For those of you who won’t bother to catch up first with those two links, and in the interest of full disclosure, I will repeat the opening act of this event:
On October 10th, Asus USA sent out a tweet for a competition to score an invite to their unveiling of Windows 8 devices in New York City.
This is the tweet I sent in reply:
Do you know what happened several days later?
Yep, Asus took up my challenge!
So Asus had to be damn confident that what they were introducing wasn’t shit.
This multi-part report documents the devices I got to try, why I tried them, what they did in response, and my first encounters with Windows 8.
I need to note the following:
1) Anyone who has followed me on Twitter or read any of my blogs understands that my interest is in the buying public, not making some corporation look good (no matter how much I might like their products — hello, Apple). Spending money is a serious thing and most people want the best they can get for their money. Most people do not cycle through devices quickly — as those involved in tech can afford to do.
2) I don’t think write-ups of a device’s features are of any use if no one has any idea of how they perform real tasks.
3) This was my first real-life encounter with Windows 8. I had seen a few very brief videos in the past, so I knew in advance about swiping from the right, the left, and the bottom (I’ve since learned you can swipe from the top in some instances, but I didn’t know this at the time). That is probably a lot more than most of the general public understands, so keep that in mind as a possible bias. Also keep in mind that I’ve long gotten over the fear of “breaking something” when it comes to using software, so the hesitation the average customer might have doesn’t apply to me. In fact, I sometimes enjoy crashing devices in fondles. Because I can. Otherwise, I’d never tried Windows 8 at all.
This is the Asus Taichi dual-screen ultrabook:
It’s the world’s first dual-screen ultrabook, with a second screen on what would traditionally be a blank cover:
Each screen is 11.6″ 1920 x 1080 pixels, with only the top, outside, screen featuring touch.
The keyboard is backlit:
And this features an Asus-customized Windows 8 home screen, note the rounded rectangles:
In the upper right corner are the screen mode options:
It’s possible to have someone watching something on the outside screen while you do something else on the inside screen.
I did not try this device at all. One, I didn’t think at the time that I would be interested in it. Second, I was worried that having a screen on the outside would make it more prone to scratching while being transported.
It was only when I got home and reviewed my photos that I saw this:
The Taichi is available with either an i5 or i7 CPU. And that price for a dual-screened device makes it very interesting. The weight is 2.75 pounds. While that’s heavy for a tablet, it’s still a very appealing device, given the horsepower and two screens. I will have to try it out in stores.
Asus has a Taichi website here (uses Flash).
This was the first device I encountered to actually try:
This is the Asus Transformer Book. I didn’t know at the time that this demo model was a high-end i7 device. The i7 version is a very, very expensive device. That’s a 13.3″ IPS screen at 1920×1080 pixels.
I went to the Windows 8 home screen, which I went to just by using the trackpad. That was an interesting experience, using Windows 8 with a trackpad. I wasn’t sure how it would be but it seemed to work fine. And the trackpad did pinch-zoom, which was smooth in the photos app.
On the next screen are some programs pre-installed by Asus:
Like the original Android-based Transformer from Asus, the screen can be detached to be a separate tablet:
Holding a 13.3″ tablet is a real trip!
I went to this event with an actual checklist of things I wanted to try. In the mad crush and panic to try things, I forgot my checklist and reverted to the usual testing I’ve done on other tablets.
And here we go:
I’m about to recreate the standard PDF test I’ve done (and others have done for me) on other tablets. Prior posts in this series:
Twitter Report: PDF Tests On Nexus 7
Processed World PDF Torture Test, Part Three: iPad And HP TouchPad
iPad PDF Torture Test: GoodReader Vs. Processed World
The PDF Torture Test The iPad 2 And iPhone 4s Failed
Update On iPad 2 And Google Books PDFs
Google Books PDF Smackdown: NookColor Vs. Samsung Galaxy Tab Vs. iPad
Google Books PDF On HTC Flyer
eInk Nook Reading Google Books PDF
More PDF Action On Rooted NookColor
Google Books PDF On Rooted NookColor
And if you want to play along at home:
Success: A Novel at Google Books
Success: A Novel at my Google Docs (for people outside of the U.S..)
