The Windows and Android operating systems have had one thing in common: Both are designed to work on many different kinds of hardware.
They now have a second thing in common: The Transformer AiO P1801 from Asus, a fully functional Windows 8 desktop computer that’s also a giant, fully functional Android tablet.
The question is of course: Why?
Who needs to be able to flip from running Microsoft Excel to Google Now at the touch of a button?
After spending time with this weird, $1,299 hybrid, which goes on sale in the U.S. in April, I have the answer: No one.
But, almost in spite of myself, I came to see how it might be useful, if not for the manufacturer’s quality-control issues.
The name “AiO” -- for “all in one” -- is misleading. The computer actually consists of two pieces: a detachable 18.4-inch screen and the separate “PC station” it slides onto.
The PC station holds the guts of what’s needed to make the Transformer a potent Windows 8 desktop: an Intel Core i5 microprocessor, eight gigabytes of memory, Nvidia graphics, a one-terabyte hard drive and a DVD drive. A wireless mouse and keyboard complete the package.
Boot up the PC, and you’re greeted by the colorful Windows 8 desktop, with its familiar tiles, plus one that isn’t familiar. It features a little green robot and is labeled “Mode Switch.”
Poke it, and the screen goes dark for three seconds. When it returns, Presto! You’re looking at the home screen for Android 4.1, which Google calls “Jelly Bean.”
The electronics for the tablet side are contained within the screen itself: Nvidia’s Tegra 3 processor and 32 gigabytes of solid-state storage.
The Android home screen also features an app called “Mode Switch.” Tap it, and three seconds later you’re back in Windows 8.
So why would you ever want this capability? I can think of one big reason: apps.
After an early burst of activity, growth has slowed in the Microsoft app store for the new Windows 8 user interface. At last count, there were only about 50,000. By contrast, the number of Android apps is now about 700,000.
To be sure, most of them were designed for smartphones and aren’t optimized for tablets, let alone a super-size one like the Transformer. Still, even a blown-up smartphone app is better than no app at all.
For example, I was able to watch college basketball playoff games in real time, using the NCAA March Madness Live Android app. If I were moving around the home or office, it was easy to pop the screen out of the PC station and carry it with me into the next room, using the integrated kickstand to prop it up.
Of course, at 5-1/2 pounds -- roughly equivalent to eight Apple iPad minis -- I certainly wouldn’t want to carry it far.
When used off the dock, you can expect battery life of about five hours, though Asus has thoughtfully provided a second power supply for when the Transformer roams from home base.
Because the PC hardware resides in the docking station, you aren’t able to use the Transformer as a full Windows 8 tablet. Instead, Asus has included software that’s supposed to allow it run Windows remotely over short distances.
Unfortunately, it proved problematic: Whenever I removed the screen from the dock, the Windows connection failed and the tablet flipped over into Android mode. Asus eventually replaced the first unit with a second one, which had the same problem until a company technician managed to get it working properly.
That was just one of several vexing issues I encountered with both machines. The “Mode Switch” app would routinely drop me into Windows’ desktop mode instead of the Start Screen -- an annoying and unnecessary extra stop. (If you began on the Start Screen, you’re supposed to be returned there.)
Even the installation software had a disconcerting mistake: A button on the Windows remote set-up screen was labeled “Go To Andorid Setup.” Granted, a spelling mistake isn’t the end of the world. But it suggests a lack of attention to detail in a machine for which you’ve paid a premium price.
Give Asus credit for daring. But not for follow-through.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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