ASUS Transformer Book and Windows 8: a big disappointment

ASUS Transformer Book OK, this is a bit off topic, but I have to briefly air my frustration about the ASUS Transformer Book (TX300CA – C4005P), which I’ve been waiting for so long for. After a few days of good willed fiddling with it, I’m sending it back cause I know that this will just continue to frustrate me, even if I am starting to get used to some of the annoyances of Windows 8, that drove me crazy at the beginning, such as the layout of the on-screen keyboard or the fact that it does not always show up automatically when you are in a text field (it does work with genuine Touch Apps, but only sometimes when you’re in desktop mode), or that you have to aim for the little X in the corner in order to close it, rather than a bigger key or a swipe gesture.

I guess I needed to use a Win8 tablet in order to understand what a good job Apple did with the iPad. I was similarly annoyed with my iPad 2 when I first got it and I still think it has major faults (not to speak about the closed systems approach of Apple in general), but I have to admit that they at least got the basic essentials of the user interface working. Things like browsing a webpage and doing a quick pinch to zoom in to read small print or smooth scrolling or simply making it easy to tap on a link or button or whatever without having to be dead on centre, those are the things that I now appreciate on the iPad. Because they don’t work.

While I appreciate the amount of pixels on the Transformer Book screen, this leads to buttons, menus, and text being incredibly small on your screen so that they are not only almost illegible but, most of all, un-tapable with your fingers. Only when I increased the screen display to 150 percent did the device become somewhat usable via touch screen. In the default mode, it you just keep tapping and tapping until you finally hit something and get a response (though it might be the wrong one, cause you tapped slightly too far right or left or so). Why can a convertible in this upper price range not be configured so that it is usable from the start?

And let me say, that even with 150 percent screen display, I often have to tap multiple times to, for example close a tab in Chrome. I guess you have to be dead on centre on whatever you are trying to tap and there is no tolerance or smart algorithm that makes Win8 realize that when you tap 5 pixels next to a link, maybe you were trying to tap that link. Oh, and speaking of browser. I installed Firefox first and it seem like they havent managed to produce a touch screen compatible version yet, cause what happens, at least on some pages (most importantly: google search results), when you try to scroll by swiping up: you are selecting the text on the page. WFT? – Anyway, this is not ASUS’s fault and probably not that of Win8 either, but it’s part of the experience.

Similarly, with the Evernote App: I wrote a note on the Transformer Book up to today but it did not sync until today. And it did not do so until I went back and tapped sync and waited in the App until it had synched 100%. Apparently it does not synch automatically in the background. WTF?

Another very basic problem was that when I first started the Transformer Book, the PC clock was apparently set to a date several weeks ago. OK, you cant expect the time and date to be right when you get the device, but did Win8 bother to check time and date with one of the many NTP servers out there? No. I had to manually trigger that my going to time and date settings and clicking on “Sync with NTP server” or something like that. And when did I do that? After I spent about half an hour trying to figure out why I was getting security certificate issues from Chrome all the time. It would not let me visit the most basic websites, claiming that there was a problem with that site’s security certificate. – The reason was that my PC time was weeks in the past and the website was claiming to be way in the future, and that is of course suspicious. So that was another wasted 45 minutes, just because Windows 8 was unable to automatically correct the date. What year was this operating system produced again?? Oh, and another consequence of the wrong date during installation was that when I corrected the date, the 30 day trial version of McAffee expired and Windows started bugging me that my computer was not safe. Not that I am in any way interested in McAffee bloatware, but what if I had installed other trial versions that I actually did want to try for 30 days?

It’s about time for me to mention one of the major failures: at some point the TouchPad stopped working! And no, it was not because I deactivated it with Fn + F9, it truly did not work. When I went to the Device Manager, the Touch Pad was listed as a “hidden item” because it was apparently not recognized by the system. (NB: the TouchPad is built into the Keyboard dock of the ASUS Transformer). I tried updating the driver, but it said that it was up to date. The way I eventually solved it was to boot Windows 8 in Safe Mode (Took me another 30 minutes or so to figure out how that works in Win8, since the F8 button that used to bring up the Boot menu in previous versions of Windows no longer works with Win8. It was so complicated (multiple clicks into some menu) that I don’t even remember how I did it. But when I eventually booted into safe mode, the Touch Pad started working again and continued to do so when I booted normally again. (Yes, I did try to reboot normally before, but to no avail.) I mean how can a Touch Pad just stop working on a new device??