Processed World (Nov-82) [choose PDF (5.9 M) or right-click Save As here]
Processed World [Google Docs: PWPDF3bHigh.pdf – app 14 MBs]
First stop is Google Books:
Where I call up my standard test PDF, Success: A Novel:
What’s interesting here is that unlike its usual behavior of presenting a drop-down menu for file choices, Google Books provided distinct separate links for choices:
And the CAPCHA:
I should note here that I had no trouble typing with the on-screen keyboard or selecting touch targets. And I did all this while holding the tablet in my left hand and either typing or taking photos with my right hand.
On the left side bottom is the confirmation prompt …
… and on the right side are the options:
And it starts to download:
Note that the transfer time was longer that usual due to everyone at the event using the WiFi network.
Now here’s where Windows 8 begins to get confusing. When I told it to open the file, I got — very quickly — an orange screen with an icon in the center (that I think was sort of like a book or sheets of curled paper). There was no indication of what was opening the PDF or actually what was going on at all.
What I think was happening was that the built-in — and very basic — PDF viewer was launched to open the PDF. It would have been nice if Windows 8 had clearly stated “Opening [filename] using [program name].” This was my first indication that Microsoft went a bit over the top when it came to minimalist design. Later in this report, you will see how this has some very bad ramifications for the buyers Microsoft is trying to capture.
So here it is, still in landscape mode:
And now in portrait mode:
Let me remind everyone how Google Books operates. That first page from Google is an 8.5″ x 11″ “sheet.” The book cover — added by Google — below it is deliberately smaller. That cover matches the size of the original book that was scanned. Google Books PDFs are scanned images (JPEGs) of the original book at the book’s original size. In the interests of efficiency, Google adds that first sheet to all PDFs, which tends to distort how a PDF that was matched to the size of the book displays. In other words, that huge front page should have been customized to the size of the book so there aren’t such wide margins on each side of the book itself, as shown here:
Look at all the page thumbnails:
And pinch-zoomed in:
Right there is an advantage of a 16:9 screen: more than one page can be seen at once.
Macro mode, as close as I could get with focus:
I must again point out that this is an image scan of the original book. So things like the closed “a” are part of the original printed on paper book. As for seeing the pixels, let me say that I didn’t notice them when looking at the book in person. Apple has the Retina display, but I didn’t see the sort of screen graininess on this that was always apparent on the iPad 1 and 2. This screen is ~165 ppi versus the ~131 ppi of the iPad 2. Don’t be fooled by the difference in screen resolutions versus Retina. Go see for yourself.
Now here is the real deal. Notice how there are blank thumbnails in this photo:
And now look at all these blank thumbnails at the end of the book:
I was able to outrun the i7 CPU. I quickly paged forward in thumbnail view to see if that fire-breathing i7 could keep up. It didn’t. But I don’t think this is the fault of either Asus or the CPU. I think this is just the basic, unoptimized PDF viewer not taking full advantage of all of that hardware horsepower. I’m really hoping someone will do an optimized PDF viewer for Windows 8 (I use the free PDF-Xchange Viewer on my crap desktop PC and have found it be very, very fast. I hope they have Windows 8 version in the works).
I also paged through quickly vertically:
And performance was damned impressive. I had none of the delay annoyances I’ve experienced on other tablets in my tests. Everything was so smooth and quick, it gave me a lot of hope that a Windows 8 tablet could be the Google Books PDF reader I’ve always needed.
Maximum pinch-out zoom:
Thumbnails in landscape view:
A 16:9 screen really shows a lot!
That concluded the first PDF test.
The next one is the PDF that every tablet falls down on. It’s the Processed World PDF from the Internet Archive. Like the Google Books PDFs, these are also scanned images. But there is a big difference. Instead of JPEG, they use JPEG2000, which really requires a lot of CPU muscle to handle.
Before going to the Internet Archive, I had to detour to my blog to find my past post for the proper link. Landscape view:
That is an incredible view. I’ve never seen so much on one screen before.
