A New Device…Asus T100 Transformer Windows 8.1 10″ Tablet

This is the Asus T100, docked in its trackpad keyboard.
This is the Asus T100, docked in its trackpad keyboard.

I have been working on selling my Acer Iconia W3 8″ Windows tablet that I have owned for a few months. The W3 served its purpose in my life; it let me see how Windows RT and Windows 8 (then 8.1) worked. I even used the tablet for a little bit of Finale and Notion work, but it became clear that I would need a Bluetooth mouse or some kind of (additional) external keyboard with a trackpad to get any serious music notation work done on that computer. In that time, two different things happened. First, Asus released a new transformer tablet, not based on Android, but on Windows 8.1 for $399; and second, Acer released a W4 tablet to deal with the shortcomings of the W3…mainly a better screen and a faster processor. It took a while, but I sold the tablet to someone over Craigslist. I paid $290 for it shipped, and took $250 for it. The tablet was in mint condition, so I feel like I did okay, and that the buyer also got a good deal.

The Asus T100 closed in its notebook configuration.
The Asus T100 closed in its notebook configuration.

I have been looking at the T100 for some time, as it comes with a detachable keyboard with an attached trackpad. Best Buy had a 32GB model on sale for $299 a few weeks ago, but I knew I wanted the 64GB version. I have been bidding on eBay for the tablet, but prices were regularly rocketing above $400 for a $399 (MSRP) tablet. New Egg was selling them for $379, but is now selling them at $399 (and are out of stock), and even Amazon is selling the tablets for $439 (used!) right now.

The Asus T100 separated from its keyboard (a single button unlocks the keyboard)
The Asus T100 separated from its keyboard (a single button unlocks the keyboard)

Why is this tablet so popular? Because it is basically the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, minus the digitizing pen, with a keyboard, for over $600 less. If you are looking for a Windows tablet, the T100 is the best bargain you will find, and battery life is excellent–at iPad levels–something the Surface Pro 2 can’t try to match.

 

At any rate, I was looking online and saw that my local Wal-Mart has a T100 in stock for $379, so I went to Wal-Mart to do our weekly shopping and found out that they had one T100 left, which I bought. For the record, this is the T100-C1, which is the 64GB version. There is also a T100-B1, which is a 32GB version.

This is a 10″ 16:10 aspect ratio tablet. The T-100 comes with the trackpad keyboard, which connects directly to the tablet, so it is not a Bluetooth keyboard. There is a Micro USB port, a Micro HDMI port, and a Micro SD card on the device (like the W3), but the keyboard also has a full USB 3.0 port on the keyboard. So although this tablet is $89 more expensive than what I paid for the W3 (not including tax), the faster processor, bigger screen, better screen, and USB 3.0 port make it a far better computer.

The USB 3.0 port located on the keyboard.  As a right-handed person, I wish this was on the other side.
The USB 3.0 port located on the keyboard. As a right-handed person, I wish this was on the other side.

As with all Windows 8.1 tablets, you get the schizophrenic relationship between Windows RT (tile world) and Windows 8.1 (Desktop). Windows desktop, overall, is the same thing Windows has always been; Windows RT is a joy to use, but it just lacks apps that iPad or Android tablet owners would be looking for. If you are a musician, there is no PDF music reader for Windows RT. You can use a traditional PDF reader, but page turns are up and down, not left to right. You can buy PDF music readers for Windows 8.1 (Desktop), but these applications generally won’t take advantage of the tablet interface, and in fact, buttons may be too small to accurately press without a stylus–something that isn’t going to happen in a rehearsal or performance. Windows really has a good thing with Windows RT on its hands…they should be shipping the major OS developers big loads of cash to develop apps. Once people use Windows RT, they will like it. But if the OS lacks app, people will not come to the platform. Apple set the standard, opening with a huge array of apps (both for the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch) on the first day of the iPad, and even Android is still struggling to catch up when it comes to tablet apps. My fear is that Windows will have to abandon RT before its benefits are known.

That said, like all widescreen tablets, it is strange to look at music on the 16:10 screen. You either don’t see enough of the screen (landscape), or the music appears too narrow and there is a space at the bottom of the screen (portrait). When it comes to viewing music, this is a reason I prefer the iPad or a 4:3 Android tablet like my “hacked” HP Touchpad or the Kuno. I don’t think you can find a 4:3 Windows tablet. Even though the 16:10 screen might be better for movies, I would prefer the 4:3 for working on documents and for sheet music.

