

HP Spectre is equipped with a matching audio-grade speaker mesh and Beats Audio, an exclusive, high-performance technology developed by HP and Beats by Dr. Dre, the HP Spectre boasts an aluminum analog volume dial that acts as a visual design to precisely adjust audio levels.

HP Spectre features built-in HP Wireless Audio that can turn your home into a concert hall, allowing you to stream uncompressed audio to up to four external devices or directly to any KleerNet-compatible device.

The HP Radiance Backlit keyboard provides really cool illumination using individual LEDs dedicated to each keycap. The keyboard works with an advanced proximity sensor to intelligently sense a user’s presence, lighting up when a user approaches and dimming down after he or she leaves.

Talking about performance, HP Spectre is powered by an Intel Core processors (i5 or i7), solid state storage (128GB or 256GB) and 4GB (or 8GB) of RAM. Moreover, the ultrabook features Intel Rapid Start Technology and support for two ultrafast mSATA solid state drives allow for quick boot and resume times. Also, it comes loaded with HP CoolSense technology, which automatically adjusts performance and internal fan settings for a noticeably cooler PC. In addition, the HP ImagePad provides precise multifinger touch navigation and the HP TrueVision HD Webcam provides brighter, cleaner HD images.

Additionally, the Spectre offers a performance-tuned software image, full versions of Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements, two years of preinstalled Norton Internet Security and a concierge phone line for technical support that is dedicated exclusively to HP ENVY users.

Envy Spectre is expected to be available in the United States on Feb. 8 with a starting price of $1,399.99.

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