Friday, September 12, 2014

Using the Asus Transformer Book T100 during a bussiness trip

I recently had the opportunity to visit Amman, the capital of Jordan, for the first time for a meeting hosted by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), one of the 15 CGIAR centers. The trip was challenging for various reasons, including its duration; I had to be there for a total of seven days, which was rather longer than my average trip. Packing was one of the aspects that had to be carefully planned as I always try to travel light but at the same time I need to make sure that I have everything needed with me.

My main concern was the laptop that I would take with me. I had more or less the following options:

  1. My work laptop: My Toshiba Satellite C670D-1C1 is fine to work with at the office thanks to its large, 17.3-inch screen and decent specs for office use - at the same time, its size and weight (almost 3 Kg!) render it a burden during business trips - let alone its limited battery lifetime (usually less than 3 hours with normal use). I usually end up with pains at my back or neck after carrying it around for more than a couple of days.
  2. My netbook: A rather retired now, after many years of use, Acer Aspire One 751h is currently running Peppermint OS 5 Linux as it doesn't get along well with Windows - it is obviously too old and slow (1.3 GHz Atom Z520 CPU, 1GB RAM, slow HD) for running Windows 8 or even 7 and I wouldn't trust Windows XP (its original OS) now that they are officially discontinued. While it is not that slow with Linux, it still is not 100% compatible with MS Office (which I would obviously need to use during a business trip) nor with other Windows apps which might not be available for Linux. It is fine to use for leisure or when not actual work is needed but when it comes to business trips, I'd rather avoid that...
  3. My home laptop: A 15-inch Lenovo G550 running Windows 8.1, heavily abused by my two kids and used also by my wife at home was not the best option; apart from the fact that some of the keys are missing and the screen has some lines all over it (both left as a souvenir by my kids), it would also mean that I would leave my family without a decent machine to use (e.g. kids to watch YouTube cartoons and wife to kill some time surfing in websites). 

The solution to my problem was provided by a colleague of mine who offered his newly acquired Asus Transformer Book T100 for helping me out with the issue. T100 was one of the gadgets that I always wanted to get my hands on and probably get one of them; a 10,1-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard looked like the ideal solution for a trip The question was: Would such a tiny machine actually meet the requirements of a daily work in a new environment?

Asus Transformer T100 on top of my Toshiba Satellite C670D-1C1

Its specs were promising, as under its tiny body, it featured a 1.3GHz quad-core Atom processor (Z3740, a real workhorse compared to the crappy Z520 that under-powers my netbook), 2 GB of RAM, 32GB flash storage (expandable to 64 with the addition of a microSD card), a micro-USB 3.0 port and a battery life of about 10 hours of actual work combined with a usable keyboard which offered one additional USB port (2.0). T100 was running Windows 8.1 (full version, not RT!) with MS Office 2013.

My impressions from using the T100 during the trip are pretty positive:
  1. During the flight, I had to do some preparations by reading documentation downloaded just before the flight; I just detached the keyboard and I used the tablet as an ebook reader;
  2. After about 3 hours of light use (including WiFi usage), I still had about 80% battery
  3. During the first day of the meeting (09.30-17.30), I had no access to power plugs but still I had to keep notes using Evernote. With WiFi usually off and about 1.5 hour break, I still managed to reach my hotel room with about 30% battery left which was amazing!
  4. Using the T100 with WiFi on, 4-5 tabs in Chrome open, Skype, 1-2 MS Word documents and a PDF reader was no problem; I did not notice any kind of lag/delay. I cannot understand how this hardware manages to keep up with such tasks with no lag and such a long battery life.
  5. At first I was afraid that the tiny keyboard would be the bottleneck and it would take me a long time to write texts / keep notes. This was not true, as I got used to it in a short time and I managed to keep perfect notes with only a few mistakes throughout the document - keep in mind that I have relatively fat fingers.
  6. Using MS office was indeed necessary so the existence of MS Office 2013 in the T100 was much appreciated; I managed to revise a presentation I downloaded from Google Drive and work on some documents in MS Office without a problem. However, I should note that the use of a mouse instead of the touchpad made things a tad faster.
  7. The spare USB 2.0 port on the keyboard was handy e.g. for using a mouse. The touchpad was nice but a mouse makes things faster in many cases.
  8. The flexibility of attaching the keyboard (e.g. for note-taking) and detaching it (e.g. for reading or sharing something around the table with colleagues) was really handy, too!
  9. The tablet's screen is magnificent: bright, clear and responsive to usage as a touch screen; however, it is still 10-inch one.
My workflow consisted mostly of keeping notes using Evernote Desktop app, checking PDFs and other documents, web browsing, emails, social media etc. Nothing too intensive but still T100 performed way much better than my netbook.

My working space at the Bristol hotel in Amman

However, I also had some issues while using T100:
  1. I had my emails stored along with Mozilla Thunderbird Portable (we are talking about full portability here!) in an external HD, a USB 3.0 WD My Passport Essential 500GB (WDBACY5000A), a disk properly functioning in USB 2.0 ports. I tried to use the keyboard's USB 2.0 port but despite the fact that the disk's light went up and I heard the disk spinning, the disk was not recognized by the T100. I tried downloading the SES drivers from the WD website but it made no difference; I had to use the micro-USB to USB adaptor for the USB 3.0 port of the tablet.
  2. The tablet can only be charged only by using the micro-USB port so when the tablet was charging I could not use my external HD.
  3. Charging and using the tablet at the same time was rather slow; I suspect that it might be due to the type of power outlet (in Amman you may find a UK, a EU and other types of outlets) but in any case, I tried to charge the tablet during the night (for a good, long charge).
  4. Why didn't I just copy the inbox and Thunderbird to the T100? Because my inbox is > 18,5 GB at this point, so I would waste more than half of the available storage space (there was additional software stored and space allocated to other files as well).
  5. All my work files are stored in Dropbox and they currently occupy about 7,5 GB; due to the limited storage space, I had to copy the entire Dropbox folder to my external HD and use files from there. This means that the files were not synced with Dropbox so I will have to copy the folder back to my work laptop and sync them from there with Dropbox and my other machines. (Note: I could just have synced specific folders instead of the whole Dropbox, which I later realized that it could have been a saver...)
  6. The USB cable provided for charging the tablet was too short so even when I had access to a power outlet, it was not possible to work while charging unless I was sitting next to the outlet (which was not possible). A longer cable could be purchased individually but there may be issues with slow charging as I read in several fora.
  7. Last but not least; working long hours in a 10-inch screen might be hard for your eyes; the solution would be the use of a micro-HDMI to HDMI or VGA cable so that I could connect T100 with the large flat TV available in my hotel room but I was not prepared for something like that.

My overall impressions? Definitely positive! I managed to do what I had to do with a tiny machine of just about 1 Kg of weight instead of carrying around my 17.3-inch laptop (which would be my second option). On top of that I had the flexibility to use the T100 as a tablet when needed just by removing the keyboard. I did not miss my large laptop at any time, even when I had to work with the presentation. Even though I had to change my workflow a little bit (e.g. see the issue with the inbox and Dropbox) the T100 made up for that thanks to its flexibility and long battery life, which proved really important. This should definitely be in my wish list ASAP!