This image shows the size difference between the iPad's visible screen and the T100...the iPad is significantly wider.
This image shows the size difference between the iPad’s visible screen and the T100…the iPad is significantly wider.
This image shows how the T100 is longer (taller?) than the iPad.
This image shows how the T100 is longer (taller?) than the iPad.
This image shows the iPad over the T100, giving the idea of the length and width of the entire T100 versus the iPad
This image shows the iPad over the T100, giving the idea of the length and width of the entire T100 versus the iPad

The T100, like many other Windows devices these days, also comes with Microsoft Office Student and Home.  In the world of GAFE and iWork in the Cloud, this is no longer the incentive it once was.

At $399 (MRSP) and likely under $379 for schools, this device would be appealing to me beyond a Chromebook in education; you can certainly run any Google App for Education on this T100 (it is just as fast as any Chromebook, save for the high-end Pixel), and you can run Google Chrome and all Chome Web apps on this device. For those people that still need Flash (you have to wonder about the web designers who are sticking with Flash in this day of mobile technology that doesn’t run flash), Flash will work on the T100. And if a few developers could be lured to the RT platform, the device could be separated from its keyboard and used in classes that just didn’t need a substitute for writing papers by hand or typing them on a typewriter.

Granted, the T100 will face the challenge of malware, which does not exist on iOS, Mac, or Chromebooks; and implementation of a T100 1:1 program would be as intensive as any Mac, Windows Notebook, or iPad implementation (Chromebook implementations are supposed to be the easiest to manage). But for $180 more than a barebones Chromebook, you get a device that can potentially do a lot more. So if your district is considering Chromebooks, you might want to check out the T100 first.

New cables for the Acer Iconia W3 Windows 8.1 Tablet

On the day the iPad Air went on sale in the United States, I finally received the cables I needed for my Iconia W3 nearly a month ago. One cable is a Micro USB to Male USB, and the other is a Micro HDMI to HDMI. These cables are very expensive (if you can find them) in stores; ordering on Amazon, they were less that $6.00 for both, shipped. Almost less than the cost of postage.

This meant that I was able to attach my Casio PX-350 to the W3 for the first time…and it worked flawlessly. Remember: Casio is using a MIDI driver that currently does not work with Finale (I'm hoping that Finale 2014 solves the issue), so I had to test the cable/connection with Notion 4. It works great…and in fact, I can tell that I would prefer using a tablet PC (perhaps not an eight inch tablet) with a keyboard versus a notebook computer. When you are working on a stand-alone keyboard, and not a mini-keyboard, there is no great place to put your notebook while you are working. The tablet fits easily on the piano's music stand, and the keyboard of the Acer W3 can be placed anywhere. Granted, buttons in “legacy desktop” PC programs are still VERY small for any tablet application, but keystrokes can be substituted for most onscreen buttons.

I also connected the W3 to out family's HDTV, and that was flawless (even a better connection than our MacMini which normally uses that connection–the Mac Mini seems to forget the display settings every time you turn off the TV, causing the image to go to 4:3 rather than widescreen, and I can't find any easy solution to fix the problem. I can see purchasing the W3 as a desktop computer (really), using a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and buying a cheap widescreen HDTV to use as a monitor…this would be a pretty reliable setup. At that point, however, you are treating the W3 as a desktop rather than a tablet, so the negatives of the legacy desktop on the tablet are gone–but then the Windows RT/Metro interface makes no sense.

The new cables stuck into the Acer Iconia W3

Windows has talked about creating tabets that run Windows RT, Windows 8.1, and Android. They call this double boot, whereas I would call it triple boot, as their setup already acts as if you have two devices. This device would be appealing to me, as I could have one device to test all of the features of all of Apple's competitors (Windows and Android).

I have had some issues with the W3, such as unexplained shutdowns, and I had to completely restore the device once already. I still can't get the news tile from Microsoft to load, and I'm pretty sure that Microsoft isn't going to help me. But for a device that cost $293, shipped, with its keyboard, is a pretty good deal.

There is another new tablet, the Asus Transformer T-100 that just entered the market. It is a 10 inch tablet with a detachable keyboard with touchpad included. Early reviews have been skeptical about the keyboard, but in many ways it is a Surface Pro 2 without the higher price tag. It also lacks the special stylus of the Surface Pro 2, so that may be an issue for you. You can buy the 64GB model from a number of resellers for $399. It has a far better screen than my W3, and it is 2″ larger diagonally. If you are looking for a Windows computer, you might want to consider that device (hoping you find a good one and being willing to exchange until you do)…but I would also suggest the extended warranty if you buy such a device. Oh…and you'll still need those extra cables that I bought for the Acer Iconia W3.

