In a previous entry I talked about the Asus R1E. After having spend some time with it I’m now ready to pass my final judgment on this fine piece of hardware.
When it comes to computers I’m set on brands for some reason. Some brands I like for quality, like Nvidia and Enermax, others because I’ve been using that brand for an eternity and never had a problem. Asus falls in that last category, I have been using the Asus brand for years now in most of the desktop computers I have built over the years. Motherboard and video card both tend to be of the Asus brand simply because they are often the first with new gadgets and functionality and, like I said, have never ever failed on me.
When I started looking for a tablet PC specifically I quickly found that although a fairly wide variety of brands and models is available, most of them seem to be an ordinary laptop with a touchscreen slapped onto it. Obviously when you’re looking for a laptop for an advanced piece of hardware on it you can expect the laptop to be modified for it here and there. And while not all manufacturers live up to this expectation, some do stand out. Among which is the R1E.
Going tablet, yes or no?
Before we dive into anything else about this laptop I want to cover a small issue I have with tablet PC’s in general and if you’re the right person to buy one.
Tablet PC’s were originally (and 95% of them still are) aimed for the traveling business man. They are supposedly a great replacement for a notepad, you can bring it with you where ever you go without having a bulky looking laptop on your lap. The argument for a tablet PC in the office is that taking notes (during a meeting for example) becomes so much easier. However you need to consider if writing on a screen is really that much of an improvement over writing in a notebook and typing it in Word later. Especially since you won’t be using the tablet function of the laptop for anything else, is it worth the extra cash? I’m not a business man, but I’d be inclined to say no.
I have no statistics to back up the following claim, but I think that tablet PC’s are more popular in the art community than anywhere else. Being able to draw on the screen is much more significant then being able to write on the screen and it might be worth the extra cash for an artist as opposed to a business man who can just as easily grab a notepad. For artists, it’s a very big leap forward if they are able to sketch in their favorite graphics software.
Before I bought the R1E I read the blog of a business man (which unfortunately I lost the link of) who tried out working on a tablet PC during meetings and such. He came to the conclusion that the process of learning the laptop your handwriting and having a bulky machine with you all the time did not come in as handy as you would at first believe. Of course it had it’s benefits, like being able to check your e-mail on the spot and quick access to notes, but he found that when he was in a meeting he rarely referred to his e-mail and hardly ever had to look at previous notes. Eventually he got rid of the thing and went back to a good old notepad. Moral of the story: think very hard about why you want to get a tablet PC and how you will be using it. The touch screen alone makes any tablet PC about 50% more expensive then their normal counterparts so be sure you will be using it when you decide to get it.
Let’s get some of the basic stuff out of the way first, such as the R1E’s specifications.
OS: Windows Vista Business Edition
Internal RAM: 2GB
CPU: Intel dual core 2200MHZ
Screen size: 13,3″ (widescreen)
Wireless: Built in wireless network connector and bluetooth connector.
Other than those specs it has what you would expect on a laptop. Audio plugs, a DVD rewriter, VGA output and a nifty fingerprint scanner which I will talk about shortly.
Another cool part about this laptop is the swappable drive bay which originally houses your DVD rewriter but can be swapped for a second battery (included) or a second hard disk (not included). The drive is apparently hot swappable (though I have not yet tested this) so you can just switch things around while you are working.
Just one other thing that is worth noting is the e-SATA port you can use to hook up all your external SATA devices.
One thing that immediately came to mind when looking at the specs for this laptop was that 2GB of memory seemed rather low, especially since it was running Vista Business. On top of that you also get a trail version of Norton Internet Security 2008 which isn’t exactly memory friendly. So after installing most of the programs I used I was kind of expecting a significant drop in performance, especially when working on Photoshop but I was pleasantly surprised when the laptop seemed to hold it’s own against the large memory strain. I experience little to no lag when the laptop is booted up completely although I must say that the actual boot process can take quite long. If you need your laptop in quick bursts every now and again I would avoid shutting it down completely and just let it hibernate when you don’t use it.
Safe for the long boot time the rest of the laptop seems to work pretty smooth. As with any laptop these days you get a load of free programs and trails pre-installed on your system which you can then decide to keep or not. Internet surfing is not a hassle at all and the built in wireless connector does it’s job just fine at finding and connecting to the right networks. This laptop also has the ability to manually turn the wireless options on and off with the switch of a button. The response time of this switch is excellent and turns your internet connection on or off pretty much directly (depending on circumstances of course).
One slight issue that caught my attention was that the power LED on the laptop blinks softly when the laptop is in sleep mode. Normally there wouldn’t be a problem with this but the various blue LED’s on the laptop are rather bright. You won’t notice this at all during the day but for those of you who keep their laptop in sleep mode during the night will suddenly see a blue glow in their room fading in and out. This can be quickly fixed by just putting something on the LED’s, like a book, but it’s an annoying little detail non the less.
