Video: A tablet done right

Some time ago I wrote a critical blog post of the iPad. As you know, Apple came out with the iPad 2 not long ago... and it STILL SUCKS... for a number of reasons... not the least of which is that it is a completely closed device.

Here's an example of what I think is a fantastic tablet design. Unfortunately it runs Android rather than a stock Linux distro. I'm not against Android but anything that can run full HD video and offers enough ports and a netbook-ish docking station should be capable of running a full Linux distro, right? Oh, I know you were wondering... but no... it hasn't been released in the US yet. I've seen a few Brits post unboxing videos on YouTube already.

I would have preferred posting this video in either the webm or ogv formats, but it comes from YouTube so I didn't have much choice. Sorry.

Update - Android Central has a review of the device that is interesting reading. There is definitely room for improvement. I'd like to see an ethernet port, and a headphones and microphone jack on the docking station.

Here's the second part of the review that mainly covers Android Honeycomb (for tablets) features and the apps/services that Asus has add on.

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I have a small one bedroom apartment. Monitors a 21 inch and a 19 inch setting on my coffee table in front of my couch. I hav e a wireless mouse and keyboard. My nose is about 6 feet from my monitors. These types of setups would not help me or anyone with this type of setup. I guess I could put a long stick on my mouse, or is there a type of material that would imate mon netbook with Wy hand and or finger? BTW, I am typing this Windozed XT


Scott Dowdle's picture

Clarification on the "done right" thing

The main thing that I think is done right with the Asus EEE Pad Transport is not the GUI interface. I don't really have an opinion on that because I haven't used Android much. I'm sure it is adequate or at least it seems so from the videos I've watched and the reviews I've read.

The element of the design that I think is done write... is the physical form factor. The tablet screen docking with a base station and turning it into a usable netbook. To me the tablet is little more than a device between a smartphone and a laptop/netbook. You don't want to type on it... and it is a pain to hold it all of the time. A tablet is netbook that has had the keyboard and useful things like ports and card readers sawed off of it making it much less usable.

Having a functioning tablet that can easily convert into a functioning laptop/netbook takes it out of the in-between category... and it becomes a much more useful device. The added battery life is another plus.

The Android implementation shown in the video makes it obvious that the same interface can work quite well for both touch and a more traditional mouse / touchpad / keyboard interface... which is why I'm convinced X11 could do it too.

One major complaint about iOS on the iPad is that the screen is bigger but it still acts like it is on a smaller screen. Apps are all full-screen... you can't resize them to accommodate multiple, side-by-side app displays... it doesn't multi-task well... and copy and paste suck. I'm guessing that Apple will address it some day... and of course they will want to claim that they invented it all.


I have an iPad, iPod Touch4G, Android/Droid_v1.

Meego = Not even close to the same quality as iOS or Honeycomb or WebOS. I think it is closest to the OSS ideals as you can get, but the interface is just not good enough.

iOS = software license/user freedom aside, iOS provides the best tablet interface today.

Honeycomb/Android = Solid up and coming iOS competitor, waiting on hardware. Xoom is junk, the EEE Tablet IMHO is where honeycomb will be benchmarked. I hope that Asus and other top-tier makers will not attempt to root-lock or market-lock these. If the market is controlled by the vendor it is no better than iOS/Apple.

WebOS = Videos look great. having played with a pre which is as similar to a 'WebPad' as you can get your hands on today I can say that this is a real contender technology wise. I doubt that HP will upset Apple with it though, I don't know that they know how to market to the right audience.

The tablet interface is really really different than a desktop. Touch interfaces are not very similar to mouse input even though at first thought you would think they are. One immediate hurdle is that on a tablet, your interactions obscure the display while a mouse pointer is designed to have your eyeballs on the selection. That dynamic changes the interface requirements on a fundamental level.

I don't agree that X11 could be successfully adapted to tablet/touch interfaces because I feel that X11 is one of the biggest hurdles in desktop linux. The architecture has too much latency and is quickly noticed by new users as slow. X11 absolutely requires a compositor to perform smoothly on a modern desktop and hardware support for that is a pain. I am a big fan of Ubuntu's decision to move towards wayland. Unfortunately I am also very irritated by the switch to Unity, I think it is just too dumb. It feels like a hybrid tablet/desktop GUI. Desktop GUIs dont belong of phones, just like phone and tablet GUIs dont belong on desktops. A Hybrid belongs on neither.

I do think the EEE Pad looks pretty sweet. Seems to be a pretty solid build of Honeycomb and appropriate hardware. I hope the 8 hours of battery life is realistic. I really do get 10+ hours of constant use from my iPad and am unwilling to go down to a 5 hour tablet.

Xoom is junk

Gosh what did motorola do to you?

I've been using mine for about 3 weeks and I haven't found anything junky about it.