 

So…I bought a Windows 8 Tablet

One of my goals in writing posts for techinmusiced.com is to help teachers use technology in music education, regardless of platform. As my daily life becomes Apple (iPad) centric, I have to take steps to stay up to date with other trends in technology. This is why I also own a tablet that runs Android and a Chromebook.

I am a convert to Apple products, moving to all Apple products in 2008. At that time, I had Windows XP computers, and my school district had Windows XP computers (we even downgraded new computers to XP) through the fall of 2012, when my school district changed to MacBooks.

Effectively, I have not used a Windows computer with anything newer than Windows XP. I have skipped Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

But as Microsoft is (finally) doubling down on touch-based computers and tablets, and there are still plenty of anti-Apple school IT departments, I saw a need to educate myself on those tablets and what they can offer for music education. I wanted to stay away from Windows RT, which appears to be an operating system with no future, even though Microsoft is releasing a second RT tablet this fall. I did, however, want to spend some time with Windows 8 (and soon, Windows 8.1), particularly in tablet form.

I have been l looking at the Surface Pro, but have been unwilling to pay $899 plus another $140 for the keyboard cover. In truth, my five year old MacBook needs replacing more than I need a $1000(+) Windows tablet. So I started searching for an alternative. I settled on the Asus W3, an eight inch Windows 8 tablet that was originally $499. I have been bidding on W3s on eBay, and finally bought the 64GB version with keyboard for $293, shipped. The W3 arrived last night, and I have been spending a lot of my free time with it.

I realize that I am not getting the full Surface experience with the W3–nobody is dancing around me with snapping Surface tablets and keyboards. Nor is there a stylus that allows you to draw on the screen (although any iPad stylus will work–but not like the “actual” Surface stylus). But this does give me a chance to work with the Windows environment under Windows 8, which is drastically different than XP, no matter what anyone says.

Setting up the tablet required significantly more work than any iOS device I've ever worked with, and I'm sorry to say that Windows still isn't touch-friendly. Granted, it is up to software developers to make programs that are designed to run with touch in mind, but even dealing with open windows and selecting items within windows is difficult. Again, I'm on an eight inch tablet versus a ten inch Surface; I would find it hard to interact with many Windows elements even on a twenty-four inch screen. All window icons (close, minimize, maximize) are just too small to actively navigate with your finger, and it is difficult to select a single item in a window (list view) with your finger. And this is Windows, so you need those window icons all the time.

I still have problems tying to close a program via the new gestures (You are supposed to be able to swipe down from the top of the screen…this has not worked for me). I don't know how to effectively move my cursor on the screen when typing, nor do I know how to select text. There are ways to do these things, but I am still learning–and have not been able to figure them out on my own. Without the Acer keyboard and old Windows commands, I would be lost. I get the Metro interface, big icons that come from the Windows phoe experience. But once you get into actual operation, all of the interaction happens in the old windows format, which really isn't tablet-friendly at all. And of course, most of the apps aren't tablet friendly, either.

Windows 8 is supposed to be an operating system “without sacrifices,” but you seem to sacrifice a lot when you run it as a tablet; the Metro interface must be infuriating on a traditional computer.

My take so far is that Windows 8 is more difficult to learn than iOS, and I would be fearful of tyring to teach this interface to students. I think of Windows 8 as being schizophrenic, having a promising touch interface that is only skin-deep. That's a problem. I also have to get some anti-virus software for the device.

Now, I remind you, I am just working on the process of getting this device set up for my use…I haven't even tried to start thinking “music education” with it yet. The Windows interface does allow for Flash content, but most up-to-date web-based services are pushing out HTML-5 enabled interfaces that work on all platforms.

In the case of the Acer Iconia W3, it comes with micro everything, with no included adapters. It has micro-USB, so you can use USB, but not without the adapter. It has micro HDMI, but you have to buy the adapter. And it has a micro SD slot, so you can easily add more memory. I now have the micro adapters on order from Amazon, and when they arrive I will get a chance to see how the W3 interacts with HDMI and USB peripherals.

Without AirPlay (or something like it), Windows tablets are at a disadvantage for education (mirroring is very important). The W3's lack of VGA is also an issue (many schools do not have HDMI projectors or HDMI wiring). I need more time to see if any Windows 8 programs can match the power of the (now free for new iOS devices) iWork and iLife apps, although Microsoft Office Home and Student comes free with the Acer Iconia W3, which alone is a $139.99 package.

I will continue to work with this device and learn how to use it. I will certainly write more about the topic as I find uses for the device in music education.