And that post:
And before you ask, the answer is No, I didn’t try playing those YouTube videos. My single-focused mind didn’t even notice them. I regret that now. YouTube was one of the things I wanted to test — but I wound up not testing it at all on any of the hardware. My lame excuse is that I didn’t know how long Asus would let us play with everything so I wanted to at least get these PDF tests out of the way. (As it turned out, there was plenty of time to test YouTube. On the other hand, I was one of the last people to leave and still hadn’t tried everything.)
And here we go with the download:
Opened in portrait:
And here is where I messed up but didn’t realize it until later. Two pages are being displayed at once. I didn’t discover until much later — while on another tablet doing this same test — that Show Two Pages was turned on instead of View As Single Page.
And now you see what happens with JPEG2000 scans:
That right side page should not be blank. That’s how much horsepower is required to process a JPEG2000 image. Also, let’s not forget this was a basic built-in PDF viewer too, which I’m sure accounts for that.
Maximum pinch-out zoom:
Any unevenness in the darkness of the text is due to the original printed zine.
Here I am trying to split the screen between the browser and the PDF viewer:
No matter how much I tried, I could not get them to each share half of the screen. I’ve since been told that this is how Windows 8 operates. There is no going halfsies on a screen. Which is, you know, is really incredibly stupid. Because why not? What is the point of showing a sliver of another screen? That’s no real productivity aid. What if I needed to consult something in the PDF to tweet in the browser? I’d have to keep changing the split point? Who ever thought that was a great idea? Was anyone thinking at all? This is not a minor issue, either. Windows 8 will also be used on desktops with ginormous touchscreens (as shown later in this series of posts), yet only a sliver of another application view is possible? This is Major Stupid.
This brings up another point of Windows 8. In Formerly-Known-As-Metro view, there are really no windows. I can’t have several apps open at once sharing the screen in overlapping windows. What we’re getting here are panes. Maybe Microsoft should rename Windows 8 to Panes 1! At least people would then be able to understand the damn difference between ARM-based Windows RT and Intel-based Windows 8. The ARM version could be called Panes, the Intel version Windows. That would straighten out a lot of confusion most people have about putting legacy Windows software on an RT tablet. “No, you can’t use Windows. This tablet uses Panes.”
Back to the test. The next thing I tried was the modified Processed World PDF I stored in Google Docs. As has been the case in some other tests, I was not given any prompt asking if I wanted to download the PDF. Instead, by default, it was displayed by Google Docs itself:
There’s nothing more to say about that other than what’s being shown in photos.
But that version of Processed World, had I downloaded it, would have zoomed on that device. Because it zooms on other tablets. I swapped out the JPEG2000 images for JPEG and rescaled them. It becomes a much larger file but it’s then speedy.
Here are various views of some quick outside tech news catch-up I briefly did:
Portrait web browsing on a 13.3″ screen is just spectacular:
And the Acid Test of going to The Verge:
No hiccups at all. It was wonderful.
Here’s something that struck me. When a tablet is shown with a keyboard, it distorts the size of the tablet because what you think of first is the usability of that keyboard.
The Verge nails this in its review of the Asus Vivo RT:
Unfortunately, while 10.1 inches is a good size for a tablet screen it’s not good for a laptop. The screen’s too small to make multitasking really useful, and since Asus had to make the dock the same size as the tablet, it’s too small as well.
So by combining a tablet with a keyboard dock to transform it into a notebook, it changes the entire decision tree for purchasing. Because although a 10″ tablet on its own might be sufficient, when paired with its keyboard the entire package is suddenly much less than the sum of its parts due to a cramped typing experience. The Verge nails that too:
As I found with the Acer W510, 10.1 inches doesn’t seem like the right size for a device like this — using the Vivo Tab as a laptop only made me think of crappy, hard-to-use netbooks from three years ago.
Encountering and using the 13.3″ Transformer Book spoiled me in a way but also forced me to think about the combination of tablet plus keyboard in a way I’d never considered before. I think that’s something everyone needs to consider before buying any Windows 8 tablet too.
Continued in: Asus Windows 8 Introduction: Part Two