Asus Windows 8 Introduction: Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part post covering Asus’ introduction of new Windows 8 hardware. Previously: Asus Windows 8 Introduction: Part One

The next device I encountered was the Asus All-in-One PC (ASUS All-in-One PC ET2300):

A desktop with a touchscreen!

I’ve tried other desktops with touchscreens. They were running Windows 7. The experience was less than enjoyable. I’ve always loved the idea of a touchscreen desktop and have said that’s the future more than once. Would this encounter finally bring that future closer?

Here I am about to find out:

And of course the thing for me to do on this is to give it an everyday test from my real life. I went to Twitter!

That went well. But notice the photo with Twitter in the middle of all of that screen. We’re back to panes (see Part One for that reference). What a vast waste of space.

That also highlights what I said in Part One, about not being able to do a 50-50 split screen of two apps. And on a ginormous screen like that, it seems to me that three apps could be opened at once and each share a third of the screen. Microsoft has to figure out what to do with larger screens such as these. Limiting them to the constrained dimensions of tablets just isn’t going to work.

A screen that size is just epic to use with photos and something like Bing News. The latter is formatted for touchscreens and is revelatory. Unfortunately, I didn’t pause to take a picture of that (although there’s a bit of it from a distance in the first photo above). Bing News demonstrates how much different the Internet has to be for touchscreens (a point I’ve also brought up in a past post). Having to scroll on a touchscreen makes it feel like an antique computer, not something from the future.

Bing News also shows that when they put their mind to it — as they did with the now-dead Microsoft Reader — Microsoft is capable of some excellent design. With the advantage of Windows 8 being on large screens, Microsoft has an opportunity to push the Net into the future in a way that Apple has not been able to accomplish even with a bazillion iOS devices in the wild. With iOS, everyone has fled to apps as a gateway to the Net. That’s just the wrong way to do things. The Internet always wins and it’s the Net itself that should be redesigned in light of touchscreens, dropping the tyrannical mouse for navigating, selecting, and manipulating things.

This desktop can go flat:

Viewed from a certain angle it seems to hover:

Here’s one of the angled views:

On a large screen like that, the Formerly-Known-As-Metro UI looks like a Command Center!

It has an optical drive and a bunch of ports (USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt):

Rear view:

I thought Apple would be the first with a good touchscreen desktop. But the latest iMac introduced this week is still without a touchscreen. Asus has beat them to the punch with the first touchscreen desktop that’s really worth getting.

And now it’s time for more tablets!

Can you guess what this is?

It’s a keyboard!

This is where things begin to get very confusing. Aside from the VivoTab, there’s the VivoTab Smart. These tablets have that optional keyboard as well as colorful covers:

The covers use very strong magnets to attach to the edge of the tablet. And they do this weird origami-like folding thing …

… that turns them into a stand for the tablet:

I have a problem with covers like that — and this includes the Apple Smart Cover. You’re using the inside of that cover to put on a surface. A surface that has dust and perhaps even grit on it. Which is then picked up on the inside of the cover and when closed over the tablet’s screen could lead to abrasion. Maybe that’s just the Felix Unger in me, but I’ve never thought putting the inside of a cover on an unclean surface is a good idea.

Aside from that, I discovered what all that folding can do to one of these Asus covers. The upper and lower right side corners begin to not stay flat against the tablet. I didn’t get a picture of this, but I saw for myself that the edges of the cover lack magnets to affix them flat against the tablet. I envision some people with floppy corners developing on these covers and their usefulness quickly being degraded. So the entire idea of using it as stand might not be the best idea in the world. Moderate use on clean surfaces would be my suggestion.

There’s a neat trick with that cover and keyboard too:

Put the keyboard over the cover and the entire thing folds up into one package (which I didn’t get a picture of).

As for that keyboard, well, it’s for a 10.1″ screen. That means it’s small. And being as thin as shown in the above photo, the key travel distance is also very shallow. It’s not something I could use and I suggest trying it before buying. It made me wonder what the Type Cover for the Microsoft Surface is like. It’s probably just like that when it comes to the depth of key travel.

The VivoTab Smart comes with a black or white back:

The back is clearly plastic. I have no opinion about the sturdiness or feel of the plastic. I just didn’t pay attention to that.

These tablets use a dual-core Atom CPU running at 1.8GHz and feature a 10.1″ screen at 1366 x 768 pixels. Being Intel-based, these use the full Windows 8, not RT. Which I think is a pretty neat trick for a 10.1″ tablet.

