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

August 17, 2011

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).  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.

Comments

  • http://profiles.google.com/dude2k5 Kenji Castro

    I have the first TF and it changed the way I see computing. We dont need laptops anymore. The tablets last longer and do more. Worse case you remote into windows and it functions like a full computer. You have the best of both worlds, a tablet, and a dock with a keyboard and trackpad that also adds battery which functions just like a laptop. Android is kicking ass and with this concept, it will be the future. Why have one or the other when you can have both? Precision and touchscreen all into one package. I dont even need a phone with GrooveIP and Google Voice. I just need Wifi, which most places around have.

  • Anonymous

    I truly believe that this device is MORE IMPORTANT to tablets/computers than the iPad.

    Why?

    Because Its a full functional tablet. And when you put it into a dock, it becomes a full functional laptop. (well with Windows 8 it would truly become a full functional laptop)

    I believe that this concept will end up replacing tablets, netbooks and to an extent ultrabooks. The thing is, tablets will end up becoming so powerful that they will be as powerful if not more powerful than netbooks and ultrabooks.

    And look here, you could (easily) have three methods of imput. Touchscreen (fingers), Keyboard and then stylus. You could have one device that does all three.

    So, if you are in class, you could type notes with your keyboard dock. Need to write something down? pop it out of the dock and bam! you can write it down with your stylus. Want to show your friends what you did? give them the tablet and they can check and look at it.

    And Windows 8 will just confirm this even more.

    And the good thing is? you can keep all of your ports and additional battery in the dock. It could even come to the point that the dock could come with additional storage or even a graphics chip or something, so if you dock it, it could give you a little more grunt as well!

    iPad made tablets popular
    Asus Eee Pad will be the one which will make tabooks (tablets + notebooks) popular. Tablet and laptop fused in one.

    • https://plus.google.com/117702410245683101961/posts Lucian Armasu

      Windows 8 should validate these types of devices even further. But I think, in the end, the ARM based devices will win, and for that there are 3 options: Android, iOS and Windows 8 (with no support for legacy apps). So basically, when it comes to ARM tablets, Windows 8 will be even further behind with its ecosystem than Android.

      Apple will probably end up making devices like this, too. I know they will make an ARM notebook either next year, or in 2013. But it’s a bit unlikely they will port Mac OS to it, and lose all legacy apps, just like Windows 8. They’re probably going to use use iOS for them, and maybe change the iOS interface to accommodate for that, too.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Anonymous

        “Windows 8 (with no support for legacy apps)”

        This is being thrown around a lot, but it is not strictly true. .NET applications should work, as will JVM apps. Virtualisation already takes care of most backward compatibility requirements.

        If MS are dumb enough not to include an x86 emulation layer (there are opensource x86 emulators for goodness sakes), then hopefully they are really really not dumb enough to fail in bringing as many libraries as possible to the ARM architecture (direct x in particular). Then all that should be required is recompiling for the new target CPU. If the Marketplace is right, then which developer will fail to do this with all the ARM devices lined up?

        Windows has supported lots of other CPU’s in the past such as Alpha and Itanium, so this is hardly a massive change in policy. It is really no different than moving from a 32-bit to 64-bit architecture either.

        I thiink Win8 will change the game significantly, since ARM support will allow it to target the same low cost devices as mobile OS’s, but the power of a desktop OS will remain sitting in the background should you need it.

        If MS fancy a stab at new hardware they can try 10″ tablet with sufficient builtin storage, gps, wifi, 3g, etc. which can dock with a keyboard+battery as with Asus Transformer. Could it also integrate a mini LED projector? Thanks! To take it a step further introduce “touchless” interface courtesy of integrated mini-Kinect. The final icing would be if the 10″ tablet is actually a screen dock for a PHONE with all the above features (minus silly ones like kinect of course). Now I can take everything with me wherever I go.

        NOW THAT would take care of it I think…..

        • Jonah_naylor

          Asus are really attaching this market, they already have the phone that docks in the back of the tablet with their new product the padfone!!

