by: John C. Velesco
So here I am with my ASUS R1F convertible Tablet PC, purchased a week ago (waited 1 week for supplier delivery, pretty fast for a notebook just released). I got AUD$400 off RRP – which is not unusual as many online stores have the R1F advertised at similar prices. Why the price is already so low from RRP is beyond me – I simply asked the shop to match prices advertised by other web-based vendors. They were more than happy to oblige. I also got an extra 1GB of RAM at cost (Kingston). I might as well note here now that the R1 is fitted with 2x512Mb RAM, so both available slots are already taken. This means if you want to have 2GB of RAM you will need to buy 2 brand new sticks of RAM (1GB each) and sell the 512MB sticks that came preinstalled, unless you have use for them elsewhere. I was lucky as the shop I went to didn’t charge me extra for swapping the two 512 modules for a single 1GB module, despite the fact that there would have been at least AUD$80 difference to pay (512MB are significantly cheaper).
In this review, I’ll give you my full, honest and unbiased opinions of the R1F Tablet PC. I myself rely so much on reviews before purchasing. I am not an IT guy, just a regular guy so hopefully you can appreciate my comments.
ASUS R1F Specs:
- Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz
– Mobile Intel 945GM Express Chipset
– Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection
- Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
- DDR2 667 MHz, up to 2GB
- 13.3″ WXGA Display
- SATA 120 GB Hard Drive
- Hot swappable ODD/ Super Multi Optical Drive
- 10/100/1000 Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth V2.0 + EDR
- 3x USB, 1x Express Card, 1x 8-in-1 Card-Reader, 1x Fingerprint Reader, 1x TPM
- 31.7 x 23.2 x 3.5cm, 1.98kg
Mine is equipped with a Core 2 Duo 2GHz CPU and a 120GB hard drive. Many sites with the specs say that TPMv1.2, Bluetooth mouse, and carrying case are optional. Well when I opened the box I was delighted that all of them were included without me even asking for them or paying any extra costs. I was absolutely wrapped to find you also get a free carrying pouch on top of the bag.
The wrapping presentation of the notebook is peculiar, in that it was pretty posh. When you open the box you will find a black presentation box, inside is the R1F and the the included carrying pouch. It’s like something you receive from a jewelery store. The pouch and carrying bag are of a designer styled motif, far from your “average” black carrying cases. It is brownish-beige and has a retro look and feel, like something that came out of the 70’s – but very stylish. They are trimmed by brown leather (the one on the pouch looks genuine). The bags alone easily look to be worth more than AUD$100 – based on the prices I’ve seen on stand alone cases. It was a real surprise and the people at the shop were being cheeky and said it didn’t really come with the laptop. They wanted to keep it for themselves cos they really are quite sexy.
The main bag has a lot of pockets and is well-above average for what you’d expect from a laptop bag in terms of functionality. I can’t flaw it. The pouch has 2 pockets inside – one for the laptop and another for folders or papers. It is lined by felt material and looks nice and cozy for the laptop.
The Bluetooth mouse is manufactured by Logitech and works really well. It’s a silver/black color that matches the color of the R1F. It fits the hand well. The only downside is that it has a high slope against the palm. Although this shape makes the feel very natural, it is a nuisance for storing the mouse in the bag if you stuff too many things (as I tried!).
Now for the notebook…
Build Quality and Design
The underside of the notebook is tapered, which is really neat because it makes the notebook look thinner than it actually is. When the R1F closed is actually the same height as the mouse (3cm), but the tapered bottom makes it look thin. The silver lining around the notebook body and screen makes the notebook look really good, a nice touch. The R1F is dark grey as you’ve seen in the pics, and made of plastic. The only obvious metallic fittings are the mouse buttons and the surround of the fingerprint reader. They look superb. Unfortunately it does look slightly cheap, but that’s against my high standards. The finish is very good so the impression of a “cheap design” is more mental than anything else. It is visually sexy – far better than the Fujitsu and Toshiba tablets. It looks professional and high quality. I wouldn’t hammer it though or drop it, I just don’t know how strong it is. I suspect the weight of the tablet had everything to do with what material they used – even though they could have used titanium or magnesium, if it’s not too much to ask!
The screen hinge looks and feels quite strong. The only problem is when the notebook is closed in the natural position the screen does not sit tight. Because the screen is only held up by one centre hinge, it will move slightly side to side if you deliberately try to do so. But when you type, unless you’re typing hard, it’s not going to look like it’s dancing. It sits still. On the other side of the screen is the hinge lock – I reckon ASUS could have made the lock more secure, as when locked in place, there is a margin of movement, but only slight. It’s just not tight. The bottom line is that in normal use, it won’t wobble the way I think some of you are imagining. It’s only when you deliberately rock the screen from it’s natural positions that you will find slight movement. I don’t think it’s a real cause for concern. Really, it hasn’t bothered me even though I am a really picky guy.