But it fits with another annoying problem: the left swipe, which shuffles you through open apps, does not  works when the device is turned upside down and it also sometimes just stops working in other situations was well (i.e. nothing happens upon left swipe) and you have to use other ways to move around and then at some point it works again. And I think the same has happened with the right swipe, which is supposed to give you the charms menu, but even when the charms menu works, it seems to give you different options depending on whether you’re in desktop mode or metro mode (or whatever it’s called). But in both modes you will still give you some similar options, like the Control Panel, only in metro mode it’s called PC settings, and it only gives you very basic settings. Once you realize that, you still need to figure out which settings you can change via PC settings and for which ones you need to go to to the control panel. This is just an example of a broader problem: even when you decide to ignore those metro tiles and work mainly in desktop mode (which is not easy with a touch screen), it still feels like there are two worlds on your device: the touch metro world, with its apps and settings and what not. And the familiar windows 7 desktop. And the problem is that you don’t really understand how they interrelate.

For example, I installed Sugarsync from the App store, as well as the desktop version of sugarsync, and I still havent understood how they relate to each other. Admitedly, I have not spend much time trying to figure that one out, but that’s the point: I don’t want to spend weeks figuring basic things out all the time. I’m spending enough time doing this anyway cause I’m a gadget and tech guy. So I expect that basic stuff just works intuitively, and that’s simply not the case with Win 8. I can understand now, why PC sales dropped so dramatically: I will avoid win8 on my PC as long as I can too. Problem is: I won’t be able to avoid it on a Windows tablet…

Want some more failures and disappointments? – I really did not install a lot of Apps (afterall, there are really not that many in the App store!), but when I tried to do so. Microsoft app store was unreachable several times. (And no: my internet connection was fine, I tested that). But not only was it not reachable, but what annoyed me even more was that Windows 8 blamed my internet connection and suggested I should fix it when it was clearly a problem on the side of the App Store thatfailing to reply on time or whatever. I know, those kind of error messages have a long tradition in Microsoft Products, but I was under the impression that in Win7, things had improved somewhat and even functions like “Try to solve this problem for me” sometimes actually solve the problem.

And there is more: I calibrated the touch screen because my impression was that it was not reacting properly, i.e. not targeting the item I was trying to tap. The result was (and it again took me a while to find that out!) that the right swipe for the charms menu no longer worked. Its an official bug. Here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2795584. So although there is a possibility to calibrate the touch screen, this will result in Windows 8 becoming more or less dysfuctional, so that you are advised to reset the calibration.
Last, but not least, one of the bigger reasons for me to return the ASUS Transformer Book is that it is quite loud for my taste. Now, admittedly, I am not the typical user when it comes to fan noise. I cannot bear fan or hard drive noise and I don’t understand how people are willing and able to work on computers that not only have a clearly audible fan but one that is really loud. I probably could live with the of the fan of the ASUS Transformer book when it is running in its slowest mode (as it is during surfing and basic activity) but once the CPU gets just a bit busier (for example while installing an app), it accellerates so much that it becomes clearly audible and that is just a deal breaker for me, at least when so many other things are just not right.
It looks like I’m now going to be a bit more patient and wait for convertibles with the new Haswell processor to come out and I hope to find one with a Wacom Digitizer, so that I can highlight and scribble into pdfs while reading them. The Toshiba WT310 looks promising, for example, but if you have any other suggestions that come close to the following criteria, please leave a comment:
  • at least a i3 core cpu (i5 preferred, or even i7, but that might lead to problems with the next point)
  • low noise
  • at least 11 inch screen, preferably 13 inch
  • digitizer pen (i.e. non capacitive)
  • weight well below 1.9 kg for keyboard and screen combined.
  • touch screen
  • touch pad in front of the keys
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Bitcasa? – Not yet!