On to the important part! The Asus R1E has the awesome ability to flip the screen 180 degrees and then close the screen backwards, this leaves you with something that resembles an oversized PDA. When the laptop is in this mode you will lose your keyboard and touch pad but gain the ability to use your pen to select, click and write. When you flip the screen around the image on the screen automatically turns 90 degrees, forcing you to hold the tablet in a ‘standing’ position. Luckily, for those not so keen on this little feature, you can flip the image back to normal with the push of a button and start working.
Because you lose your keyboard and touch pad when you’re in tablet mode, everything you need to do is done by using the included pen (which is nicely hidden in one of the corners of the laptop). Clicking is done by tapping and writing is done by writing on a little magical post-it note that will make an attempt at reading your poor handwriting. Especially at first it will have trouble but the more you use it the faster it will learn that those hieroglyphs are actually letters and numbers.
Using the pen to draw is remarkably accurate. The R1E is a Penabled tablet PC, meaning it implements the famous Wacom tablet technology and makes it one of the few tablet PC’s out there that supports pressure sensitivity (although you do need to download the drivers from Wacom.com first to enable the pressure sensitivity). Artists will be very glad to hear this I’m sure.
As far as actual drawing goes, to be honest I first expected a tablet PC to be a little off, sorta speak. Especially the small space between the pen and the actual ‘paper’ had me worried that I’d have to learn to use it properly. It surprised me that when I did some test drawings, the results were about as accurate as when I would do it on real paper. Another plus for the artist tablet user!
Last but not least a small detail our dear Asus friends didn’t forget (this is why I like them). As most tablet users know, the tip of a tablet pen will wear off in time and will need replacing. Asus is nice enough to supply you with 5 replacement tips and a nice tool to get the old one out. That should keep you drawing for years to come.
Biometric security measures are slowly being integrated in everyday life and are no longer a thing for top secret government buildings and James Bond movies. Today you can even get your front door to open with your fingerprint if you really wanted to.
In computers this development has been mostly reserved for government agencies but in the past few years we have seen fingerprint scanners popping up on USB sticks and phones for example.
Asus is one of the few companies to bring this technology to a laptop, together with HP who is exploring the same path, and it’s a good idea.
The fingerprint scanner on the R1E works exactly like it should without any major flaws. A pre-installed program lets you program your fingerprints into the system and from that moment on you can use your fingerprint to log into Windows, applications and websites. The only thing you have to look out for is how you swipe your finger when you’re teaching the program. If you swipe your finger with a curve of some sort you’ll have to duplicate that exact curve again to get a match in the future. It’s best to take some time when programming the scanner so you get the easiest positions to scan. For most people this will be the left thumb and the right index finger but take some time and figure out what you like best.
An issue with the R1F (the R1E’s big brother) was it’s crappy battery life. User complained about the battery running low way to fast and that it’s durability only decreased after every charge. Unfortunately this problem was not fixed with the R1E as a closer inspection of the battery reveals that it’s the exact same model (R1F model).
My experience is that a fully charged battery will last you about two hours on average and a mere 1 hour and 45 minutes after the first few recharges. Compared to any other laptop this is pathetic and it also makes it the single largest downside of this laptop. Some people I know draw on their laptop for hours on end and having it plugged in to a power socket all the time isn’t nice for mobility. Luckily the previously mentioned hot swappable drive bay offers a solution as it can be used to store a second battery which offers an additional 1,5 hours of battery life bringing the total to 3,5 hours of battery life. That wouldn’t be a problem except that you have to sacrifice your DVD rewriter for it.
So far I have not encountered a battery that can replace the crappy thing Asus put in there but I hope to find it somewhere at some point soon because the current rate of decay will leave the battery useless in a year or so.
Users in the United States apparently can contact Asus about the battery and have it replaced if they really want to.
The Asus R1E is a very decent tablet PC that has all the extras you would expect from a tablet PC. It can handle pretty much all the basic stuff you throw at it like Photoshop and Word without a glitch but mind you that it’s not equipped for gaming.
The tablet part of the laptop works magnificent as does the nifty fingerprint scanner.
The only real downside to this laptop is the battery life and wear. You’d expect to be able to work for a few hours on a laptop without an electrical socket nearby but apparently 2 hours is all you’re getting at most from the original battery which is kind of disappointing but not a huge disaster for most users I’m sure.
Non the less, the R1E is something I can personally recommend for artists looking for something more then a normal tablet and happen to be looking for a new laptop at the same time.
I hope this review was of use to you, if you have any questions feel free to contact me (though I can not promise you an instant reply) and I will try to answer your question.