The tablet feels about the size of the 13″ MacBook. That’s why I like it so much, not too small, not too big. My last notebook was 15.4″ and travelling wasn’t as comfortable. I can also appreciate the smaller screen real estate because everything is comfortable to the eye, unlike the 15.4 where your eye doesn’t rest as easily as you have a wider viewing screen to look at.
There are a lot of brilliant blue LEDs on this machine, I wish they used white instead like Apple uses! A nice feature is that the blue power LED fades in and out when in standby mode – just like with the Apple. The LEDs on the screen are actually behind a transparent black strip, so the effect is a nice glow of blue underneath that strip of clear black pastic – or orange when the battery is being recharged.
Having used the R1F quite extensively at this point, I have to say the screen is excellent. It is advertised with the fancy color shine and crystal shine, etc., but what you can’t forget is that this is a tablet. The screen is slightly grainy as with any other tablets. Don’t expect this to reproduce ultra sharp pics. That said, I set the brightness and color saturation as high and balanced as possible to offset the graininess, and it’s quite good. The graininess is more noticeable against white backgrounds, as you don’t get a pure flat white, but the colours really shine and the screen is backlit quite strongly. Stand about 1m from the screen and you definitely won’t notice the graininess and all you’ll see is a very bright and brilliant screen. I played a couple of DVDs on it and they all look great. The black on this screen is really black – not like the ghosty blacks you get on some machines which really annoys me. Max resolution is 1280×800 but you have more than enough space if you’re not using this for complex Excel work. If the display size was any smaller then the fonts would be difficult to read. It’s interesting though that the default screensaver that came installed says the R1F has a 15.4″ screen. Someone obviously didn’t proof read it! The size of the screen is about A4 length wise, but about 1cm narrower than an A4. Carrying the R1F in slate mode is comfortable, you feel the weight but it’s not heavy. If you swap the DVD Multi with the weight-saver drawer I’m sure it’ll be satisfyingly light (though I haven’t tried yet – and the weight-saver drawer comes in the package). The screen also rotates 360 degrees, so if you were born with your head upside down you can actually have the screen upside down in normal laptop mode if you want.
Because of the depth of the actual screen (with waccom layer sitting on top), I estimate a comfortable viewing angle at about 160 degrees from centre. I don’t think you’ll get any tablet with better viewing angles simply because the screen will have to be deeper inside the screen shell to accomodate the tablet on top. Certainly not like other notebooks where the screen is flush to the casing and viewing angles can be as much as 175degrees. I do find that the vertical angles fade away the screen much quicker than the horizontal angles. This means you have to position the screen after you’ve found your right sitting position so that you won’t get the fading effect. For those concerned, I will just say that after seeing the Toshiba and Fujitsu slate convertibles, this is one excellent screen that ASUS used.
The speaker is very average, but I’m comparing that with my previous laptop with JBL fitted speakers – ultra sharp and ultra loud. But the one on this R1F is loud when you have all the right software settings in place, but otherwise it is quite average – no bass at all. The highs are sharp and distinct though. It’s not an entertainment system so it meets normal expectations. I am however thinking of swapping over my JBL speakers from my old laptop into this (they look the same size) but have no idea how to do it (simple soldering procedure?).
One good thing about the notebook design is that in slate mode the speakers are not completely covered, which means a decent amount of sound is still coming out. You can see this in the pictures – unlike the Toshiba models where the speakers are completely covered by the screen.
The tablet pen is thin, stylish and lightweight – the only thing you’ll hate is that it’s made of plastic and the pen bay where it’s kept is not smoothed out. So the effect is a very scratched pen after several inserts and outserts (made up word). When I say scratched, I mean scratched. Don’t try to pick up a girl with this pen, it looks silly after all the scratches. (Editor’s note: I wonder how many guys using a Tablet PC have been successful in picking up girls with the aid of any Tablet PC pen? If this technique has actually worked we hope readers will share their experience! – LOL!) But again, I don’t mind because I suspect you can buy replacement pens easily just as it is with PDA stylus’. Why ASUS did not smooth out the edges inside the slot I don’t know, and I doubt it’s just my particular notebook.
The pen only has one button for clicking. You hardly need to use it (well I suppose I’m a novice), as you can tap on the screen anyway like tapping the touchpad. It’s very easy and comfortable to use. There’s even an “eraser” at the end of it to instantly erase things you write on the screen, which I thought was pretty cool. At first use I thought the pen and eraser would scratch the screen, but that’s a stupid worry, because what manufacturer would create accessories that would damage their own products. If anything because this is a tablet screen I think it’s much more resistant to scratching that normal notebook screens. Also, because it is not the glare type, you won’t get annoying reflections or easy to see fingerprint marks.