I may be wrong now
but I don't think so.
Theme from Monk

Scott Dowdle's picture

X11 is slow?

I've been using X11 for about 15 years and it is just fine. It is NOT slow... at least from this end user's perspective. Windows move around fine... scroll fine... max and min fine. Word processing keeps up with my typing, etc. You are simply buying into the myth that X11 is too slow.

For 3D gaming... maybe... and sure... getting accelerated 3D support working in Linux seems to be pretty hit or miss.

My experience has actually been that Windows often times seems slower than Linux on the same hardware. The Mac seems a little better but when the pinwheel cursor shows up, forget it.

No, there isn't a lot of difference between a touch interface and a mouse driven desktop interface... except when the screen sizes vary. Put a touch interface on a larger screen and there aren't a whole lot of differences. I'm guessing our disagreement stems from having different ideas for what different means. Oh yes, there are some differences but nothing radical. Really.

You can pretty up a "home screen" all you want but once you get into the applications, they pretty much work the same. Some touch applications, especially on smaller screen devices, have had to be simplified and have some features taken away, but when the screen increases... one would hope the touch application developers would start adding them back. For example, copy and paste is pretty bad on iOS devices I'm told. Why is that?

Now, don't let me comments above be misconstrued into "X11 is ready for touch now". It isn't. There need to be some changes... but again... nothing that couldn't easily be bolted on. That's easy for me to say because I'm not a programmer and I'm not the one having to implement it. :)

I think if programmers didn't have to worry about being sued for patent infringement... we'd probably have an iOS-clone GUI desktop environment for Linux already. There are a few themes and panel apps that convert the standard Linux desktop into a fairly good Mac OS X clone... and lots of distros and themes that make it look like a Windows clone. I'm not very fond of those myself because I don't suffer from Mac or Windows envy.

I do NOT want an iOS clone. I'd like something between the desktop environment I'm using now and the touch interfaces we have on mobile devices. Again, some are claiming that they don't like GNOME 3 Shell because it was created for smartphones. I don't know where they got that idea.

All an interface, touch or otherwise, has to do is present you with a "program selection menu", allow you to easily select a program... the program has to work and do what you want... and it would be nice if it allows you to switch back and pick other programs... and multi-task... and easily switch apps. That is not difficult. We do not need new technology to do that. One thing that a larger screen environment does not do is allow you to have multiple apps on the screen at the same time and resize the windows to make the layout you want.

I guess the main thing throwing your judgement off is the eye candy and the between action animations. I personally don't care for them and think they are a big waste of resources but I can live with them. I know the younger generation likes them so I'm not against them... and I'm sure with a few graphic artists on the product design teams, they could make our users want to lick the screen too.

As previously stated, if you have multiple users playing a multi-player game touching the screen at the same time... or an onscreen keyboard with multiple fingers hitting keys at the same time... there will need to be changes to the input system. X11 has already had some work done in that area... we just haven't seen it deployed much yet.

I don't recommend using stock desktop applications and expecting them to not to frustrate touch users. Apps will have to be modified too... to take advantage of touch interfaces... but again... nothing radical. Stock applications currently work quite will with a single touch type input, like with a stylus or touchpad or tablet... so "multi-touch" additions will need to be added but it isn't rocket science.

X11 is slow

The prevailing opinion is that X11 is slow for modern GUI designs. Evidence of this is the use of a separate compositing program to bypass X11 to get something as simple as drop shadows.

As far as your comment about Windows often being slower than Linux on the same hardware, I think that speaks to Linux' strengths in so many other areas vs Windows or Mac. Most specifically is better uses of shared libraries, memory management, faster filesystems, and fewer gremlins chewing up cycles.

I have been using touch interfaces for years. I have an HP tablet from 10 years ago, currently have an iPad, and have been on smartphones since palm was cool. With 10 years of experience I can tell you that touchscreens are useless for desktop computers (POS systems excluded, but then again they are not really a desktop). A Keyboard and mouse are far superior to a touch interface on a desktop and simply put, the mouse has a precision that makes touch-interface style controls dumb. Touch-interface tricks don't have a place on the desktop because they are inefficient. These are two separate use scenarios for computers and are best with the appropriate tools.

The lack of precision of a finger dictates a simpler interface. There are some very significant use differences between the two types of interface as a result. As soon as you scale the screen size up and it is beyond 10" or so which is comfortable to hold, the device becomes a fixture like a monitor instead of a tablet. As soon as that device is sitting on a desk then reaching out with your arms to touch it because really uncomfortable **. Enter the keyboard and mouse. High precision tools that can use a high precision interface. Fingers are low precision tools requiring a low precision interface. Eyeglass screwdriver vs full size. They are both screwdrivers, and both shaped the same, but they are not both used on the same devices.