bitcasa-logoCrashPlan Bitcasa is definitely a game changer. It offers infinite (!) cloud storage mapped as a drive on your computer (just like SugarSync are now doing with Sugarsynch Drive) for 99 US$ per year. Accessible from anywhere with internet access. I mean: what more do I need to say…

The reason for this quick blog post is that Bitcasa currently have an opening special offer where you can get the whole thing for 69 US$. Apparently until the end of February. However: having tested Bitcasa for a couple of weeks now (when it was still free for beta testers), I have to say: nope. I’m not paying for this service just yet. There are too many problems. Little bugs, glitches and inconveniences that just don’t make it feel right yet. Don’t get me wrong: the support is fast and doing a good job, but I’ve spent too much time with this already and if I pay, I want it to save time for me.

I was thinking: okay, if this offer is about 69 US$ yearly subscription fee for ever, then I would actually consider signing up. But unfortunately, Bitcasa told me that the 69$ is only for the first year.

The thing is that Bitcasa is simply not out of beta stage. They seem to sense that themselves, as their blogpost announcing the end of the beta phase is entitled “The End of Beta as You Know It”. Haha. So now we’re in beta-v2, or what? A few weeks ago, I told Bitcasa support that I think they should be honest revert to alpha. But I guess investors are standing in the door, tapping their fingers. I hope they won’t ruin it.

Anyway, I will wait another year or so, until my harddrive is overflowing or so, and reconsider a paid account. For now, I signed up for a four year Crashplan+ Family Unlimited account. It’s not the same thing, but it also offers infinite storage and since I was mainly looking for online and automatic backup, it’s clearly the best option for me at the moment. The good thing is their risk-free cancellation policy, which means you can cancel anytime and get the money for the remaining months back. So unless you’re short of cash, there is no reason to sign up for any subscription shorter than 4 years, as that is the best value for money (around 9 US$) per month.

It’s the most expensive web-service that I have so far subscribed to, but when I almost lost years of work a couple of weeks ago, I decided: I need to start backing up properly and I want it to be easy and convenient, so I guess I will pay for it.

Just two three more things about why I currently prefer CrashPlan to Bitcasa:

  1. Crashplan is not just for backing up and restoring to the same computer but you can selectively restore to any computer. So you can access all your files from anywhere too, just not as comfortably as in Bitcasa. In the longrun, this will be Bitcasa’s advantage, but for now I’m fine with Crashplan.
  2. Finding older versions of a particular file is not well solved in Bitcasa (check out their forum, where many people are suggesting to change the system, which currently requires you to know the day when that file was last changed.) In Crashplan, you can just select the file and see the different versions that have been backed up in a list and select the one you want.
  3. I managed to install Crashplan on on my ReadyNAS Ultra at home, which means that those 2 TB will also be backed up. Plus: I can also use my NAS as a secondary backup, in addition to CrashplanCentral. Since the idea of Bitcasa is not to backup the harddrive on my computer or my server, but to replace it, this feature is, and probably will not be available from them.

And what are your experiences with Bitcasa and/ or Crashplan?

SugarSync sucks

Just a quick update on SugarSync: it sucks! I wrote a more ambivalent blog post about it earlier, then I wrote about some serious synching problems (that seem to be fixed by now), but I have been annoyed again and again by this service that I just want to air my discontent here once again and say that I just think that the only reason that I have still not uninstalled it is its ability to sync whichever folder you chose, rather having to move everything to a designated folder like in dropbox and google drive. There is really no other reason (perhaps some laziness to change stuff on various computers).