This was already on the tablet when I got to it:

I guess Brad Linder was there too?

And now I begin the PDF tests (see Part One for the specifics and links to the PDFs), by first stopping at this blog to get the link for the first one:

Then to the Internet Archive:

And here we go:

And yes, if you looked carefully at that photo, you’ll see that this time I pinched-out to enlarge the touch target. I was being lazy.

And here it is:

And yeah, I still hadn’t discovered I could switch to single page view:

And there’s the difference between the i7 tablet I tried in Part One and the Atom chip in this tablet. No immediate rendering of even a single page.

Let me be clear if you haven’t read or have forgotten what I wrote in Part One. This Internet Archive PDF is a spiteful thing to run on portable machinery. It uses JPEG2000 scans that are very, very processor-intensive. That portable devices can render them at all is almost miraculous — especially an Atom CPU.

Portrait orientation:

Thumbnails in landscape orientation:

And zipping to the end of the zine shows blank pages that haven’t yet been rendered:

There’s really not much to say about this test. Each page took too many seconds to render, but this is what I expected to happen, so it’s not a reflection on the quality of the tablet itself. That PDF is my torture test and being able to run it at all is good to me.

Next is what was supposed to be a less-intensive test, using the Google Books PDF of Success: A Novel (again see Part One for details). Unfortunately, the WiFi network was clogged:

Let me tell you, when you feel a clock ticking away, seeing a slow download speed like that isn’t a happy thing!

And then when it came time for it to open … I got a black screen. That’s all. Just a black screen. Which I won’t publish as a picture here because my reflection is in it.

My reflection is in this next photo too, but I was able to blot it out easier:

What happened was this. I swiped up from the bottom, got the basic PDF viewer options, and noticed one for Files. I figured the Google Books PDF would be there.

Look again at that photo. Do you see it there? No.

And this is where Windows 8 broke like glass for me.

Frustrated, I tried swiping in from the left. That managed to get me to the Desktop of Windows 8, where the filesystem was already open.

And here is the WTF:

The PDF was listed there under Downloads — but was not listed under the file selector for the PDF viewer. What?

I was totally confused and still am. Are there actually two filesystems? One for Formerly-Known-As-Metro view and one for Windows 8 desktop view?

Looking again at this photo:

I see now that I had the option to move to a different area. So maybe the file was actually there but I was just too panicked and too stupid to concentrate and navigate to find it. Still, I think that file selector should have opened to where the PDF was, not spin me into a panic wondering what the hell just happened.

Whatever, I just tapped on the filename in Windows Desktop view and it then managed to properly open in the PDF viewer:

If you’ve read Part One, you’ve probably noticed Success now has a blue cover instead of green. That doesn’t matter. It’s the same book. Google Books sometimes has multiples scans of a book. The printing clarity of each book might vary, but as long as all the words are there, it’s good for me.

Pinch-out zoom to enlarge:

Jumping to the end of the book in thumbnail view displayed the usual blank pages:

But jumping back a bit showed those already rendered:

That’s twelve thumbnails. On the 13.3″ screen in Part One, twenty-four thumbnails were displayed at once. This screen is 1366 x 768 and the 13.3″ screen was 1920 x 1080. The number of pixels a screen has makes a huge difference!

With the Atom CPU, it was possible to outrun the rendering in vertical scroll:

I don’t fault Asus for this. That’s a basic and unoptimized PDF viewer, not software that’s been tuned to handle PDFs efficiently and effectively. A developer will have to create that for Windows 8 Formerly-Known-As-Metro view.

If you thought that was it for tablets, you just don’t realize how big a bet Asus placed at this event.

Next up is the VivoTab. This is not to be confused with the VivoTab Smart. The Smart series have plastic black or white backs. The VivoTab (without the Smart) has a metal back.

The VivoTab also has an 11.6″ screen, with the same 1366 x 768 resolution as the Smart series.

I wish Asus had used the VivoTab name on just one thing.

To make things even more confusing, the VivoTab is a Transformer-like tablet-keyboard combo. And this should not be confused with the 13.3″ Transformer Book. If your head isn’t spinning by now, don’t worry — mine is!

I encourage your head to spin, however, by going to the Asus website where all of these tablets — and everything else Asus introduced this week — are listed. If you can keep all the Books and Vivos straight in your head, good for you!

Anyway, this is the VivoTab:

And let’s cut to the action:

And yes, now the cover of Success is green. Don’t worry about it.