I can RDP to a win7 system from my iPad and get the full windows desktop on it. I also have a touch enabled Dell All-in-One unit at the office here. Win7 is so far from being touch-usable it isnt a few mild changes, it is a new interface entirely. spreadsheets, writing text, all broken.

I think that iOS and Android have acceptable cut and paste interfaces.

Sharing a screen to play games doesn't really work well until the screen is quite large. I'm thinking 40" LCD screen laying flat as a table with a multitouch interface aka microsoft surface. Hands are too big to effectively share a 20" workspace/play area, IMHO.

"I guess the main thing throwing your judgement off" - there is nothing throwing my judgement off, fyi :)
I think the difference in our opinion here as that you are thinking ideologically and I am thinking experience. Until you live with a tablet, you really have no experience to determine how a table should be.

** the human arm averages about 5% of body weight. A 200lb guy usually has 10lb arms.

palm' touch screens and screen size

I've been a happy Palm user since 1998 and agree with pretty much all you say. I'll go ahead and say the palm pilot was the first tablet done right. Palm pilot, android phones and tablets, however, have a different purpose than a computer.

I feel the same pain as those people who want to have a bunch of applications on the screen at the same time. I have been using my netbook for about 2 years and the screen size is just too small to have more than one application on the screen at a time. Most web sites have 3 fixed size columns which does not work well unless you have at least a 15 to 17 inch monitor. Pinch to zoom and 1 finger scrolling on this Xoom tablet makes reading websites much easier. Incidentally my netbook is running fedora 14 and can and has run open office and the gimp.

Random numbers are too important to the left to chance.


I have two Dell mini net books. One has a broadcom video chip in it and as a result serves it's life as a video player for my 4 year old son. The other one collects dust. For me, the form factor looked very convenient but in real life it is the hybrid that doesn't fit any role perfectly. My iPad (which I am using right now to post this) has completely replaced my use for the netbooks. In fact, there are really only two reasons that my son's mini is still in service, the iPad is a bit too expensive for my budget now and I am holding out for a great android tablet. Maybe the eee pad is what I am airing for. We will see on tuesday when best buy gets them in stock at $400 for the 16gb.

Scott Dowdle's picture


What is a netbook? It's a smallish laptop without an optical drive. Doesn't really seem like a separate product category to me.

I have an Acer 1.6 GHz Atom with 1 GB of RAM, 160 GB hard drive, and 1024x600 resolution via an Intel graphics chip (NOT the Poulsbo). I use mine for everything. I still keep the desktop around but it is primarily used as a media server for other devices / computers. It is dual-boot with Windows 7 Pro and Fedora 14. I primarily use Windows 7 for streaming Netflix but not too often. I'm not a gamer so I guess my needs are fairly light.

I agree

When the "netbook" form was introduced I, like many others, was hoping for something on the order of the OLPC with long battery life, Linux OS and minimal hardware that could do some useful things for LOW COST. We can all see what happened by the time MS was finished twisting the arms of their hardware partners. I managed to get an Eee PC 901 with Xandros and 8GB solid state drive for $150 refurbished. Boosting the SSD to 16GB was another $100.

In my world I no longer use my 7 year old Compaq laptop which isn't even as fast as the eee and I used the eee on our last two out of state trips.

Random numbers are too important to be left to chance.

Scott Dowdle's picture

Oh yes... we agree on many things

Your comment about using a separate compositing program to get around X11 for drop shadows... is actually support for my opinion... that things can be bolted on to X11 to provide the needed functionality. Of course you only mention drop shadows which is just one tiny thing. The compositing we have had for a couple of years now on top of X11 does a lot more than that. Who cares if it isn't a native part of X11 but an addon? Do we know how all of the other systems work? Was touch built into the underlying code or did they take something off the shelf and add to it? Perhaps the answer is that it is part of the underlying code. I don't know. If you know, please tell me. The rumor I heard was that iOS has its underpinnings in Mac OS X.

Mac OS X requires compositing which is one reason it is much harder to virtualize. They can get away with it because they only have to work on a tiny fraction of the hardware that is out there whereas Linux and X11 work on most everything. Linux with compositing works on a subset of everything.

So as I see it, X11 gets penalized because it has been around for a long time and didn't have those features to begin with and the new guys appeared with that functionality from day one. Adding it on to X11 much later doesn't mean it isn't a suitable solution.

I agree with you... the prevailing wisdom is that X11 is slow. I disagree with that prevailing wisdom by calling it a myth. :) Could X11 be faster? Certainly. Look at No Machine's NX as a remote display protocol... they significantly speed up X11. Locally though, because other parts are faster (the underlying Linux), it makes up for some of X11's shortcomings... giving me the experience that X11 is as fast or faster than Windows for most common things... but not for gaming.

I appreciate that you have been using touch interfaces for so long. I have owned a few palm devices over the years but I found that I didn't really use them much.

You say a desktop interface doesn't make a good touch interface. I think we both agree there. I'm just saying that you can take a desktop interface and bolt on enough stuff to make a useful and usable touch interface so that it is dual purpose.

I agree with you that stretching out your arms to touch a large screen will be uncomfortable fairly quickly. I'm not advocating throwing away the mouse and keyboard to turn a desktop system into a touch-only system.

I also think that tablets are uncomfortable if you have to hold it in one hand or put it on your knees. Apple has improved the situation with the screen cover that folds into a triangle base to give it a keyboard angle but I would imagine staring down at the screen at such a lower angle would be more uncomfortable than one at 90 degrees.

What I'm saying is that I think it is awesome to merge the two... so you can use all of them together... in any combination... as much of one and as little of the other as you want. That is the reason why I liked the design of the "Transporter"... because it seems to do both well enough to be usable as either device making the whole greater than the sum of its parts because it can also be used as a hybrid... a touch screen laptop.

So far as gaming on a tablet goes, supposedly a recent study shows that the primary use by iPad owners is gaming. In many of the videos I've seen of gaming on the iPad they show multiple users playing at the same time in a multi-touch driven competition... on that small of a screen. Not having done it myself, I can't say... but there are so few games I like anyway I think actually trying wouldn't tell me much about the general case for others. Perhaps multi-player multi-touch games on a small screen don't pan out. On a huge screen though (40") I would think it would be hard to see everything so close to you. I'm sure older people would have more a problem than younger people but still.

Your example of RDPing to your Windows 7 Desktop on the iPad and then the touch experience being substandard isn't a fair comparison. I didn't say unmodified Windows 7 or unmodified X11 and unmodified apps would make for a good touch experience... so I too would expect a sub-optimal experience.

Overall I think we agree on more than we disagree... and where we disagree I think we have two distinct different ideas on what we are comparing with each other. :)

I greatly appreciate your feedback. It is interesting.


I admit that I have much different needs for UIs. I am at home in bash being a long time unix and linux admin. During my day-2-day work I have visual studio and mssql management open as well has a number of freepbx tabs and often a cisco ios telnet session.

A lot of people feel that every interface needs to feel like other interfaces, like some uniform computer interface rule. From my perspective, these highly varying uses for computers are best suited to have their own specialized interface.

Looks pretty good, but..

It looks to me like it uses a proprietary charging port, not too stoked about that. As for Android vs other Linux variants, it would be neat to run another distro, but Android is far more polished for tablet uses. I've used windows tablets in the past and - unless I'm missing something - standard desktop OSs don't translate very well to a tablet interface.

The Ubuntu Unity interface will be interesting, it supposedly was designed to use touch interfacing from the start. And since it's still Gnome, it should work well with a dock for heavy applications.

It's too bad one of the major distros didn't jump wholeheartedly into the mobile space like google did with Android. It would have been nice to have a complete Desktop + Mobile ecosystem that is consistent across platforms.

Scott Dowdle's picture

The ultimate tablet hybrid

I don't like proprietary ports either... and I know there are some open hardware specifications out there... but having not really looked... I don't know if open ports are available on any mainstream devices yet... so I'll forgive them that one.

I'm sure the tech documentation can shed some light on what's there and how to use it for those who want to design for that port.

If they are passing through multiple devices and power in the same port, there probably isn't a single open port that meets all of the requirements.

One of the design elements I don't like about the Asus Eee Pad Transformer is that it is nVidia-based... and nVidia is a bit antagonistic to open source.

There is a distro interface that was designed to be multi-platform and open... that uses all of Linux underneath... and that is Meego. Since Nokia's relatively new CEO is a former Windows executive and he took a big bribe from Microsoft to switch to Windows Phone 7 in upcoming Nokia products... Nokia has basically abandoned Meego... and what will happen to it is a bit up in the air.

I still stand by the argument that touch interfaces could (somewhat) easily be added to X11 and that we don't really need a radically different UI. Unity isn't really a radical change but it is enough change to anger some traditional GNOME users. GNOME 3 I think would be especially useful if a few touch elements were added. There are some who seem to think that GNOME 3 was designed for smartphones and a touch interface and that angers them because they feel their desktop has been dumbed down to appeal to a lower common denominator. I disagree with that analysis.

For the most part, touch screen interfaces operate very similarly to a mouse pointer based interface except the finger replaces the mouse pointer. Where it differs is in the "multi-touch" stuff... since we are not used to having multiple mouse pointers on the screen at once there needs to be a few changes. A mouse wheel can easily simulate pinch zooming... and a few new window decoration gadgets for grab, resize and rotate would work wonders. Add an on-screen keyboard and it's basically complete.

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