To be a bit more precise,here is what annoyed me today: firstly, there is the android app, which is rather buggy or at least it often does not react to me tapping on some button. But secondly, and more importantly, I just found out that I can see neither my mobile phone nor my iPad on my PC. I added both of those devices to Sugarsync some weeks or even months ago and they do show up on the sugarsync website, but for some reason I cannot see or access them through the SugarSync client on my PC. This thread in the SygarSync User forum indicates that there is some bug, but apparently they have not managed to find it since more than a month…

Well, as I said: if you are wondering if you should try SugarSync: don’t bother. Try out Google Drive instead and tell us your experiences below (I havn’t really used it yet).

SugarSync has serious crashing problems

It looks like the competition between dropbox and SugarSync is pretty much decided. At least from my perspective. As I have commented elsewhere, there are serious problems with synching in sugarsync. I was hoping that this would be resolved soon, but it looks like SugarSync does not even intend to solve the problem (at least not generally), as these instructions from the sugarsync FAQ indicate:

Files can get stuck in the upload or download queue if there is any sort of confusion between data in your account and data on the SugarSync servers.

The easiest possible solution is to exit from SugarSync Manager (choose File > Exit) and then restart it.

Hello? That might be a pragmatic thing to do, but why does it happen in the first place?

If that doesn’t work, open a “stuck” file, make a trivial edit, and then save it to trigger a new upload.

Oh, so what kind of “trivial edit” would you suggest I make to my favourite mp3 song or journal-article in pdf format??

If that doesn’t work, you can reset the local database:

  1. Open SugarSync Manager.
  2. For Windows computers, press and hold Ctrl + Shift + R. For Mac computers, press and hold Cmd + Shift + R.
  3. Select Yes when asked “You are about to reset SugarSync Manager on this computer. Your local configuration information will be erased and the client will restart as a fresh install. Your files will not be affected. Are you sure you want to continue?”
  4. Launch SugarSync Manager.
  5. Enter your SugarSync email and password when prompted to login. Important: When asked if you want to restore your sync folders that were selected in the previous installation, select Yes. (This option is checked by default.)

So, in a nutshell: we have no clue what is causing this serious failure of the central function of our service, so we recommend you just spend some of your time fiddling around a bit, maybe you can get it to work on your computer, but we can’t fix it for everyone. Oh, and of course we can assist you if you send us your logfiles which conatains the file names of all the files you are trying to sync:

If none of these steps resolved the problem, please send us log files from the affected computers(s).

Yes, thank you. I did that and I am very curious about what kind of resply I will be getting…

To conclude: I am starting to understand why people are willing to pay so much more for a dropbox account. It’s because it works…
Edit: To be fair, I should mention that dropbox has a serious security issue: although your files are encrypted, dropbox employees have – in principle – access to them, even without your password (and contrary to what dropbox stated on their website until 13 April 2011). In brief: dropbox was lying to its customers. – Well, so where do we go now? Maybe Spideroak?

Which cloud? Dropbox vs. SugarSync

I think I should add dropbox to my list of good applications. Obviously, the qualities of dropbox are not a secret, but I have been using it now for a couple of months and I have no reason to complain about it (and I like to complain!). If you’d like to try dropbox for free and get an extra 250 MB on top of the 2GB free storage space, use this link (it will also give me 250 MB extra).

But now to the main point of this post: I just spent some time reading about other cloud storage services, and found that SugarSync is actually a serious alternative to dropbox. Check out this really excellent review by Jack Busch (see also the recent comparison by Matt Smollinger)! And note that the SugarSync bonus program has been extended until the end of March 2011 31 May 2011, so if you use this link to try it out, we’ll both get 500 MB extra free.

Personally, I have yet to try out SugarSync in practice, but it looks like I will be using both: Dropbox to sync my daily work and frequently used files (because of dropbox’s speed and 30 days undo history) and SugarSync for my large pdf library (because of the larger free space and cheaper upgrade option) and other files that are rarely changed but that I still want to be accessible anywhere (Sugarsync’s fee plan only gives you access to the last two versions of a file).

P.S. If you are  also annoyed by dropbox only syncing what’s in the dropbox folder, check out the option to sync any folder – as it were – by using symlinks. One big advantage of Sugarsync is that you can choose any folder to be synced (no need to put them into the dropbox folder).