Day of the Fondleslab

A few weeks ago my laptop died. The internal fan over the GPU stopped working and within short order the graphics card melted. The first I knew of this was when the screen corrupted. I’ve seen this kind of mess before and knew it meant the death of the computer. And since then I’ve been without a computer much of the time. Yes I do have a rather nice desktop machine but using it means being away from my family. Of an evening I may want to do some work but still spend time with wifey in front of the telly. Much as I love my Android powered smartphone writing and posting website content with it is not easy.

I do have a Netbook I bought several years ago. But it’s really underpowered and the screen is very poor – making for lots of headaches due to my eyesight problems. So what to do? Of course the most obvious thing is a new laptop. However I spend a lot of time using my phone for Twitter, Facebook and the web and so began to consider the idea of a tablet.

Great, get an iPad Harry, I hear you say. I say, no. While Apple’s tablet is brilliant for music production – something that made it really appeal to me – it’s pretty useless as a computer replacement. It’s a big glass vanity object for hipsters and posers. Getting anything actually done with the things is a pain, especially as Apple locks you down in terms of your ability to use it as a grown up – moving and uploading files. Can you copy over your files from your DSLR and back them up to a portable hard drive or USB stick with an iPad? No you can’t. Though the worst thing about the – actually rather impressive iPad – isn’t the hardware, it’s the reliance on the worst piece of software ever created – iTunes (may it rot in hell forever).

Then I realised that wanting a tablet was perhaps more of a tech lust thing than wanting something useful. Could I really get any work done on one, especially typing something the length of this blog post using an on-screen keyboard? The answer it seemed to be a resounding no.

And then I saw the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. It is a 10.1 inch tablet running on the Android Honeycomb operating system. It has 16GB of onboard memory (though is also available with 32GB) and a MicroSD card slot and can be bought on its own or with a keyboard dock. So while you can use the tablet in the usual way it’s also possible to easily make use of a keyboard. What’s more the keyboard dock has the same kind of battery in it as the tablet, meaning that you can double the battery life by docking. While docked the keyboard actually charges the tablet meaning you can then undock again and put the keyboard down to recharge. What kind of battery life do you get out of your laptop? The Transformer will do 18 hours, for real.

When docked a cursor appears on the screen and can be controlled via the touchpad on the keyboard dock. Or you can plug in a USB mouse, And all the time the ten-point multitouch screen continues to work as normal.

The keyboard itself is no gimmick, it’s very usable indeed, the typing experience is vastly superio to my old Acer netbook. The keyboard dock also features an SD card, two USB ports and a mini-HDMI out. Thanks to the way Android treats you like a grownup (unlike Apple’s IOS) it’s possible to connect all manner of devices to these USB ports. So you can download music from Amazon MP3 and pass it over to your MP3 player, or you can plug in your camera and back up the images onto the onboard memory, SD card, USB stick, MicroSD or USB hard drive. What a great companion for a travelling photographer.

But the real test is can it be used by an online journalist, someone who not only needs to write lots of copy, but someone who needs to edit and upload images. Well yes it can. I’ve just created this blog post using a Transformer, something of a proof to myself it’s possible. And you know what, it was no more hassle – as in none – than using a regular Windows or Linux laptop. I even edited and resized the images you see in this article and uploaded them to the server. I was a complete breeze.

But in a moment once I’ve posted this I can disconnect the keyboard, turn the pad to portrait and read the Guardian in full paper version via the Press Reader app, while listening to some downloaded music. Or can enjoy YouTube in glorious HD. Then I may enjoy a graphically impressive Tegra powered game that makes use of the motion sensor. This is a very versatile piece of kit.

I may have scoffed in the past, but the day of the tablet is here. But not thanks to Apple – it’s the devices that are taking the concept and running with it that are the real revolution in this format. And the Eee Pad Transformer is really ahead of the game despite being less expensive than many of its rivals. It’s no wonder then that this weekend you’ll struggle to find a Transformer pad/dock bundle anywhere. It’s out of stock everywhere it seems, even at Amazon.co.uk, this really is the age of the fondleslab.