A little while ago I welcomed the Asus Transformer into both work and home life, chez Carpenter. Whilst already familiar with the Android operating system having had an Android-powered mobile for 18 months, I wasn’t sure just how useful the Transformer would be. Would it be a welcome addition to mobile working? Would it add an extra dimension to the use of technology in our home life? I was hopeful of both, but not as confident as I might have been.

So four weeks on, what’s the verdict? Well, inasmuch as a verdict can be reached in that time. Whilst one question posed in my last blog has been answered – the Asus is now referred to around the house as ‘The Tab’ – its usefullness in both work and home and work environments is still in question. So let’s look at each in turn.

Some issues with my mobile prevented me from trying out what I hoped would be the most useful aspect of the Transformer, namely the ability for it to act as a netbook, allowing me easy access on the road to stuff that is difficult on my mobile. This includes blog posting, document editing and so on. When the mobile issues were sorted I was able to try using that as a mobile hotspot, sharing its data connection with the Transformer using wi-fi. I have to say, too, that it all works very well. The tablet connected to the phone first time, and given the meagre broadband bandwidth available at home seems if anything to be even quicker over 3G.

The Google Gmail app offers a very nice environment on the tablet with one glaring ommission. It does not appear to be possible to select many emails to perform an action upon without clicking on each one individually (i.e. there’s no equivalent to ‘select all’). Another gripe is the inability to carry out much in the way of text formatting within the body of the email. Bold and italic are pretty much the limit of what’s achievable. This is nit-picking, though, as most normal email activities are achieved with ease.

As far as browsing goes, I am now a pretty enthusiastic convert to Dolphin Browser. It’s not a browser I’d come across before, but seems to be trying harder that Firefox to integrate the plugins that one would use on a PC or lapop on a daily basis. In particular, I am a Lastpass Pro user, a password-management plugin which is pretty much essential when you have to manage many websites and still maintain some reasonable level of security. The lastpass plugin doesn’t work in the Android version of Firefox, but does work seamlessly in Dolphin. So for now that’s the browser of choice for any serious work.

Most other apps work fine, even if all aren’t totally optimised of the much larger screen size of an Android tablet (Facebook, for instance). Some minor issues with flash (i.e. entering text within a flash app seems impossible) are very much assuaged by the knowledge that it works at all. Something iPad users can only look on with envy.

Interim rating: 8/10

Introducing the Transformer into home life was always going to be more of a challenge. I wasn’t worried about the kids, the challenge there would be adjudicating the inevitable fights over who gets to use it for games next. On that topic the various Angry Birds incarnations, as well as Cut The Rope have been firm favourites to date.

No, the real challenge was always going to be my wife, who will freely admit to being a bit of a technophobe. On that score, the jury is still out. One of the justifications for getting the Transformer in the first place was that we would no longer need to spend £8 or £9 a week on newspapers. On that score alone, the cost of the Transformer would be covered in a year or so. However, my wife has yet to be convinced by any of the news apps. The Independent app seems to come closest, since that was out regular paper, but has some irritations. In particular, the face that the text jumps around a bit as the ads at the bottom scroll is quite annoying. I don’t think there’s a paid version of the app, but I would happily spend a couple of quid to get rid of this. Until then, we have agreed to splash out on a proper paper version once or twice a week. It keeps my wife happy, and provides the guinea pigs with some bedding too 🙂

Having said that, the Tab has found favour for general browsing where its instant-on accessibility is very much a plus. The BBC News site remains popular, but others are accessed too, with very few issues.

Interim rating: 7/20

The Future
The ongoing development of Android and the likely introduction of tablet-friendly versions of apps should help cement the place of the Transformer in both work and home life. At the moment things are a bit hit and miss as to whether a particular app will translate well to the different challenges provided by the larger screens of tablets, although it’s rare to find that an app is completely unusable. I hope that the next few months will improve that situation.

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