Despite Android phones and devices looking more and more alike with every passing moment, each manufacturer has a certain way of conducting their business. From the hardware and different specification choices to the software customizations they make, manufacturers like HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG and a plethora of others have their signature look and feel. But there is one manufacturer in particular that has been diverging and taking a more atypical approach to the mobile market: ASUS (or AsusTEK).
To date, I have only owned three ASUS products: a low-end laptop and both iterations of their Eee Pad tablet series, the Transformer and Transformer Prime. And, to date, there have been three ASUS products that I have loved, that worked exactly as expected and with very few hitches.
The laptop, which I had to buy on a whim after my dog destroyed my old laptop while I was working one morning, was great and served me well. I think I spent a whopping $375 (tax included) for the thing, and the only complaint I ever had with it was the trackpad, which was atrocious. But I used a wireless mouse all the time anyway, so it was more of a non-issue.
The first Eee Pad Transformer was also a great device, especially for the price. Out of all of the tablets I've owned, it was always one of my favorites. The keyboard dock essentially turned what would have been just another tablet into an Android netbook. It gives the tablet second to none battery life, additional ports and external storage options. And ASUS only refined the Transformer concept with its successor, the Prime. Albeit more expensive, it's slimmer, more sleek and more powerful. Again, my only real complaint out of the either the Transformer or Transformer Prime – at least in terms of hardware – are the track pads on the keyboard docks. And again, I use a wireless mouse when I'm using the keyboard dock more often than not.
Basically, ASUS offers topnotch hardware for a competitive price without being exactly like the competition. My guess is that their three upcoming Transformer Pads will be much of the same. But hardware is only half the battle, especially when it comes to Android. And this is truly why I love what ASUS is doing and why other OEMs should be taking notes.
ASUS is churning out updates like no man's business. I bought the Transformer Prime well over a month ago and it had already received its Ice Cream Sandwich update. In fact, Prime users had already had Ice Cream Sandwich for a month and a half. For the most part, it's wonderful. I have had a couple things crash and force close on me, but it's nothing major. Performance is consistent and smooth. Granted, ASUS' updates don't have to go through the rigorous carrier approval process and they only have two devices to update in contrast to Samsung or HTC's 20 or 30 devices from the past 18 months. But that's another story for another time.
Now, just a few months after the big Ice Cream Sandwich update, ASUS has teased us with another update on the horizon, on that brings "awesome new features" to the Prime.
Most importantly, however, is how few changes ASUS makes to vanilla Android. Unlike Samsung, HTC or LG, ASUS leaves the software mostly stock. The biggest differences are in the Quick Setting bar (which can be disabled by the user, resetting it to the stock version) and the content that comes pre-loaded on the device. Every ASUS tablet comes with ASUS' typical set of wallpapers, widgets and apps like Polaris Office, App Locker, MyCloud, MyNet and MyLibrary. Instead of devoting all of their time to differentiating the look and feel of Android, they differentiate with ASUS-specific content – apps and services that you can simply overlook if you don't like them.
(For the record, Samsung's TouchWiz UX is very similar to stock Android, but it got to where it was nearly unusable within weeks of getting the update.)
With all of that said, however, ASUS isn't perfect. They're not afraid to lock down bootloaders, making it difficult to hack and mod your tablet. At least for the Transformer Prime, they offered a bootloader unlock tool, which, as far as I can tell, no longer works. And even if you unlock the bootloader and never actually change anything, you will never receive an official update from ASUS again. So their stance on bootloaders is definitely questionable and could use a little reworking or ... leniency even. (Here's to hoping a close partnership with Google can change that.)
The strange thing, though, is that the Prime is one of the very, very few Android devices that I have little desire to hack and mod. I plan on rooting it eventually, which doesn't require unlocking the bootloader, so I can try to remap some of the unused keys on the keyboard dock. I may also use root access to remove some of the bloatware that comes on it. Other than that, I wouldn't want to remove the stock software or mess with anything else. That should say a lot coming from someone who enjoys tinkering with Android devices and rarely lets any device go more than a few days unrooted.
There has been some lingering hope that some of Android's most adored manufacturers would slowly begin to lighten the load of their Android customizations. I wouldn't say I want them to totally disappear, but I highly doubt they will ever become as light and subtle as ASUS' interface. Sense 4.0, from what we've seen, looks little different from legacy Android and hardly reflects any of the biggest interface changes (improvements) in Android 4.0. And the most recent ICS TouchWiz leak looks like a strange mix between Gingerbread, TouchWiz an Ice Cream Sandwich. I just wish they could learn the subtleties of ASUS.
While I love what ASUS is doing in the mobile space, not everyone does. Some enjoy heavy manufacturer customizations, and some don't like ASUS' choice in specs or hardware. Tell me, readers. What manufacturer do you think the rest could learn from? Which manufacturer is your favorite?