Since this is the same Atom CPU as in the Smart, I don’t have to repeat the narrative from that. Nor did I bother to try the Processed World PDF again. It’s the same Atom CPU so the results would have been identical. I did Success because of the larger screen.

Some other things:

I couldn’t try the Kindle app because it wasn’t prepared with a demo account:

I don’t know what will happen with that when demo units are in stores. I’ve already read that the Kindle app stinks, but I’d like to see that for myself and I think most buyers would too. With Microsoft having teamed up with Barnes & Noble to form Nook Media, I wonder if a Nook app will be pre-installed on other devices or if that’s still to come.

This somehow popped out when I was swiping from the left:

I didn’t know Windows 8 had an Android-like thumbnail panel of active applications. Or is this an Asus customization? As I said in Part One, this was my first encounter with Windows 8, so I just don’t how that happened to get there or if it’s even standard.

I peeked into the app store and things looked pretty grim:

That seems like an awful waste. An entire screen needs to be used to do one thing? Microsoft, the Macintosh of 1984 is calling — it wants to know if you remember Desk Accessories! Can you imagine having to use that on a 21 or 27-inch screen? That’s just nuts.

And I really wonder if something like this would even be used:

I think that app also exists for the iPad. But do professionals actually use it? It has zero use on a large desktop touchscreen.

And right before I was leaving (I was probably one of the last five people still there!), I finally saw this:

That’s the VivoTab RT. That has a 10.1″ screen at 1366 x 768 pixels. It uses a Tegra 3 CPU and runs Windows RT.

Sorry, Asus, but I just have zero interest in Windows RT, so I don’t regret not trying that. Perhaps other people will find it useful, but it’s just not for me at all.

I discovered a design flaw that all Windows 8 tablets will share:

In that yellow circle is the Windows soft button. Do you know how many times my thumb accidentally hit that while holding a tablet in portrait mode, bouncing me to the Home screen? More than three times. Swiping in from the left got me back to where I was, but I’m coining the term for this because lots and lots of other people will wind up doing it too: Death-Thumbing! (“Oh damn, I just Death-Thumbed out of the browser back to the Home screen!”)

I liked everything I saw from Asus. I think their Atom-based Windows 8 tablets stood up well against other tablets in my PDF tests. And I’d rather have a Windows 8 tablet over an Android tablet now.

It might take a while, but I think developers will see it’s in their best interests to do Formerly-Known-As-Metro apps when it makes sense. For some Windows Desktop programs, it will require a total rethinking of things. But I think those developers who embrace touch will win out in the long run, so all the hard work should be considered a long-term investment that will eventually pay out big.

Windows 8 itself is a very strange hybrid that’s going to take some effort to get used to. Microsoft went overboard in its zeal for minimalist design. For example, the Photos app allows people to crop photos — but there’s no way to resize photos. Even in this day and age, people do need to resize photos for sending via email, posting on ebay, on Craigslist, and in blogs like this one. There’s a big difference between being minimal and being crippled.

Another Windows 8 design mistake is not giving the Formerly-Known-As-Metro tile that leads to the full Desktop a unique shape. I would have made it a red circle, with both that shape and color reserved just for that tile, and it should be the first tile people see at the top left of the first screen. In some ways, the minimalistic design of the tiles are more like hieroglyphics that require deciphering. We’re thirty years into the Icon Age and people are going to need to get used to tiles. I’m not even going to comment on Live Tiles because I didn’t pay enough attention to them.

And in Part One I mentioned the too-minimal screen that tends to pop up when I opened a PDF. I think most people will be confused by that too.

Personally, I don’t see any value in Windows RT right now. I think people who mistakenly buy an RT tablet will wind up returning it. I think even the diehard Microsoft fanboys will eventually admit that while the hardware might be great, there’s just not much to do with it.

I could be wrong about that. I’ve been sequestered all day doing these two posts. Perhaps while I was busy Microsoft announced a billion RT apps? We’ll see. But it’s interesting that only one of Asus’ new offerings is Windows RT. The rest are full Windows 8. I think Jonney Shih knows what people want.

So, Asus has some very nice hardware that you should check out if you have any interest in a Windows 8 device or desktop.

And if you didn’t get it by now, No, nothing Asus showed was shit.

1 Comment

Filed under Other Hardware

One response to “Asus Windows 8 Introduction: Part Two

  1. I like your reviews that put the emphasis on getting things done. I think they’re far more revealing than a comprehensive list of features without an analysis of their usability. Thanks for this one (and part one). You’ve given me a lot to think about (and I still haven’t read the review at The Verge).

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