      • Anonymous

        “Windows 8 (with no support for legacy apps)”

        This is being thrown around a lot, but it is not strictly true. .NET applications should work, as will JVM apps. Virtualisation already takes care of most backward compatibility requirements.

        If MS are dumb enough not to include an x86 emulation layer (there are opensource x86 emulators for goodness sakes), then hopefully they are really really not dumb enough to fail in bringing as many libraries as possible to the ARM architecture (direct x in particular). Then all that should be required is recompiling for the new target CPU. If the Marketplace is right, then which developer will fail to do this with all the ARM devices lined up?

        Windows has supported lots of other CPU’s in the past such as Alpha and Itanium, so this is hardly a massive change in policy. It is really no different than moving from a 32-bit to 64-bit architecture either.

        I thiink Win8 will change the game significantly, since ARM support will allow it to target the same low cost devices as mobile OS’s, but the power of a desktop OS will remain sitting in the background should you need it.

        If MS fancy a stab at new hardware they can try 10″ tablet with sufficient builtin storage, gps, wifi, 3g, etc. which can dock with a keyboard+battery as with Asus Transformer. Could it also integrate a mini LED projector? Thanks! To take it a step further introduce “touchless” interface courtesy of integrated mini-Kinect. The final icing would be if the 10″ tablet is actually a screen dock for a PHONE with all the above features (minus silly ones like kinect of course). Now I can take everything with me wherever I go.

        NOW THAT would take care of it I think…..

  • Jakubvokaty

    I’am a big fan of this concept i just wait for a release of a tablet/transformer where you could play new games on high quality but I’ll probably have to wait a bit more. But we are on a good way!

  • Anonymous

    Tablets are ultra-thin laptops with no keyboard, no mousepad and NO /Linux or windows 7
    Carrying around with open 10″ screens looks stupid & scratch all over the place.
    An idiot too.. waving around a big pad taking piciture and 720p movies.
    If you use it for playing media get a portable media player with TV..
    and a nice multip-processor smartphone that fits your pocket.
    My LG G2x takes 1080p video SDHC card and plays directly to my 46″ LG LED.

  • Anonymous

    Tablets are ultra-thin laptops with no keyboard, no mousepad and NO /Linux or windows 7
    Carrying around with open 10″ screens looks stupid & scratch all over the place.
    An idiot too.. waving around a big pad taking piciture and 720p movies.
    If you use it for playing media get a portable media player with TV..
    and a nice multip-processor smartphone that fits your pocket.
    My LG G2x takes 1080p video SDHC card and plays directly to my 46″ LG LED.

  • Bignumone

    If you think about it, we have kind of stepped backward in software sophistication. An OS that fits in less than a gig? Applications that are so tiny and lack complexity that most people could code them? Low amounts (relatively) of memory and power to run the device? It is kind of funny, but in a way it reminds me of the days of the Mac classic.
    Anyhow, I am a “mac guy” but I think the Transformer may be the best tablet on the market. The OS holds it back a little, but the hardware is fantastic. If they can make the UI a bit more friendly, and transitions/responsiveness a little more fluid it will beat iPad on all fronts. No wonder Jobs retired, he can’t bear to watch as another company eats his lunch while he holds back on what his product could be.

  • http://tinyurl.com/giffgaffdata netlaw

    I have been holding buying an Android Tablet for each member of our firm (650) because I’m waiting for 3G. I personally have an iPad 3g but the firm needs an android device too – largely because for the application I want there are now better apps on the droid than on the ipad……and it does seem that the Transformer is a great little device, having played with a WiFi one for days when I was lent one….
    Our hardware is apple-based at present and we see Windows as a dying breed so Droid it has to be if its not Mac.
    …but please ASUS could you give us a firm launch date … its been August, the September, then October and we’re beginning to run out of time and now are having to look, for purely commercial reasons that we can’t wait much longer, at alternative manufacturers.

  • Anonymous

    The Asus Transformer 2 + Windows 8 = the ultimate tablet?

  • Indo

    when ausu transformer 2 come to Indonesia?