The keyboard is comfortable. No flex. Some keys are shortened such as the backspace key and right-side shift key, but these are things you can easily adapt to. No big deal. When you get a smaller size laptop you always need to be ready for compromises. All of the buttons are robust and well fitted. The power button looks cheap in the pics, but in reality it’s very sturdy and lights up the blue power symbol on it when on. It’s nice. This might be unusual to note but I will anyway. The keyboard looks like it will show “oil staining” easily after prolonged use – I don’t know many keyboards that avoid this. I already notice slight “oiling marks” on the letter N which I use a lot. The casing and screen are a lot more resistant. You will see fingerprint marks under the right lighting, but they wipe off easily as the surface is smooth. The notebook comes supplied with a microfiber cloth and cleaning was easy.
The panel buttons (CTRL+ALT+DEL, ESC, and Rotation) work easily and instantly.
I just discovered that Windows XP Tablet PC Edition has a built-in speech recognition software. This means you can dictate commands AND dictate text (it will type what you speak in Word or Notepad, etc!) It is pretty neat, and because the built-in mic is quite clear, it was really easy and fun to use, though you have to train the software to recognize your voice or else it makes up it’s own story as you dictate to it.
The touchpad is simple and flush, simple and elegant. It has no silly symbols or prints like with other brands.
The integrated mic on the panel is very good – you will get slight hissing, but this would be normal of all built-in mics, otherwise it’s clear and loud. I don’t think it would match the dual-mic models of the Fujitsu T4210, but who cares? I don’t really.
Two issues here – I’ve defragmented the C drive twice and after each run I clicked the “analyze” command again and it keeps saying I should defragment the drive again. I am not sure if it has to do with the split drive (C, D). I defragmented D as well but still got same message.
The biggest cause for concern I have is that I picked up the notebook and accidentally bumped it on the table when I placed it down again, and my music scratched (playing from hard drive) and the system froze. This system definitely does not have IBM airbag technology so be careful. I simply reset the notebook (had to take battery out as power button was also dead). I’m not an expert in this area so I’m not sure if it’s an issue with the notebook or the hard disk only.
Laptop heat is not bad. It doesn’t get hot at all really – just warm. And I suppose that’s to be expected on a Core 2 Duo machine. The fan is also quiet and provides a gentle warmth on the left side during the cold winter days writing essays.
I’m still trying to work out if this thing supports LightScribe, as I came across an R1F webpage somewhere that it does. It is a Mat****a UJ-846S unit. I did say it was slightly noisy but it’s not a scratchy noisy that annoys you. More like a whizzing sound. the slot-loader is very quick though – pops those CDs and DVDs out like a toaster!
I managed to get about 3.5hrs on the batteries in normal mode (no battery saving settings such as reduced CPU utilization). If you want extended power I suggest getting the modular battery which I believe has not yet been released. I would guess it could extend battery usage to over 5hrs. The propriety ASUS power options (PowerGear4+) is so smart to use – you simply press the circle button on the top-right hand side and you switch to different usage modes – the Battery selection reduces screen brightness to 13% for example. It’s so much easier than having to mouse through menus and settings to change the power options and it works automatically. Once I plug the power plug back in it reverts to my previous non-battery option (Super Performance) – and the screen instantly lights up to 100% again.
The fingerprint reader is great. It works flawlessly though I had to take time to learn proper way to swipe finger. You can use your fingerprint to log in from BIOS. It just works is my motto for the fingerprint reader. It initially scans ALL your fingers both left and right, so should you accidentally lose one finger one day, you can rely on your other fingers to log you in. It’s fast and intuitive. I’ve used it so far for BIOS login, Windows login, Hotmail login, and Tablet PC Review login! I think the R1F likes my fingers!
I’ve mentioned a lot of good things about the R1F, because it really is great – it’s a quality machine inside and out. So I’ll only mention the cons – which for me is the scratches on the tablet pen (because of the pen-slot not being smooth on the inside), the plastic notebook casing (I wish it was metal!), and the non-airbag fitted hard drive (such as the IBM X-tablet). Other than that, if you want the best tablet PC cheaper than other like brands, the R1F is the cream of the crop. The Fujitsu T4210 has a smaller screen, doesn’t have a sharp design and is more expensive, and the Toshiba R25 looks boring, is heavy and looks boring. They were my 3 contenders. ASUS R1F can be proudly named Ms Universe of tablet PCs (for now).
- Speech Recognition in Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
- Great Display
- Hot swappable ODD/ Super Multi Optical Drive
- Pen gets scratched in silo
- Hard disk shock issues