Asus Transformer 2, Kal-El, and the Future of Notebooks (and Tablets)

August 17, 2011
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Nvidia promised us (again) that we’ll see their latest Tegra chip at the end of August in tablets. I don’t know if it’s their fault, or the manufacturers’ fault for adopting the chip late, or perhaps they all wanted to wait for Android 4.0 to launch it together with Kal-El/Tegra 3, but the first tablets with Kal-El got delayed until October. The first tablet that is supposed to have this quad core 1.5 Ghz chip is apparently Asus’ next-gen Transformer tablet.

Asus-Transformer-keyboard-dock

The first Transformer

The first Transformer was probably the most loved Android tablet from the first wave of Honeycomb tablets. It wasn’t the lightest or the slimmest, but it had other big advantages, like the flexibility of a keyboard dock, which meant you can use your tablet for fast typing like you would a notebook. The extra dock also came with a battery, and it could extend your tablet’s battery life from about 9 hours to around 15 hours. That’s about 3x as much as a regular netbook would give you, and you can thank the ARM SoC for it. It made more room to add an extra battery, and it’s also highly energy efficient compared to an x86 chip.

It also had a great IPS display, and if you wanted just the tablet itself, it would only cost you $400, or $100 less than an iPad, or most other tablets. All this led it to become the tablet that gave the highest value for the money, and it quickly surpassed Asus’ sales projection. Hopefully, they won’t have restricted supply for the Transformer 2, especially if it’s going to be as good as I think it will be.

Expectations for Transformer 2

As stated above, it will have what will be by far the most powerful ARM chip on the market this fall – the quad core 1.5 Ghz Kal-El. Competition like TI and Qualcomm will only have dual core 1.5 Ghz chips in products then. So theoretically, it should be about twice as fast, at least for apps that can take advantage of more than one core.

It should have a higher quality display, probably still IPS. I expect tablets to have higher resolutions than 1280×800 this fall, so it could have a 1920×1200 resolution, if it maintains the 16:10 ratio (you could watch 1080p movies on it at full resolution). ย On a 10″ display, the PPI would be about 225, which is not quite at 300 yet, but still much better for making the text sharper and more enjoyable to read.

The maximum resolution that Kal-El supports is 2500×1600, but I doubt we’ll see it this fall in tablets. Those displays would probably be too expensive, and it might impact the GPU performance way too much. This is also something to keep in mind when you watch the benchmarks later. The higher resolution will impact the GPU performance, but personally I’d still prefer a higher resolution than what we have today.

Unless the Kal-El chip is significantly more expensive than Tegra 2 was for them at the time they bought it for Transformer 1, we should see the same $400 price for Transformer 2.

Rumors say that Nexus Prime and Android 4.0 will be launched together in October, which is the same month the Asus Transformer 2 will be launched, but will it come directly with Android 4.0? Normally, I’d say no, but there are 2 ways in which Android 4.0 could be on Transformer 2. Google would have to make Transformer 2 their lead tablet for Android 4.0, and Tegra 3 would have to be optimized directly for Android 4.0. So far we know that OMAP 4 will be used in Nexus Prime, but we don’t know if Android 4.0 will only be optimized for OMAP at first, or also for Nvidia’s chips.

Your future notebook

I don’t have a tablet, but I know I wouldn’t get one unless it also had the optional keyboard dock. I’m thinking maybe the tablet itself is not the device that will “replace” our laptops down the road, but maybe a device that has the best of both worlds: the notebook’s form factor (free hands) and keyboard, and the extra mobility and interaction of a tablet – a device like the Transformer.

We use our computers today for both work and entertainment. A tablet by itself can only be used for entertainment and consumption, but not for productivity. You could use a Transformer-like tablet for both work and entertainment, especially when we’ll see more professional and advanced apps for these tablets. But either way, we still have the Internet and the browser on them, and a lot of people’s work is moving in the cloud, which will make inexpensive quad core ARM Transformer-like devices very compelling in the next few years.

Maybe it’s the iPad that showed us a new way to use the computer, but tablets are still mostly luxury devices right now. Maybe it’s the Transformer the one to make tablets, coupled with a keyboard dock, a necessity for everyone in the next few years. You get consumption and productivity, all in the same package.

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