Nilesh Trivedi

Why I Will Not Buy Asus Transformer Prime

When I first heard about Asus Transformer Prime, I was very excited. This was the first combination of power and portability with a touchscreen that made the cut for me. Other tablets are more of consumption devices, where as I want a device with which I can get some real work done too. That meant 10" screen at the minimum and a keyboard dock, good battery life and decent processing power. In other words, I want a netbook / tablet hybrid. The specs for Asus Transformer Prime seemed perfect.

Then came the bad news. Problems were reported with the WiFi and GPS capabilities of the device because of the all aluminium casing. The tablet launch was delayed because of these. WiFi issues may have been resolved now but the GPS issues are real and Asus has acknowledged that there is nothing they can do about it. They have now removed GPS capability from the specs page.

The deal breaker, however, was when people discovered that Transformer Prime would come equipped with a locked, encrypted boot loader. That means users won’t be able to install alternative operating systems on this machine which it is otherwise perfectly capable of. It will come pre-installed with Android which you can fix or upgrade ONLY IF Asus provides the updates. This is utterly unacceptable to me. Buying a computer which cannot run code of your choice is like buying a hard disk which cannot store data of your choice. While OEMs have started following Apple's lead in convincing the buyers that software is tightly coupled with hardware and you really buy an iOS or Android device, and not a general purpose computer, I expected the taiwanese / chinese manufacturers to skip this bullshit and offer decent hardware, without limiting it artificially with locked boot loaders.

Predictably, there was immense outcry against this. Users were angry because they had pre-ordered this machine without knowing that it would come with a locked boot loader and Asus had pulled an unexpected betrayal. Asus then responded to criticism by giving a bullshit defense and at the same time giving in, saying that they will develop a boot loader unlocking tool. However, and this is important, the warranty will be void if the boot loader is unlocked.

Better, but still unacceptable to me. Let's assume that they actually do provide this boot loader unlock tool for free and without restrictions - even though making this assumption would not be prudent considering how they behaved. Even with this, Asus Transformer Prime is a product that effectively comes with no warranty. Let me repeat that: Asus Transformer Prime effectively has no warranty. Installation of operating systems on a computer is as natural and intended use case as is filling your car's fuel tank. If Honda offers a car with the restriction that warranty becomes void if you refuel it at a gas station which is not owned by Honda, how good would you think the deal is? To make this deal acceptable, Asus would have to heavily discount the Transformer Prime. Since they are not doing that, Transformer Prime remains a crippled and expensive product - just like all the other tablets in the market right now.

My conclusions from this episode: